December 12th

These blog posts are thinning out to say the least, partly because I'm busy, and partly because I've already said a lot of things I wanted to. Which is better, repeating yourself endlessly, or staying silent once you've said your piece?

Quote of the Week

  • "This house has been far out at sea all night, |The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, |Winds stampeding the fields under the window |Floundering black astride and blinding wet |Till day rose; then under an orange sky |The hills had new places, and wind wielded |Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, |Flexing like the lens of a mad eye." - Ted Hughes, Wind

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A Quote Worth Remembering

I first came across this in Banksy's website (http://www.banksy.co.uk/) and thought it was brilliant, but it was a while before I realised its depth and relevance. I can't ask you to enjoy the quote, but certainly it should be remembered.


"I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and childen collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity."
Unspecified Author, Imperial War Museum

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Anne Frank

Whomever who hasn't been moved by this young girl after reading her diary is a hard person to reach indeed.

The story of Anne Frank is that of a young Jewish girl in WW2 Europe. To escape the Nazis, she and her family moved from Frankfurt to Holland, and then went into hiding in a small building where she lived with seven others for more than two years. At the age of fifteen, she was found by the Nazis, deported to a concentration camp, and died from typhus. Among the eight who were in hiding, only her father Otto Frank survived. Her diary, which she had kept since before she went into hiding, was later published by her father, and has been read by millions.

Reading the diary is remarkable for its record of Anne's growth as a person. Normally, people keep their thoughts to themselves, or share it with their most trusted friends. In Anne's case, she decided to commit her thoughts and feelings to paper, with no intention of showing the diary to anyone - and as a result, we do need to guess at what she says, nor imagine what she may have hidden from view - Anne pours out her heart and soul, and this makes the diary a work of honesty and pureness that far surpasses the profit-driven writing of many authors today.

Anne's self-honesty takes its toll on her, she never avoids thinking about something even though it may be painful. It is easy to dismiss an unpleasant idea - we've all faced times when, confronted by the truth, we simply say to ourselves "ah, forget it!", rather than admitting our mistakes. Sometimes, we do it to the extent that we believe our own lies. Anne at times appears to do this, but does in fact know what she has done, and does her best to correct it. We therefore do not only see a person who knows who she is, but also her transformation from an adolescent girl into a young woman - all the more tragic when we already know what happens at the end. Anne never grew to be the lady she was trying so hard to be.

Every other writer is aware of the invisible audience who reads their work, and therefore is careful to pick out a path which they want the reader to walk with them. The distinction between what a person thinks and what they want the audience to see is not a very important one if one records an event or a poem, but when the topic is about the self it is fundamentally different. What one sees in Anne is not the exterior, superficial personality that she puts on for others, but the deep, inner personality that she hides from everyone save her diary.

My friends know that my appetite has never wavered, even when I witnessed open-heart surgery and when I dissected a body. The one time I completely lost my appetite for food was after I visited the Anne Frank House, and saw where this young girl had lived, and where her fate was sealed when the SS came for her.

I don't think I can put into words the sadness I felt, but it was magnified by two things: the fact that six million other Jews were purged during the holocaust, and that people are still subject to the terrible persecution that was visited upon these people, along with seventy million others who died throughout the Second World War.

The world has received enough messages about the brutality of war. We pledge to each other, "the tragedy which befell Anne Frank must never be allowed to happen again." Why, then, are we still killing each other?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Love: Hope and Fear (part III)

He almost jumped. This was the first piece of solid evidence she had given him. But why now? And why had she inexplicably ended up with Liam when he was away? More text appeared.

i don’t why,
but i thought you were going to tell me that night.

Pause.

so i got liam instead,
because i was afraid you’d ask me for an answer,
and i wasn’t ready to tell you yet.


Oh. His heart sank. Well, he knew the answer now.

oh…

He was about to say something, but forgot what it was. More text appeared.

you all right over there?


No, not really. But he wasn’t going to spoil it for her either. She was happy; he’d sort himself out later. He tried to put a brave face on it.

yea, i'm ok
i'd feel better if i had a Porsche
but yea, otherwise i'm good


Shit, he thought. He had brushed her off. Shit! The screen didn’t change for a while, then showed that Anne was typing. Oh God, he thought.

you know, nathan,


More typing.

you like to face your problems alone,
and i respect you for it.


Pause.

but you don’t always have to be the outsider.
i want you to know you can talk to me about it.


Oh God, he thought again. He put his head in his hands and looked wearily at the screen. Anne continued typing.

you were the next person i wanted as a boyfriend.
ever since you helped me get away from those drunks,
i knew you’d take good care of me.
i really hope that helps, nathan.


