Thursday, September 30, 2010

This is Why I Don't Like People

"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

1 Timothy 2:11-12

Fuck misogyny, am I right or am I right?

For today, I had plans to review and hype a movie I recently saw twice which I think is not getting nearly enough love - but there's been a change of plans done.

Now, the most activity my Facebook account sees is resultant of my girlfriend commandeering it to play browser games. Personally, I log in once every few days when I receive e-mail notifications from it and on occasion, write some comments there should the fancy take me. A friend of mine put up a neutral open question pertaining to atheism today to which I wrote a reply. Then, a godbot joined in and exasperation followed.

Names are changed to preserve anonymity and everything else are quoted verbatim (except some typographical errors I made, which I rectified) and colour-coded for your convenience,

If you are to start an atheist group on FB; would you classify it as "Religious Organization" or an "Education" group.

Common Interest; Beliefs & Causes

It's definitely not a "Religious Organization". To consider atheism a religion is to consider not collecting stamp a hobby. Why are you asking?

I saw a few groups on facebook where atheism groups are placed under religious organization category.

Some Girl I Don't Know:
Believing in the non existence of God is still a baseless opinon about God ; AKA religious belief.

Err, no. The burden of proof is not on the atheists - it's on the people who claim that God exists, so they have to prove it. As they say,

"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof."

I think the lack of any concrete, scientifically-testable proof for God's existence is base for dismissing the claim. If some guy claims that he has a disease, and all the clinical and lab tests turn up negative, it is base enough to say that the disease he claims to have is non-existent.

But enough about the existence of God. When a person is non-religious, and believes in no religious claims, he is automatically religious? Preposterous. Not having a hobby is a hobby? Not having a disease means that a person is diseased?

Some Girl I Don't Know:
Boils down to your definition of religion. I define it as a belief of God.
Atheism isn't the absence of a belief. It is the denial/rejection of any belief of God. Being an agnostic on the other hand is totally different.

Atheist can only be proud of atheism as long as religious beliefs prevail. Without it, you guys become definition-less.

You know what is ironic, GOD is definition-less too.

In medical terms, the presence of a disesase is both based on objective and subjective symptoms. Spontaneously declaring a person to be malingering just due to the absence of objective symptoms is the greatest pitfall in medicine .

God is subjective. God is kinda like tinnitus ;P

Post note : Preposterous??? Macha, You guys use this word in Manipal ah. Scary dey ;P

Interrupting this transcript, take note that I'm still in my mild-mannered real-life persona I use for general social purposes when interacting with friends and friends of friends at this point (a demeanour I somehow managed to maintain for the rest of the exchange). I have made no pejorative remarks about other people's beliefs. I have refrained from saying anything about Some Girl I Don't Know's religion, as much as I itched to. And I have breathed no fire. With that in mind, let's get back to the show,

By dictionary definition, you cannot consider atheism a religion. Allow me to demonstrate, defines "religion" as,

[mass noun]
the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power , especially a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion
  • [count noun] a particular system of faith and worship: the world's great religions
  • [count noun] a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion: consumerism is the new religion
Atheists neither believe in nor worship a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. It's definitely not a system of faith (which by definition is belief without proof) or worship. Neither is it necessarily a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.

There. Atheism does not fit the definition of a religion. It is not a religion.

No one said atheism is the absence of belief. Atheism is the disbelief of god or gods. An agnostic is someone who says there isn't enough information to say that there is or isn't a god. I was an agnostic and am currently atheistic. Please stop telling me what I am or am not.

P.S. God is not "definition-less", by the way. You can look it up in the dictionary too.

Hello, that's enough. Not on my wall.

Some Girl I Don't Know:
Sorry Friend, I was just being general. Ur macha is taking it too personal.
As an end note, I quote Sen Wai who quotes [I shudder in fear] OXFORD [echo]
(God knows what would become of him without it )

"A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion " -you say.

The way you are frothing at the mouth defending your atheist belief/opinion/interest plus your pride in it portrays 'GREAT DEVOTION'.

Peace cha. Global warming, acid rain, Najib as prime minister. So many better things to talk about ;P

Quote me correctly then. I said,

"Neither is it necessarily a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion."

  1. I am not devoted to a disbelief of God. If anyone can show me concrete, scientifically-testable evidence of God, I'll believe in God immediately.
  2. If you must consider me "devoted" (you certainly like telling me what I am or am not), there are definitely atheists who aren't "devoted" in this world. A definition has to encapsulate the entire group, hence why my use of the word "necessarily".
  3. Again, if you must consider me "devoted", it's still a disbelief followed with great devotion. Not a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.

Of course I take it personally. You are misrepresenting what I am. You don't see me defining your religion in any way I like. Unlike you, I don't use definitions I made up myself.

I'm sorry, Friend. But she apparently thought enough wasn't enough and it is my prerogative to defend myself, which I did so as politely as I could

Some Girl I Don't Know:
So intelligent la u. Bravo ;P

[vertigo] [passive voice] "Some Girl I Don't Know falls off the train of thought and goes away to find the definition of definition plus the consensus regarding the definition of definition ".

End of transcript.

And this is why I have this blog. It's so I'll have someplace to vent the fucking steam out of my system after having to keep my comportment in check in polite company - and I'm stretching the meaning of the word "polite" here. Jen asked me why I'm always so angry these days, and this is precisely the reason why. I live in world of people determined to believe in things without proof and having faith in religions founded by ancient people so stupid and ignorant they thought that seven members of every species of animal in the world live within walking distance of Noah's house. I live in a world where I am bombarded daily with news of the Catholic Church covering up the rape of children by their clergy; Christians denying homosexuals the freedom to marry and gunning down doctors who perform abortions; Muslim extremists flying planes into buildings and murdering cartoonists practising their freedom of speech; Jehovah Witnesses refusing blood transfusion for their dying children too young to decide what they ought to believe in; and many, many, many, many, many more global ills brought by rampant unchecked, unchallenged religiousity.

