Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Heal the World


I don't know if it's a side effect of growing up, or if it's because I just never cared that much about crazy celebrities antics to start with. But as much as I tried, I couldn't call up much grief over MJ's death. In recent years, he had fallen too far from grace; the headlines over his child molestation charges were too disturbing and deeply entrenched to erase - even with the flood tide of sympathetic condolences and memorials. There are other sins, it seems, that all of neptune's oceans just cannot wash away.

The best quote I read about him was from his lawyer who said (and I paraphrase) -

His death did not come as a surprise. He was someone so uncomfortable with the norms of this world and no human being can withstand that kind of stress for a prolonged period.

There are other more pressing issues, personal and otherwise and I don't have the headspace for MJ's death. My spare headspace today is taken up with the question of how to reduce my use of plastic - bags, containers and otherwise. I don't think I've progressed enough since deciding to live in a more earth friendly way last year - and that worries me. But when reading Paul Krugman's article on the passing of the climate change bill, I remembered that my first ever single was - appropriately enough - MJ's Heal the World.


The link to the article is here. Also -just for old times sake - the Heal the World video is below.



Sunday, June 28, 2009

Da Vinci the Genius Exhibition

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

- Leonardo Da Vinci

***

So I'm standing behind this woman waiting to see, up close, the model of an odometer designed by Da Vinci in the 1400s....

Woman (Loud tones to her partner): I find this so primitive!

..and I'm thinking: Dude, you're so completely missing the point that it's not even in the earth's stratosphere anymore.

Second thought: Man, you're never going to get that S$15 and 2 hours that you spent on this back either.

***

Started a new blog just for random study notes - don't expect complete sentences over there though, more like bullet points and scribbles - which is what my notebooks look like in real life.

Link is here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tune my heart to sing thy praise



From the 2nd verse:-

"Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood"

I wondered what Ebenezer meant and looked it up:-

Meaning: Stone of Help

Etymology: Combination of the Hebrew word for stone is “even” and the Hebrew word for help “Haazer”

"And when the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. So the children of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”
And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. Then Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer,[c] saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:7-12)

Context:

This was during and/or just after (not sure which) a time when the Israelites had strayed from God, paying homage to other gods such as Baal and Ashtoreth (god of storm/lightning and goddess of fertility). (Cf Numbers 24 and 25)

Israel (the nation state) had suffered a crushing defeat in the hands of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 4:1). After the Israelites repented before God for their straying, God granted them victory over the Philistines, Samuel set up a stone as a marker and named it the stone of help.

The site then became called “Ebenezer”.

(Disclaimer: this is totally the cliff notes version of the context,historically and geographically but all I really set out to do was look up the meaning of the word.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

The winner takes it all

So a friend of mine posted this on his facebook status today:-

"Have you wonder what the British Museum will look like if it would return the Elgin Marble to the Greeks, animal figurines from the Summer Palace to the Chinese, Rosette Stone to the Egyptian... It will not be a museum at all... British Museum in my opinion is a collection and a visual display of the looting and pillage of an empire which has lost its glory and has nothing else to boast about... shame on you!"

Below that, a string of virtual nods of approval from his friends and comments that continued the villification of the theiving British.

So post-colonialism and theories on cultural imperialism aside, I thought that this view of the British was overly emotional and so I sent him the response below:- (via private FB messaging, didn't want a public argument on FB)

"You may want to rethink what you said about the British Museum.

That the British were prolific looters of the 19th and 20th centuries, is true; however, ironically enough, the historical events of the latter part of the 20th century have conspired to turn their looting into a strange form of cultural preservation.

Examples:-

(a) the Cultural Revolution in China that could and probably would easily have destroyed everything that the British took from the Summer Palace.
(b) Ditto for WWII and the possible effect on the Elgin marbles - it is possible that they could/would have fallen into the hands of a wealthy German collector/ Nazi and might be languishing in the vaults of some Swiss bank somewhere - like so many European items of artistic and cultural value.
(c) The Egyptian government themselves sold one of the obelisks to the French for a clock - the French still have it though, which is something. But note that looting of all forms is rife in Egypt today - ordinary people find priceless historical objects and quietly sell them on the black market to rich collectors.

