Monday, May 30, 2011

Goodness Gracious Me!

"A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

Albert Einstein

We often get well-intentioned goddists who would come into the Facebook page of the Malaysian Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostics who thought that all it takes for us to change our sinful unbelieving ways is someone who's willing to take the time out to tell us  "Jesus loves you ♥," or type out "ALLAHU AKBAR" in all caps. Sometimes, they would divulged "proofs" allegedly showing that biological evolution or Big Bang cosmology is wrong (and therefore, God!) while not realising that they are addressing a mostly erudite group of college and university graduates who actually studied these concepts in real schools and can see exactly how hilariously scientifically illiterate they are. Most of these encounters wound down pretty predictably and the only thing these misguided proselytisers usually achieve is to give us a reinvigorated appreciation for the propensity of religion to cause profound brain damage.

Once in awhile though, one would turn up and say something hauntingly sinister,

Muslim Rapist Waiting to Happen
He is a Muslim, and a fan of Samurai Deeper Kyo.

By his own confession, he's a seething ball of carnal beastliness barely restrained by the threats of eternal torture in Jahannam, and he used this as an argument to say that religion is necessary to ensure that humanity doesn't overthrow civilisation and degenerate into a hellhole of bloodshed, murder and rape. But what does this say about the followers of God?

I am an atheist for most of my adult life. I have no belief in the concepts of heaven, hell or karma, and I don't believe that there is a Supreme Being keeping tabs on my behaviour. Yet, I don't feel the need to go "rape someone else right now", stab a person I dislike, rob people on the streets, or perform any one of a million other equally deplorable deeds despised by society either. I am better than him. There are roughly one billion people in this world who, like me, consider themselves non-religious; none of them need the threat of hellfire to compel them to behave like decent human beings. We are all better than him. Morality is not rocket science; it's a simple mixture of empathy, conscience and observing the rule of reciprocity. We have no need of a centuries-old outdated fiction written by a schizophrenic nutcase with grandiose delusions to tell us right from wrong.

However, most people's dependence on religious texts for their morality can explain why some people are so willing to unfeelingly commit crimes against humanity in the name of God. When one isn't reliant on their empathy and conscience for their morals, it is easy to see how they can become psychopaths ready to fly airplanes into buildings to kill thousands without batting an eyelid if they believe that that's what honouring their faith entails. This is the same psychopathy which has Christians and Muslims opposing the human right of homosexuals to love and marriage. They aren't thinking, "these are people just like us who love as deeply as we do" or "gays aren't hurting anyone with their love - they deserve to be happy too." No, they do not consider these things because they are just following orders. "Because God said so" is the ultimate Nuremberg Defense.

In the first speech of his papal visit to the United Kingdom last year, Pope Benedict XVI said,

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny".

No, Pope Benny Ratzi, you amoralistic, paedophile-sheltering, slanderous, lying fuck. It is religion that leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny". Your conception that a human being is in essence evil without the jurisprudence of faith is an affront to human dignity. It is religion which convinced a person to think that without the threat of hell, he would "rape someone else right away now".

It is also in the name of religion that Pope Benny told dirty blatant untruths about how atheism led to Nazism and the Holocaust when in reality, the vast majority of World War II Germany's population was officially Christian, the Wehrmacht (German defense forces) at the time had "Gott mit uns" (God with us) stamped on their belt buckles, and Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf unambiguously stating that he believed he was doing God's work - but I digress.

There is a meaningful difference between goodness and obedience. We atheists have known this for thousands of years, and we will always be here to remind everyone of that crucial distinction. And we do this by simply existing.

P.S. I bet some people are still going to find my post more offensive than that Muslim guy's confession about his willingness to commit rape.

Good without god,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Khajjiar in Less Than a Dozen Snapshots

"And I'd like to give my love to everybody, and let them know that the grass may look greener on the other side, but believe me, it's just as hard to cut."

Little Richard

Khajjiar looks like it belongs on the back of a postcard. It's little more than a tidy little meadow surrounding a puny lake and ringed by a dense deodar forest midway between quaint Dalhousie and the city of Chamba - 2000 metres above sea level. In 1992, the Swiss Ambassador officially baptised Khajjiar as the Mini Switzerland of Himachal Pradesh because it apparently harbours a rare combination of three distinct ecosystems: lake, pasture and forest for the price of one. I daresay "lake" is a rather immodest exaggeration of its sole body of water. It's more of a "pond" or "puddle" really. Now before any ecologists pop in to call me names, I want to just say that I know the distinction between lakes and ponds are not determined their size but rather by the presence of an aphotic zone - but I just couldn't call that wimpy patch of wetness in the middle of Khajjiar a lake with a straight face.

Nevertheless, it's a great spot to spend an afternoon, and I spent most of mine there sitting on the porch of an unoccupied wooden chalet writing, while watching holidaymakers make their holidays and honeymooners moon their honeys. Kids, I imagine, would love this grassy wonderland. They can ride horses and ponies. They can strap themselves inside huge plastic spheres and be rolled down the hill tumble dryer style. They can ride the wind on plastic wings as several men tow them by sprinting comically below ground. For tourists with absolutely no sense of dignity, they can pay to hold a bunny in a basketful of flowers while their companions photograph their moment of self-inflicted dorkiness.

Anyway, pictures.

