Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Malaysian Assalamualaikum Controversy

"The greeting is sensitive to some groups of Muslims. In any religion, there are extremists, moderates, liberals or conservatives groups. Although, both Azhar and me belongs to neither of those groups, we are still a group of individuals who believe it is improper for a non-Muslim to use the greeting."

Arif Shah Haji Omar Shah,
Seberang Jaya state assemblyman

The above quote was his explanation for taking offense when an Opposition assemblyman, Jason Ong Khan Lee, started a public speech with the Arabic (and traditionally Muslim) greeting: "Assalamualaikum" which translates to "peace be upon you." It means the same and serves the same function as the Hebrew "Shalom aleichem".

Arif Shah is gnashing his teeth about it and so is his UMNO comrade, Azhar Ibrahim. And the other little UMNO-bots who were present are also raging with righteous Islamic anger over being wished peace by this dirty, fucking kafir politician who does not belong to their fucking party. That's the short of it.

arif shah and azhar ibrahim
That agonised man in white in the picture on the left is Arif Shah. Azhar Ibrahim is ye olde bloke in the right.

This is a crazy déjà vu-ish repeat of that ridiculous controversy last year over the use of the word Allah© by the Catholic Herald in the Malay translation of their publications (which I wrote about, if you recall), demonstrating what total oversensitive gits a lot of Malaysian Muslims really are. Anyway, the issue grew to the degree that it was publicised on Al Jazeera for the rest of the global ummah to point and laugh at our collection of illiterate fundamentalist hicks laying claims on a language they don't even speak. It doesn't take a freaking genius to predict that something of a similar nature is almost certainly going to crop up again - because like bad stereotypes, they totally didn't learn anything from the last fiasco. Not one neuron smarter, and damn proud of it they are, guv'nor.

Also note how I casually used "Assalamualaikum" in my signature in that article and none of the Muslim commenters present said I shouldn't do so. It's as if this whole debacle was, oh-me-gosh, fucking made up on the spot!

So accusations aside, what did the Qur'an and Hadith actually say about non-Muslims using the salam as a secular greeting? Did Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) forbid it? Did he decree all good Muslims must be super offended when the kuffar do not know their rightful place and dare wish them peace in good faith?

Nope, I found nothing of that nature. What I did find is this hadith which can be interpreted as an injunction against Muslims initiating salam to Jews and Christians,

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Do not give the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) the greeting first. Force them to the narrowest part of the road."

Apparently, a lot of Muslim scholars said that the salam is a greeting of honour and a non–Muslim, a kafir, does not deserve to be honoured thus. It's okay, I'm used to being thought of as subhuman by religious people all my life anyway. And no, don't ask me what "the narrowest part of the road" is. I also don't know what is north of the North Pole or the sound of one hand clapping. It's all too zen for me.

But that's not all. Surah An-Nisa' verse 86 has this to say,

"And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant."

So in summary, it may or may not be okay to wish a kafir peace and blessings on one's own initiative, but it is believed that a Muslim must return whatever greetings given to them - particularly the salam, even when an infidel offers it. Well known 7th-century Sunni theologian, Imam Hasan al-Basri reportedly said, "Initiating the saying of salam is voluntary, but replying to the greeting of salam is compulsory." Ismail ibn Kathir, a supposedly great Muslim Muhaddith, Faqih, historian, and commentator agreed that what Hasan al-Basri said is the unanimous position of all scholars.

The only real dispute in Islam-dom is precisely how a Muslim should respond to a kafir's greetings. Should a good Allah-fearing Muslim simply say "Wa'alaikum" (and upon you too) or go full "Wa'alaikumsalam" (and peace be upon you)? The jury's still out on that. Of course, greetings IZ SERIOUZ BUSINEZZ in Islam and there are still reams and reams of text on this subject I have not brought up - and you can thank me now because I won't inflict them on you.

To round this up, famous 7th century Islamic jurist, mufassir, chemist, philosopher, psychologist, scientist, and theologian, Ibn Qayyim, said: "If it is confirmed that the non-Muslim citizen (Dhimmi) said salaam ‘alaikum’ (clearly), the dictates of the principles of Jurisdiction and the rulings/evidence of the Shariah is in line with replying with ‘wa ‘alayka as-salaam’ (and upon you be peace)..." He then go on to quote the same verse 86 of Surah An-Nisa' above to justify his stance.

Jason Ong Khan Lee
Jason Ong: Next time, I'm going with "Shabbath Shalom".

My point is, Jason Ong did nothing wrong and this is all just another nutty non-troversy raised by UMNO firebrands to get the dimmer demography of Muslims in Malaysia all stoked against their political rivals. Mufti of Perlis, Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, said 4 years ago that it's totally cool for non-Muslims to use the salam. PAS religious scholar, Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, agreed. Case closed.

So assalamualaikum, Arif and Azhar. Do kindly shut up and just accept niceties offered to you like grownups, mkay?

Rules of Greeting non-Muslims in Islam 
SunniPath, the Online Islamic Academy

Kibitzing kafir,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, February 26, 2011

So, Some Bloke Threatened to Sue Me...