I think that the Iraq war has opened our eyes to the effect of war on objets d'arte and items of great historical value; there were items lost in the war that were from some of the most ancient civilizations of man, the Mesopotamians, the Babylonians etc. Most of them were looted by the Iraqis and sold on the black market - who knows where they are today?

The survival of the British in WWII meant the collective survival of all the things looted by the British in the preceding century. So while the British museum IS indeed full of things looted from all over the world (you're so right there!), one must also keep in mind that without that looting, and subsequent preservation, so many of those things might be lost or in the hands of private collectors now.

One must give the devil his due and acknowledge that they're protected, preserved and on display for you and I and the rest of the world to admire. I'm am unsure that if they had been left in their home countries, they would have been as well preserved or been made as readily available to the public for research and the like. They enrich our lives and give us a sense of place in the world that we wouldn't otherwise have.

This isn't to condone what the British did. But when you say 'Shame on them' - you really might want to rethink other implications of what they did too. Also, keep in mind that they're not alone. Go to the Taiwan National Musem and you'll see that almost the entire contents of the Forbidden City are on display there, taken by the KMT when they were routed by the Communists."

There's a saying that history is written by the victors. But it's an even older rule that to the victors go the spoils of war. The British, the Chinese during their Golden Tang and Song dynasties, the Egyptians, the once powerful Romans - in times of glory and of victory, these winners took it all. They re-wrote history in the blood of the fallen and they took with them the riches of the conquered.

In Roman ruins are found objects from all over their conquered empire and in Chinese palaces, the tributes and gifts sent by Malayan vassal states. So is it really all that strange to find loot from every nation the thieving (and much maligned) British went to?

My gratitude (to the British) stems from their dedication to the preservation of the cultural and artistic heritage of, well, pretty much the whole world. It's at least somewhere I have had access to, it's well preserved and made available to academics and archaeologists so all in all, the situation isn't all that dire.

Give me a break with all that post-colonial "more downtrodden than thou" attitude already. It's tiring and it's really more about self-righteous posturing than about grandiose ideals of returning historical artefacts to their rightful owners.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Notes : in which my control freak self talks to my lazy self

1. Cut down on time wasting activities - goodbye random twitter, facebooking, Gchat,msn and random net surfing.

2. Lights out at 11:10 pm. Stop kidding yourself that you're one of those people who need only 5 hours of sleep a night. You need a minimum of 7 hours to function and you know it!

3. Stop eating junk - it makes you tired and lethargic;you can't afford that.

4. Write down/calendarise your appointments.

5. Bible study - daily if possible.

6. Music practice - 15 minutes per instrument per day. *you've already seen the difference between those who practice and those who don't*

7. Language - one new word a day

8. Lit - one device/lit theory per week

9. Philosophy/Theology - One chapter per week

10. Running - Minimum 20km per week.

11. Career - explore options every week. Learn ONE new Order of Court - Civil Liti rule/process every week. Pick a research topic at on Monday - look it up and write out cliff notes (they can be short) by Friday - eg procedure for obtaining Anton Piller Orders, Habeas Corpus, writs of seizure and sale etc.

12. Set aside Saturday - at least morning or evening for learning the stuff listed above, making notes and reading.

13. Lunch hour - take a walk outside for at least 10 minutes. Set aside 1-2 lunch hours per week for bible study especially on the busy days when you have no other time. One lunch hour for meeting friends/colleagues. One lunch hour for other study/reading/making notes. One lunch hour just to wander around,online or in real.

14. Facebook, gchat, twitter and msn are off limits between 9am - 1pm. They can be checked during lunch, or after 4:30pm or during your 11am -11:15 break. Otherwise, your browser stays closed.

15. Leave the house by 8:10am every morning.

16. Food - get your 5 serves of fruit and veg per day. Nutrition is important!

17. Organise your bills and filing system.

18. Finance - start tracking your spending and saving habits. Start learning how to invest your savings.

19. Tech - to learn : Excel

20. Economics - one new econs book per month. Finish notes from The Undercover Economist.

21. Learn research skills.

22. Smile more :) keep yourself around good people who make you laugh. Dance. Have fun. Stop stressing. ~ this is so ironic~

23. You will make mistakes. If you do, learn and move on. Beating yourself up only takes up time and energy and won't move you forward. IF the mistake affected someone, apologize sincerely, try to make amends and then move on.