Second best, he grimaced. Well, if second best is all you can be, it’s all you can be. He badly wanted to get away from her, but he couldn’t leave her hanging.

well

thanks
i guess


His gut twisted.

but that just kinda makes it worse, you know

i’m grateful and all

but well…

yeah.


oh, nathan,
i'm sorry i had to tell you like this…


Frustration. A brief flash of anger. How the hell else were you planning to tell me? No, wipe it away. Life is painful enough as it is. He tried to reassure.

it's ok
i know you’re trying to help

and i appreciate it

really


thank you for understanding.

there aren’t that many people who would take this the right way


heh
yeah i'm a freak like that


truth is it hurts

but blaming someone doesn’t make the pain go away

you just end up spreading more pain, you know?


that’s another reason i liked you so much


even though liam and i…
we have something that you and i
well, you and i just don’t have


Oh God. Sadness began welling up, the same horrible, wrenching feeling he felt the last time he spoke to her in the dining hall. Why is she doing this to me? He forced himself to look at the next line of text. Read it, dammit! She’s still your friend!

we’re still best friends,
i want you to know that

sometimes…


Pause. More fumbling text.

sometimes i feel you understand me better than him


Tears, he could feel tears rolling down his cheeks. Why did she choose him over me? He reached for the keyboard.

thanks


He didn’t want to think anymore. He just wanted to get out of there, away from Anne and the pain and confusion she had brought down on him, as fast and as far as his legs would take him. He typed in a frenzy.

listen
i gotta go


oh…


i want you to know i'm not mad at you, ok?
right now i just need to clear my head


ok…


i'll be all right in a bit.
i hope you guys are good
bye


Anne started typing, but he didn’t wait for her reply and shut the computer down. He went into his bedroom, locked the door, and wept.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Love: Hope and Fear (part II)

Oh, a voice said in his brain, sounding almost relieved. Oh well. I guess that settles it then, she has a boyfriend. He stared dumbly at the screen. Problem solved, the voice continued on, you can’t have her, time to go play some videogames now. You’ve still not finished that one Fred lent you, and he wants it back by next week.

Despite the good advice, he continued to stare at the text. It stared rudely back at him, and then he realised that no matter how good he was at staring matches he would lose against a computer screen. He also realised that Anne was still waiting for him to reply to her text. Hurriedly, he typed:

congratulations
isn’t liam that guy you introduced me to at that really weird bar


Then, realising that might be taken as an insult (he was still deciding if he wanted it to be), he hurriedly added:

the 2nd year right?

More text appeared.

nathan, be nice
:P

She saw through his 'default' sarcasm. He breathed a sigh of relief as she continued typing.

yeah,
he took care of me that night i got drunk.
you remember
the week before Christmas at the union?

He remembered that night. Anne, Liam, himself and about three others had gone out, and she had gotten fantastically drunk. He wanted to bring her back to her room, but she uncharacteristically demanded that Liam do it instead, and that Nathan and the others should enjoy the rest of the night. Nathan helped her into Liam’s car with a look that said he would bash his head in if he did anything to her. She called up the next day to apologise, and told him that yes, Liam had cleaned her up and put her in bed without incident. She had also destroyed Liam’s table lamp in her drunken stupor, and Nathan found the image quite entertaining.

He racked his brain to remember more about Liam. Second year, same course as himself and Anne, which part of England did he come from? Didn’t matter really. He seemed all right, though Nathan had somehow disliked him the first time they met. That, he acknowledged, was jealousy. Later he did his best to treat Liam as one of the group.

He sighed. He trusted Anne’s judgement, though it left him confused at times like these. He typed:

yeah, only because you wouldn’t let me!
:(

sorrie, i was a bit drunk at the time

He laughed.

lol, that’s the understatement of the year
:P

oho,
you’ve been licked plenty more than i have

have not
we both know i'm crazier sober than when i'm drunk

besides, i wasn’t ready.

He tried for a moment to decipher the cryptic reply. What did she mean?

eh?
for what?

Her reply seemed to be taking a while, she was typing, then stopped for a moment before typing again. After some moments of this he realised that she was finding it difficult to put her thoughts into words. The text finally came through.

we had something, didn’t we…

To be continued.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Love: Hope and Fear (part I)

He was at home on holiday with his family, and thousands of miles from Anne.

His mother was trying to convince him to watch a movie, one of those that were part romantic, part self-discovery, and improbable in the real world. Step Up, it was called.

He never liked that kind of movie. The plot was too predictable, the coincidences too unlikely, the romance too blatantly obvious. Obviously the girl had to be pretty and the man handsome, and obviously they would get together at the end of the movie, and everyone would live happily ever after. He much preferred books, which could convey a more subtle and varied range of emotions, and didn’t need to stick to tried-and-tested plot lines for the sake of profit.

Anne’s presence, or lack thereof, was making itself felt slowly but certainly. There had been something there. He had brushed it off, but the chance meeting with her at the dining hall and his realisation about Rachael was leading him on a dangerous path – his prior experiences with love taught him that it could hit him where it mattered. He was afraid.

He brushed the fear aside, tried to be logical about it, and failed miserably. Love wasn’t logical! He knew that by now. Every other emotion – joy, sadness, even fear and hate – they were logical, you could understand why you felt them, and you could try to control them. Love, on the other hand… That was something else. It gave you fear and hope at the same time, and the more you hoped the more you feared losing everything.

