Monday, April 10, 2006

Podcast & Blogging election ban

I sent this to the Straits Times Forum on the night of 5th April 2006. This letter did not get published in the Straits Times newspaper and online forum pages - which is OK, as it's the editors' right to print what they please. For my own satisfaction, I'm posting it here, for friends to read.

Readers of the Straits Times are often treated to reports of well deserved accolades and global recognition for the high quality of education in Singapore. We have also read of how the Singapore education system has undergone massive changes and received huge investments to create IT literate, critical-thinking, creative citizens well equipped to thrive in an increasingly flattened world.

So it comes as a surprise that Singaporeans, products of our superior education system, are needing to be protected from "a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules," where "political debate could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse, flush with rumors and distortions to mislead and confuse the public." (Paraphrased quote reported in Reuters - see link under References section)

How well the future of our society turns out is a function of the quality of the decisions each citizen makes. Making good decisions requires not just critical, analytical thought processes, but also good access to information. In one of our most important decisions, the selection of members of parliment, we need all the information we can get. A wider range and coverage of viewpoints may allow a few Singaporeans to be fooled by opportunists and charlatans, but it will more than compensate by better spotlighting the true and sincere talents who present themselves for selection as representatives of the people.

There is no place for a law to stop citizens from posting recordings and photographs of election rallies in personal blogs.


A Straits Times article can be found at this link, which at this time, 2pm on Sunday 9 April 2006 is still available for free access. Once this article goes into the archives, one will need to pay SPH for access to the article:

The Straits Times - Political podcasts, videocasts not allowed during election - Tue Apr 4, 2006

The quotation from Dr Balaji that I paraphrased above is from this Reuters report: - Singapore warns bloggers against political postings - Mon Apr 3, 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Enjoying Liberty Meadows

"Schecky the Monkey King threw caution to the wind. The trail of the flesh eating white apes of the Lost City was clear to his jungle-bred senses. He knew that the apes had kidnapped Cindy and that she would soon be devoured as part of their twisted ritual sacrifice."

So begins another episode of Schecky the Monkey King, with a look reminiscent of the Russ Manning Tarzan strips we used to read in the Sunday papers. By the way, I have a few scans of the last of the Russ Manning Tarzan strips, before he handed the strip over to Mike Grell. If you're interested, write me.

Schkey and Mighty Shmoe Pong are part of the reading diet of the bizarre characters in Frank Cho's liberty meadows. The best way to tell if you'll enjoy Liberty Meadows is to score yourself against the following test:

1. Have you ever been a fan of Edgar Rice Burrogh's Tarzan and John Carter, Warlord of Mars novels?
2. Have you ever been a fan of things Star Wars (the original trilogy, in particular)
3. Do you get a kick out of Dinosaurs and Giant Apes?
4. Do you enjoy clean line art? Black & White as opposed to monochrome graduated patches or airbrushed colors?
5. Do you enjoy touches of insanity in your reading matter?
6. Ever associated yourself with geekdom, and are able to sympthatize with the trials and tribulations of geeks?
7. Ever fantasized about or fell in lust/love with a comic book super heroine?

The more "yes" answers you have, the more you'll enjoy Liberty Meadows. I love Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes for many of the same reasons - all these strips have very strongly defined characters who can carry off the gag by simply being present. But there's much more of a fanboy aspect to Liberty Meadows.

There's a nice tie-in here to an earlier posting about Peter Jackson's King Kong - Mighty Shmoe Pong is a direct spoof of Kong - dinosaur fights and all.

Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows Internet Sanctuary website is linked here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Mr Muo's Travelling Couch - the stuff of dreams

I picked up this book by Dai Sijie at Takashimaya during the plant shutdown week (the several days between Christmas and New Year's day 2005). This would be the first non-fiction book that I would read to the end all year. The first few pages went by easily enough on the first night's read. I resumed the second day, a dreary rainy evening, which followed a day in which non-stop rains pelted the already sodden earth.

Evening turned into night, then into early morning and I, unable to put the book down, completed it at 3 in the morning, completely wide awake. Quite a trip.

While reading, I had been trying to make sense of the book, and in parts, it actually did make sense. But with the story all done, and the newly won luxury to step back and see it as a whole, I realised that it was not unlike many dreams I have gotten caught up in, over lo these many nights of slumber.

During the time of dreaming, the dream events seem so completely logical. So real.

Yet on waking, seen in the harsh light of reality, I discover that the management presentation or the marketing plan I had been formulating in my sleep that seemed so brilliant just minutes before was actually quite unusable in the real world. My profound work degenerating into the silly and nonsensical at the speed of thought.