1. That's pretty much all of Khajjiar right there in the picture.

Khajjiar Scenery
2. This is a view of Khajjiar from the opposite end of the clearing.

Khajjiar Switzerland Sign
3. A long way from the original.

Girl Hitting Boy at Khajjiar
4. The Battle of the Sexes starts young.

Sheep and Zorbing in Khajjiar
5. Bowl for sheeps while you're inside a giant, man-sized hamster ball!

Giant Shiva Statue at Khajjiar
6. A giant coppery statue of Shiva at a temple nearby.

Giant Shiva Statue Temple at Khajjiar
7. The surrounding mountains and valleys sure looks pretty. You can't see this from the Khajjiar meadow.

Blue Lizard at Khajjiar
8. Such a pretty colour. I wish I know a herpetologist who can help me identify this lil' feller here.

Ladybird in Khajjiar
9. A ladybird on a weird bleached-looking bit of vegetative matter.

Khajjiar Bunny Abed
10. My heart goes out to those who feel like they need to pay to have their photographs taken with a rabbit.

World's Smallest Ferris Wheel at Khajjiar
11. A cow in front of the world's smallest Ferris wheel.

Khajjiar is a very cheery, peaceful sort of place, if a little too gentle for my taste. There's a bus that heads out there from Dalhousie every morning, early, passing by the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. In the evening, another bus will swing Khajjiar on its way to Chamba. There are guesthouses there, both privately-owned and government-run, should one feel so inclined to linger.

Oh yeah, funny aside: I was asking the manager about the room prices in one of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp. (HPTDC) hotels and he flat out told me that it's not worth staying there. Instead, he cheerfully recommended that I look into some of the non-government inns. Either he's receiving a cut of commission from the private hoteliers or he simply didn't want guests messing up one of his nice rooms and actually giving him work to do.

Never been to the real Switzerland,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, May 27, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2: A Review

"How can kung fu stop something that stops kung fu?"

Po in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2 Poster
The film seemed to have lost its subtitle, The Kaboom of Doom.

Just from its trailer alone, I managed to accurately divine the backbone of Kung Fu Panda 2's storyline, and within the first ten minutes after the picture started, I had pretty much guessed every important detail of the script, including its climactic end. Why? Because the movie is a perfect storm of kung fu clichés which I've seen a million times. I am, after all, a Chinese and was practically raised on a steady diet of Hong Kong martial arts films all through my childhood. Almost every element in Dreamwork's sequel to 2008's Kung Fu Panda is a retread, imitation, homage or parody to everything I love about the fictional 江湖 I've grown up with.

And that's precisely why I love Kung Fu Panda 2!

I remember that after I saw the first film, I told myself that the people who made it really "gets it". The humour, the near-magical mysticism, the cheesy Tao-Zen philosophies, the kung fu suppressing prison, the physics-defying wire-fu, the training montages, the epic chopstick battle, the blank kung fu manuscript with its hidden meaning, the 点脉 techniques, and the hero ultimately unlocking his incredible hidden potential... these are all kung fu staples! Am I overstating it if I said that Kung Fu Panda had instilled a whole new appreciation in old school kung-fu flicks in the present generation of kids? It certainly reignited my passion, I can tell you.

Speaking also of the first film, the decision to do it with anthropomorphic cutesy animals is perhaps its greatest claim to originality, and one which I believe to be under-appreciated considering well it incorporated the physical attributes and creature behaviour into its characters. Tigress fought using the Shaolin Shandong black tiger fist, for example, and likewise the rest of the Furious Five practice the styles of kung fu which was historically inspired by the movements of their own species. It was said that originality is innovation rather than invention, and the Kung Fu Panda films are excellent demonstrations of that maxim, and the filmmakers' commitment to their chosen innovation is astounding. Pay attention to how the villain of the second film, Shen (an albino peafowl) struts, and the running gag involving the Soothsayer's caprine habit of chewing on the garments of others - they are what made this franchise such an immersive experience. Even outright talking animal comedies like DreamWork's other franchise, Madagascar, did not show such a strong eye for details.

If you haven't seen it, go do that. The 3D quality is somewhere between How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind - make of that what you will. The review will be spoilerific from this point on, because Papa needs to gush. No, seriously. I'm going to spoil everything.

Jack Black being Crushed by po
Jack Black is the voice of Po.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a natural escalation which stayed true to the genre it tries to represent, and it takes Po out from the Valley of Peace to the greater China out there. In the final battle between Po and Tai Lung in the first film, Po's comical style of improvisational fighting is very reminiscent of Tai Chi Chuan (at least the sort I've seen in Tai Chi films such as Jet Li's 1993's Tai Chi Master) with its clever reversals and redirection of forces. It makes perfect sense that the sequel would be a spiritualistic Tao-finding journey with whatever epiphany Po achieves being his key to triumph in the climax - yes, I've seen kung fu films with almost the exact same plot. While the trailer played coy with the threat that Po and co. will face in Kung Fu Panda 2, the fact that it's a weapon that "stops kung fu" and is supposedly capable of bringing the whole of China down to its knees should instantly bring to mind something gunpowder related - a plot element confirmed within the film's prologue. Fictional magic Tai Chi is perfect for combating such weaponry, donchu know?