Ultimately, his logical mind boiled down the choices to two that every other star-crossed lover had to face. Tell her, and risk everything; or hide it, and gain nothing? He deliberated. On the TV screen, the two actors swayed and laughed; the image of perfection. He decided the movie was getting to him. He also decided that he would tell her.

He excused himself, saying that he had already watched the film before, and went to turn his computer on for another day of mind-numbing videogames. Before that, he signed into his instant messenger, hoping for some conversation.

Blue text appeared on his screen almost immediately.

nathannnnn….!!

It was Anne, Anne had pinged him.

how are you??

His heart leaped into his mouth. He had to calm down. This was too sudden! He wanted to tell her, but not now, not unprepared like this!

hey
i’m good thanks
how’s it going?


It bought him enough time to slow his heart rate to a manageable level.

For a while nothing happened, and he looked at the screen a little uncertainly. Then, waves of text appeared.

hey!!
it’s been great actually.
i got through the exams after all,
my family is taking me to France for the holiday,
and me and liam got together.

He hadn’t fully read her reply before he started to type his own, and it was only after he had finished congratulating her that he noticed the last line of text.

To be continued.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

I Am...

…A medical student with a bright future, and also a teenager with much angst and little direction.

…A person with a mission, yet weighed down by inertia.

…An artist, a social commentator, a philosopher, and a scientist, with no ideas or experiences of my own to draw, to comment about, to muse over, or to research.

…Yearning for change, but comfortable with the schedule I already have.

…Knowledgeable in many areas, but clumsy in my day-to-day life.

…A person who decries cheap labour and animal abuse, but buys from Tesco and eats at KFC.

…A rebel at heart, but in practicality I accept the way things are being run now.

…Angry about the wars and fighting in South Ossetia, the Sudan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but I play computer games depicting glorious wars all the time.

…A person with very strong ideas about love, yet I have no one whom I can love.

…A person who tells his younger cousins to be careful about alcohol, but I drink every Friday night in University.

…Chinese, and yet not Chinese.

…Malaysian, and yet not Malaysian.

…Not English, and yet I speak with an English accent.

…A big eater, but I think I’ll be able to avoid health complications in the future.

…A person with great ideas, who gets many of them from the bookshop in the next door mall.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Illusion Broken (part II)

The realisation stunned him. For a while he really thought that he had been trying to achieve a tangible goal – and it turned out the Rachel whom he met was not the one he loved. Instead, he had created from her another girl, who never really existed in the first place.

Questions flooded in. What could have possibly led him to this? How – why – did he do it? It became clear on hindsight that the two were radically different. Why had he been deluding himself for all this time? He had to find out where it went wrong – and what to do now. Memories would have to be trawled through, and with them some painful reminders of his past mistakes.

He went to the kitchen and made himself a drink, then sat down and started thinking. But memory distorts with time, certain details are highlighted while the big picture blurs and fades, and the mind has ways of altering memory to suit its needs. Fragments of what he needed to know whispered by as he tried miserably to hold on to them. He shut his eyes in frustration, trying to concentrate.

The room was still. Occasionally, distant music could be heard from other student rooms, but otherwise it was quiet. The ice in his forgotten drink began to melt, and clouds drifted across the November sky.

Hours passed. The clouds were gone. It was noon, and the sun was shining. Still he sat as if comatose.

Outside, a bird sang.

He looked up with a new look on his face – a look of tranquillity, and some would say, relief. He had made up his mind – the imaginary Rachael would stay. He no longer loved her, nor did he cling on to the hope that he would once again meet and claim the other. He created her to be his conscience for three years, and she had done her duty faithfully. She would remain to counterbalance his darker side, a symbol and beacon for his crusade against his inner demons, but no longer would she hold sway in the matter of love. In that respect, he was now his own master.

He felt a sudden urge to be outdoors. Picking up his coat, he stepped out into the sunshine. The illusion was broken. He was free.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Illusion Broken (part I)

He had once loved another.

He had not met Rachael for some time now, but retained an image of her in his mind, a symbol of his greatest hopes, and his deepest fears. She was beautiful, and in his once-naive mind her beauty was even greater. He saw her as an oasis of hope; compassionate and driven among the desert of dull, selfish, unmotivated souls around them. He had found, at last, one whom he had to respect – and was at the same time elated and terrified.

They spoke often, their intellect drawing each other together. But he knew, as a child knows since its birth how to draw breath, that he would not have her. Sarcasm was his armour to hide old wounds that had never fully healed, but it repelled her along with the others whom he feared opening up to, and they spoke less as time went by.

He knew he wasn’t good enough, but comforted himself in the thought that he would rather she reject him for not being good enough, than accept him out of pity. He wanted to earn her love – and so over the years he slowly exorcised his demons. He analyzed major decisions, judging them by what he felt she would do. He learned to take the barb of insult without flinching, to take defeat with grace rather than anger, to win battles within himself rather than with his fists, always hoping for one day when he would be worthy. When life became gruelling, she became his purpose, his raison d'existence.

He left for distant shores before that day came, clinging to the hope that he would see her again.