And if all that isn't enough, I also get ignorant God-fellating nincompoops and dictionary-handicapped popinjays telling me to my face that atheism is a religion, and that I am just as religious as them. This is not a freak occurrence, mind you. This happens with confounding and infuriating regularity.

This is why I enjoy my me-times. This is why I frequently go out and eat alone with just the company of my books. This is why I enjoy solitary activities like watching movies and listening to podcasts; why I avoid using social networking websites like Facebook habitually. If you read my blog on a regular basis, you might have noticed that I usually sound happy, enthusiastic or at least serene when I talk about novels, films, food and my time spent without human contact (excepting when it's my girlfriend, natch). When I get worked up spewing bile and sulfur, it's almost always because I have spoken to a human being.

Gestating misanthrope,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Let Her Walk All Over Me

"The problem with cats is that they get the exact same look on their face whether they see a moth or an axe-murderer."

Paula Poundstone

A week or so ago, I exited the hospital and found a ball of fur nestled on the top of one of my car's wheels. I wondered if I had unwittingly roadkilled anything on my drive to class that morning when the hairy lump uncoiled itself to reveal a Felis catus - that most liquid of animals capable of catnapping in just about any place on earth. It spotted me standing there and mewed to me in an as-a-matter-of-factly fashion. I think she was saying: "My car. I saw it first."

Cat on Wheels
"Back off. Or I'll kill you. And your family."

"Sorry, I don't speak cat," I mewed in reply. She considered my words solemnly and returned yet another unintelligible meow. We had several more exchanges which - judging from her expression - must have made a lot of sense to the cat, but the meaning of our parley was completely lost on me.

"I need to go now," I finally said. "Get off the wheel or prepare to be puréed."

Silence. Her face said a thousand things, and none of them nice. I always thought a cat's expression is like a kind of Rorschach test in that we, the observers, supply the meaning - this tends to create the illusion that cats are intelligent and expressive. Dogs, on the other hand, have all of two expressions: "DO WANT!" and "I ate my own poop and now I'm sad."

With a sigh, I dislodged the kitty from the tyre, unlocked my car and sat myself in the cockpit but before I could close the door, the cat leapt into the vehicle and onto my lap, cool as you please. There's no limit to a cat's sense of entitlement, I tell you.

Laptop Cat
"You're mine now, hoomin."

Cat Nav
"So... where are we going?"

Clambering Up
"I'm going to walk all over you and there's nothing you can do about it."

Then, she started climbing up my upper body casually; claws out but not all the way. If I have to assume, I'd say that she does this on a pretty regular basis judging from her expertise in not poking me full of pinholes. In no time, she's perched on my right shoulder and had started rubbing her cheeks against mine, purring ecstatically like we've been the best of buddies for years.

Shoulder Cat
"Pursue that fish cart, my good man!"

After several reiterations of her routine of clambering up and down me like I'm some kind of human doormat, I had enough and chucked the feline out of my car. She landed on her feet, as cats are wont to do and immediately sprang back in like a furry rubber ball. Toting her under one arm, I took her some distance away from my Vitara, spun her a bit, put her down facing the opposite direction and ran like crazy, hoping that the cat would be too disoriented to give chase.

When I got back to my car and slammed the door, I saw that she remained exactly where I left her. The little orange figure stared at me for a bit in that severe, flat manner all cats learn how to do when they were just wee little kittens. "I never loved you," she seemed to say with her cold, cruel eyes. "I was merely toying with your feelings, hoomin."

Then it started cleaning itself in a nonchalant fashion, as if I have never happened.

Adoration of the Cat
Happier times. Sniff.

Prefers dogs anyway,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Am Smarter Than This God Botherer

"The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, in a letter responding to philosopher Eric Gutkind, who had sent him a copy of his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.
I disagree with Einstein over the "honourable" bit. I suspect he was merely being polite though.

I was subjected to a drive-by evangelising by an anonymous monotheist and I've decided to write about it because it's easy to do (unlike all the other stuff I've planned to write about). He or she is most likely Christian judging from the modus operandi: ignorance and lies. Let's see the video that that person asked me to watch,

Someone please punch that annoying git of a child in the nuts.

The comment that came with that video suggestion read verbatim,

dear k0k s3n w4i,

maybe this video would give u some thoughts about God and this universe.


The first thing any people of faith needs to know about atheists is that we are not as stupid or as gullible like most religious people are (it's a proven, objective fact; remind me to write about that sometime done, to a degree). Christians et al tend to swallow apocryphal tales like this unquestioningly because after all, that's what they are trained to do - it's what's required by their faith. It's the same reason why a pastor unwittingly spread falsehoods about Darwin's deathbed conversion in a 2007 Christmas party I attended. The idea of Darwin converting to Christianity right at death's threshold and the idea that the Albert Einstein (the icon of smartness himself), as a child, gave a thorough send up to an obnoxious atheist teacher are very attractive wish-fulfilling fantasies. How nice it is to have someone actually intelligent validate their nutty myths and vindicate their indefensible positions, right? And I've seen how people of God ooh and aah when they were told versions of these bald-faced LIES (don't take my word for it; go read the video's comments over at YouTube). Their ovine imbecility disgusts me.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I shall destroy the assertions of the above video in two parts,

Fake Einstein's Arguments

What the atheist teacher brought up is an infantile version of the philosophical Problem of Evil, and I've always felt that Epicurus phrased it best,

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?"

Fake Einstein's argument in the video is that evil doesn't actually exists. He said that just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, evil is actually the absence of good - or as he inelegantly put it, "God's love in one's heart". Which is a perfectly valid argument if goodness is an actual quantifiable variable like heat or light. This is where the metaphor breaks down: goodness doesn't exist either. What we perceive as goodness is a metaphysical concept that can never be objectively defined or measured. So saying that evil is the absence of good is only about as true as saying good is the absence of evil. Meaningless. Waffles.

