Sunday, April 29

Film: Ta Ra Rum Pum Click for more info

Typical Bollywood rags-to-riches-to-rags-back-to-riches fare. There isn't much more to Ta Ra Rum Pum than that, and although I didn't leave the cinema full of regret, I don't think I'll be remembering much of the film after today.

Acting was alright, not that anyone stood out in particular. The plot was nothing special either; the racing itself played a small part of the film - it was a context and nothing more - and we never really felt the need to get involved with any of the characters. Music was below par (I won't be adding any of the OST to my tracklist anyway).

Highlights included a spectacularly stunning Rani Mukherji, especially during the first half of the film, although I did wonder at one point exactly how short her skirt was heading. Oh and that music video wasn't that bad either.

But still, this film trod a fine like between being passable and truly sucking and although I list some of the flaws above I think that, overall, it makes the former. Still, what that does mean is that it's not something I could urge you all to rush out to see, whether on the big screen or DVD.

Saturday, April 28

New Music

Look 4 Me - Hard Kaur

Quite possibly my most favourite Hard Kaur song yet. Well put together and with some catchy lyrics, this is a feel good tune with a bit of poignancy thrown in for good measure.

What Goes Around - Justin Timberlake

Aaah, at last: Justin Timberlake, but the one from his last album. I was hoping he hadn't gone totally and irreversibly "Sexy Back" on us and I for one am glad that he hasn't. Tune.

Come Around - Timbaland & MIA

I can't remember the last Timbaland song I added to my playlist, but this one caught my ears recently. Typical stuff from the producer but made different 'cos of MIA and her fun way of performing.

Stop Start - Asian Dub Foundation

I used to be a lightweight fan of ADF back in the 90's but kinda lost interest after Deeder Zaman left the band. Stop Start is almost a throwback to their vibe in that time. Bangin'.

Grace Kelly - Mika

Yes, hardly cutting edge I know. But now that I have heard it I can see why it made the top spot so many weeks ago - it's certainly rebalanced my play list in favour of the pop stuff anyway.

Game: Pokemon Pearl (DS) Click for more info

Okay, I admit it: I'm a Pokemon virgin. Not for the want of trying of course (what's new?); I actually thought the franchise was pretty fun and the concept an interesting one. In fact, the cartoon series got me through at least one Imperial revision session. And game-wise, the promise of being able to battle friends RPG style was pretty intriguing.

I didn't play before mainly 'cos of the hassle. First you had to find someone else with a GameBoy. Then you both needed a copy of the game. And then a link cable. Oh, and of course you had to arrange a time at which to meet. With the advent of the DS , almost all of these hurdles have been removed.

But what of the game itself? Well in essence Pokemon Pearl is a very lightweight RPG. You collect a team, you level them up, you play through a story. Quite paradoxically, however, it makes up for this straightforwardness by offering tons of Pokemon to collect and develop. Since it would be almost impossible to level them all up you have to pick, and as a result you end up with a pretty large number of variables to play with.

Is this a good thing? I'm not so sure. As an obsessive games player I find it difficult to pick which particular Pokemon to level up, and so development becomes a bit of a chore. I can see how others would welcome this mechanism though. Apart from that, the story itself seems a bit slow.

I've yet to play any multiplayer battles, whether local or online. I'm hoping they will redeem the rest of the game since I don't think I'm feeling it as much as I should be; certainly not enough to continue playing if online battles fail to live up to their promise.

Friday, April 27

City Circle: British Justice for British Citizens - The UK-US Extradition Treaty in Focus Click for more info

Today's panel discussion aimed to discuss the current furore surrounding the just-ratified UK-US Extradition Treaty; its causes, its effects and its implications. Imran Khan was chairing a panel consisting of lawyers and ex-detainees, each of which fell into a particular role in explaining the current situation.

Anand Doobay started the main presentation by giving us a brief history of the treaty. He explained how even though there are many other countries that the UK has similar treaties with, that this one with the US was especially concerning due to the precedents the US has already established with regard to extradition. We also heard how the treaty itself was formulated almost in secret, and that it was able to do this since its formation falls under the will of sovereignty rather than domestic law. Anand also gave examples of how it was being enforced despite not being ratified. He also explained in detail the concerns regarding its reciprocity (that it wasn't as one sided as was being made out, but still dangerous in any case).