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

Some of you might have noticed the little drama playing out in the tagbox in my site's sidebar with one Graham Barclay but that was what they would call the tip of the iceberg - the best bits occurred offline through a brief frictional e-mail exchange.

You are running one of my photographs on your Flikr page
without permission or prior consent.

The image in question is located at the following URL:

This is a clear breach of my copyright and tantamount to theft as it is my

If you choose to ignore this notification and fail to remove it I will
pursue this matter to the full extent of the law and instruct my lawyers.

This will inevitably result in your having to pay large amounts of money out.

So, in the first instance I'm requesting 'politely' that you remove this
image at once.

I hope therefore hope you will decide to make the right decision on this

Yours faithfully,
Graham Barclay

He's was referring to a picture of genius comic book writer and professional weirdo, Alan Moore, which I used in my review of a film adaptation of one of his masterpieces, Watchmen. Note the quotation marks around the word "politely", put there by the author of the e-mail himself. Aside from this, he also left a sarcastic remark in my tagbox, attempting to coax compliance from me by bringing up my occupational field and making insinuations about how I'm not living up to its standards. He said: "Would have though as a medic you may have been slightly more clued up to be honest!"

Anyway, it took me all of one minute to Google another picture of Alan Moore to replace Allegedly Polite Lawsuit Guy's copyrighted property.

Dear sir,

Done. But "polite" must have a different meaning where you are from. I apologise for using your photograph without prior permission but I was under the impression that fair use under reporting and reviews - the category which blogs typically fall under - renders my utilisation of said picture legit (I may be wrong in assuming so, of course, not being a lawyer). I've made no direct profits from my use and indeed, my site is quite evidently a limited and personal online journal. Besides, the picture uploaded in my Flikr account also carried the subtext crediting the source (i.e. you). Do you also want to look into my Facebook, Friendster and Myspace accounts in case I had also griveously robbed you of your work within those media?

Hugs and kisses.

Yours in brotherly love,

Yes, I'm kind of a dick and I rub people the wrong way, but methinks I'm hardly alone here in this regard. Anyway, his reply was,

I would consider that I've been perfectly 'polite' in my request. As does my legal representative. The fact that you have made no revenue from one of my pictures is of no consequence whatsoever. If you would like me to clarify the legality and definitions thereof I would be more than happy to do so. The rights to this image are mine. Period. That does not mean you are able to include them on your pages for any reason without permission and or licensing.

I have tried to be reasonable in my request and given you the option to remove the work. If you have done this, thank you very much, however your sarcastic tone is rather unnecessary, particularly as you've broken the law and I'm giving you a break!

Please be aware that there are very few among us who would have afforded you this luxury!

Yours sincerely,
Graham Barclay

Here, he's playing the "Hey-I'm-one-of-the-good-guys" card. I love that bit where he went, "... b-b-b-but me and my lawyer think I was polite!"

Dear Sir,

On the internet where many intellectual properties are frequently duplicated, often past the second, third or fourth parties, it can be sometimes difficult to trace the source of any material and to ascertain if the copyright owners allow sharing (with or without attribution). This is particularly true of images pulled from search engines. I have had real, genuinely polite requests from owners of material I have used to either (a) credit them or to (b) remove said material - all without threats of lawsuits or sly, sarcastic insinuations regarding my character. I have gracefully complied in all those instances with narry a peep. You may be technically and lawfully in the right, but I felt you have not had the courtesy to extend me the benefit of the doubt that perhaps (surprise! surprise!) I had no actual dishonest intentions in using your photograph (and my intention, if you want clarification, is to merely share the content of my blog with my friends) or am merely unclear on the minutiae of fair use rights. Simply put, threatening to sue and underhanded insults in the tagbox of my blog are not considered to be polite, at least where I'm from. Sarcasm, I felt, is precisely the appropriate response. There are no legal requirements for me to be meek, humourless and utterly straitlaced in complying with your request, however rightful. And I do recognise your magnanimity in giving me the option to remove the work (which very few among you, apparently, would do). You are clearly the soul of generousity.

Again, I apologise if I have caused you any problems, monetary loss or traumatising emotional distress with my terrible and criminal behaviour.


I am aware that it's fully within his right to request his work to be removed from my blog - I have nothing against doing that. There's a cyberspace out there full of Alan Moore's mugshots with originators who are far more blasé about this sort of thing after all. Personally, I allow anyone at all to re-use my writings, photographs and graphics so long as they credit me (or not, as the case usually is) because trying to fight the internet is kind of a Sisyphean exercise. But I'm not generous like Mister Barclay, Afforder of Luxuries, of course.

Now, we'll just wait and see if Mister Barclay takes umbrage at my publication of our private electronic correspondence without his permission. If he does, I might be forced to edit this post and paraphrase everything he said (which can potentially be a lot of fun, I must admit).

P.S. I heard the libel laws in the UK are particularly archaic and draconian. I had been following the Simon Singh versus the British Chiropractic Association case with great interest.

Pirate most heinous,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Contribution to the Internet Today

"Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen!"