Any halfway decent student of science should be able to point out this flaw in Fake Einstein's argument. The teacher who got his ass handed to him rhetorically is a caricature of an atheist, written just to convey an argument lamely just so he can stand back quietly while a Hero of the Faith takes him on and shits in his mouth. It's pathetic that the only time people of God can win is when they create a closed, controlled scenario in which their opponent is a strawman that can't even refute a broken metaphor. Want a real challenge? Debate me.

Einstein was an Irreligious

He was either a deist or a pantheist - this I cannot be sure of. But what I can say with certainty is that he was someone who thinks that stories of Abraham's God are absolute bunkum, as characterised by a quote of his above this page. And Einstein said many, many things about religion in his time, and none of them are flattering. Here's another sampler,

"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms."

Albert Einstein, obituary in New York Times, 19 April 1955

If you want some more, you only need to ask, you know,

"I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it."

Einstein, 1954, from Albert Einstein: The Human Side

And here's another,

"It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously."

Albert Einstein, Religion and Science,
New York Times Magazine, 9 November 1930

On the other hand, the veracity of the story of Einstein dealing such a comeuppance to an atheist schoolteacher as a child is not supported by any of Einstein's writings, correspondences or biographies. Personally, I think I've made an extremely good case that the story in the video did not actually happen but in case you need more convincing, there's a lengthier analysis of this particular doggerel over at, a website dedicated to discussing urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of uncertain or questionable origin.

In Summary

I think people who claim to be members of God's party need to stop disseminating misinformation, and I'm not just talking about their scriptures and doctrines here either. I'm all for having my own beliefs (or unbelief) challenged and it is because of that reason I read more polemics by religious scholars than I do atheist works; but please do me the favour of sparing me bullshit like the story in this YouTube video which I can take apart in my fucking sleep. I'm on vacation in Butterworth now and literally just got out of bed minutes ago, not having brushed my teeth even.

You have no idea how much I hunger for intelligent arguments from God's side. To date, I have not faced a single one.

Woke up feeling mean,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Night to Die For

"Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known... then went crazy as a loon."

Lisa Simpson

There are truths in cartoons.

Insomnia appears to be a running theme in my life. On Friday morning, I've turned my head in early for sleeping duties at 1:00 am - and it had become a chore, believe me - but I stayed at sleep's shore till it was 5:00 am before I slipped into somnolence from the sheer tiredness from attempting to pass out. 5:00 am, mind you, was the time I initially set my alarm clock to so I could wake up and do a spot of reading for my end-of-posting exam for the Department of Psychiatry - but a committee in my brain decided in my stead that I needed that meagre last two-hour nap more than I needed to put my nose to the grindstone, so that's what I begrudgingly did. That's not the first time I went for an exam I didn't study for anyway.

This would be an entirely unremarkable event to bring up if it wasn't for the fact that I was expected to embark on a non-stop, all-night-long six-hour drive up north to Butterworth (from Malacca) at the end of that day. I attempted to catch some ZZZ's in the evening - y'know, so I'd be fresh and not destroy myself in a flaming wreck on the North-South Highway - but try as I could, sleep proved to be an impossible proposition. I'll never understand how something I can do so effortlessly while sitting upright and surrounded by a hundred medical students while someone blabber non-stop using a freaking microphone up front can prove to be so unachievable when I am lying supine on a bed in a darkened room. I tried packing to tire myself out but that didn't work. I tried reading some but the book I had was so engrossing that I became even more roused than before. Note to self: try that with Tolstoy's War and Peace next time, a book as impenetrable as it is cubic.

"Fine, be that way," I snapped at no thing in particular and got up in a grump, finding that I have developed a headache - the heavy kind I usually get when I'm deprived of REM sleep. Having nothing better to do I can do, I took a trip to the local Tesco to see if there's anything I'd like to get for my long and lonely ride at midnight. I picked up four bottles of Hoegaarden witbier because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Beer for the Road
A good idea at the time.

Don't ask me to explain my buying impulses. I once bought a rabbit rag doll wearing a white bridesmaid's dress at a gift store for myself while my girlfriend looked on in utter and complete bewilderment. I named it Imelda, by the way.

So, after another couple of hours contemplating the ceiling and getting re-acquainted with the back of my eyelids, I took off into the night at 11:30 pm. Remember that at this point, I was operating solely on that two hours I managed to scrape together that morning. If we're not counting that, I had actually been sleepless for two whole days.

A perceptive person might ask me: Why are you making such a lengthy car journey in the dead of the night without a companion? No one talks like that, of course. The questions I get are usually worded along the lines of "Are you insane?" and "Don't you want to live anymore?" Anyway, the actual reason is that I am something of a nocturnal creature and I just feel far more alert after sundown. Aside from being too bright, daylight is also too hot for me and my car's treacherous air conditioner. And after a radiator pipe burst a month ago, I'm a bit leery of traversing any substantial distance in my jalopy. Because I know next to nothing about the inner workings of an automobile, I can happily assume that the nighttime cold will keep the engine cool and reduce its likelihood of overheating. If a mechanic listens to me talk about cars, he'll probably feel the same way I feel when I hear laypeople talk about health and medicine.

Now, I have done this before (and nearly killed myself doing it - but that's a story for another time). The biggest challenge about it is staying awake, a skill which I recently showed great promise at. The ironic thing is; it's also easier to slip into sleep when one is sitting upright in a metal carriage while barreling down an expressway at more than 100 km/h than it is to accomplish the same thing lying supine. On a freaking bed. In a freaking darkened room. The key is to be able to entertain oneself for six whole hours.

