Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Problem with Matthew 21:22

"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

Matthew 21:22

I just had a short thought which is a wee bit too long for Twitter.

Matthew 21:22 says that if you have faith, your prayers will be answered, guaranteed. It's saying that if a faithful Christian pray right now for all suffering, hunger, sickness and hyenas to vanish clean off the continent of Africa, it will be so.

Supposing that the Christian God exists and the Bible is true. This can only mean two things.

  • No faithful Christian in the world ever had prayed for the cessation of misery in Africa. None cared enough to kneel down by the side of their beds at night and spend a couple of seconds whispering: "Jesus, please fix Africa." Because apparently faithful Christians are all unfeeling apathetic assholes, right down to the very last one.
  • No Christians in the world has faith. That's why none of their petitions to Jesus worked, and Africa remains a shithole of starvation, AIDS and genocides.

Let's carry that line of reasoning a little further. Revelations 21:8 states, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" - meaning that those who are horrible or faithless would go to hell. Considering that there can only be two possible types of Christians in the world (horrible and faithless), each and every one of them will have damnation to look forward to in the afterlife.

You may argue that being indifferent towards the plight of wretched Africans does not make that person abominable, but that would only mean that heaven is full of assholes.

Alternatively, the Bible is full of baloney.

Related post: The Powerlessness of Prayer

Considers the Bible to be
a fun-filled puzzle book,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Review

"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!"

Effie Trinket, in The Hunger Games

Hunger Games is one of the few instances where I had the pleasure of walking into a film adaptation of a massively popular spec fic novel without having the impression of its source material to appraise it by. However, being the massive film geek and pop lit enthusiast that I am, I still had a rather good idea of what it's about. I knew its dystopian Battle Royale premise of teenager-on-teenager violence in a state-sponsored gladiatorial deathmatch (disclaimer: I have not actually seen Battle Royale). I knew that Academy Award-nominated actress, Jennifer Lawrence, would play its protagonist (disclaimer: I have not actually seen Winter's Bone).

Now, having walked out of the theatre, I was left with a smouldering desire to read the book and its sequels - and in my memory, that had only happened twice before. They were The Bridge to Terabithia and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and both were - in my opinion - inferior to the films they inspired. Perhaps it's a first impression thing. Perhaps if I had read the source material first I would have preferred them to the movie, but we'll never know because I have no possible way of contacting the other time stream where an alternate me had sampled the works in reverse order. Unlike Terabithia and Dragon Tattoo, the Hunger Games movie suggests to me that the world of its fictional universe is far vaster than what I have seen on screen, and I'm dying to find out just how much. One day, I would take a couple of days from work and do just that.

And if you are wondering if this film have my zero-authority stamp of approval; it does. It is the best freaking time I had at the movies this year so far. I have but one significant gripe against it: the shaky-cam at times were almost unbearable, and this is coming from a bloke who praised the handheld found footage format of Chronicle. The flash cuts during the more frantic action sequences rendered some scene nigh incomprehensible, and that suggested to me that they were trying to hide the fact that the actors may not be terribly adept and physical acting. The only time I enjoyed the camerawork was when we assume the POV of a character who was under the influence of a hallucinogen - it was giddy in a good way.

Hunger Games Poster
Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen.

The setting of the Hunger Games invokes comparisons to the classical Roman empire (at least in popular depictions). There is a wildly popular morally-reprehensible bloodsport which serves as a diversion for its populace. The more affluent members of societies indulge in hedonistic excesses; in fashion, in cuisine, and in their mannerisms. Several character names like Seneca, Cato and Caesar clearly belonged to famous dead Romans. If the ancient Romans had televisions, you can bet all your last denarii that they would probably broadcast a similar reality show. Half the film was dedicated to the events leading up to the titular Games, showing us the society the characters live in, the pageantry of the juvenile participants, and their training leading up to them killing the fuck out of one another. It was borderline farcical. They even had the kids appear on an interview show hosted by a very poofy Stanley Tucci.