Stilgar in Dune (1984)

Paul Meow'Dib teh Kwisatz Caterach
Teh spice must flow... ovah there. Dis sidez full.

I spotted this picture over at the Cute Overload blog today and the geek in me just couldn't resist. Those of you who are *gasp* unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's monumental sci-fi novel series (and their film adaptations) will not get the reference at all. And yes, I'm aware that I'm not at all original - there's already at least two other lolcat homages to Dune floating about in cyberspace,

Fremkitteh iz rite.

An aside: I stuck a lolcat image macro at the end of every slide presentation I gave in med school. True story. My lecturers were not amused.

Upstanding netizen,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

10 Films of 2010 I Liked Most

"I just want to be perfect."

Nina Sayers in Black Swan (2010)

Okay, disclaimers up front. This is a completely arbitrary list of 10 of my favourite movies of 2010 and I have made no attempts to be exhaustive. Neither did I try to include films I consider to be artistically or technically "great" (but just didn't enjoy all that much for thoroughly frivolous reasons) when I built it. I did not watch as many films as I would have wanted to last year either, mostly because not many good non-popcorn films get to enjoy a run in Small-Town Malacca™. Who knows, some of them would have made my list otherwise. The notable ones are: 127 Hours, The Fighter, The Illusionist, I Love You Phillip Morris, True Grit, and Blue Valentine.

Now, I know it's odd that I did not write any reviews or discussion pieces on most of the items populating my top 10 but that's because I don't necessarily have much to say about stuff I really, really like. But in the interest of not publishing what will read like a sterile shopping list, I'll offer a paragraph of thoughts on each.

And onward,

10. 12th & Delaware

12th & delaware poster

After seeing Grady and Ewing's 2006 Academy Award-nominated documentary, Jesus Camp, I have since been on the lookout for the duo's future projects. So when I heard that they were tackling another contentious subject - the pro-choice versus pro-life debate on abortion - I was immediately on board. The title of the film references a street intersection in Fort Pierce, Florida, where an abortion clinic and a Catholic Church-endorsed Pregnancy Care Center stood on opposing sides, serendipitously symbolising their intractable ethical divide. As was in Jesus Camp, the filmmakers were essentially invisible and made no attempts at peddling the ideology or agendas of either camp. They are contented to just show you, on the smallest scale, this grand controversy which suffuses all levels of humanity the world over. While 12th & Delaware was no where near as provocative as Jesus Camp, I consider it a compulsory watch for anyone who cares about this issue at all.

9. The King's Speech

king's speech poster

Colin Firth is Prince Albert, Duke of York, who had such a crippling stammer that he would freeze in front of thousands, unable to spit it out. Geoffrey Rush is Lionel Logue, unlettered, unconventional Australian speech therapist whose radical ideas include the notion that smoking is actually bad for health. Spoilers for real life: Prince Albert would go on to become King George VI, succeeding his elder brother who abdicated in order to marry a twice-divorced American socialite Nazi-sympathiser. Now, what is a king without a voice to speak to his people and for his kingdom? The King's Speech is one of those schmaltzy, guilty-pleasure-type inspirational true stories of one man's triumph over his disability interbred with a period bromance between a royal prince and a commoner. It's also an intimate and humanising glimpse into the secret lives of the members of the royal family. That's the operational word: family. And who would have thought that overcoming a speech impediment can be so riveting?

8. Last Train Home

Layout 1

It's a documentary about what is allegedly the world's largest annual human migration where more than 100 million Chinese migrant workers return to their home villages for their New Year reunion. Yeah, that summary didn't interest me one bit either but somehow I chose to see it anyway - and I was incredulous when I found myself in love with it. The film follows the story of one dysfunctional family, in which both the parents left their children in the care of an elderly grandmother in rural Sichuan to work in Guangzhou - so they can buy their kids a better life. There are things I've seen in this film that a documentarian's camera had no business witnessing - but surely it was there, harshly acknowledged, when one of the rawest, most brutally honest scenes unfolded in cinematic history. It inadvertently painted Suqin, the eldest daughter, as a spoiled ingrate but she was the person whom I identified most with. I understood how she felt, and I know why she did the things she did. Last Train Home is a tragic story which is made all the more tragic because of how commonplace it is. It's in the hundreds of millions.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

scott pilgrim vs. the world

I am a huge fan of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series and I maintain that it's one of the most important, grounded works of literature on the subject of love and relationship ever published. I rank it alongside Murakami Haruki's South of the Border, West of the Sun based on the sheer influence it had on my life. The film adaptation, Scott Pilgirim vs. the World, failed terribly in translating those themes from paper to celluloid, but the result is a unique, over-the-top, frenetically-stylised action-comedy film which truly captured the pop-culture spirit of a generation raised on video games, comic books and indie music. The dialogues are clever and funny, the characters are neo-Dickensian hipster caricatures and the fight scenes are EPIC. The music, an important element which could only be limply referenced in print, was brought to life in full aural glory. The Clash at Demonhead's song Black Sheep (written by Metric and performed by the vivacious Brie Larson as Envy Adams) is my favourite track from the film, with Sex Bob-Omb's Threshold (by Beck) a close runner-up.