Speaking of entertainment, my car's USB-fed MP3 player is on the fritz; shutting down randomly whenever I accelerate, decelerate, go up an incline, roll down a decline or cruise on a level stretch of road at a constant speed. In other words, it's only reliably operational when my car is standing completely still. The frustration is enough to make a guy want to go for a beer or four. The only warning sign I receive before the music gets cut is the headlights - they go unnaturally bright. So long as they stay that way, the MP3 player won't play. Sometimes, probably just to annoy me, my car makes a high-pitched squeal when I accelerate. I was told it's the timing belt. It belts out time. Or something.

You probably can't tell but I really enjoy singing along to the stereo, and my car is the only place I can warble to my heart's content and not be hauled off by officers of the law for disturbing the peace and indecent exposure of my naked voice. I had my portable Sony MP3 player with me but I've long since learned that singing with in-ears headphones on makes me sound like I have a bad cold and turns my skull into a reverb chamber - which makes it that much harder to buy into my delusions that I can actually carry a tune.

If you have seen me in real life, you might have spotted me walking alone with my headphones on; smiling, laughing or even tearing up on the rare occasion all by myself. I am not insane, the voices in my head reassures me. I am an avid listener of podcasts and recently, I have started tuning in to The Tobolowsky Files. They are basically 40-minute-long recordings of true stories about life, love and the entertainment industry written and told by C-list character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. Movie fans will know him mainly as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day and Sammy Jankis ("Remember Sammy Jankis") in Memento. To TV enthusiasts, he's Bob Bishop (the guy with the Midas touch) in Heroes and Sandy Ryerson (paedophilic former director of the Glee club) in Glee. As much as I enjoy the output of his day job, I think he makes a far greater writer and storyteller. The tales he tells are sometimes funny, frequently touching but are always engaging, charming and inspirational in the most unironical sense of the word. After listening to just two episodes, The Tobolowsky Files had became my favourite podcast. In preparation, I had downloaded about a dozen episodes I haven't yet heard into my MP3 player to listen to on my drive to Butterworth. Available free-of-charge, they are better than most things playing at the cinema and better than all things playing on Malaysian radio stations.

Before reaching KL, I liberated a chilly bottle of beer from the cardboard four-pack. Unlike Tuborg, which had those novel ring pull hybrid caps, Hoegaarden still uses the traditional metal pop caps. I tried using my teeth to pry it open but nearly broke a premolar trying. I thought of attempting that trick someone once showed me of opening it with just my fingers but decided that I was not nearly retarded enough to try steering the car with my left knee. Also, if I must die in a vehicular fireball of twisted metal, I prefer to do it with alcohol inside me instead of outside. Fortunately, I had a Swiss Army knife on my person and I marvelled idly at the thought of an army that has both a bottle opener and a corkscrew as part of their standard issues.

By the time I got to the very desolate, narrow and mountainous stretch of the North-South between Ipoh and Butterworth, I had came to the realisation that earbuds are pretty uncomfortable things to wear for 4 straight hours. I removed them and an awkward kind of silence pervades, broken at times only by the banshee wail of the engine. My passenger seats were disturbingly empty. In the completely unlighted parts of the drive, my rear-view mirror showed me a pool of solid blackness uninterrupted by the headlights of other motorists. It was unsettling to say the least. Lucky for me, a byproduct of my being an atheist is a comforting disbelief in the existence of ghosts, demons and spirits. I cockily told them so. Out loud.

Next, I tried crooning along to my car's glitchy stereo, thinking that if my atheistic superpower wasn't enough to chase away the spooks, my terrible singing would. I had one song on repeat, determined to learn it by heart by the time I arrive. It's Sorry I Stole Your Gurl by the powerpop band, The Friday Night Boys and it's crazy catchy. It's just incidental that the song also happened to be about another recurring theme in my life.

"Oh, oh
I'm sorry if I stole your girl"

Like a warped version of musical chairs, the speakers would stop playing unpredictably (headlights flaring bright) and I would find myself singing to no music, forcing me to face the reality that I'm as tone deaf as a swan. Have you ever heard a swan call? They honk, bugle and hiss. Musical birds they are not.

"Oh, oh
I'm sorry if she likes me more than
She ever liked you,
She never liked you"

Ouch, zing and buuurn. This is totally my newest favourite song.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry,
I'm sorry if I stole your girl"

At about 4:30 am, I had enough of singing and killed the music, and a gloomy quiet descended into the car once more. The monotony of darkness was starting to work its voodoo on my weary brain and I had begun falling into microsleeps at the wheel. Even the tablet of pseudoephedrine I popped at the beginning leg of the journey could stave off the drowse no longer. Erring on the side of caution, I pulled over at the next truck stop for a wizz and a half-hour snooze. There, I had a dream I cannot recollect.

I arrived in Butterworth at about half past five in the morning. At the bottom of an apartment building, I dialled a number I dial almost every single day of the week, spoke a single line and waited. A couple of minutes trickled by and my long distance girlfriend appeared wearing a set of pyjamas I frequently told her were ugly; a critique which she happily ignores like most of the other things I say.

"Your pyjamas are still hideous," I whispered. She hugged me and made the whole journey worth it.

Now available in Butterworth,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, September 16, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan's Devil: A Review

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects (1995)

Spoiler free! Drink up!

Devil Poster
Hey, this is actually pretty cool!

The trailer for Devil pitches an Idea with a Twist: five strangers trapped in an elevator and one of them is the Devil, Old Nick the Prince of Darkness himself. It's a simple but effective sell for a minimalistic supernatural thriller and I imagine that many people, like me, were intrigued by it. I've read that in the US, audiences were just as suitably drawn into the premise - at least until "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" flashed on the screen and everybody immediately groan or laugh in reaction. It's indicative of how far Mr Shyamalan had fallen since Sixth Sense more than a decade ago when he was compared favourably to Hitchcock, Spielberg and Kubrick. Nowadays, such comparisons are mostly made by himself.