One of the most surprising (and refreshing) things about the film is how deeply it commits to depicting the coldblooded murder of children and teenagers perpetrated by... well, other children and teenagers. While the violent scenes were moderately discreet, I found the reality of it incredibly disturbing. There was a scene of a teen's head being bashed in by another using a brick. There's another of a little girl skewered by a thrown javelin. You get the general idea.

Here's where tread into spoiler territory.

When the Hunger Games finally kicked off and 24 kids were set loose in an explansive Truman Show-esque forest arena, that's when things really got interesting. There is a genuine sense of suspense and paranoia as we follow Katniss' efforts at surviving and evading her competitors. A bunch of the more lethal teens (including Arrogant Sword Jock and Psycho Knife Bitch) had banded together to hunt her down specifically, and Katniss' own companion and male counterpart from her district had seemingly joined forces with them. The thing about Jeniffer Lawrence was that she really sold her character as a real survivor, but exudes just enough feminine panic at times for us to fear for her safety.

However, the film began to lose me after Katniss teamed up with a tiny girl named Rue, a name which simultaneously meant a road and regret. I understand that this is where the story start bleeding into emotions and higher concepts, and I understand that Rue is a blatant proxy of the little sister for whom Katniss volunteered to participate in the Hunger Games. The point is, I don't care about Rue. I was never given enough time to know get to know her like I did Katniss. So when Rue was shishkabobbed, I felt nothing (and the child actress' unconvincing performance didn't help at all).

The romantic subplot between Katniss and that guy named after a bunch of animal rights nutters (the homonym was sooo distracting) was equally unconvincing. Perhaps the subtext here is that Katniss was only exploiting their relationship as a means to garner sympathy from sponsors who have the power to give the Tributes (as the participants are called) aid in the form of food or medicine, and I find that interpretation to be a lot more satisfying narratively. The Highlander in-game rule of there can only be one victor promised some interesting possibilities for the finale - until it was suspended, allowing for joint victors if the pair is from the same district. "They" then tried to flip back to the original one winner condition only to be foiled by Katniss' supposedly brilliant Romeo-and-Juliet Gambit of Double-Suicide. It's too complex to explain here but essentially, the dictatorial government would rather have two victors than none.

Gee, I wonder how difficult it was to just not do anything. I mean, they can't exactly force Katniss and Peeta to kill each other, right? What's stopping them from just making out on the spot after all the other Tributes were killed, blown up or eaten by genetically-engineered pit bulls till the authorities got bored and just let them have their way? Oh wait, never mind. I just answered my own question: "they" will never let them have their way.

The film ended with the lingering shot of the Machiavellian emperor of the dystopian city state walking ominously away from a display screen showing Katniss' triumphant return to District 12. All it lacked was the soundtrack going "DUM DUM DUM!"

P.S. Arcade Fire's Abraham's Daughter played as the credits rolled and it's a monument of a song. The heart of its sepulchral lyrics beats the conviction that compassion is higher than authority, even if that authority speaks for God himself - something that a lot of theists fail to grasp.

Hungry for more,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Toothache Saga

"Some tortures are physical
And some are mental,
But the one that is both
Is dental."

Ogden Nash

On the 1st of March in the year of the Mayan Calendar Apocalypse That Will Definitely Not Happen, I experienced my maiden toothache which involved my second upper left premolar (or the "25", as a dentist would call it). For most of last year, that tooth had robbed me of the pleasure of cold beverages due to its schoolgirlish oversensitivity and just a couple of months ago, I finally had its cavity filled in with dental composite. In the ensuing weeks, I went absolutely bananas on iced drinks and ice-cream, trying to make up for all the icy goodness I've been missing out on.