6. Kick-Ass

Kick Ass Poster

To read my review of Kick-Ass, click on this hyperlink. It was one of my most anticipated films of 2010. Personally, I think it's a hard toss between this and Scott Pilgrim - their positions on this list are pretty much interchangeable.

5. How to Train Your Dragon

how to train your dragon poster

I frequently refer to this animated feature as DreamWork's best Pixar impression, and I meant it in the best possible way - and unlike Pixar, DreamWorks actually know how to incorporate 3D properly into their films. Sanders and DeBlois, co-writers and directors of Lilo & Stitch, was probably why How to Train Your Dragon displayed so much heart. You can even vaguely see the genes of Stitch in the character design of the starring dragon. There was an indescribable rush when Hiccup first took flight astride Toothless and in my opinion, it's a flying scene which is as iconic as Aladdin and Jasmine's romantic magic carpet ride in Disney's Aladdin. If you missed this film when it was playing in theatres, I really feel sorry for you - because now you'll never be able to enjoy this film in the way it's meant to be experienced.

4. Inception

Inception Posteri

I had already written an immensely bloated gush on this. Nuff' said, methinks. Can't wait for Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Can't can't can't wait!

3. Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 Poster

I wrote a 1,700 word treatise on why Toy Story 3 is an allegory for the afterlife back in June. Pixar's best work to date, if you ask me.

2. The Social Network

the social network poster

When I found out that they were making a Facebook movie last year, I pooh-poohed the idea. There is absolutely no reason why I would find this film appealing at all - I don't like Facebook, and I don't like to know about wildly successful dot-com entrepreneurs who are wealthy beyond all reason (unlike my Dad - he once bought a me a year's subscription of Forbes which I left unread). This is precisely the reason why I try to watch as many films as I can, even when their premises sound bland to me. Now, I know it's not at all an obsessively accurate chronicle of the founding of the titular social platform (and the legal scandal which followed), but people who derided this film because of that are completely missing the point
also they smell
. I think Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay, said it best: "It is a timeless story, one with themes as old as storytelling itself: of friendship and loyalty, of betrayal, power, class, jealousy. These are things that Aeschylus would have written about or Shakespeare would have written about. And it's just lucky for me that neither of those guys were available, so I got to write about it." It's a narrative stitched together from the points of view of several key characters using the narrative device of two depositions in two separate lawsuits. A great percentage of the film consists simply of conversations - but what piquant, witty and often brutal conversations they are. The cast was perfect, particularly Jesse Eisenberg as an aloof, arrogant, Asperger-ish Mark Zuckerberg. The Social Network also boasts one of the most epic hacking scenes I have ever seen in a movie. It's mostly just a voiceover explaining how its done, but yet... so inexplicably awesome.

1. Black Swan

black swan poster

What can I say about Darren Aronofsky's recursive reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake? It is in essence a portrait of a young woman's loss of innocence and descent into madness. Having studied psychiatry, I found the deterioration which Nina Sayers underwent to be, how should we say, "diagnosable". In fact, I actually planned a whole essay exploring Black Swan from a psychiatric perspective, accessible to a layperson - but I digress. We see the world Nina inhabits from right over her shoulder, and we follow her kinetically and up-close when she dances. Ballet is an emotive and operatic high art, I was told, but this film was the closest I have ever gotten to understanding that sentiment. But make no mistake about it: this is a psychological and bodily horror film. It will unsettle you. The toxic pressure of sexual repression and subversive eroticism, the eerie family dynamics, the physical punishment of performing and Nina's dizzying fluidity of perception - it will put a toll on the mind of anyone following the story. The use of sound effects to augment the sense of surrealism was genius, and Clint Mansell's Tchaikovsky-inspired score was impressive, as per usual. The atmosphere of the film was so heightened that I actually felt I was going insane watching it. This is without a doubt Natalie Portman's career performance. At the Aristotelian moment of Nina's anagnorisis and climactic despair, I felt something snap inside me too.

It was perfect.

Special mention of films which barely missed my list,
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop; a brilliant and funny mockumentary by Banksy on the nature of art.
  • The Kids Are All Right; a dramedy about two women's struggle to raise a family which is not at all reticent about the difficulties a household with same-sex parents would face.
  • Moon; a 2009 hard sci-fi film which I finally saw in 2010. It would've been in my top 3 otherwise.
  • Buried, mainly because so many people I know hated it with a passion. Here's my review.
My greatest disappointments of 2010,
Thus, my cinematic summary of the previous year concludes. Feel free to share in the comments what your favourite films of 2010 are - I'm always open to good recommendations. I'm sure there are gems out there I have never even heard about.

Watcher of moving pictures,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, February 18, 2011


"Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels."

Faith Whittlesey

I was quoted awhile back on the Friendly Atheist blog when a female commenter with the screen name of Helene objected to my use of the word "cunt" in characterising the conservative and homophobic self-appointed moral authorities of Malaysia. She said,

"...may I point out that the comment (and reprint of it) characterizing the opposition as "cunts" is misogynistic in the extreme. Especially considering that the opposition in question is almost certainly male-dominated, using “cunts” (instead of, perhaps, "dicks") is specifically meant to demean them by association with female qualities. I find it horrifying, actually, that someone supposedly acting in favor of human rights and expression would do it in such a way."