As a young peafowl lordling, Shen (voiced by the incomparable Gary Oldman), experiments with and finds devastating uses for the gunpowder aside from making fireworks. A prophecy foretold that because of his "wickedness" (let's not question the film's morality judgments here), he will be stopped by "a warrior of black and white". At this moment in the narrative, I knew for certain that I was watching Tai Chi Panda - particularly when the Yin-Yang symbol wafted on-screen. In response, the very-white Shen and his army of wolves rampaged across the Middle Kingdom and slew all the not-so-white pandas he could find, cleverly evoking the Holocaust and referencing the endangered species status Po's species have in the real world. It is also an example of one of the oldest tropes in the book: the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

In Kung Fu Panda 2, the question of Po's ancestry is finally broached (spoiler: the goose is not his real father!), and his subsequent struggle with his repressed Past provides the key inner conflict Po must overcome. "Who am I?" he asks himself existentially and Jack Black, surprising me, managed to pull off the angst. But I was ultimately glad that the pathos did not completely consume the entire movie. In my opinion, it managed to achieve that golden balance between lightheartedness and heartwarming that Pixar perfected in their films. I don't remember ever tearing up watching a DreamWorks animated feature before now, and I would never have suspected that the bumbling stepfather of Po, Mr. Ping (James Hong) - essentially a comic relief character from his webbed feet up - could carry such a strongly emotional narrative. Even Shen's parallel arc concerning his parents had its moving moments.

Come to think of it, Tai Lung had serious daddy issues too, and with the revelation that Po's real father is still alive, I foresee more of the same in the future of the franchise.

Po and the Furious Five
From left to: Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Po,
Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross).

Kung Fu Panda 2 also expanded the film's mythology by showing in-universe renowned kung fu masters outside of Po's monastery and valley like Master Thundering Rhino (Vincent Garber), Master Storming Ox (David Haysbert) and Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) though their moments were criminally brief. I wished that Shen had actually brought his weapon across China defeating masters after masters just so I can meet them and see them show their quality. Perhaps, we'll get an even broader look in the next film (which is almost a sure-thing thanks to DreamWorks' propensity to milk a cash cow till it becomes Shrek the Third). I am certainly not ready to leave Po's animated World of Wuxia just yet. It's a masterpiece of world-building we rarely encounter these days.

While Shen is supposedly less skilled than most of the characters in a straight fight, he nevertheless had some really sweet moves - particularly at the start when he recaptured his ancestral pagoda home from the three masters. That scene was just so incredibly choreographed and the way he uses his tail feathers to distract and mislead was simply awesome. I had insane expectations that his final showdown with Po would blow my brain right out of my eye sockets, but unfortunately, I was setting myself up for disappointment.

Even so, the Kung Fu Panda 2 certainly did not end as anticlimactically as the first Ip Man film. No, it really paid its due with three huge showdowns between the heroes and Shen. The first one was so epic that I half-thought that it would end right there but boy, the third and final set-piece really blew that right out of the water (the pun is an accident, I swear). In between, they even managed to slip in a scene paying homage to how broken kung fu heroes in movies are frequently rescued and nursed back to health by an eccentric hermit which will either provide new kung fu moves, crucial information or motivation to continue the fight. Michelle Yeoh fills this role here as the Soothsayer, just as she did in Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend (which is definitely a poorer kung fu flick compared to this one).

If the first Kung Fu Panda's trite kids' film lesson is to believe in yourself, then the second movie teaches children that what matters isn't who you are or where you came from. It's what you choose to do. I wouldn't have believed it but Kung Fu Panda 2 is one of the very rare films which manage to give that overused chestnut a ring of truth. This year, Pixar's entry would be their sequel to Cars (which I liked but did not love). Dare I say that 2011 would be the year DreamWorks might actually win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature? They are due for it anyway since the last time they bagged it was a whole decade ago with Shrek.

Lastly, Baby Po! Oh my Gourd, he was so cute! Girls will be squeeing about him non-stop for months to come. I can already hear my girlfriend begging me to get her a Baby Po plush toy.

Likes kung fu fighting,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Malays Demonstrating in Melaka Over Not Having Enough Privileges

"Solve the Malay problem, and you solve the country’s problem."

AB Sulaiman

Hatten Square
Hatten Square in the Malaccan town centre.

It seems to me that no news outlet have reported this event yet, so I'll just go right ahead and do it for them.

Earlier today, I drove to town for a spot of shopping when I cruised past a small demonstration which erupted outside of Hatten Square. A squad of police officers and mall security personnel were already standing by in case shit hits fan. The demonstrators consisted exclusively of ethnic Malay entrepreneurs of small-to-moderately-sized businesses and they are disgruntled over having to shift their shops elsewhere due to a sundry of developmental projects, including a road expansion project planned by the city council to ease the chronic traffic congestion problem which afflicts the area. They are pissed because they felt that the compensation promised to them were inadequate.

The banner reads:

The compensation paid to those affected range from RM500 to RM800 per month while the Melaka government work on creating new turfs for them. Basically, they can sit on their asses for moons and moons while getting free money. In the interim, they are also free to find employment elsewhere or continue their businesses in another location while waiting for the new government-allotted ethnic Malay-only premises to be ready to receive their Royal Heinie-nesses. Instead, they have decided to throw up a huge stink about it and took to the streets with signs, noisemakers and vuvuzelas. Vuvuzelas, for gourd's sake!