Gareth Pierce then took the microphone. She had a much more cynical and almost depressing view of the situation; she said that this treaty was just a formalisation of the bad things that have been going on for a while now (and gave as an example the convenient deporting of some recent figures). She criticised the US for its "open ended appetite for global jurisdiction", and introduced us to the idea of trials in a "natural forum", or how if a person can be tried in their own country without compromising on justice, then they should.

The final speaker was Moazzam Begg. This was my second time listening to him in person, but I wasn't any less impressed by his manner. He was harshly critical of the US - he even described the treaty as a favour to the UK since the US wouldn't even bother with any such dialogue if they wanted an individual in certain other countries. Like the chair he also blamed "clashes of civilisations" for the treaty (amongst other things), reducing the insecurity of the USA to nothing more than ignorance of a people different to themselves. In the Q&A he stated that he didn't believe that real justice existed across the pond.

The Q&A was short this time around. As well as other things, we were told how the European Convention on Human Rights was irrelevant in this case and how extradition was political (since the extradites are usually hand picked depending on their circumstances). When asked if he felt safe in the UK, Moazzam said that although he did, he had become quite paranoid in recent times, something I can relate to.

Finally we were given suggestions by the panel of what to do if we wanted to change or oppose this treaty. Anand backed the political process, saying that that was the the only way to change Common Law. Gareth made a more pragmatic suggestion, noting that one of the most effective ways to spur change in The Government was to embarrass them into it. She also observed how apathetic the public had become; how they weren't shocked by blatant injustice anymore. Moazzam told us simply to talk and spread any ideas that we felt worth spreading - to make our opinions known. He also plugged his organisation Cageprisoners - take a look if you're interested in his work.

In conclusion today's talk was heavier than usual, both in terms of content and feeling. It was morbid, cynical and quite depressing actually: that our government could allow such a situation as described by the panel develop. It's one of those things that might not effect us much on an individual basis but really is bad news for the UK people as a whole.

Wednesday, April 25

Shak's Choice: Ghazal Asif Click for more info

Yes well, I'm really not going to win any prizes for originality here.

As proven in last week's show where she won as team leader, Ghazal has bags of both brains and beauty. I bet she can cook too.

And as it turns out, it seems that she's a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine. And I'll happen to be in Glasgow end of May for that Ben Nevis thing.

I'm so in there.

Sunday, April 22

Dressing To Impressing

To paraphrase:

"We're gonna leave in a bit; don't you want to get ready?"

"Uh. I am ready."

"You're going like that? Wear something nice, Shak. Perhaps trousers and a shirt...?"

"What's wrong with what I'm wearing now?"

"You look.. scruffy. Just get changed. If you insist on wearing a shalwar kameez, then wear a nice one."

"This is a nice one. Or at least it's as nice as anything else I have. Hey, wait. Do you just want me to wear trousers?"

"No, 'course not. You should, uh, wear what you'll be most comfortable in."

"Do you want me to wear trousers?"

"No. Well, if you want."

"Do you want me to wear trousers?"



Those who know me on a more personal level would have seen me wearing more traditional clothing. In fact, when I picture myself I'm wearing a shalwar kameez; it's my most natural dress and what I feel most at home in. Whether I'm going to a friend's, or relatives' or even friends of family's it's likely that I'd go in one. Even on those rare occasions I'm taken to see a girl I find it more appropriate than my western garb, and so I've always gone wearing that. Until today, that is.

As my family and I travel further down this potential rishta lark, it seems that the need for any kind of positive result becomes more and more powerful and with it the pressure to "play the game" becomes heavier. I guess the implication is that we're doing something wrong, giving the wrong vibe or something and from now on need to focus on getting our foot in the door before really testing any water there might be to test.

As alone as I am in this opinion I do think that if at any time you need to be completely honest it's when meeting a prospective partner. I'm not saying that there's no need to make an effort, or that you may possibly need to mute the extremities of your personality; that much is a given. But there should be no misrepresentation either, no false statements made about yourself, and in my opinion dressing as you wouldn't normally falls under exactly that.

Yes, there is an argument about appropriateness, and no, I would not wear a shalwar kameez to a work interview. But as much as I love inappropriate analogies, this isn't a work interview. I guess the difference is that there is no precedent of what to wear when meeting a prospective and their family; I mean it's possible that they would like a guy even more if he was wearing traditional clothes - it may even be a factor in tipping the balance in his favour. The point is that if you don't know how a family will react then there's no benefit in second guessing them.