My response to that was,
"I assure you that I did not use the word cunt misogynistically or as you put it, to "specifically… demean them by association with female qualities." While I see that it’s categorically no different from calling someone a dick, a prick or a cockhead, I’ll admit that I do unconsciously assign a harsher connotation to it. Perhaps it’s simply a word which we encounter far less frequently (as suggested by Claudia) but it is not my intention to liken contemptible behaviour to vaginas – at least, not anymore than I liken dickish behaviour to my own reproductive organ. I’m sorry if my use of the word offended you, but I’m an equal opportunity expletive user."

Helene then said,

"I will totally accept your assertion that you didn't use the word cunt with misogynistic intent, and thanks for offering it. The thing is, even when the word "dick" is used, although it certainly implies that someone is being an idiot, it also implies that that idiocy results from an excess of testosterone, an excess of masculinity, if you will. Using "cunt" has no such connotation, it just implies that female parts are nasty and one doesn't want to be saddled with a reference to them. This is the case with many gender-specific epithets and I’d argue that one can't really be equal-opportunity when using them because they don’t carry the same implication. Oh, I know I'm not putting this well, but I’ve tried. I’m sorry to have cast my own aspersions on your intentions."

Being male, I definitely wouldn't claim to be an authority on what women should or should not be offended by, so I'm really curious if most women actually holds the much-maligned C-word to be as contemptible as Helene made it out to be. So, considering that pretty much 90% of my regular commenting readers here happen to have two X-chromosomes, I'd really appreciate some input, feedback, advice or chastisement on this.

Am I being a dick when I say "cunt"?

P.S. Speaking of sexism, the use of the word "female" recently became the centrepiece of a rather explosive controversy within the atheist community.

Clueless male,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, February 13, 2011

This is Technically a Post

Hi, I'm currently in the thick of my final Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) examination and I've never been more strung up in my life. For the past several weeks, I kept finding myself looking at dogs and cats (stray or otherwise), and thinking, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice to be one of 'em." I'm also slipping repeatedly into daydreams involving time travel. That's how I know that for the first time in my life, an academic examination is actually bothering me on a psychological level. Just look at how trivially I regarded my penultimate med school exam last year - I wish I'm that guy now.

Anyway, I've finally gotten around to building a categorical list of my selected essays and articles which I've published on this site over the years. You can see the link to that new page on my sidebar. The current incarnation is admittedly a tad bloated and could do with a bit pruning, but I'll only have time to deal with it on a later date. The quality of the older posts is quite iffy so if you spot some really egregious error - factual, typographical or grammatical - in one of them, don't hesitate to write a comment pointing it out and telling me what a shitty blogger I am.

And yeah, St. Valentine's Day is tomorrow - what of it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's Miswritten in the Stars

"I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're skeptical."

Arthur C. Clarke

I bet none of you saw this coming in your horoscopes.

A month ago, a magnificent bastard of an astronomer by the name of Parke Kunkle decided to troll the astrological community for a lark and a hoot by sending out a press release informing the entire world that they got their signs completely wrong, and that astronomers have known this for thousands of years. Talk about a slow news day, eh?

Here's a quickie history lesson: the zodiac was catalogued by the ancient Babylonian astronomers in 700 BC and sun-sign astrology is a zodiac-based woo-woo divination process invented by the same folks who thought they could see the future in the bloody innards of sacrificial animals. According to these star prophets, it is possible to infer the personality and predict the fortune of any individual armed only with the knowledge of that person's date of birth i.e. the constellation the sun is supposedly hanging around in at the time. It's an extraordinary claim, but what's even more extraordinary is that there are still people who actually believe in this celestial carny wagon of stardusted malarkey. Some of you might had even read the personality description of your own sun-signs and oh-my-gushed about how freaking accurately it described you.

Guess what? You have been reading the wrong character sheet all this time.

You see, when they charted the heavens back in those centuries BC, they hadn't a clue about axial precession,

This is how I roll, bitch.

Thanks to the gravitational pull of our moon, our home planet's axis of rotation gradually shifts in orientation over time, much like a wobbling top, and every 26,000 years or so, it goes through one precession cycle. What this means in astrological terms is that the alignment of the zodiac had moved by approximately one sign by now - making me, for example, a Gemini instead of the crabby Cancer I thought I was. Remember, this is nothing new; the astrologers' star charts have been wonky for millenia in spite of Hipparchus' discovery of precession in the 2nd century BC. Therefore, the daily horoscopes in the papers are not only nonsensical, they are also misaimed.

Further muddying the pythonic water is the thirteenth constellation called Ophiuchus (or the "serpent-bearer") which the ancients left out because they preferred the number 12 for some unfathomable Babylonian baloney reason,

Crikey! It's Ophi... Ophooey... the snake-wrangler!
The Greek gods placed Steve Irwin in the heavens after a stingray stabbed him in the fucking heart.
Because even they thought it was a fucking hardcore way to go.