Devil is the first of the Night Chronicles, a series of films written - but not directed - by the guy and it seems to be a return to the small-scale thrillers with a tight cast he was initially known and loved for back in the day. The screenplay's written by Brian Nelson and it was directed by the Dowdle brothers, which made me wonder: which part of the film actually came "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan"? Anyhow, I'm just really glad he's nowhere near a pen in this because writing is really not his strong suit. The story which M. Night allegedly thought up for Devil is heavily inspired - consciously or not - by a certain Agatha Christie novel which I will not name here because doing so will pretty much spoil this movie outright. Heck, considering the film's premise, the mere mention of Agatha Christie's name could have been enough to spoil it for me personally since I'm pretty cognizant of the Dame of Mystery's best works.

So was Devil a good film? Not frightfully so but I certainly liked it. Did it vindicate M. Night and re-establish him as a creative force to be reckoned with in Hollywood? No effing way. Personally, I don't think he deserves any credit since his biggest contribution to the film was thought up by a British crime writer first in the 1930's. I'd go further and say that this film will probably perform better if his name wasn't attached to it in the first place.

Devil's pedigree is a thriller first and foremost, with the horror elements taking a leisurely backseat sipping a drink coolly and watching you bemusedly with white-less eyes. Jump-scares are few in between and are incorporated rather subtly, if that makes any sense. The film prefers to present you with ideas, situations and images to you in a rather forward manner and let them slowly sink into your mind and unsettle your thoughts; giving you that horrible gnawing urge to look behind. The "face" in the security footage was one. The upside down aerial shot of the city of Philadelphia was another. I can always appreciate a horror film which knows the difference between a shock, a scare and an effective atmosphere of creep.

The cast is comprised of a bunch of familiar unknowns that you are sure you must have seen before but can't remember where. The way the five strangers act in the elevator made me think that the director must have told each and every one of them that they are really the Great Deceiver himself (and some of them certainly telegraphed that stronger than others). I gave up trying to find the devil in plain sight after a while because I realise that this isn't really constructed as a mystery with valid clues leading to a natural conclusion. Turn off your brain and just enjoy the ride for this one. Even though it's a movie that appears to demand you to think, it doesn't really.

The stakes are pretty high what with gruesome deaths and eternal damnation being a distinct possibility for the people trapped in that elevator, and the confined space and forced proximity certainly magnified the tension to a rather claustrophobic degree of desperation. I suppose M. Night did come up with this so I guess I must award him credits for it. What I don't appreciate is his tired brand of "everything happens for a reason" spirituality hokum and I find it more contrived in this case compared to even Signs (another M. Night movie) because of how tangential and irrelevant it is to the main story - but I suppose Devil's paltry 80-minute running time (with many of those minutes consisting of a completely black screen with desperate cries and violent noises, mind you) desperately needed padding. There's only so much you can do with five random people in little box after all, even if one of them is Beelzebub. Still, the movie didn't feel like it was too short and I was surprised when I emerged from the theatre to find out that little more than an hour had passed. Boy, I can't wait to see Ryan Reynolds in Buried; which is just one guy with a cell phone in an even smaller box.

I expected to get hit repeated by a quick succession of left hooks when I sat down for Devil but what I did not expect was to be actually surprised by any of them. There was one particularly audacious death scene which took my breath away for a moment ("Damn," to quote the Devil and I'm inclined to agree) and that rarely happens to me nowadays considering how overexposed I am to thrillers which think that the more peripeteia they can cram into themselves, the better they would become.

The events in Devil is framed by a story-within-a-story; an ersatz South American folktale called "The Devil's Meeting" which described in surgical detail what is happening and what it takes to beat the Fallen One - and all of it is provided in expo-speak by a Catholic Latin security guard. S'not a good idea if you ask me. One of the most important assets of a supernatural thriller is the element of the unknown, and having everything laid bare in such a ham-fisted way would definitely reduce the level of suspense. I do not need to say that such a narrative device also reminded me of another M. Night film I do not want to remember: Lady in the Water. Also the final scene was written with too much schmaltz and its banality was compounded by the actors acting it out through the phone line, leaving me feeling oddly unsatisfied as the credits started rolling - almost abruptly. It's a shame because for the most part, the film proved to be pretty solid.

All in all, Devil succeeded in what it set out to be - nothing more that that. The second film in the Night Chronicles is called Twelve Strangers Reincarnate and it's about a jury discussing a case dealing with the supernatural. M. Night may not be a very good director and everyone agrees that he writes atrociously, but the man certainly knows how to sell a good idea.

P.S. Highlight within brackets for the name of that Agatha Christie novel I referenced: [Ten Little Niggers (1939). It was retitled And Then There Were None, for obvious reasons]

Supernaturally thrilled,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gadoh: A Review

"Gelap. Apa yang aku lihat hanyalah kegelapan. Mata ini untuk melihat, tapi apa yang nak dilihat jika semuanya gelap? Ini cerita aku, cerita kami, cerita kita yang hidup dalam kegelapan."

Khalil in Gadoh (2009)

"Malays are stupid," said a Chinese colleague of mine a few days ago, just out of earshot of every Malay person in the vicinity. "Malays are lazy, and they are stupid."

I do not recall what we were talking about which ejected such a response from him, but I remember what I said to that. I said, "You are racist," and my outburst was loud enough that a few Indian and Chinese colleagues nearby stopped what they were doing and listened.

"But what I said is true," he defended his racist slur lamely, a little less sure of himself this time. It's evident that he did not expect someone to call him out on what he said. He had believed that every and any Chinese Malaysian - including me - to wholeheartedly concur with his point of view.