24. Focus on learning but also focus on other people. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

25. There will be setbacks. Brick walls are there for a reason but with God, hard work and perseverance, you can get through them.

26. Your new mantra is discipline, disciplines and self control.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nocturne

When exhausted, everything abrades.

Cars, the insistent beep-beeping of trains as they approach the station, train station announcements and the slowness of the woman ahead in the line.

Only the silence of a candle lit room and music are acceptable salves. No human voices, please.

***
Twitter is fast becoming a place for me to pick up links to fun reads.

Via dsng, Lucy Kellaway's column in the FT on exams - funny, thought provoking and true. Love when people introduce me to great reading material.

***

Questions asked during camp:-

Auditory or visual? The sense of sight or the sense of hearing- which would you pick to give up, if you had to give up one of the two?

Touch or taste? Again, which would you give up?

***

I chose to keep touch. Here's why.

Two Countries

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

–Naomi Shihab Nye

When first we faced, and touching showed

When first we faced, and touching showed
How well we knew the early moves,
Behind the moonlight and the frost,
The excitement and the gratitude,
There stood how much our meeting owed
To other meetings, other loves.

The decades of a different life
That opened past your inch-close eyes
Belonged to others, lavished, lost;
Nor could I hold you hard enough
To call my years of hunger-strife
Back for your mouth to colonise.

Admitted: and the pain is real.
But when did love not try to change
The world back to itself--no cost,
No past, no people else at all--
Only what meeting made us feel,
So new, and gentle-sharp, and strange?

- Philip Larkin

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In praise of good writing

I'm an anachronism - I don't abbreviate and I still use actual punctuation in my text messaging and in most of my emails too. I actually miss the judicious and careful use of punctuation in everyday speech and writing. So when I came across this article - I laughed and knew that it would absolutely have to be blogged. No one but Pico Iyer could write a clever, funny treatise on punctuation without being facetious or pompous.

Instead, he teases lovers and Spaniards, compares punctuation to music notation and (sacrilege!) to the gods themselves. We laugh and, au naturellement, find ourselves agreeing with him because it is impossible to disagree with the beauty of the well constructed sentence - particularly his well constructed sentence - its commas, apostrophes and semi-colons placed like delicate stars on a clear night sky.

To wit:

"A world that has only periods is a world without inflections. It is a world without shade. It has a music without sharps and flats. It is a martial music. It has a jackboot rhythm. Words cannot bend and curve. A comma, by comparison, catches the gentle drift of the mind in thought, turning in on itself and back on itself, reversing, redoubling and returning along the course of its own sweet river music; while the semicolon brings clauses and thoughts together with all the silent discretion of a hostess arranging guests around her dinner table."

Words and music - love that he drew the connection so closely, so finely between the two.

"Punctuation is the notation in the sheet music of our words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; it acknowledges that the meaning of our discourse, as of any symphonic composition, lies not in the units but in the pauses, the pacing and the phrasing. Punctuation is the way one bats one's eyes, lowers one's voice or blushes demurely. Punctuation adjusts the tone and color and volume till the feeling comes into perfect focus: not disgust exactly, but distaste; not lust, or like, but love."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

To the editor of Atkins Court Forms - Singapore

Under the section on Anton Piller Orders:-

"To serve on the Defendant at the same time as the order is served upon him, the writ and copies of the affidavits and copiable exhibits containing the evidence relied on by the plaintiff"

"Copiable" is NOT a word.

Mr Merriam and Mr Webster agreed with me too!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Purpose Driven Life 7


PDL Day 7 – The Reason for Everything

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever
(Rom 11:36)

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech
And night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1)

* Love this psalm.

*Thought - It's curious how everything else: all animals, the careful set of the stars in the sky, the quiet breathing of the oceans -all the other physical mechanics of the universe - declare the glory of God with embarrassing effortlessness.
*No self help books to teach them "10 ways to glorify God", no hectoring pastors or fire-and-brimstone church elders, no need for reminders or post-it notes with "Glorify God today" scribbled on it.

They just do it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Aubade

For E, EP, Eilonwy, Ade, W and Mr Flashlight who unwittingly got me to write this because he asked about my favourite swing music.

It's pretty obvious to most people around me that I've firmly embarked on a sort of musical journey - listening, trying and dancing. Getting out of my well worn musical grooves and really paying attention to what I love. I'm like a child in a candy store. No, scratch that - like someone who's lived in darkness for a long time and has just begun really tasting the wind and rain.