So, here are the corrected dates which accurately reflect the position of the sun at the time of your birth,
  • Capricorn: January 20 - February 16
  • Aquarius: February 16 - March 11
  • Pisces: March 11- April 18
  • Aries: April 18- May 13
  • Taurus: May 13- June 21
  • Gemini: June 21- July 20
  • Cancer: July 20- August 10
  • Leo: August 10- September 16
  • Virgo: September 16- October 30
  • Libra: October 30- November 23
  • Scorpio: November 23- November 29
  • Ophiuchus: November 29- December 17
  • Sagittarius: December 17- January 20

When I informed the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ that she is really a Leo, she threw a tantrum befitting of the king of beasts. She said and I quote: "I don't fucking care where the sun's at when I was born! I'm a Virgo! A Virgo!"

More like a virago, am I right? Ahyuck!

For the record, she doesn't buy into this horoscopic hooey at all. She just have an irrational attachment to the constellation which she mistook for her own years and years ago, hence the rare explosive F-bomb. Besides, how many people, in this day and age, really believe that the position of celestial bodies can influence or reveal future events?
Everyone knows that astrology is no where near as plausible as djinnis, unicorns, talking snakes, some shepherd who parted the Red Sea, a rabbi who rose from the dead and an Arab who rode a flying ass. Those stuff are obviously far more logical and scientific, yes sirree.

P.S. Hey, the extroverted Geminian traits describe me just as well as the introverted Cancerian ones did! All I need to do is switch my birth stone from pearl to topaz and I'm all set.

The thought of countless gullible astro-heads reading someone else's predictions every day is just too comical. And I wonder what those people with tattoos of their astrological signs are going to do about this. Let's not tell them about the 14th sign, Cetus, just yet.

Jumpin' Geminian,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Where My Pixies At?

"The hair... They say the hair is everything, you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls, and just wanted to go to sleep forever?"

Lt. Col. Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman (1992)

These are four of my favourite film stars. What do they have in common?

Pixie Ellen Page
Ellen Page.

I first encountered her... in X-Men: The Last Stand (or X-Men 3). She was Kitty Pryde.
I fell in love with her... when she cut Patrick Wilson's balls off in the 2005 psychological thriller Hard Candy, a film about what would happen if a 14-year-old psychopath meets a paedophile.

Pixie Audrey Tautau
Audrey Tautou.

I first encountered her... as the titular protagonist of Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (or simply Amélie, a 2001 French rom-com set in whimsical indie Paris).
I fell in love with her... in that same film, when I first saw her saucer-eyed, tight-lipped mischievous smile.

Emily Browning
Emily Browning.

I first encountered her... as 14-year-old Violet Baudelaire in the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I fell in love with her... as soon as I found out she was actually 16 years old at the time and it's not at all creepy for me to profess my drippy crush on her. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Pixie Carey Mulligan
Carey Mulligan.

I first encountered her... in her Academy award nominated role as a 16-year-old schoolgirl caught in an affair with an older man in 2009's An Education.
I fell in love with her... the moment I saw her adorable boy cut in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps last year - a movie I loathed, by the way.

I'm not merely speaking about their talents in acting when I named them my favourite actresses - I'm also taking into account their physical appeal. And I'll gladly watch any film that has any one of their names attached to it, no matter the reviews. I suppose you can describe all four of them as having elfin or impish features, but Emily Browning seems to have more of a gnomish disposition going on. It's probably because of her accent. The Australian accent has a sort of stocky stoutness to it which immediately conjures up manly images of kangaroo kickboxing and barechested croc-wrestling in my head. Subtracted some daintiness from her, it did.

Most importantly, all four of them look extra fetching wearing a boy or pixie cut! I can't explain it - I just have a crazy yen for hair like that, particularly if raven or brunette. If only the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ can be so obliging...

Somehow, I never did find generically hot actresses like Angelina Jolie or Megan Fox to be too attractive to me (you won't believe the amount of crap I got from the guys for daring to be unimpressed with the former Transformers star). While I think I sort of understand why so many men consider them to be sex symbols, I've always been more into the cute, petite ones - with the exception of the lascivious, well-chested Miss Scarlett Johansson, of course. She's everyone's exception. My girlfriend even admitted that she would go lesbian for her.

So, who are your favourite celebrities and why? And what do you find irresistible?

P.S. Natalie Portman nearly made my list, especially after Black Swan. It was my favourite film of 2010.

Fey fancier,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Never Let Me Go: A Review

Hold me
Hold me
Hold me
And never
Let me go."

Never let Me Go (2010) by "Judy Bridgewater"

The title card at the very beginning of Never Let Me Go prefaced the film with the following statements,

"The breakthrough in science came in 1952.
Doctors could now cure the previously incurable.
By 1967, life expectancy passed 100 years."

I read somewhere that it was only added because test audiences were too stupid to enjoy the film and to allow the story to unfold organically without having everything spelt out for them from the beginning. These are people who do not understand the joy of discovery and are terrified by uncertainty. They remind me of the Ex-Grrrfriend™ who skipped to the last chapter of the sixth Harry Potter book when she was only midway through because she couldn't stand the suspense. How maddening is that?