Meanwhile, his personal crusade continued. Within a year his demeanour had changed from angst-ridden to purposeful, from cynical to understanding. The old wounds that he once needed to hide had almost completely disappeared, and his cynicism resurfaced only rarely from the depths of his past. He had, in his attempts to remake himself, victoriously confronted each and every skeleton in his closet. But that did not change the fact that she was ‘the one who got away’, and those close to him thought that there was a hint of sadness in his voice when he spoke of her. He eventually shied away from relationships, not wanting to have to compare his current girlfriends with her, for the one in his mind's eye always won.

Life was good, confidence was returning to him, and it seemed the great battle was finally drawing to an end, when one day he tried to recall her face, and realised, with a start, that he could not....

To be continued.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

A Gulf between Two

He was sitting with his friend in a quiet corner of the dining hall. One of the staff entered, leading a small group of people. She was with them. He hadn’t expected that.

A deep sadness began to well up within him. She saw him, smiled and waved quickly, before going to the other end of the hall with the rest of the new staff. He waved back, mask on to hide his wound. Under his guise even his friend next to him could not see it. They continued their conversation as the well of sadness continued to rise. His mask slowly began to crack.

His friend noticed the change of mood and implored. He gave in, his emotions gradually seeping out.

“This isn’t right. She deserves more than this.” He said it quietly, almost to himself.

With a baleful eye he watched as she put on an apron handed out by the senior staff.

His friend did not know her well enough to have heard her story. He explained under gentle interrogation what the other needed to know. After some minutes he could see that he comprehended his plight.

Anne was remarkably intelligent even among the university students, a fact that both of them noticed when they each met her. While not physically stunning, she had an aura of quiet strength, built up gradually by years of enduring hardship. By a cruel twist of fate, she had failed her examinations when others less intelligent had passed, and thus had to remain in university while he returned home. With little money left in her account, she had decided to seek work, and now here she was, in the same hall he and other students had paid thousands to live in.

And there he was, powerless to help her despite the endless good fortune he reaped. He felt guilty. He played with his food and waited for a chance to speak with her.

Some minutes later, the senior staff member was called away – he had his chance. He walked over. For an instant, her smile reached across the chasm and gave him a jolt of warmth.

He greeted her, somewhat stiffly from behind the mask. She returned the greeting with warmth. Somehow he knew she sensed his discomfort.

“Hey, can you skive off a few minutes? I’m in the hall for another hour,” he said.

“I can’t I’m afraid, this is my first day at work so I can’t afford to slip up.”

“Okay, I’ll give you a ring later then. We might be able to meet in the next few days.”

"Will do.”

Their short conversation came to a halt as the staff member returned.

“Better leave you to it then,” he said as they exchanged smiles again. He moved off as the staff member began giving assignments to the new arrivals.


In his room, the terrible sadness descended upon him again. Though they might cross the mental gulf occasionally, and perhaps even bridge it for a time, it always threatened their tenuous connection.

Frustration at their circumstances took him, then anger. He quelled them both quickly – there was no use being angry – but the deep sense of loss continued. He wanted to reach out and hug her, to shelter her from the storm with his own body.

He looked out of his window at the sky and saw – as one instantly sees everything when lightning flashes across the night sky – that the battle was hers to fight, and that what she needed was a good friend, not a lover. The best thing he could do for her was to be that good friend.

He would lose a limb if it would have helped her, but what he needed to do was far more difficult. It would be one of the hardest decisions of his life, and he knew he would wonder about that choice in the future.

For her, and only her, he would do it anyway. He would stay on the other side of the gulf he placed between them. Such was his love.

Monday, 9 June 2008

A sane response to an insane world

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7427372.stm

And http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet_in_Sarajevo

It’s been getting harder and harder for me to write about war. I remember the days as a kid when I’d write a thousand words on a war essay when three hundred was all I needed. Always I was the soldier of honour, ever obedient, saving innocents, defeating the enemy. I revelled in the hunt, the chaos of battle, the imaginary control and discipline I wielded when swinging a sword or pulling the trigger of a rifle.

Those days are over.

Now I struggle to form my thoughts into words. I am no longer the soldier, but the civilian. I rage impotent as everything I know is torn to pieces, I quail at the choice of running away into the unknown or watching my world being destroyed around me. I feel the loss of loved ones, neighbours, family, and with every death I feel like a part of me has died with them. I feel hatred boil up inside me, and even though I am a peace-loving person I wish for a weapon to take revenge on those who would take everything away from me.

It is not difficult for me to see why one would hate a foreign soldier, or turn to religious groups to find a purpose to continue living. The black and white of evil and good have turned into shades of gray, and colours of every kind only add to the confusion.

In Baghdad, a junior doctor is struggling to keep her life together. In Zimbabwe, politicians have turned on the people they are supposed to have served. In Sri Lanka, a family is packing their things to come to England for the foreseeable future. Despite our gains in Science and Technology, despite there being another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, despite the ever-growing economy, wars are still being raged, and people are still dying. How can we as human beings not cry out for an end to this terror?