I remember when my favourite fried prawn wonton and claypot porridge place (which is managed by a Chinese family) were forced to move and make way for the Malacca riverside beautification project, they did not receive monetary compensation for every month of business lost. Instead, they sucked it up without complaints, and pragmatically moved their very popular restaurant to a different part of the city as quickly as they could to cut their losses. Then again, they being the wrong race, complaining isn't going to achieve very much anyway because they aren't entitled to any of the "special rights" that the Malays get.

I find it amusing that the protestors are accusing the Singaporean-owned Hatten Group of "robbing them of their rightful Malay properties". No, it not just any regular old properties - it's special "Malay" properties, mind you. Why must they turn everything into a racial issue? And why, why, why are they blaming the Hatten Group for decisions undertaken by the Malaccan government which, by the way, is run by a very large Malay majority?

Malay Backlot of Shops
This is the row of shop lots in question. You can see Hatten Square looming behind.

If you don't know, since the founding of this country more than half a century ago, the Malay people have enjoyed special privileges enshrined within our national constitution. If they wish to receive higher education, they have a significantly higher chance of getting government sponsorship (even over non-Malays who achieved far better grades) and some government agencies like MARA grant full scholarships exclusively to Malays and other Bumiputeras. If they want to buy real estate properties, they get up to 7% discounts while developers charge non-Bumis more to cover for it. Malay-owned companies are entitled for special tax breaks, as if Malays who have gotten to this level of corporate status require further financial help. There's many, many more examples which I won't bring up because I'm feeling a tad nauseous now. Of course, these rights and privileges do not discriminate between rich and poor Malays - even Malay billionaires get the same package deal. Must be nice to be born with the right skin colour, eh?

So, after more than 50 years of ruling the country and having the playing field brazenly biased in their favour, the 65% Malay majority still own less than 20% of the country's wealth. Shocking, I know. This also means that the majority of tax money is contributed by the 26% Chinese minority. The scholarships, real estate discounts, tax breaks - those expenses were not paid for by magic fairy dust sprinkles which came out of thin air, by the way. They came from the blood and sweat those whom the Malay people have discriminated against unapologetically in our country's racist economic policies all these years.

For all the horrid accusations that the Malays have unjustly hurled at the Chinese for "robbing" them of their wealth, it's really them who have been robbing the Chinese - and they have done this for decades without shame or gratitude. They have told us in self-righteous anger that if we don't like it, we should leave this country. I sometimes catch myself nodding in agreement to that suggestion.

Yes, because if the Chinese leave, Malay businesses will magically start to prosper! And the funding behind their special Malay privileges will continue to miraculously come from nowhere!

Accusations of Discrimination

Singapore seceded from the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 because of unbridgeable ideological differences regarding racial politics. It is an island smaller than Melaka, has zero natural resources, and is still dependent on mainland Malaysia to this day for their water. Somehow, it managed to out-compete Malaysia (you know, the one with all the land, forests, minerals and offshore petroleum) in development and economic growth. Why?

I'll use an analogy. The Malaysian economy is like a video game. The Malay people have only been playing on "Easy" mode while the Chinese were forced to play on the "Hard" setting with all the assorted handicaps for more than 50 years. Guess which group is better trained and practiced? When the two groups are forced to compete in a Player versus Player match, which group do you think is going to come out ahead?

My dear Malay compatriots, you're going to suck at this game forever unless you start playing fair.

It's the Jews Again

Reporting from Melaka,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, May 23, 2011

There's a New Cinema in Town, Malaccans!

"The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."

Alfred Hitchcock

Sweet tidings, plebs. Golden Screen Cinemas just set up a new ten-screener theatre at the ÆON Bandaraya Melaka Shopping Centre (also known as "New Jusco") which many of you might remember as the mall that started off epically with a bang and a live human sacrifice about a year ago. It's a lot nearer to where I live compared to the GSC at the Dataran Pahlawan Megamall, so that's just peaches. The problem is, in a couple of weeks, it will no longer be where I live.

I graced it with my presence last Thursday when it officially opened its door to the public to catch the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean flick. I discovered, to my surprise, that they have started offering student discounts for 3D films so I shamelessly posed as one to score it. I still carry my student ID from my university around for purposes such as this (since the admins had so kindly neglected to print an expiry date on mine). I expect to pay student prices well into my forties. There's this guy who had been held back for like twenty years in the medical college I attended (I shit you not), and if he's entitled to cheap movie tickets all his adult life, I should too.

With a bit of pluck and a can-do attitude, I might even be able to extend it till I start qualifying for the senior citizen discount at the age of 55.

GSC Aeon Melaka
The GSC logo bothers me because it puts S before G and tries to pass off the G as C.

That day, however, I forgot to bring my student ID with me, so I resigned myself to paying the full price just like every Tom's Harry Dick.

But lucky me, the bloke manning the box office was an exemplary model of customer service. He asked me which college I study at and after I lied to harmlessly misinformed him, he let me have my ticket at the discounted rate (huzzah). You might have encountered GSC clerks who would be absolute penises about it and would stare long and hard your student ID before sarcastic remarks about you not looking like a student and hurt your feelings. You might even have met clerks who would go above and beyond the call of duty to waylay you and point out that your student ID does not in fact have an expiry date. I have actually sat on the other side of a GSC box office counter before and I can tell you this: unless your supervisor is breathing down your neck and whispering sexy things into your ear, you can pretty much grant anyone a student, children or senior discount without so much as half a glance at their proof of age or studenthood. Anyone giving you trouble are just going out of their way to be mean. I say: Damn you, diligent employees! Damn you for fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to you!

