Most people willl be familiar be the seven deadly sins in Christianity: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. If you’re not, just go watch David Fincher’s Seven. In an effort to keep up with globalization and the modern world, the Vatican has apparently decided to add a bunch new sins to the old list including drug abuse, polluting the environment, genetic manipulation and contributing to widening the divide between the rich and the poor.
Now the original seven sins never did make much logical sense, for example, you could argue that Lust, Gluttony and Envy are all variations of Greed, but at least they have a sort of poetic resonance. You can’t really say the same for these new ones and isn’t worrying about the divide between the rich and the poor yet another variation on the Greed theme? Besides, by explicitly condemning genetic manipulation as being inherently sinful, the Vatican will be contributing to the rising tide of anti-science protesters around the world and making it harder to bring the benefits of the technology to the world. Is genetically manipulating bacteria to create synthetic versions of fossil fuels sinful for example?
The irony here is that without genetic manipulation, humanity wouldn’t be what it is today. Civilization was built by early human hunter gatherers settling down to become farmers and in order to do that, they had to selectively choose animals and plants to breed in such a way as to reinforce the desirable traits in them and to reduce undesirable ones. In this way, wolves were tamed to become work dogs, wild plants were cultivated to become reliable food crops and the fearsome aurochs of our ancestors’ time have been turned into the placid cows of today. Humans took what they found in nature and manipulated their breeding across generations so that their descendants would better serve our needs. All of that counts as genetic manipulation even if it wasn’t done by men in white lab coats.
My wife and I have been watching the first season of Lost (yes, we’re slow) and one of the episodes featured a classic French song, La Mer by Charles Trenet and after that I just had to search Youtube for the full version of it. In fact, we’d recently spent one evening searching for classic French songs after learning of the surprise win by Marion Cotillard of the Best Actress award for her role in La Vie en Rose, so I thought it would be nice to write a post of some of the songs we found.
When studying the French language at the Centre de Linguistic Appliquée in Besançon, one of the exercises we were given was to transcribe the lyrics of French songs, beginning with nursery rhymes and moving on to classic songs and more modern pop music, which was how I learned about many of these songs. I’d actually guess that most English speakers in Malaysia would actually have heard of them in one form or another, only most won’t know their titles and singers, so here they are.
Ok, here’s another round of China bashing by me. The Chinese government has just banned actress Tang Wei, who is of course best known for her role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, from all media in China. The kicker here is that although Lust, Caution was understandably controversial in China, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) had already approved it for release last year after its producers cut some footage from it. It seems however that the release of even the censored version offended someone higher up in the government so it has put pressure on the SARFT and the film’s producers and this is the result.
What really angers me about this, aside from the issue of a government handing out an approval from one hand and taking it away with another, is that the Chinese government chose to ban Tang Wei and only her. Why not slap a ban on co-star Tony Leung as well? What, it’s okay to show a Chinese man having sex but it’s not okay to show a Chinese woman having sex? Why not ban Ang Lee as well? After all, no one is more responsible for what happens in a film than its director. Of course there’s the little fact that both Tony Leung and Ang Lee are internationally renowned artists and who can forget how gushingly proud all Chinese were when Ang Lee won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain despite its very politically incorrect content in Chinese eyes.
Meanwhile, Tang Wei is just an unknown starlet who took off her clothes in front of a camera for the whole world to see, embarrassing China in the process, so it’s perfectly alright to censure her for it. Good job, China.
I have many fond memories of Space Hulk, of both the original and now out of print boardgame by Games Workshop that I played while studying in France in a game shop called Le Temple des Jeux in Tours and the PC adaptation of it by Electronic Arts (before it shortened its name to just EA). So it was with some excitement that I downloaded this new and free Space Hulk.
This one is a straight up adaptation of the board game, not the video game, and is single player only. It’s set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k universe and the player controls one or more squads of Space Marine Terminators on a mission to a Space Hulk, a huge derelict spaceship. These hulks now harbour the ferocious Genestealers, multi-limbed aliens with nasty claws and teeth that were probably inspired by the movie Alien and its sequels. The versatility of the original board game was that the “board” was actually composed of tiles that could be connected to each other in many different layouts according to the scenario being played. Each scenario has a different objective, varying from simply killing a set number of Genestealers, to retrieving an object from the hulk, to using your flamer to flame a specific area on the map.
As fun as the original board game was, I have to say that this version of it is sadly lacking in many important aspects. The interface is tricky to work with and the small size of the window and graphics make it hard to see what’s happening and where everything is. This is important because as the Space Marine player you need to calculate moves and distances very carefully to anticipate at what point the Genestealers will be able to rush you. And of course, let’s face it, a big part of the appeal of the board game was the sheer delight of working with the colourful tiles and moving the Space Marine and Genestealer miniatures around on them. It’s also fiendishly and unforgivingly hard. So, try this version if you’re wondering what the board game was all about or you’re feeling nostalgic for it, but otherwise, don’t bother.