My musical journey - is more than just a journey into finding new music to listen to. For so long, music was something *other* people did - always felt like such a fraud saying that I loved music when I couldn't play anything. How can you claim to know or love the ordered beauty of Bach or the wayward wistful genius of Bill Evans when you don't even know basic music theory?

The answer is that you don't, you don't. Out of my corner and into the sun - starting guitar and piano lessons at this late stage because I find that I do, after all, love music and want to say it with all my heart and mind.

Art is the perfect union of the Dionysian and the Appollonian. Order and chaos- soul and mind. So yes, you need the technical understanding to stay in love with music. I have flirted with this long enough - exchanged adoring glances across a crowded room,played footsie under the table - but now, a commitment needs to be made.

It started a long time ago - but it deepened into a real love, full bodied and strong when I started dance last year. At first, it was about the steps but early on, one of my partners caught my arm and said to me: listen, listen to the music and dance to it.

I listened. And never stopped.

***

Mr F asked for my favourite swing music - so here's my little dissertation on that.

But his voice came out just the way I remembered it – gentle, almost husky, but with a huge amount of body, like it was coming through an invisible mike. And like all the best American singers, there was that weariness in his voice, even a hint of hesitation, like he’s not a man accustomed to laying open his heart this way. That’s how all the greats do it.

We went through the song, full of travelling and goodbyes. An American man leaving his woman. He keeps thinking of her as he passes through the towns one by one, verse by verse, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, driving down a long road the way my mother never could. If only we could leave things behind like that – I guess that’s what my mother would have thought. If only sadness could be like that.”

- Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

I dropped salsa for swing once I realised I could dance to music I already loved and I can't run away from the fact that my favourite men in the world are Frank, Nat, Tony, Bobby and Louis. The old time-y crooners, the ones whose voices calmly embraced the words and music without embellishment and fanfare and yet managed to shade the song with every emotion under the sun. I don’t think it’s particularly sophisticated but – there it is, my happy music.

Here's a partial list - partial because there are so many! and also because it just keeps growing.

Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea and I'm Beginning to see the light.

Sinatra's Love’s been good to me - hm. Hang on there - its not a song I've danced to, but no matter, love it anyway.

Nina Simone - My baby just cares for me

Nat King Cole's Paper Moon - torn between Ella's and Nat's.

USA and Cheek to Cheek – Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald – these two are just unbelievable together.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love - haven't found my favourite version yet.

Sinatra's New York New York - Classic and clich├ęd,I know. But. Such fun to twirl around the room to.

Nearly everything by Tony Bennett - Is there anything he can't sing well? - posted on fb recently that I love the song "I left my Heart in San Francisco" – I’ve heard the Bobby Darin version my whole life - but Tony Bennett's just blew it out of the water.

Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin's for dancing and Nat's for sheer goodness :)

Sing,Sing,Sing – Benny Goodman

In the Mood – Glenn Miller

Stompin’ at the Savoy – Benny Goodman

Easy Does It – there are a million covers but I love the one by Oscar Peterson especially, even though I've never danced to that particular one.

There's lots and lots more, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Nina Simone, Benny Goodman. Having music exchanges with maybe 4 different people on fb, in real life and by email right now and loving it.

***

Honestly? I don't know if I've listened enough to really say what my favourites are - it may be that I'll look back on this post in two years and totally laugh at myself because by then I may have discovered all kinds of other stuff I love or I'll be more discerning in my taste in music. But for now, let me say that I love this - this music and this journey.

"But for now let me say I love you
Later on there'll be time for so much more
But for now meaning now and forever
Let me kiss you my darling then once more
Once more"

But for now - Jamie Cullum

Monday, June 1, 2009

L'important C'est La Rose

Stumbled across this on Youtube today and it just made me smile - so full of soulful joy! I've never properly listened to any french music(or musicians)so this was a lovely lovely surprise.

Wiki'd Gilbert Becaud and discovered that he was a prolific French singer and song writer - where on earth has he been my whole life? Don't you just love it though, when chance and random fate bring you to places where unexpected flowers bloom? A new beautiful song - just one listen and (oh I must use a Neruda line!) it does to me what Spring does with the cherry trees.

Enjoy!