Our ability to deny what we don’t want to see never ceases to amaze. We consciously block out everything that would slow us down. Anything incompatible with our worldview is discarded, whether it be politics, friends, or even family. That is likely the way some of us deal with a world that is slowly going mad. Denial offers peace of mind, no matter how bad the reality may be.

It is a luxury that we cannot afford.

Shutting out the rest of the world does not mean it doesn’t exist, or that the suffering people feel will grow less painful. Nor does it mean that the injustices we ignore will not stain our history. All that is required for Evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

My appeal to you, therefore, is simple - Please, no matter how painful the world becomes, no matter how much destruction is thrown at us, we must never lose our humanity. We must continue to feel love, pain, joy, and fear: for losing our emotions makes us nothing more than animals.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

A sobering experience

Get ready guys, this one's special.

I was on the KL - Dubai flight on my way to four days in Frankfurt (and later back to Leicester), and met a 27-year old doctor, travelling alone. She was from Iraq.

Over our trip I garnered that she works in a hospital with frequent military casualties and lives in central Baghdad, that people don't leave their homes after 4.00pm, and travelling alone is considered taboo, or just plain suicide.

She had come to Malaysia for ten days on holiday, and was amazed by the way Malaysians live. People going out at night was new to her. Imagine that - so many Malaysians are leaving the country for because we think of it as unstable. She, on the other hand, was amazed that Malaysians can even go out for a cup of coffee when we feel like it.

Despite having lived under Saddam and the American occupation for nearly all her life, she decided to travel here alone. Somehow, I know that in my position I wouldn't have done that. I wouldn't have the balls to travel across a battlefield.

Somehow over the course of the flight, she managed to affect me profoundly. This was a brave young soul, learning, loving and living despite the worst of it. The fact that she could keep her spirits up even when she was returning to that mess...well, that just stuns me. Would I be able to look at the people who invaded my country without hating them? She does. Would I be able to see past my cultural barriers into the hearts and minds of the soldiers, the militias, the gunmen? She did. She may live by the rules of her society, but her mind has left those constraints far behind.

Knowing a person who might be dead in the next few days has put my life into sharp focus. She has almost nothing, but she makes as much as she can out of it. I have practically everything - and I had better do something with that.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Trust

This is another random musing that I’ve thought up round about 5 in the morning, and I decided that since I was having a very bad case of jet lag, I might as well get on my computer and write it down. I guess it’s really a justification of self brought on by some cultural questions I’ve had to answer, but then again, it’s something worth sharing and sounds mildly intellectual.

I’ve just been thinking of relationships. Touchy subject, especially given that I haven’t had anywhere near the ‘normal share’ compared to most English people, and probably even less than most Malaysians. But as far as I’m concerned it’s not the number of experiences you have, it’s how much you take out of each one that matters.

I was thinking of the process of the ‘ordinary relationship’. And I’ve realised that it’s fairly standard. In the words of Sir Ian Fleming, “sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the climax in bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness”. Granted, some cultures allow more or less bed, but men, as we all know, think with their balls so I’ll assume they take as much bed as they can get away with.

I’ve broken some hearts, and I’ve been burned in turn, just like most others. I don't hold any grudges, but I’m not happy with the process – I didn’t agree with the way it messed up a woman, not least because I felt a good amount of pain for her. In that way, I suppose I’m a gentleman, or perhaps my morals are ridiculously strong. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to do any more damage looking for the lady of my dreams who, as far as I know, may not even exist.

I guess that’s why I can be quite cynical when I meet a woman who appear to fit the criteria. I venture into unknown territory here – my personal view is that I’m afraid of hurting her as well as myself. Freud would say that it’s because of the relationship between my parents, which at times can be ‘stormy’ (hah, understatement there!). Well, whatever the reasons, I happily confess my sarcasm – I do it partly to confirm that she does not actually meet the criteria, and partly because I’m afraid that she may actually fulfil all the tests I’ve set for her. Sarcasm is a form of armour sometimes.

But, (again borrowing from Fleming), “like all harsh, cold men”, I am “easily tipped over into sentiment”, and with sentiment comes the danger of a relationship. I do my best to trim the branches before they can bloom into flowers, but I let the odd one grow at its own pace, and I’ve been rewarded once in a while with something more important than a relationship – trust. And I guess that’s something I value more than a quick romance.

To the few whom I have let flowers bloom for (I know one among you who knows I’m talking about her), thank you for your trust. I’ll do my best to keep it.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Socialism vs Stalinism: What happened in Russia

My opening intro to a discussion by Socialist Students, University of Leicester (modified to improve flow and adding a backstory for those less familiar with Russian history).

We have to start off defining these rather weird terms. Socialism, technically, could include everything from 20th-century Russia and China to 21st-century Venezuela and Cuba. Stalinism, on the other hand, conjures up images of a mustachioed man ordering Soviet tanks into Europe. What were they really?