Then it struck. It jolted me up from sleep an hour after midnight on pre-dawn Friday, throbbing so intensely that I was starting to imagine ripples of humming pain emanating from my jaw like agony sonar. Fuck fuck fuck, I moaned in my head because I once read a study detailing how swearing can increase pain tolerance. The only thing even approaching medicine in my house at the time was a bottle of vodka so I tried that as well (it did have a mild numbing effect, but that wore off in a hurry). Finally, I decided to head to the casualty department at the hospital I work at to see what miracle modern medicine can work for me. My colleagues there were rather swamped at the time so I was obliged to write in my own clerking notes. Surreal.

The strongest thing they could offer me at the time was a shot of diclofenac. A female colleague made me lie down on a bed and asked me to take off my pants - something that hadn't happen in quite awhile now and in almost any other context I would have happily obliged.

"No way!" I reacted, almost too violently. It's just that I don't think I can ever look her in the face again after she had seen my portable cushions. And if the situation was reversed, I would never even think of asking her to shed her knickers - I imagined that that would be tantamount to sexual harassment. Then again, I suppose I would have complied if I have the chiseled marble ass of a Greek god. In fact, if I am that callypygous, I might consider never ever wearing pants again.

So I took 3 mililitres of diclofenac in my arm like a fucking hero and it worked - but only in the sense that the pain from the injection was so intense that the toothache felt diminished in comparison (note to self: never give intramuscular injections measuring more than 1 mililitre in my patients' deltoids). I was then discharged with some tablets of diclofenac and paracetamol just so I would keep till dawn breaks when dentists would emerge from their warrens hungry and ready to scavenge for human suffering pop into their clinics.

The diclofenac did eventually powered the ache down to a tolerable pitch and I no longer consider sticking my head into a microwave oven to be a sensible Plan B. I managed to gathered up the tatty remains of the quickly aging morning and slept on them. In the joyless daylight, I called in sick and turned up at the dental department looking down the barrel of a root canal or even an extraction. I had tried my best to preserve the tooth but at that point, I really couldn't give a mile high club about saving it anymore. I just need the pain to stop. Now. At any cost.

The dentist first gave me a shot of lignocaine right into my gum, and it managed to hurt more than my ill-advised 3 mls injection the night before. Once I got good and numb, she proceeded to drill at my composite filling down to the rotten core of the bicuspid and find (surprise!) that it wasn't rotten at all. The pulp was not exposed yet, as she initially suspected, but it "was certainly very close to being so."

She then gave me the option of proceeding with a root canal or going the conservative route and giving the tooth a weekend's chance to get bored of its game of torturing me. Against what I suspect to be my better judgment, I opted for the latter. The only obvious benefit I got out of the visit was that I couldn't feel half my face for the rest of the day. I also couldn't drink anything without half of it leaking out of my mouth. By evening, the pain had resumed chipping away at my sanity. My meds; they were about as effective as a spork in a gunfight.

On Sunday, after a couple more nights of the dental equivalent of the Chinese water torture, one of the surgeons I work for prescribed me these babies,

Tramadol and Etoricoxib
Pictured: blister packs of relief.

My Prescription for Tramadol and Arcoxia
My prescription.

He told me that he suffers from lower back pain from old athletic injuries (which he apparently sustained from the ruthless bloodsport of water polo) and these are the pills he takes to quell it. Arcoxia or etoricoxib is one of the most powerful drugs of its class and is used to treat musculoskeletal pains. Tramadol is a painkiller related to codeine and morphine, and we usually give it patients after surgery to deal with their agony of having been cut open. Was it wee bit overkill for a toothache? Yes and please, sir.

Seriously, if I could lay my hands on some opium like I did back in Jodhpur, I would have done it in a heartbeat.

Anyway, the arcoxia and tramadol combo was so effective that all I felt after dosing myself is a vague, barely-there tightness in the enamel. By the end of the week, even that dissipated as the inflammation petered out.

And all is peaches and puppies with the world again. For now.

Acknowledgment: Thanks, synical, for introducing the word "callipygous" into my vocabulary. I wasn't aware that "steatopygous" has a positive counterpart.