And even worse is to do so at the expense of your principles. Imagine a parent telling their daughter to take off her hijab for a meeting, "you know, 'cos some guys are turned off by that kinda thing". Then again maybe some do, wrapping it up as a suggestion in order to avoid facing the fact of the compromise they're asking of their children.

I like to think that I have enough social awareness to know how to increase my odds of getting a positive answer from most families in this kind of situation. Anyone can creep with skill and say the all the right things at the right time in order to seem more of a candidate than they might actually be. The question is whether it's actually a good idea or not to do so.

I guess what may make me different is that I really don't mind being turned down by a potential family, as long as I'm being turned down for being me. If a family really detests traditional clothes enough to decline a prospective 'cos of it, who am I to argue? I'd rather find out sooner rather than later. And in exchange, I'd like to see what a girl is really like, not what she can be like for an evening if she's on her best behaviour. In fact, it's a rare meeting that I don't come away thinking how redundant the whole thing was in it's blatant scripting and playing-through-the-motions.

That said, I'm continually told how my ideals don't really fit in this world we all live in. Call it a kind of "principled naivety" if you will; maybe there is a middle ground we're supposed to tread with these kinda things. And so for that reason I relented a bit today. I'll have to ensure that it's not the thin edge of a wedge: dressing up is one thing but changing my opinions or intentionally concealing my less desirable features (you know, like denying I pray five times a day or something) or playing some kinda of role is another.

After all, it must be possible to be yourself in this kind of situation without totally shooting down your chances, right?

The Book Quiz

So a friend of mine managed to obtain a few tickets to the filming of a new BBC comedy quiz thing, this particular one being about books and literature. I was invited to tag along, and since I hadn't seen these guys for a while I thought it would make a nice context to meet on a Sunday afternoon.

I must say that it was a bit surreal being in a studio audience. Having done the whole telly thing recently I wasn't that taken aback by the size of the studio or how incomplete it looked when seeing the scenes behind; no, what I found strange were some of the instructions given to us while filming.

You know how in television when you see those audience prompt boards? Well it wasn't quite that, but there was a whole session where we were asked to fake applause and laughter. If it came across as unusual as it had felt then I'm not sure how useful the footage will be, but then I'm sure the producers knew what they were doing (more than we did anyway).

David Baddiel was the host of the quiz, and he did a pretty good job. To be totally honest the humour found in the quiz itself was a but too high brow for me (as in I didn't really get much of it), but that was okay since there were plenty of out takes and mistakes to keep me genuinely amused. It's actually quite amazing what doesn't make it to the screen - humour in bad taste, irreverent language and the like, and like I've mentioned before it shatters the notion that those you see on screen are anything but human.

So in short: not a fantastic show to have witnessed but a nice enough experience to have had anyway. Oh, and being a quiz show host seems like blummin' good fun too.

Barbecue Season Starts Here

You know how some evenings are just... well, not perfect, but more right? Well tonight was one such evening.

The specifics aren't too important. It was a barbecue hosted by one of the ICSS lot, we were each asked to bring a dish (or raw meat, whatever) and a bottle, and most bizarrely we were given the metatheme of "the decade in which you were born". This meant we had to either dress up as, or alternatively (for the chickens) bring in some stuff from the 60s, 70s or 80s (as was relevant). I won't describe my outfit in too much detail, except to say it involved white socks, black shoes and some Ray-Ban-esque sunglasses. Quite.

Numbers were good; although the crowd was very three schools orientated, there were some out of the fold, and so it was nice to meet new people. The hosts owned and lived in the venue, and so there was no uncles or aunties to be considerate of. The cooking was taken care of by the usual suspects (that is, not me) and so was fantastic (barring the minor ham episode, but the less said about that the better). We even had some home-made desserts to top it all off.

But it was the vibe that stood out; that rare aligning of stars where everyone gets on, the conversation flows without any effort and the logistics just fall into place. In fact, the vibe was almost too good; as much as I myself tried to flit around there just didn't seem like enough time or space to mingle with everyone with the same kind of attention or quality.

Quite amazingly I was there for around seven hours in total; others were there for even longer. I have no idea where such a time scale went. As the night tailed off, the conversation became even more rowdy, silly and, in some places, rude (cough), but in all honesty I reckon we could have carried on for another few hours. No one wanted to leave (well, apart from the fuddy-duddy types) and it took a bit of an effort to finally drag our sorry butts out of there.