Socialism
For this discussion, I define socialism as a governance where the economy is planned by the state, and the state is controlled by elected representatives of the people, and where individuals would be allotted benefits such as housing, healthcare etc. The early leaders of the Russian Revolution argued that socialism would have to be an international movement to be successful, with different countries supporting each other with resources, labour, and if need be, soldiers. They also believed that a socialist uprising would begin in an advanced country, where workers were educated and had strong organisations and causes.

Stalinism
My definition of Stalinism will be chiseled out gradually so that you can see how it came about - Stalinism did not simply appear because Joseph Stalin took power, but evolved from the Russian government to meet the problems that Russia itself faced.

The Beginning
Russia as a socialist nation was formed in the middle of the First World War - disgruntled and disillusioned peasants, soldiers and workers rebelled against the Tsar, forming a Provisional Government with its smallest unit being the Soviet, a worker's committee. The provisional government was soon overthrown by the Bolsheviks, a group which continued the use of the Soviet as its most basic unit, implementing strict controls to prevent elected representatives from becoming too powerful. This worked well when the workers were active in their respective Soviets. In the meantime, this new form of government inspired similar revolutions in Germany and Finland, as was hoped by the early socialist leaders.

Ideally...
...an international Socialist Revolution would have meant that different socialist nations would be able to support each other with food, resources, arms, or skilled labour. Were the other revolutions successful, Russia, or any other socialist country, would have been much harder to dislodge from power. This partly came true when workers and soldiers rebelled in some invading countries, keeping these nations from sending out their full military strength for fear of more revolutions. However, this was not to last. The other revolutions across Europe were put down, and soon armies foreign and local were marching to claim chunks of Russia as their own - the Russian Civil War had begun.

The problems begin
But Russia's unexpected isolation from the rest of the world, and the invasion of more than twenty armies, left the socialist leaders in a difficult position. The country faced food shortages, a lack of troops, internal counter-revolutions and a backward economy incapable of rivalling the foreign powers it faced.

The weakening of the people
Vladimir Lenin, Russia's first leader, was forced to conscript workers into the army, leading many educated workers to their deaths and causing disillusionment among others. This made it easy for individuals to take control of individual Soviets, who then moved up the ranks gradually to gain more power. Lenin's move to consolidate his power by removing democratic controls and forming a secret police (the Cheka) that executed his political opponents made it easy for existing bureaucrats to maintain their power. Worse, the bureaucrats who had taken control of the Soviets then allied themselves with Stalin, at the time a political unknown.

The slippery slide to dictatorship
Lenin also had to act to ensure that his armies had enough food, and implemented an economic policy which rewarded landlords (Kulaks) for increasing food production. This simply gave the Kulaks more power over the masses, which further disillusioned the peasants and reduced their interest in the Soviets. When the Kulaks grew too powerful, Stalin tried to shift the economy to the industrial sector, which simply transferred power to the factory managers. The bureaucrats were now so powerful that they no longer needed to heed the demands of the people. They quickly began amassing resources and wealth for themselves.

Stalin's rise to power
Then, Stalin launched his takeover. Using the secret police and the binding laws that Lenin had set up to maintain his own power, Stalin quickly removed and replaced the various members of the Central Committee with his own men, assassinating those who dared disobey him. The Stalinist nation of the USSR had emerged.

Stalinism as we know it
Under the planned economy, the USSR under Stalin grew in a few short decades from an agricultural backwater to in industrial powerhouse to rival that of the USA. For nearly fifty years the power balance between Russia and America swayed back and forth, with neither side able to topple the other. But the momentum of Lenin's and Stalin's reforms could not last forever. The rot caused by the disillusionment of the workers, combined with enormous corruption, finally brought the USSR to its knees, and ultimately, destroyed it.

Ultimately
Yes, the Americans won the cold war, but only because of the weaknesses inherent within a dictatorship. Yes, socialism in Russia was hijacked and turned into Stalinism, but it has since inspired many a revolution across the globe. Yes, Russia did not answer the questions of how the world should have been run, but it has offered us an insight into how powerful a planned economy could be. Let what happened in Russia be a lesson to you - for it was an event that shall reverberate in world history for generations to come.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

What Happens Tomorrow?

The Malaysian elections are over. As Malaysians settle down to sleep, 5 states now belong to the opposition parties, while the remaining 8 remain in the hands of the Barisan Nasional. The opposition has managed, perhaps by the skin of its teeth, to deny the gigantic BN machinery a 2/3 majority in parliament. Malaysians all over have decided that they have had enough with BN. They have taken the plunge into the unknown, and elected leaders who have, up to now, never held the reins.

The last time this happened was in 1969, nearly 40 years ago. And on the 13th of May that year, a majority Chinese opposition marched across the country in a victory rally.

But not was all as it seemed - for some in the current government were ready to launch their master operation to sieze power from the leaders of the party. Inciting the ethnic Malays into violence, they began a series of race riots that raged across the country, claiming more than a hundred souls, and plunging the country into fourty years of fear-based BN rule.