"No it's not," I told him, and named several Malay colleagues of ours who are demonstrably smarter and more hardworking than he is. "You are racist, plain and simple," I reiterated with finality. He lost that battle, and said no more.

I am someone who would not compromise my values if I believe I can demonstrate that I am in the right, and I would voice them no matter how many people I have to defend my opinions against (which is especially true when I speak in support of gay rights, which often comes down to me versus everyone else in the room). It's a character trait I acquired after I shed my belief in religion, that last thing which divides us most strongly as human beings. Yes, there was a time long ago when I was just as screamingly racist as the guy I argued with above, and I admit that I too have said the exact same things he said before. Even after I've discarded my racist ideations, I preferred to just laugh politely whenever anyone goes on a blatantly racist spiel and I maintained this stand-offish attitude for the longest time. It takes courage to stand for what is right and it takes extraordinary courage to do it when you are vastly outnumbered.

I'm just glad I found my voice.

Gadoh Poster
Is it me or a lot of political graphics tend to be black and yellow?

Gadoh is a film about that courage, and I have no doubt that many would have complaints about it. They would say that it is tasteless and offensive. It ignores political correctness. It demonises figures of authority and encourages disobedience. It brings up issues considered to be taboo. It might give our country a bad name if an outsider watches it. The high school kids in it smokes and drinks. There's racial slurs in it. The mentor of these kids lights up like the Marlboro Man in every other scene. What they would fail to see is that Gadoh is also completely truthful (even the underage smoking and drinking bits). It's a testament to the reality that every Malaysian has to deal with everyday.

This is a movie about you and me, and that is why you must see it.

The Film.

This is the full-length feature film, available in its entirety for free.

Gadoh follows the story of two groups of students - one Malay and the other Chinese - in the aftermath of a brawl between them that gave their school a whole load of unwanted attention. In a bid for counter-publicity, the principal authorised the establishment of a theatre club on the suggestion of a Cikgu Anne so the kids can put up a show for the benefit of a politician from the Ministry of Education and for the press. Cikgu Anne then enlisted the help of a Azman (played by scribe and co-director, Namron), an unconventional, non-conformist "theater activist" to train the reluctant delinquents. It's not hard to guess how the movie would unfold after this: a quarrelsome, ragtag bunch of teenagers set aside their differences and learn to work together through the Power. Of. Theatre! It reminds me strongly of 2007's Freedom Writers in which a young English teacher unites a class of racially diverse teenagers during the LA Race Riots of '92 using the Power. Of. Creative Writing!

It is, however, not that simple. I am pleased to say that Gadoh is a far more ambitious film than that. The film is not about where it goes, but how it gets there.

A problem native to Malaysian filmmaking is bad acting and poor production values, and I'll admit that this film resembles a made-for-TV movie more than it does a theatrical feature - so it helps if you can pretend you're watching a stage production instead. But I'll also admit that some of the actors' performances truly impressed me. Mohd Zahiril Adzim, who played the leader of the Malay gang, Khalil, was especially good - and believe me, I'm not judging by local standards here. He even looks like that Malay boy who beat me up back when I was in high school.

The script, credited to Namron and R. Cong, is also well thought out, realistic and unapologetically bilingual. The soundtrack has its moments though it could have been transcendental if they had chosen to include some Chinese music as well, considering the film's aesop. I particularly liked Bin Jidan's Garisan Abstrak and the song in the credits, The A.C.A.B.'s Angkasa.

Would it help if I also tell you that this is by far the best Malaysian-made film I have ever seen?

The Message.

The film does not pull its punches and at times, I found myself flinching. In Gadoh, the Chinese students say that the Malays do not respect the Chinese people, say that the Malays are oppressive, lazy, stupid and useless. The Malay students in turn say that the Chinese are deceitful and greedy; insist that the Chinese are merely squatters in their country; claim that they do not shower in the morning or wash their arses after shitting; and pronounce that all Chinese people will go to hell after they die. They also repeatedly call the Chinese "babi" (which is a racial slur that means "pig" in the Malay language) and hates the fact that the Chinese consume pork.

I won't speak for the Malay's side but I can attest to the fact that each and every last word the Malay students said about the Chinese in Gadoh are real-life insults I've had hurled at me before by Malay kids both in school and in my neighborhood. As a Chinese guy, I would like to point out that they are derogatory remarks which can be applied to individuals from any race and are all untrue as far as I am concerned - except that part about eating pork, of course. I maintain that pork is fucking delicious.

Back when I was in high school, the kids around would try to break the fight, not cheer it on.

We can all deny that such inter-ethnic demonisations doesn't happen in society. We can all pop the blue pill and sip the sirap Kool-Aid, and pretend that everything's hunky-dory in Najib's 1Malaysia Bolehland. Or we can expose it like the way Gadoh did and ask why; why the fuck do these things happen? The movie makes a terribly good assertion that the poisonous environment all of us grow up in (regardless of what race you are) is to be blamed. Our parents, elders and peers are to be blamed. Our schoolteachers - even headteachers and principals, as recent events showed - and politicians are to be blamed. After all, if everyone you trust tells you the same thing about the other races, why would you doubt the veracity of those claims? I am inclined to agree with the filmmakers on this. Once, a five or six-year-old Malay boy on a bicycle shouted "babi" at me unprovoked. At the time, I toyed with the notion of complaining to the child's parents but decided against it ultimately because the chances are too good that a kid that young learned how to be racist from them in the first place.

There are small, subtle touches within the Gadoh which I would never associate with Malaysian directors before now. I like how the school canteen in the prologue fight scene serves a variety of food native to the different Malaysian race. In fact, right before the titular brawl started, some of the Malay boys were eating Chinese food. The Chinese gang, on their way to the canteen, swaggered past a public service advertisement for Thalassemia depicting a crowd of students of various ethnicity with the headline "Kita Serupa" ("We are Alike") in big, bold letters. In what I consider to be the most poignant and powerful scene in the film - when Khalil met his Chinese archenemy, Heng, on the streets at night - there's a part where Khalil watched as a stray dog root through garbage. If that's not symbolism for Khalil's anagnorisis or revelation which follows, I don't know what is.