And because it was opening day, they were also giving out free coupons!

GSC Aeon Melaka Coupon
I need an incentive to go to a cinema like I need a spare butthole.

I think I became a movie buff after working at the GSC in Mahkota Parade for a couple of months between college and med school. It meant all the films I can watch, completely free of charge. And when I'm on usher duty, I even get to goof off and catch a flick on a slow weekday if I was so inclined at anytime. I still remember that Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jackie Chan's The Myth, Into the Blue, Flight Plan, Cinderella Man, the American remake of Dark Water, A Sound of Thunder, and KL Menjerit 2 were all playing at the time and I must have watched each of them at least a dozen times. I didn't particularly like any of those, but through exposing myself to repeated viewings and having closely scrutinised every frame, I somehow managed to develop a whole new appreciation for the craft of filmmaking and how difficult it must be to make a movie.

Right, that's my daily random anecdote quota filled. Have a nice Monday night and a great morrow, you.

Monday's Child,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, May 22, 2011

After the Day of No Judgment

"I want to see Harold Camping prosecuted for bilking people out of their money, for destroying lives and families. I want to see his radio empire dismantled and the people who promoted his lies disgraced and ashamed.

It won't happen."

PZ Myers

A follower of Camping with a sign.

"We know without any shadow of a doubt it is going to happen," said Harold Camping, Christian radio mogul and recently failed doomsayer. He also said, "I know it's absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true."

That's the whole problem with religious beliefs right there in those words; complete and utter faith, unassailable, without the slightest shred of healthy doubt or self-censure. The profiteering prophet had received tens of millions in donation money to his ministry for his crackpot predictions of Rapture, Jesus' return and the End Times, so I'm going to go out on a limb now and say he's probably going to do okay. He can disconnect his phone to shut out all the people who would now hound him for being dead wrong (yet again) and cry himself a single tear while soaking in a bathtub full of banknotes. If the nonagenarian does not die in the next few years, you can bet your ass he's going to return with a new set of calculations which will re-position Judgment Day to a later date, and more stupid Christians are going to believe him a third time. After all, Christians have been believing unwaveringly in a 2000-year-old apocalyptic doctrine which still remains unfulfilled to this day. Clearly, they are capable of swallowing any crap.

However, unlike Camping, his followers aren't faring quite so rosily.

A 60-year-old New York City man spent his retirement savings paying for a $140,000 ad campaign for signs on subway cars and bus shelters around the city reading "Global Earthquake! The Greatest Ever - Judgment Day: May 21." Saturday came and went uneventfully and now he's left impoverished with a 94-year-old mother suffering from dementia in a nursing home to care for.

His disappointment was heartbreaking. He said at the hour of truth: "I do not understand why…" as his speech broke off and he looked at his watch. "I do not understand why nothing has happened."

Robert Fitzpatrick Advertisement
Robert Fitzpatrick, standing in front one of the ads he paid for with his retirement money.

Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver took the last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative into their SUV and went on a cross-country road trip to see the places he'd always heard about but never did like the Grand Canyon. Now, he's still stuck on earth, deep in debt with maxed out credit cards and a growing mountain of unpaid bills.

In California, things took a really dark turn when a 47-year-old stay-at-home mother slit the throats and wrists of her 11 and 14-year old daughters with a box-cutter and a paring knife before turning the blades on herself. She did it because she didn't want her kids to suffer through the horrific post-Rapture Tribulation predicted by Harold Camping.

Two years ago, Abby Haddad Carson, left her job as a nurse to "sound the trumpet" on mission trips with her husband, Robert. They stopped working on their house payments and saving for their three teenage kid's college fund - pretty much laying waste to their future by being rid of all their worldly possessions.

Yesterday, on the morning of Camping's Big Day, a middle-aged man in Nairobi committed suicide by hanging himself with an electric cord.

It's not unrealistic to expect more to follow suit after they've sobered up from their haze of insanity and realise that they have no lives to return to. Keep watch on the news - I'm sure there are still more post-apocalyptic tragic stories to come.

Camping's Nairobi Billboard
A billboard proclaiming Camping's prediction in Nairobi.

One is tempted to stick all of this on Harold Camping irresponsible doom-mongering, but he's just a symptom of the real underlying pathology; he's but one single pus-filled blister on the massive pulsating tumour of Christianity and of other organised religions. It was the whole of Christendom which made a false virtue out of faith, and praise those who are willing believe in anything without the even the shakiest foundation of evidence - as if that's a good thing. After two thousand years of believing in talking snakes, virgin births, and men who returned from the dead, is it any surprise that so many Christians would so readily, so uncritically, embrace the kooky fringe prophecies of an aged lunatic who claimed to have uncovered hidden wisdom in their holiest of holy books? Never mind that Camping had no real proof for his predictions - he has faith and so do they!

For those who thought, "What's the harm in religion? What's the harm in letting people be gullible and unsceptical about what they believe in?" This is the harm here, folks. This is why I speak against faith of any shade or stripe. Believe it or not, I'm only trying to help.

Camping Followers with Ad Trailer
A pair of followers of Camping with their camper trailer.