Still has 32 teeth in his head,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Technological Week

"Forget your troubles
Come on get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout hallelujah
Come on get happy
Get ready for the judgment day"

Get Happy (1950) by Judy Garland

I heard The Puppini Sisters' version first so I kind of like that better.

You didn't hear from me for awhile now (unless you've been following me on Twitter) because of two reasons. One, I eliminated my laptop in a freak beverage accident. It transpired last Thursday night. I was smack in the middle of a paid leave from work, sipping from an after-dinner Dark and Stormy I made to accompany my movie night. For those who do not imbibe, a Dark and Stormy is highball cocktail made from one part dark rum and two parts ginger beer built on ice, with or without a wedge of lime squeezed in. My personal recipe uses Bacardi Black (because you can't get Gosling's in Kuching) and Fentimans Botanically Brewed Traditional Ginger Beer (because Bundaberg just isn't spicy enough) with half a lime dropped in, unsquished. Also, my Dark and Stormy is more of a Very Stormy Evening actually since I tend to err on the side of ginger beer in order to get the balance of tastes just so.

Anyway, I was tragically overcame by klutziness and knocked my glass over my laptop's keyboard, laying an effervescent waste to the circuitry underneath, which fizzled from the fizz and gave up the machine ghost. I dropped it off at a shelter for homeless computers an ASUS rescue centre, and impulsively bought myself a whole new custom setup with a 24-inch full high-definition LED monitor (they didn't have any 27 inchers in stock) and a 2.1 THX-certified speaker system. The computer itself runs on Intel's Core i5-2500 processor, a GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card, and a Xonar DG from sound card from ASUS including other bits and pieces of high-tech wizardry I will never find the commitment to fully understand. Liberal consultations with a tech-savvy colleague of mine really helped in the shopping process.

The second reason why you haven't been hearing from me is work-related. I just kissed the Surgical Department goodbye and had moved on to my third posting in Internal Medicine. The transition also meant that I am expected to go through a formal "tagging" period where I'm suppose to be at work from 6:00 AM till 10:00PM every day - for ten days - to learn the ropes. That, as you can probably deduce, does not leave me with very much time for leisure.

I was very nearly extended in the Surgical Department (not by my bosses there, but by the hospital admins) for handing in my performance logbook past the deadline. In fact, it was more than three weeks past the deadest line there is and it's not unheard of for house officers to face a month's extension for submitting the pernicious little booklet a couple of days late. I appealed against the penalty by writing a rather intensely-worded letter, and that apparently did the trick. Saved once again by the powers of creative writing!

In other me-related news, I bought myself a new phone - my first ever smartphone, in fact. I ordered it online and some courier bloke delivered it to me at my workplace yesterday. I'm incredibly resistant to new technology but I cannot logically ignore the progress of humanity anymore. Anyway, it's the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and I'm currently reprogramming my muscle memory around fingering a touchscreen, which is difficult after a lifetime of button-pushing with reliable tactile feedbacks. These days, a man's worth is not measured by what information he can retain in his head but rather by what information he can readily access anytime, anywhere. Welcome to a world of extelligence and the Google effect. I have long considered certain domains of the internet, like this blog for example, as an extension of my personality, memory and self. Getting a smartphone is simply the closest I can fuse these virtual appendages to myself before cybernetic neural implants hit the consumer market. Then, my apotheosis would be complete.

P.S. I have a new phone number, by the way.

More extelligent than ever,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Now Available on Twitter!

"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief."

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Just 111 characters. Well done, Billy!

I'm not built for microblogging. I have too much to say about anything, and I find it impossible to use textese or to eschew proper pronunci... Rats! Is that 140 characters already?

Just in case you haven't noticed, I have joined the twit brigade since about a week ago. If you like, you can now follow me where all my little birds are at I promise not to write about my bowel movements (unless they are really interesting movements). The character limit would take a bit of getting used to but if it annoys me too much I can just work around it in a jiff.

The Art of Beating Twitter
Don't bitch about the 140 character limit. Just beat it, as Michael Jackson would say.

k0k s3n w4i