Gadoh Heng, Azman and Khalil
"Now kiss and make up."

It also amused me that one of the least racist characters in this film is the Chinese gangster, Shin - a villain with virtually no other redemptive features. One of his enforcers appear to be an Indian guy, and he would happily do business with Malay thugs pushing stolen goods onto him.

Still, as much as I love the film, there are some nits I would like to pick at. While the Malay versus Chinese aspect was well fleshed out, Gadoh's treatment of Malaysian Indians is less than flattering. The token Indian guy in the film is this weedy kid who got pushed around a lot, but is still masochistic enough to want to befriend his tormentors. If I had made this movie instead, I wouldn't be able to resist exploring the Indian side of the story - and perhaps this is why I might make a poorer filmmaker in comparison to the artists behind Gadoh. The story should always take precedence, and trying to say too much (like Jack Neo, for example, is wont to do) might burden the narrative. The story Brenda Danker et al. wanted to tell is the rivalry between the Malay and the Chinese in Malaysia, considering that the most rabidly racist rabble-rousers are found within these two groups.

There are plot threads which got resolved too conveniently and unnaturally. It's almost as if the actors are going through the motions of an ideal world where racism isn't so intractably entrenched as to be ineliminable. The cynic in me believes that if the film's story was allowed to proceed organically, the delinquents would all drop out of the theatre club after the first meeting. An ideal world will not come about if things are allowed to run their natural courses. An ideal world is a conscious choice, an active choice. It's a choice which we need to fight for.

Or at least, that's what one can gather from a meta-reading of Gadoh.

Final Thoughts.

Do you know that FINAS - the government body responsible for the regulation and development of the film industry in Malaysia - refused to approve Gadoh for screenings in theatres? Do you know that FINAS have, on several occasions, employed the police force to shut down private screenings?

This is what the current regime truly stands for. This is why 53 years after our Independence, we still have not exorcised the ghost of racism which divides us. Our country and goverment is obsessed with political correctness and enforces an atmosphere of silent tolerance between the races when what we urgently need to do is not to continue tolerating one another, but to start accepting one another.

This is why our film industry will always flounder, and it will do so under the inane weight of impossibly bad, cancerous Senario type comedies, terrible horror films and other tasteless miscellaneous et ceteras which FINAS does approve of while real films of substance like Gadoh never sees the light of day. They have failed to recognise genuine, un-neutered art and have mistaken the truth for subversion. They have failed their charge and our people. They have failed our country.

Gadoh Pengetua and Datuk
From left to right: FINAS and the government Principal Chua and the Datuk from the Education Ministry.

Gadoh will never be projected on the big screen or broadcasted on television so it's up to us to give a big fat middle finger to FINAS by seeing it anyway and by making sure all our fellow Malaysians see it too - they are the people who need to see it most. I am indulging in the idealist in me here when I say I believe that this film has the power to make a difference in our country because of what it has to say. This nation will not change through logical debate or on the strength of our rhetorics alone. The battle for Malaysia's soul will not be won in the mind, but in the heart.

It's a long hard road to a country I know all true Malaysians want. So, walk with me.

P.S. I watched Gadoh on vimeo and then saw it a second time through a copy I got off BitTorrent (which was not subtitled, unfortunately), and am planning to purchase a DVD of it from Pusat KOMAS just so I can lend it to my friends. I wonder if they would object to selling me a subtitled digital copy which I can propagate more easily. The only DVD of a Malaysian movie I own is Yasmin Ahmad's Sepet.

P.P.S. Here's a negative review of Gadoh by TMBF which brought up a lot of points I agree with - but which I did not express to preserve the economy of opinion. It's quite unlike his review of The Losers which I violently, viscerally and vitriolically disagree with. Anyhow, he disliked Gadoh and if you're interested, I posted what is essentially a whole blog post in the comment section of his review, bringing up a LOT of things which I couldn't fit into this post of mine.

Anak bangsa Malaysia,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

This is Relevant to My Interests

"One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror."

Bartimaeus in The Amulet of Samarkand (2003)

Three years ago, I shilled a trilogy of books on this very site - that three being the few books I would recommend to just about anyone, anywhere, anytime. They are The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate and till date, not one person who checked them out on my word fails to become a fan. It's an archetypal "A Boy and His X" story (and in this case, a djinni) with an overarching bildungsromanic soul set in a country at the brink of a class revolution - all wrapped up in a very palatable pita of sass, snark and historical in-jokes guaranteed to make you laugh out freaking loud. The relationship between the lonely young magician and his 5000-year-old demonic slave is certainly one of the most outstanding examples of friendship in literature I have ever read, especially in the third and final book. This is a criminally underrated set of novels, people, and I think that's a crying shame because it concluded so much more gracefully (and I think more satisfyingly) in contrast to the Harry Potter series' finale and its hideous epilogue. The Bartimaeus Trilogy cannot escape comparison to the Potter books; both being set in England, are about magicians and are meant for young readers. Nathaniel, Barty's master, can be most aptly described as the poorly adjusted, power-hungry cousin of The Boy Who Lived - and is all the more fascinating for it.

Just a couple of days ago, I discovered the existence of a prequel,

Ring of Solomon
The Ring of Solomon - gasp!

I was completely blindsided, having no idea or impression at all that Jonathan Stroud had plans for another Bartimaeus novel, let alone was working on it! And what more, he had already finished it and the hardcover will hit bookstores at the end of this year! While I cannot scrounge up any info on the book's exact UK release date, the American edition was set for launch on the 2nd of November (yes Jen, with a cover that matches the ones you have).