It's really depresses me that even after May 21 came and went without any extraordinary event marking its passing, Camping's followers still believe that the Rapture is still forthcoming, saying that this "delay" is just a further test from God. See, that's the sort of pernicious short circuits that religion installs in people's heads. If something goes their way, then it's 'Hallelujah, praise Jesus!' but when something doesn't, it's yet another fucking test of faith. It's a dangerous self-deluding rationalising mechanism that will just suck them deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole till they are perpetually stuck there. And this goes for every Christians in the world, mind you - particularly those smug ones who think that they are so much saner than these Rapture-ready crazies. Ever prayed and not get what you ask for but then try to justify it lamely by saying that 'God does not give what you want, but what you need'? Same type of mental glitch at work.

In spite of the media's best efforts, Harold Camping still could not be reached for comment. I hope he died of a heart attack.

UPDATE: His heart did not attack him after all. Harold Camping finally emerged from his home on Sunday and told reporters, "Give me a day, no interviews today… I’ve got to live with it, I’ve got to think it out."

UPDATE: He thought it out. On his Family Radio's Open Forum program on May 23, Camping said that Saturday was "an invisible judgment day" in which a spiritual judgment took place. According to him, the physical Rapture will still happen on schedule come October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the universe's destruction at God's hand.

RELATED POST: The Religion Which Cried Wolf.

k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Religion Which Cried Wolf

"There's a sucker born every minute."

Often credited to P. T. Barnum

I'm sure you have heard of the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. More than five-hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a Greek slave by the name of Aesop told a morality tale about a shepherd boy who tricked his village neighbours into thinking that a wolf was attacking his flock to amuse himself. He successfully fooled the villagers into running to his aid several times and each time, there was no wolf to be found.

Spoiler alert: a wolf did appear eventually and this time, no one heeded the shepherd boy's cry for help. His flock was destroyed as a result. There's an intended lesson here about how habitual liars will be distrusted, but considering how many times charlatans like Peter Popoff, Sylvia Browne and Kevin Trudeau bounced back after being proven repeatedly to be frauds, I'd say Aesop underestimated the breadth of human gullibility. No, there's a more important, truer lesson to be gleaned from this fable.

Some version of the story had the villagers heeding the boy's false cries twice before they wised up to his shenanigans. Other versions simply pegged the number of times at 'several' or 'many'. Now, how many times would you have to be deceived or misled before you stop trusting the mischievous shepherd boy? Five? Ten? A hundred times? Hold that thought in your mind.

The following infographic illustrates the dates which Christians have claimed throughout history to be the dates of the Rapture (when the faithful would literally be sucked up to heaven to see Jesus), the Second Coming of Christ, and the End of Days,

Christianity - 2000 Years of 'Any Day Now'
According to statistics, Christians have a 0% chance of being right.

Have you ever found yourself reading the newspaper about the tumultuous political climate in the Middle East and thought to yourself that the Armageddon is coming? When you were watching the breaking news story about natural disasters like the the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, or the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and subsequent nuclear fallout; did you recognise them as signs of the impending apocalyptic End Times? Christians do this all the time, pronouncing every calamity which befell our world to be yet another fulfillment of Biblical prophecies from the pulpits, in their workplace or on Facebook - but that's nothing new. They have been engaging in their doomsaying schtick back before Jesus' corpse was even cold! Christians love to see the world end. Every time there's a big war, they think the world is going to fold in on itself (1914 was a particular favourite because that's when World War I was just starting out). Years like 1000 or 2000 which are aesthetically-pleasing tend to attract doom prophets like shit attract flies. Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, current US President Barack Obama, the Pope (all of them) and many, many more important personages in history were considered by one group of Christians or another to be the Antichrist.

They are always, always wrong without exception.

Consider the Bible and its prophecies of Jesus' Second Advent and all the other events surrounding the end of the world within its pages. His disciples thought it would happen within their lifetimes. The early Christians who succeeded them thought the same and today, modern Christians still believe that things will pan out just like how the Book said it would (with many surmising it would be sooner rather than later). They are just like the villagers answering the calls of the Boy Who Cried Wolf - except, they will never stop believing no matter how many times they are made to come running only to find no wolf. How stupid do you have to be to still believe in Christianity after two millennia of steady disconfirmation? To use another analogy, Christianity is like that crazy homeless guy standing on the street corner with a sign saying 'The End is Nigh' for the past two thousand years.

Even more damning is what Jesus said in Matthew 24:33-34: "So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

So, unless there are 2000 years old individuals walking about on earth right now without our notice, Jesus and the Bible had already been thoroughly debunked two thousand years ago. Yet, there are still two billion Christians living in this world today. Why? What's the major dysfunction in their collective psyche?

Harold Camping, a senile 89-year-old Christian radio broadcaster predicted that the Rapture will occur on the 21st of May, 2011 - that's today - and he supposedly uncovered this date through Bible-based numerology. He said that approximately 3% of the world's population will be "raptured" or beamed up to heaven before our eyes, so keep a watch on your local Jesus freak or Bible thumper to see it happen. Earthquakes will happen throughout the world at 6:00 PM according to each place's local time, and five months later on October the 21st, the universe will go out with a bang. Unsurprisingly, many Christians around the globe believed him, donated tens of millions of dollars to his ministry, and are now bracing themselves to be flown up to Jesusland at any moment.