So perhaps that's what the author tried to do? Construct a novel that read basically like a dream, where once immersed, the logic and the flow of events seem sensible and logical, but on waking, one finds it was a passing of time that did little for the hard, material side of ourselves. Yet perhaps the dream did something for the part of our minds that need the spell of insanity and the parts of the body that need the corresponding nightly immobilization.

You can obtain a good synopsis of the book from Amazon's site, and this spares me the task of reproducing it here.

Suffice to say, the main character, Mr Muo, is an odd specimen, believing he can help others with their lives through explaining their dreams to them using the tools and ideas of Freud and Lacan. He takes to the road, a pychoanalyst in rural china, in search of the one thing he needs to help free his two imprisoned girlfriends from the clutches of a corrupt official - a virgin maiden.

Living mostly in his world of academic knowledge, he is stunted and awkward and lacking in healthy relationship experience. Yet be believes himself superior to the unlearned masses. He is forced by circumstances to discover himself through his interviews with his "customers" - an array of peasants, workers and a 50 year old policewoman.

The idea of stories and dreams being tightly related was expounded brilliantly by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman series. But although Gaiman introduced realistic snippets of dreams (an oxymoron, surely) in some of his storylines, there were very few that came across as entire dream episodes.

Reading Mr Muo made me think back to odd dream snippets, that many years after the dreaming, that are still fresh and vivid in my mind. Or so I think. I recall being in a boat gliding through dark caverns, and looking up, glanced at a joke painted on a sign mounted at the entrance to a cave. It was the funniest joke I'd ever come across in my life, and I promised myself that when I awoke, I would recall the joke and publish it. To this day, I can't for the life of me figure out what that joke was. But this I know... it was absolutely hilarious.

There's much more that can be said about dreams. The songs. The dark side. The images. The symbolism. Dreams are fascinating. Why do we dream? Do we need to? Were I truly enlightened, would dreaming still be necessary?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Tragic King - from infantile to noble beast

The 3 hours of Peter Jackson's King Kong didn't feel any longer than the typical movie. The film just kept roaring ahead, full of captivating visuals, characters that we've met many times over in different guises, with different names, in different stories....not so much as stereotypes, but as archetypes.

The overriding image I have of the film is that of a creature, at first feared, reviled....later pitied and perhaps a little admired, falling down, down, down to his end in slow motion, having fought for and beheld, for too short a time, his.....precious. Now where have we seen this before?

The other image that comes very much to mind is from the first time I beheld the wallpaper downloads from the movie site. The closeup of Kong's face, showing the scar on the right side of his face. This was a creature that had not led a peaceful life. Skeletons near the top of the mountain ledge from which the sunset view gives Ann an excuse to say and gesture "beautiful" suggest there were others like Kong. It would have been wonderful to discover if Kong was the last of his kind, or if there were others still roaming the island.

There is also the parallel of the sheer cliffs and canyons of Skull island and the buildings in the city of New York. This is reminiscent of a comic series Steve Englehart did many years ago for Marvel called "Coyote" in which the main character, a young hothead with american indian shamanic powers, was able to shift to an alternate dimension in which he would "see" man-made cities as being like the cliffs, canyons and plains of the desert.

It's easy to watch the giant fanged bats swooping around Kong, distracting him as Ann and Jack sought their escape, and see them as the bi-planes with their machine guns and teeth of steel swooping around the beast as he made his last stand on the summit of the empire state building. In the latter case, instead of fleeing Kong, Ann persists in making her way to where Kong is, away from the safety he tries to win for her, believing she can protect him.

Up till this time, it's been Ann that needed protection from Kong. She starts the film as a person with hopes, but also a person who's lost. She needs a protector. Her life is about make believe - in the theatre, reading scripts in the hopes of getting parts in plays and movies. Just like Jimmy, the boy on the ship. Found as a baby on the ship, he was lost too, and had the Black sailor, Hayes as his protector. He lived in his own little world too - that of the ship. And to get beyond that, he Ann, a piece of fiction. There is a scene on the boat where Ann and Jimmy are dancing on the deck - and you can see then that they are in the same situation. Just as Jimmy's protector, Hayes, dies in the film, so does Ann's protector, Kong. Which reminds you of the words of the old man when the actors find the theatre has been closed down and they won't get the wages they were counting on... he said something like this to Ann, "Everyone whom you've ever depended on has let you down".

I enjoyed the absence of proper characters, apart from Kong and Ann Darrow. This was an epic film, and epic films, like fairy tales, are full of archetypes. Carl Denham, the man who destroys and debases everything that means most to him. Captain Englehorn, the dutch sea captain who knows more and is more than he seems, deep and dark and mysterious as the oceans he traverses. Jimmy, the boy impatient to become a man, and Hayes, the man who is like a father to him. Choy, the chinese crewman and Lumpy, the cook who loves him.