As Bartimaeus boasted on numerous occasions, he once served Solomon and that one of his many colourful names is Sakhr Al-Jinni. If you're familiar with the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights folk tales, Sakhr was the spirit who stole Solomon's ring after conning it out of the possession of one of his wives by shapeshifting into Solomon's likeness. The spirit then ruled the kingdom for forty days on Solomon's throne while the real king wandered the country as a vagabond. On the fortieth day, Sakhr threw the ring into the sea and it was snapped up by a fish. That fish was then caught by a fisherman and was given to Solomon as wages (the dethroned king having taken up service with the fisherman). With the help of the recovered magic ring, Solomon was restored to power and Sakhr was either imprisoned in a bottle and thrown into the sea or was tasked by Solomon to build a mosque, depending on which version of the lore you read. Both eventualities were alluded to by Bartimaeus in his tongue-in-cheek footnotes. This is another reason why I love the Bartimaeus Trilogy; it was so well-researched and richly written.

ring of solomon prequel
The US cover.

So, my guess is The Ring of Solomon would be the "true story" behind the Sakhr and Solomon myth, told from Bartimaeus' point of view. Of course, I wonder if the tone of the book would fare for the worse without Nathaniel to play the straight man to Bartimaeus' comedic insolence...

Nah. Gimme the damn book now.

P.S. There's also a graphic novel adaptation of The Amulet of Samarkand, apparently. I don't have much hope for the film of the book though now that Miramax have folded. Personally, I don't think the books can translate well into any other medium due to the nature of their narrative.

P.P.S. I'm rereading the original trilogy in anticipation of the new book. Can't wait.

Won't be waiting for the paperback,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 04, 2010

What My Country Thinks of Me

"Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan
Kesetiaan kepada Raja dan Negara
Keluhuran Perlembagaan
Kedaulatan Undang-Undang
Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan"

The Rukunegara

Malaysia 53
My country, right or wonky.

is a portmanteau that means "National Principles" in my country's official language and I cannot recite half of it honestly. The first line calls for "a belief in god", which I don't and can't - not out of rebellious obstinacy but because my rational mind will not permit me. It would take either take a florid psychotic episode, a marked deterioration of my personality, an incontrovertible proof or extensive brain damage for me to develop any faith in the supernatural. The committee which authored this principle explained that a belief in a deity is important to any meaningful human life and that the lack of religiousity can cause the collapse of a person's character and ultimately doom that person's people and nation. What scares me most is that that explanation used to make a heckuva lot of sense to me as a kid. There was a time when I can actually equate godlessness to immorality in a finger snap because it's just one of those stereotypes which sounded like one of life's unquestionable truths. Drug addicts are criminals. Rapists are base animals. Atheists are just plain evil.

Then I became an atheist, and realise that being one did not automatically make me lose my conscience or morals. What I also realised was that the ignoramuses who penned the Rukunegara possess a worldview which was as only as sophisticated as a child's. It's all black-and-white; all us-versus-them. How do we unite a plural nation? Find something that we all have in common and gang up on the few oddballs who are different, that's how. Hyuk hyuk.

The third line in the Rukunegara can be translated to "the supremacy of the constitution" and my country's constitution treats me like a second class citizen just because I'm ethnically Chinese by birth. Article 153 grants the King the responsibility to "safeguard the special position of the Malay people and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities". It continues into specifics, like the establishment of racial quotas for entrance into civil service, public scholarships and public education... it's all academic but I'm a realist, so let's talk reality. A couple of days ago, one of my Psychiatry lecturers (an Indian by ethnicity) told us how he was both the best student academically and the sports captain of his high school, a never before achieved feat in his institution. He then told us how ten of his Malay friends, some of who used to copy his schoolwork, received government scholarships to study abroad while his applications were ignored. I too had to grin and bear it when some of my Malay classmates (who are both richer and did worse than me in the public examinations) flew off to the UK on government funding, part of which came from the tax money that my parents paid.

The realist in me asks, how is this country going to advance when it continuously rewards mediocrity while leaving its brightest minds feeling bitter?

Every time I bring this up in a public forum, I was told by some Malays that I'm being racist or racially-minded. That is fucking ridiculous. It's only in Malaysia can someone calling out a racist policy be considered racist. When I express my wish to someday leave this country and be someplace where I'm not being discriminated against constitutionally, they would call me unpatriotic; they would call me a traitor. Do they expect me to lie around and be their doormat for the rest of my life, giving up a percentage of my earnings in support of a constitution which will discriminate against my children too? Can you really fault me?

One or two of my non-Malay friends feel that this country can be bettered and that they wish to stay to make it happen - but most of us have already made up our minds to kiss this place goodbye the first chance we get. Do not question our decision to leave, please. If you really care, question the system which made us want to leave our homeland in the first place. If you don't care that we're going away, then more power to you.

I was born in Malaysia. Both my parents and most of my grandparents were born in Malaysia. It's the only home I know. I love this place, I love the people and I won't say I love the food because that would be an entirely superfluous thing to voice. I can write and read the Malay language but I cannot read Chinese. I have to interview patients in the hospital daily due to the nature of my studies and I can honestly say that I like talking to the Malay ones best - they are usually the most approachable lot. Also, believe it or not, I can speak Malay far better than I can speak the Chinese dialects. I am a Malaysian through and through, from my ankles up to the tips of hair on my head.

That Malaysian in me asks,
why am I still being treated like an immigrant?

Maybe, when I finally turn my back and leave this country for good, the Malays, the bumiputeras, the self-proclaimed princes of the land can shout "good riddance" after me. In that moment, I wouldn't know what to shout in retort or if I would even feel like doing so. Because in that moment, I would be crying.

P.S. Happy 53rd birthday, Malaysia. I love you. Maybe one day you will love me back.

A Malaysian twofer,
k0k s3n w4i