(Oops, it looks as if downloads of the game have been discontinued because Games Workshop decided to throw a fit over it and the game proved to be more popular than the creators anticipated and the massive number of downloads have overloaded their hosting account. It seems that they’re trying to come to some agreement with Games Workshop so you might want to check on the site again from time to time.)
So, it’s Election Day in Malaysia today, so I thought it would be appropriate to make a post about it. To tell the truth, I’m aged 32 this year and I’ve never registered as a voter, let alone voted in any election in Malaysia. My excuse is that I’ve never been in Malaysia whenever there’s actually been an election since I left for France immediately after finishing high school and have spent most of my time outside the country since then.
Still, as you can see from the screenshot above, even I can’t run away from it entirely. I was surprised to see a political advertisement for the Barisan Nasional while reading some oddball news about an Israeli researcher who claims that Moses was high on drugs when he saw God on Yahoo News. Since I don’t think that advertising like this is exactly cheap, I suspect that this is a sign that the pressure this year really is getting to the ruling coalition. The buzz from blogs like the one by Jed Yoong and Taiping Coffee also confirms that the people of Malaysia is highly unsatisfied with the coalition that has ruled the country since independence. When you read about stuff like the Chinese stating their willingness to vote for PAS and opposition party rallies attracting crowds of thousands of people while BN rallies have mere handfuls of them, you can’t help but feel hope for real change.
I can’t claim to know much Malaysian politics, given how out of the loop I’ve been. On the one hand, it seems clear that the BN has been busy enriching themselves at country’s expense and more disgustingly, playing up racial and religious differences in a crass attempt to keep power at all costs. On the other hand, I can perceive that Malaysia is still a highly unequal and inhomogeneous country with a wide disparity between rural and urban areas. The incessant complaints of the rising cost of living for Klang Valley residents for example feel out-of-place when you consider how undeveloped many parts of Malaysia still remain compared to the Klang Valley. I also have serious doubts about the competence of many opposition party politicians, especially on economic matters, given the populist and simplistic campaign promises some have been making.
I of course heartily agree that the BN needs to given a good drubbing to wake them up a bit, but I must confess that the idea of DAP or PKR running the country makes me nervous given how inexperienced they seem. Ironically, it’s PAS that might be best at running the country given their experience in Kelantan and previously other states. And don’t count out independent candidates like this 89-year old grandmother!
While I generally leave most superhero movie news to The Superheroes Base, I felt that Watchmen deserves a special note here. The movie adaptation to be directed by Zach Snyder, who also directed the movie version of Frank Miller’s 300, is still at least a year away but the release of the photographs of the main characters has me psyched like few movies have. Pictured above is the Comedian, who is sort of a melange of DC’s Joker and Marvel’s The Punisher. Note his crazed grin and the yellow happy face badge on his shoulder. It’s details like this that make me hope Snyder that will do his best to be as faithful to the original graphic novel as possible.
The other photographs on the site are from top to bottom: the Nite-Owl, who is a sort of Batman with high-tech gadgets and vehicles; Ozymandias, who represents the peak of humanly possible perfection in both physical and mental abilities; Rorscharch, who is inspired by Steve Ditko’s Objectivist superhero The Question and is every bit as psychotic as the criminals he hunts and the Silk Spectre. I’m not sure which Spectre the photo represents though, since in the comics the title is held by a mother and then passed down to her daughter. The most glaring omission here is the god-like Doctor Manhattan, the only one among them who actually has superpowers.
Watchmen is worthy of special attention here because it is one of the very few comic books that have transcended its superhero genre to be recognized as a genuine piece of art. It is the only comic to have won a Hugo Award and the only comic to have been included in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels. It tells a dark story that bring superheroes down to the messy, grimy and morally ambiguous real world. My only worry is that the short length of a movie adaptation wouldn’t do the story justice. Please get and read the comic if you can. It will be worth your time.
Considering the size of the Solomon Islands National Museum, it’s really more like 15 minutes though. I have to admit that despite having worked in the Solomon Islands for some 8 years now and despite it being located conveniently in the town center just off the main road, I’ve never visited the National Museum. Not that there is really much to see. You can see the entirety of it in the photo above with my wife. That small hall constitutes the entire museum, so it’s pretty underwhelming.
The exhibits are mostly wooden carvings and examples of shell money, bundles of sea shells tied together that used to be exchanged as currency and are still given as marriage gifts in some communities. There are also some old photographs of some of the early explorers who came to the Solomons.