Never Let Me Go poster
I think I am in love with Carey Mulligan.

Never Let Me Go is a gorgeous, very realistic "hard" science fiction feature adapted from Ishiguro Kazuo's 2005 novel of the same name and the speculative premise of the story is, in my opinion, medically feasible. While I am aware of the existence of Ishiguro-san's critically beloved book, I have never felt the impetus to actually read it until I saw this film - and I vow now to ask the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ to lend me her copy the next time I see her. The story posed potent questions I thought I knew the answers to, but I am now far less certain of them.

Is it about love or the nature of the humanity? Is it a exploration into the ethics of science or an allegory for life? Rare is the author or filmmaker who neither panders nor preach, but simply presents. It is such a thematically rich film and I believe that if I proceed to review it further without discussing its spoilers, I will not be doing it due justice.

If you have not seen the film but have plans to do so, do not continue reading.

The Science Fiction.

The thing that kills us when we age is when our organs start to fail our bodies. Supposing we can replace these parts, we can theoretically extend our lives far beyond the natural span. Welcome to the world of Never Let Me Go, where history took a different turn (or missed a turn, depending on how you look at it). The details of the scientific breakthrough was left deliberately fuzzy, to allow the audience to share in the myopic perspective of the protagonists who were also purposely left in the dark.

Ruth on the Table
And no one called the time of death.

We follow the lives of three children Kathy, Ruth and Tommy in what appeared to be a typical English boarding school in the countryside and almost immediately, one would pick up on just how deceptive that appearance can be. I won't dress it up: Hailsham is an institute for cloned children, a place where living, walking bags of harvestable human organs were raised and educated to fit into society so regular people wouldn't even know they walk amongst them, to protect the sensitivities of the public at large. These children will grow up to their mid-to-late twenties when they'll be called upon to start donating their vital organs, one by one, till they "complete" - a running euphemism for death in the story. Are they donating to their "original", the person they were cloned from? Or was the medical breakthrough hinted by the intertitle an immunological one where they found a way to either reliably suppress transplant rejection by the recipients or create clones which are universal organ donors? I wonder if the book has answers to these questions, but I don't wonder too much. They are peripheral to the narrative anyway.

The Ethics.

If you're anything like me, you'll spend the entirety of the film feeling an undercurrent of impotent anger at what you are seeing. Why are they so passive? Why the conspicuous absence of outrage from either the clones or from the people around them? Was the new science also neurological or in psychological conditioning which allowed them to produce obedient, altruistic donors who will never question their station in life? Where are the good guys, the bleeding hearts, the champions of human rights?

Miss Emily, their old headmistress, provides the answer,

"You have to understand, Hailsham was the last place to consider the ethics of donation. We used your art to show what you're capable of, to show that donor children are all but human - but we were providing an answer to a question no one was asking. Would you ask people to return to darkness, the days of lung cancer, breast cancer, motor neuron disease? They'll simply say no."

I realised, to my horror, that there is truth in her words. Consider our continuing insistence on consuming meat at the expense of the lives and comfort of animals which are demonstrably intelligent and are capable of experiencing basic emotions, even when we are now perfectly capable of subsisting on a vegetarian diet. Consider the blatant hypocrisy of PETA Director of Research & Rescue, MaryBeth Sweetland, who is purportedly against animal testing and the exploitation animals for the benefit of humankind - she said,

"I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic. Twice a day I take synthetically manufactured insulin that still contains some animal products -- and I have no qualms about it ... I'm not going to take the chance of killing myself by not taking insulin. I don't see myself as a hypocrite. I need my life to fight for the rights of animals."

Would Miss Sweetland, who believe that animals deserve the same rights as human beings, return to the days before insulin? She simply said no.

Never Let Me Go Pillow Hugging Scene
Isobel Meikle-Small as a young Kathy hugging a pillow and swaying to the titular song. It's one of my favourite scenes in the film.

I'm certain that the world of Never Let Me Go will never come to be - we are far more likely to receive disembodied human organs grown in laboratories in the future - but it is the purpose of speculative fiction to well, speculate. And the best of them ask questions that we didn't know we should ask.

The Story.

Perhaps there is a story in which a clone chose to escape his predicament (that story is called The Island and it sucked), but Never Let Me Go is not that story. It's about those who have accepted their societally assigned role and consider it their duty to "complete". It is what I would call a philosophical horror film. What frame of mind does a person have to be in to let other people remove his internal organs till they can no longer live? How does one live with the realisation that she is - for all intents and purposes - human livestock? What would you do, if you know from your childhood that you are never going live past your thirties?

Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go
Professional woobie Carey Mulligan as Kathy H.

There is an urban legend amongst the donors that if they can prove that they are truly in love, a couple can apply for a "deferral" which allows them to postpone their first donation for several years. We, the audience, know that that is not possible. Kathy pretended to believe in it. Tommy absolutely does - he thought that the gallery showcasing the artworks of the students of Hailsham serves this function, to allow the authorities to see into the souls of the donors and to confirm that their love is true. To that end, he brought the drawing he had made over the years to attempt the application. We, and I suspect Kathy as well, saw how this is going to end.