Fourty years on, I sit at my desk in England, wondering what I will see on the news when I wake up tomorrow. This could be the beginning of a new chapter in Malaysian history - with the promise of civil liberties, freedom of speech, and a proper stand against corruption. But I cannot but feel uneasy. The government has been unchallenged in parliament for some fourty years. What happens now that its once-tiny rivals have given it the hardest punch it has ever felt?

The last time the opposition parties did that, certain individuals led the country to the brink of civil war. Had one of the opposition parties not decided to join BN, I may not be sitting here right now. How will the government react this time? Will I wake up to news of raging street fights?

I can only pray, that fourty years down the road, we have learned our lesson - that Malaysians know the issue here is not of race, but of justice, and that we will not once again fall into another trap set for us by selfish men, men who would see people die in order to cling on to power for a few more days.

Malaysia has been teething from its colonial roots for 50 years. Can we finally claim to be the independent nation we should be?

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,
none but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'cause none of them can stop the time.

How long shall they kill our prophets
while we stand aside and look?
Some say it's just a part of it -
we've got to fulfil the book.
Bob Marley - Redemption Song

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Elections - Malaysia

This is a rushed post, and by the time you read this the elections will probably have started, or even ended.

I don't have much to say besides this: Most of you have heard of the problems Malaysia faces, even if you don't know the accurate statistics or even actual facts. I want you all to think of the issues here:

Our leaders say they want unity, then turn around and scream about the racial superiority.
They claim freedom of speech, but brutally crush rallies against their party.
They declare economic improvement and buy private jets using our money, but raise the price of oil.
They lead us on a verbal merry-go-round about whether we are actually an Islamic country or not.
They insist crime is minimal, but a person is blown up with C4 explosives by two government commandos.
They spend billions on economic projects that either get cancelled or forgotten about.
They declare development, but where is it? I don't see people on the street getting happier.
They say the opposition is evil, but they themselves are corrupt.
They say the media is fair, but they shut down newspapers who don't toe the line.
They claim the elections are fair, but insist that postal votes be kept to ensure government candidates keep their seats.


I've heard enough. I've made my mind up. Have you?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Some things I miss from high school

The good old days when we would sit and talk about nonsense all day without being malicious to anyone.

The way we ribbed each other and never got offended.

Being able to sit down and discuss anything with total disregard to pecking order.

Pecking order? What's that?

Not caring whether we sounded nerdy or not.

Discussing world events as if we knew everything going on behind the scenes, even though we knew jack shit.

Going to classes because we wanted to see our friends, not because we cared about lessons.

Being able to daydream in class and still come up with the right answer.

Mom’s cooking – because that’s when we knew the day was over.

Sleeping in the bus rather than trying to remember the nerves in the brachial plexus.

Not caring about a test because it didn’t matter if we failed or passed.

Making up imaginary enemies – because we didn’t have any real ones.

Having time to write about things that mattered to us, rather than do endless library searches.

The way we all understood what one of us was talking about.

Not having to worry about sleeping late because we could always sleep in class.

Not having to worry about anything outside the classroom.

Being able to lean back in bed and read a book of our own choosing, not a textbook recommended by module leaders.

The way everything outside school and our houses never mattered.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Abortion

That day after a very long Friday night at the club, I got into the safety bus with a bunch of other people I didn’t know. They were fairly drunk. One of them, a young lady with an American accent, made the statement “I support abortion because we don’t have enough resources to feed everyone and the world is overpopulated”. I held my tongue about how wrong that statement was. I might have argued the point, but I didn’t think that it would have gotten through given that she was already up there with the fairies, and spouting absolute nonsense. I don’t know whether she would have said the same thing if she were sober, but here I go anyway.

Let me make it clear from the start, I support abortion as well. That’s not the issue I’m angry about. I’m just not happy with the rest of her statement.

The main things I’m not happy about:

First, abortion is not about resources, it’s about choice.

Realistically, how much of the world’s resources would abortion save? How many people undergo abortions? Take fourteen million in 2006, as reported by the Johnston Archive. Let’s say that half of them are for medical reasons, in other words they would have been necessary for the safety of the mother, or they wouldn’t have survived to term anyway. That leaves seven million. How much of the world’s population is that? Just over 0.1% – a tiny figure among the 6 billion we already have. Sure, if every one of those 7 million lives to the age of 100, then that might have some impact. But what are the odds of that? Abortion doesn’t save nearly enough resources to make an impact on overpopulation. It does, however, give one the right to control their body.

Second, we produce enough grain to feed the world 1.5 times over – the fact is that we do have the resources.

Yes, the fact is that we can and do produce enough food for everyone on the planet, and then some. Our production capacity isn't nearly at its peak either, thanks to European grain subsidies that make it economically unfeasible to scale up grain production in Africa and other countries. The reason why people are dying of hunger in the streets is because of the imbalance of resources. Why, then, do we not feed these people? Why do we leave them to die on the streets while we let our crop surpluses rot? That is another story, best saved for another day – but the reasons boil down to greed, ignorance and self-interest.

Third, if we all consumed the same amount as the average American, we’d need four planet earths to feed our resource hunger.