If this is a taste to come of this summer's barbecue season then I can't wait.

Friday, April 20

No More Mr. Nice Guy

So it's been four weeks since the start of my personal experiment. And as with all experiments, I found quite a few interesting results.

First, the quantitative stuff. Over the last four weeks:

  • Two people said that they liked the changes.
  • Two people said that it was weird and they wanted me to go back.
  • A few (4+) said that they noticed a change, but didn't mention whether it was good or bad.
  • Most people didn't notice anything.
  • Two people took the pee and didn't take it seriously.
  • I had to consciously adapt my behaviour many times a day.
These results indicate that it wasn't necessarily about me not being nice, but more about me considering the treatment of and reaction to particular people. Some have this idea that real honesty is acting the same way in front of all people. Regardless of how true this is, since everyone is different (and so react differently), this idea may be in conflict with its own intention. In other words, there's a big argument for tact and behaviour modification.

Also, although this whole challenge was primarily about me it was interesting to see the effect it had on other people. Some people didn't believe it could be done, some didn't understand the point of it, while others appreciated the sentiment. I guess it's a good thing people were interested enough to have an opinion at all!

And now the qualitative. By far, the hardest part for me was the whole "walking away and not lecturing/advising" part. Unfortunately this seems ingrained in my persona (which kinda explains the accusations of being hypercritical). The best (and perhaps only) tactic I had to get out of a quibble would be to not embark on one at all; if I appeared terse, brief or quiet to some of you over the past few weeks, well that's probably why. Still, it felt good to be in control and not blind over trivial things.

Obviously obscure things like sleep or the right diet helps too. As does smiling: the next time you feel stressed or... in an antagonising/argumentative mood, try smiling.

Surprisingly, avoiding feelings of "why should I" was pretty easy - sometimes it took as much energy protesting than just getting on with things. Another concern was appearing fake or not genuine with the niceness, but no one accused me of this. Well, not seriously anyway.

This week was particularly difficult as my patience wore thin. I had actually thought I was finishing last Friday which might have had something to do with it, or it could have just been typical human regression. Whatever the reason, I guess it just proves that being nice isn't as easy as one might think it is. Or maybe that's just me.

In swift conclusion I think that it was a good enough exercise and well worth doing. I've learned quite a bit about myself and others, and I am convinced that there are some aspects I'd like to develop and build on in order to cement a more permanent change.

Thursday, April 19

Video Of The Day Click for more info

Presenting Haloid, a Halo-Metroid mashup:

Quite good, no? One for the gamers. Or, spotty teenage pervs. Whichever.

Monday, April 16

Film: Shooter Click for more info

Despite its poor acting, tacky script and straightforward plot, Shooter manages to do quite well. The makers of this film seem to know exactly how to paint an action flick by numbers; there are no delusions of grandeur here.

Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlburg) plays yet another "best of the best" soldier, specialising in sniping but a dab hand at espionage, covert ops and even medicine. The plot is that of typical cat-and-mouse, with Swagger being set up to take the fall for some assassination or another. To be honest the details don't matter - the film is easy enough to follow while half asleep, which makes a change from the quite heavy stuff I've been watching recently.

Shooter is a throwback to the great action films of the last decade. It won't win any Oscars, but as an action film it's great. Definitely worth a punt.

What Happened To Spring?

I'm certain I was wearing a scarf last week.

One To Watch: Wife Swap Click for more info

4oD, for the next week

Here was a self proclaimed Muslim and liberal family who wanted to prove exactly how reasonable Muslims in the UK are. You can almost imagine the glee with which the producers of the show had received Nusrat and co.

I really wasn't impressed; it was as close to a total whitewash as you could get. Sure, some blame can be placed on the inevitably clever editing (where was the son?), but the reaction of the Muslim daughters to some of the things their parents said just couldn't be faked. The only thing more cringe inducing than the attitude (which, if we follow "each to their own" is fair enough) was the blatant ignorance they had about themselves. They genuinely thought that they were liberal; they genuinely didn't realise how blinkered and arrogant they appeared: it seems that the only thing Nusrat took from the experience was a sense of vindication.

I know which family I would prefer to live with (and all of a sudden I'm even more tahnkful for my own), and my only reprieve is that I know this was not a typical UK Muslim family. If it was, well we'd be in even more trouble than we currently are. I really feel for the daughters and on some level it makes me wonder about the whole "guys should marry like-minded girls from the UK" mindset.