To quote Miss Emily,

"We didn't have the gallery in order to look into your souls. We have the gallery to see if you had souls at all."

Oh, the eternal human quest for more time to live. For it, humans will ignore the inconvenient humanity of human clones - some donors will hang on to the most improbable hopes of a deferral. Some of us will believe that there is life after death, and cling on to the scriptures and myths of civilisations long since passed. Tommy's realisation of the tragedy of his life was a terrible moment to behold and watching him, I feel as if I'm rediscovering my own mortality all over again. Andrew Garfield, who played Tommy, could not have captured that crash more perfectly - I especially liked how he silently refused to surrender the last pieces of himself to Madame.

What measure is a human being? If you are capable of love and art, if you experience anger, jealousy, regret and disappointment - is that enough? I am reminded of William Hazlitt's words,

"Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be."

The film concluded far more bitterly than sweet, with a rather hollow and heavy-handed voice-over monologue by Kathy telling herself that she was "lucky to have had any time with him at all." To answer in kind, I would like to recall the speech of the Monologuing Minister in Synecdoche, New York,

"... even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but it doesn't really."

Time is more relative than we think it is and regret is a fundamental piece of the human condition. Whether we live to be 30, 70 or 150 years old, we will invariably lament the years we have lost before we are complete.

k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Facebook Fatwa Against the Lunar New Year

"Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing."

Poe's Law

This was spotted on the wall of a Facebook friend who describes herself as a "fundamentalist orthodox puritan muslimah",

The Fatwa Against Chinese New Year
Article 3 and 8 are my personal favourites.

When I asked her for permission to replicate her words here, she had this to say: "Yes please, Kok. The Chinese ought to know that they are destined for hell."

Also from the same fiery little miss,

Kafir World
Her response to the call for Malaysian Muslims to boycott "Zionist" products.

Her wall was plastered with posts like these. And to prove that Poe's Law holds true even in this instance, observe as this unironically devout, straight-arrow Muslim male walks right into the brick face of solid satire,

Scarlet A Dodge

Happy New Year's Eve, readers. Give up shark fin soup already and go easy on the suckling pig, alright?

Disclaimer: I neither endorse nor agree with the statements of the "fundamentalist orthodox puritan muslimah" above. I do however declare them to be made of win.

Definitely haram,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New Year, New Banner

"Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true."

Ring Out Wild Bells (1850) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It was after midnight and I was in the company of some roti canai, a cup of teh halia panas and a Malay gentleman I happened to be sharing my table with at a streetside warung. I had my headphones jammed tightly in my ears as a measure to deter unwanted conversations with strangers (I sometimes wear them even when I'm not actually listening to anything) because most everyone, I had long discovered, are terribly inane in their thoughts and speech. At one point, I looked up and noticed that the mouth of my accidental table-mate was moving - and it wasn't because he was chewing something either. He appeared to be making an attempt at the dreaded Small Talk. With a mental sigh, I unplugged myself and inquired as to what he had just said to me.

"When is Gong Xi Fa Cai?" he asked in Malay. I felt my colons flinched. Gong Xi Fa Cai is not the name of the holiday but a common Mandarin greeting of the season which essentially amounts to wishing someone a prosperous New Year. While I'm on the subject, Chai Shen is not Chinese Santa either. And since I'm Chinese, I'm not going to call it the Chinese New Year. To me, it's just the New Year.

"I'm not sure," I replied. "I think it's next week, maybe?"

Look, I wasn't being deliberately obtuse. I honestly had no idea. The New Year can come to me whenever the fuck it wants to - I'll know it has arrived when I receive a text message telling me to turn up at whatever time and date and at whichever venue designated for the reunion dinner. I only just found out that it's going to be two days later courtesy of the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ who, after three whole years, is still flabbergasted at my cavalier disregard of the calendar.

Small Talk Bloke expressed disbelief at my ambivalent answer, and I think he suspected that I was feigning ignorance. One good thing came out of the exchange though - he gave up on his unrealistic notion of friendly conversation with yours truly. Yay.

Anyway, I got a new banner up as you can see,

Kok Blok
Disklaimer: I do not aktually blok koks.

It's basically the same design. I inflated the slogan and replaced my old mascot, the Bloody Shakespeare (a bastardised Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare), with the Spooky Bard, which I derived from the controversial 1610 Cobbe portrait through a modest bit vandalisation. I also added the ironic Scarlet 'A' of the modern atheist movement. The more literary-minded would recognise it as the same letter which Hester Prynne wore in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. For the unapologetically philistinian, it's what Emma Stone's unbelievably hot character stitched onto her skanky outfits in the 2010 teen comedy flick, Easy A.

And just to remind everyone of how awfully amateur and kitsch the previous one looked like,

Ye Awful Olde Banner
Ye Olde Banner.

Personally, I think the new one's an improvement, to say the very least.

In-house graphic designer,
k0k s3n w4i