I don’t know if the young lady was American, Canadian, or just got her accent by watching a lot of TV. And I’m not singling out America because she had an accent. The fact is, the average US citizen consumes far more than the average person. And using the same line of reasoning as hers, if you really want to save resources, then you shouldn’t just kill any baby, but instead take the effort to kill American babies – because killing one of them is saving the resources for four others. See how flawed the argument is? Who do you choose to go, the ones who are actually going to consume more, or the ones more easily fooled?

Fourth, the statement neglects the issue that poor people don’t even have access to basic medical care.

If her idea was that we would do the poor a favour by reducing their burdens towards their families, then she’s barking up the wrong tree. It might do an individual family more good, but only if the family has access to a hospital, and by extension, more basic resources like electricity, plumbing and roads. The vast majority of the world’s population doesn’t have that. Millions live on less than a US dollar a day. Do they really have access to proper medical care and hospitals, or are they more likely to simply dump the newborn baby in a trash can because they can’t pay for an abortion?

Fifth, abortion to save resources is akin to purging the world of ‘undesirables’.

Yes, quite so. “We have too many people now, and they’re consuming our resources. What do we do?” “I know! We’ll kill their babies!” The irony is that the people making these decisions are probably consuming the resources that would keep 50 others alive. Touting abortion as a way to reducing the burden on the planet simply makes it more socially acceptable, but the bottom line is that if ever abortion is used to limit human numbers, it is but one step away from culling animals in national parks. Given our grain surpluses, I doubt highly that we’ve reached that level of desparation.

Sixth, and probably most importantly, there is no ‘magic pill’ to cure overconsumption of our resources.

Even if killing poor people’s babies to control their numbers is morally acceptable – and it’s not – there would still be overconsumption. It exists because people are greedy and don’t know when to stop. Take the world as it is today, and imagine that you crossed out one in every ten people on the street – would we still have problems with overconsumption of the world’s resources? Yes. Every one of us consumes more than we need, then we blame our neighbours for the lack of resources and the pollution. This has to stop, and the first step towards that is acknowledging that probably every one reading this blog post is overconsuming. Equally disturbing, her comment raises the issue of what she has been taught by the media, her education and her parents. If I had to hazard a guess as to what background she came from, I'd safely say it wasn't from a lower middle class family. People in that position simply don't say things like that.

And, at the end of my rant:

People who believe abortion is going to do anything to control the world’s population are probably wrong, unless it is mandatory, like China's one child policy. And let’s be honest, most people wouldn't want to be told how many children they should have. At best, abortion would give a family control over the number of children they have, and the number of mouths they need to feed. But looking at the world on a macro scale, this dwindles into nothingness. The facts are that abortion has nearly nothing to do with controlling population sizes, and that overconsumption is not going to be cured by legalising abortions, but by making drastic changes in our lifestyles, our economies, and our very concepts of 'need' and 'want'.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

I’m starting to see what makes me me now.


Not that long ago I believed that people had the choice to be whatever they wanted to be. Though that is true to a point, I’m starting to believe that outside circumstances play a much bigger role than choice. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as free will, but merely that circumstance, destiny, or whatever you want to call it plays a much bigger role that I ever imagined.

I grew haughty, believing that people who made choices different from mine were not thinking through their decisions properly, and that my ideals were the only ones that people should be aiming towards.

Now, I see a long line of events, people, and places that have come together to make me, the me I am today. Everyone has one of these. Different events, different circumstances have shaped them into the persons that they are today, and how they will make their choices in the future. After all, how can someone who has never read the Mortorcycle Diaries or been to Bolivia see the exploitation of Latin America through Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara's eyes, or feel as Ishmael Beah did as his entire village was destroyed in the war-torn Sierra Leone, without having read his memoirs, or experienced it firsthand?


This seems rather obvious, but it finally explains what I was so frustrated about – that people wouldn’t see or do things the same way I did, that people wouldn’t stand for what I was convinced was the only choice to make. They are fundamentally different from me as I am from them, and to demand that they do the same things as I would be paramount to saying that they experienced everything that I did too.

Your path, your choices, your opinion of the way the world should be, are different from those of mine. I understand that now. Whose choices ultimately are the best, neither you, nor I, nor anyone else can decide – for we are limited by the experiences that have made us the people we are today.

But then, surely some choices are better than others, and not having experienced something makes a poor excuse for doing the wrong thing – try to justify killing someone in a road accident because you never experienced being drunk! Not being experienced will therefore not save anyone from having to make the tough calls in life. I thus choose to stand by the ideals that I hold dear, until someone or something comes along to prove me wrong. When the facts change, I will change my mind – but only then.

I can only conclude that God moulds you into what you are – to a point. What’s left is up to you. I hope that when the hard choice comes, you and I know the right decision to make. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to choose what you want to do with your life, and what you stand for and would be willing to die for – to go out there and seize every opportunity to learn, or to be caught without the experience to make that choice in the future.

The choice to learn, to grow, is yours, as is the direction you want to grow in. Remember something, though, about what you may consider not worth learning or knowing about: as Trotsky said, "You may not be interested in stategy, but strategy is interested in you".