It might amuse you to know that Camping predicted the same would happen in 1994, and even wrote a book about it. The fact he that was wrong back then doesn't seem to faze his legion of followers. He only cried wolf once, after all.

Other Christians who (haha) consider themselves more rational than Camping and co. have pointed out that it is not possible to see the End Time coming. Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:36, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."  He also said in Matthew 24:42-44 that he would come like a thief in the night.

I will help Camping counter their arguments by reaching into that huge pile of contradictory piffle called the Holy Bible and pull out 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 which reads,

"But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness."

I amazes me how anyone can believe in a "divinely-inspired" holy text which disagrees with itself all the time. Anyway, have a nice end of the world (again), readers!

UPDATE: It's now 6:00 PM. The tectonic plates aren't moving at all - not even a shudder. Figures. Right now, I am really looking forward to reading or listening to the first interview anyone gets out of Camping on Sunday morning.

RELATED POST: After the Day of No Judgment.

Survivor of many Judgment Days,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: A Review

"We are The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.
We just stay at home and lie around.
And if you ask us to do anything,
We'll just tell you,
'We don't do anything!'"

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything:
A VeggieTales Movie (2008)

If you have had your fingers on the pulse of Hollywood originality in the past ten years, you'd remember the summer of 2003 when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl premiered, seemingly to herald the beginning of the end of filmmaking. It was a movie premised upon a Disney theme park ride. To the doomsayers of creative endeavours, it appeared that the idea pirates of Tinseltown were finally running out of source material to plunder. However, basing a film on nebulous brand name proved to far less of a stupid idea than was prognosticated - it's basically a free license to tell any story tangentially related to it. That's what The Curse of the Black Pearl did, and it showed us awesome Aztec-cursed undead pirates. It also introduced to us Captain Jack Sparrow, who is now as much of an icon of piracy in fiction as Robert Stevenson's Long John Silver.

This year, we see the release of the fourth film of the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, the 3D third sequel to a film based on a Disneyland attraction - with a screenplay "suggested by" a fantasy novel by Tim Powers. This, when considered in totality, is more than a little depressing in concept I must admit, but I was hoping that it might bring back the magic of the first Pirates movie which the middle two films (in my opinion) lost.

Pirates of the Carribean - On Stranger Tides
The theatrical poster.

The pirates of series is the very epitome of Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. Three films and we don't see them engage in their chosen occupation at all. They don't pillage and plunder coastal cities, rob merchant ships, or download songs illegally off BitTorrent. Instead, they restored ancient archaeological treasures, battled sea monsters, tangled with an oceanic boogeyman and an angry sea goddess, and declared war on the East India Trading Company to save the world (of piracy!). In On Stranger Tides, they kept their commitment to a strictly un-piratical lifestyle and embarked on a quest for the fabled Fountain of Youth.

I had been anticipating the latest Pirates film more than I should because this time, they are going to initiate Blackbeard into the series. Factor in the casting of Ian McShane as the notorious buccaneer, it's hard not to get at least a bit excited.

Ian McShane as Blackbeard
Ian McShane as Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard.

Ian McShane's Blackbeard is deliciously villainous. The first time he strode out of his cabin with the tips of his magnificent braided beard lit and smoking, he was actually terrifying, if only in a PG-13 way. It was a cool reference to the real Edward Teach who would tie lit fuses under his hat to to frighten his enemy (I knew that because I went through a pirate phase when I was a kid). And the awesome theme Hans Zimmer composed for the fearsome freebooter showed equally as much presence - it's my favourite part of the soundtrack. The rest of the film's score is far less endearing though. It's hard not to get annoyed when it blares insistently in my face screaming "EPIC!" and "AWESOME!" when what's shown on screen was anything but.

I also question the wisdom of portraying Blackbeard as a pirate voodoo wizard who is capable of raising zombies, stitching voodoo dolls and owning a sorcerous ship - all of which seem to undermine the aura of intimidation he borrowed from the real historical Blackbeard. There's also a prophecy involving him which I shall not reveal, but it has to be the most straightforward, non-cryptic, un-Delphic prophecy I've ever come across in fiction. There's no twists or clever hidden interpretations associated with it, and since the laws of storytelling dictate that prophecies always come true, it really robbed the film of its sense of suspense.

On Stranger Tides also introduced Penélope Cruz as Angelica, Blackbeard's daughter and Jack Sparrow's old Spanish flame. She was very much a fictional character and not a person at all, and it's due in part to how schizophrenically written her role was. I won't divulge her motivations, not for fear of spoiling anything, but because they are sensationally stupid and it would be a waste of my time to try and analyse her mindset. If you didn't already divine this, she was clearly intended to be Jack Sparrow's love interest and pretty much every line of dialogue exchanged between the both of them was either a flirty remark, a petulant lover's snipe or a reference to past romance - all entirely forgivable if they were actually funny.

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) with Angelica (Penélope Cruz)
Pictured: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow with Penélope Cruz as Angelica. Not pictured: chemistry.

I didn't know this could happen but I think I am tired of Johnny Depp's schtick. It seems to me that nothing he does in character is as funny or shocking as they used to be. There are time when I'm unsure of whether he's playing Jack Sparrow or a parody of Jack Sparrow. If truth be told, I would have liked On Stranger Tides more had it chosen to focus fully on Hector Barbossa's plot thread.

Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa
Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa, who is now FABULOUS!

After some offscreen shenanigans between this movie and the last, he managed to lose a leg and a ship, and then found employment in service of the British monarchy - except this time, he's not hired as a speech therapist but as a privateer in His Majesty's navy. I could tell that Geoffrey Rush was having a grand old time talking like a pirate and making himself a giant ham and scenery sandwich.

On Stranger Tides also featured the most chilling portrayal of mermaids I remember in recent times. Instead of the benevolent if racist fish-people that Disney's The Little Mermaid popularised, they were portrayed as shark-like bloodthirsty man-eaters who use their supermodel good looks and ethereal singing voices to seduce seaman and lure them to their doom. It was awesome when a school of them swarmed a victim piranha-style and tore him to little bite-sized pieces.

The first mermaid we meet in the film is Tamara. Australian model Gemma Ward played her (at least the top half of her) in what was quite possibly the most memorable scene in the film for me - but that's probably because I totally fell in love with her after seeing it. I don't know if it's her flawless skin, her mechanical locution or because her eyes were set ever-so-slightly too far apart, but there's something otherworldly about her that embodies the uncanny semi-human-ness of the piscine monsters. She reminded me strongly of Dren from the film Splice. The film's central mermaid character was played by another actress, which was disappointing to me because I really wanted to see more of Gemma and her golden tresses and cute Lolita face. Sigh.

Gemma Ward Snipping Lashes
Gemma Ward, in a photograph of her snipping her lashes off for some reason.

The running time of this film exceeds the two hour mark by quite a bit. There are a lot of useless story elements which should have been decisively trimmed like the C-plot romance between a preachy Jesus-lovin' Bible thumper and Syrena, the captured mermaid damsel-in-distress - which also annoyed me because it pretty much destroyed the cool, cold, beastly image of mermaids I liked so much established by Tamara and her predatory sisters. There's also a lot Christian theological wankery which perfused the picture, to my bafflement. It's as if the filmmakers were trying to make up for all the paganistic mysticism the previous films featured.

I saw On Stranger Tides in 3D, which is an experience I do not recommend. Even though it is "real" 3D, the effects are mediocre and unimpressive. Some of the locations shown in this film are jaw-droppingly gorgeous and should really be appreciated in their full bright glory; not through the dirty screen door effect of the glasses you would have to wear should you elect to see it in 3D.

As summer blockbusters go, the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series is unimaginative and boring. While there are many moments which I enjoyed (and some a lot), there are far more parts which simply rehash everything that's old and familiar from the previous films - and familiarity, I be told, breeds contempt. I'm sure children would love this movie, but that because children are stupid and would enjoy watching pretty much anything except Schindler's List. I predict that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will probably make a killing at the box office anyway because most people, as we all know, are children.

Oh, and one more thing: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

P.S. Highlight within brackets for a spoilery comment about the climax: [Typical Catholics. They destroy anything which contradicts their crazy worldview. It's like a running theme for them; heretical writings, Giordano Bruno, stone penises on priceless works of art, and now, the Fountain of Youth. Why? Because "only God can grant eternal life!" Haha.]

Was on mundane tides,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Bought a Mickey Mouse Shirt

"I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known."

Walt Disney

Oh wow. It really was a more innocent time.

When I was in Delhi, I discovered this niche apparel store in a mall called DLF Place at uptown Saket called PUNK which carried his-and-hers fashion for punk revivalist wannabes and ironic hipsters. While I no longer reserve much affection for the subculture after I discarded the last of my safety pins from my togs back in high school, I still find its motifs of pseudo-nonconformity, trashy romanticism and enforced irreverence appealing.

The PUNK store is totally my kind of place. When I picked up a T-shirt from a rack to try on, the retail assistant cheerfully informed me that it also comes in black. When I looked at another, he told me that, "That one comes in black too." Gosh, I have lost count of how many times I've seen a T-shirt print I like but was ultimately forced to pass on it because I did not like its colour (i.e. not black). Here, there's a black version of... of everything! What an awesome concept! It almost made me want to lose my head and go on a girly-type shopping spree.

However, since I did not carry a spare X-chromosome with me, I exercised self-restrain and purchased only one item,

Suicide Skeleton Mickey Shirt
Isn't that a bit excessive and kind of redundant?

It's a skeletal Mickey blowing his brainstem out by firing a revolver through his mouth! What do you think? It set me back Rs 800 (roughly fifty ringgit), but it's probably the only one of its kind in Malaysia right now. There's just something morbidly satisfying about seeing a world-famous cartoon icon end his life in such a spectacularly gruesome manner, but if you ask me, it's not nearly gory enough for my taste. They ought to have used a fully-fleshed Mickey instead of a calaca, and depict his head exploding from a hollow-point impact with grisly pieces of face, shreds of brain matter and bloody eyeballs flying energetically in all directions. I want to be able to put on that piece of thread, walk out to the streets, and make every kindergartener who sees me cry in absolute terror.

I expect both my grandmother and the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ are going to complain about my buying yet another black shirt to add to my very invariably monochromatic wardrobe, but I think they are just jealous of my deft sense of fashion. Batman dresses in all-black, all-the-time too but you don't see them make much of a to-do about what he wears.

Thinks black is the new black,
k0k s3n w4i