As you may have guessed this programme was very rant inducing for me, and so the above might be a bit strong. This was on last night, but is now available on 4oD (Channel Four's on demand service) for the next week if you missed it.

Sunday, April 15

Game: Puzzle Series Vol. 5: Slitherlink Click for more info


If Picross is crack, then this is heroin. Not that I know what kind of analogy I'm trying to make here, but the point is Slitherlink is yet another puzzle game I seem to have become hooked on.

You're faced again with a grid, although this time numbers ranging from 0 to 3 have been apparently randomly scattered across the field. The aim of each board is to draw a single red loop (a Slitherlink, if you will) using the edges of the squares on the grid, making sure any numbered squares have that many edges used.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well the devil is in the level designs; numbers are placed so that there are very few solutions to each board - if there are more than one at all.

Although the interface makes good use of the touchscreen, I didn't find it as slick as Picross's. Still, since writing yesterday's review of the latter, I've played this one more, so at the very least the controls don't matter much. For those who don't want to learn Japanese, there's a handy translation reference here.

So it seems that my DS is fast becoming an electronic puzzle book. Not that I'm complaining; I've had more fun out of these recent logic puzzles than I have with many of the other DS games I've played. The only problem is that between them, my time gets gobbled up like crazy; I just hope there aren't too many more to come...

I'll say it again: Arrgh.

Saturday, April 14

Game: Picross Click for more info

This game is digital crack. In fact, I feel like I'm wasting time even writing about it. But since I'm a committed man, I guess that I have to.

In each puzzle of Picross, you're faced with a square grid - at the moment I only have 10x10s, but I'm sure that they get bigger after time. Each row and column of this grid is marked with a set of numbers; so: 4,2,2 or 2,5 or 1,1,1,1,1. These patterns mean that, in a row of (say) 10, there will be contiguous "coloured" blocks of whatever numbers they say there are. And it's your job to figure out which block to colour.

Yes, that might sound a bit confusing. But there are implications to these rules: you know the order of them and that there's a space of one uncoloured block in between each set (otherwise 2,2 would have been written 4), and so they are all solvable with a bit of thought. And as with all puzzle/logic games, you end up building your own strategy and heuristics in solving them.

Picross really is great. And even more great because it's on the DS - playing the game is a pleasure with a touchscreen and stylus. Playing the game well is more of a challenge.

Okay, I think that'll do. I'm off to get my videogame high again.

Film: The Lives of Others Click for more info

Once again, a foreign film proves why it managed to leave the country it was made in. The Lives of Others is a film about the state, its citizens, censorship and control.

Set in 1984 East Germany, before the falling of The Wall, we mainly follow the activities of a writer struggling with his conscience - whether he should remain obedient to the state or talk up against its actions. Equally important is the officer assigned to spy on him; both because of his own struggle but also as a demonstration of how information was gathered back then.

Technically, this film wasn't that great. Acting was fine, as was the script. Direction was a bit weak, with plenty of continuity errors and instances of iffy flow. But the story managed to make up for these drawbacks, and then some, as we are given a pretty striking taste of what it was like to live under such conditions. And apart from this "transmission of context" we also got a thrilling plot to boot. I also found one of the most powerful endings to a film I've seen for a while.

Even if you wouldn't want to watch it on the big screen it would be just as striking on a DVD release. Recommended.

As an aside, I was surprised to find that this film was projected digitally at the UGC West India Quay. I noticed the difference in picture quality (bright and clean) straight away, more so than when I watched Final Fantasy at the Odeon Leicester Square. I was very impressed, especially when it came to rendering any CGI and subtitles. I thought that watermarking the print right smack in the middle every fifteen minutes or so was a tad distracting though.

The Mythical Clique: There Is No Cabal

I wouldn't say that I was a popular fellow, but over the past few years (since graduating, in fact) I have managed to stumble across a wide variety of friendly people whom I get to see on a regular basis. If we project this onto a Venn diagram, you could say that I loosely belong to many disparate social circles. Sometimes these circles overlap in the people who belong to them, and sometimes they exist in isolation from the rest. I have stronger affinities with some, and weaker ones with others, and this variance exists within a specific circle too.

Reading the above back to myself, it's clear that I'm really describing the situation that most people find themselves in. Relationships on all scales are complex and organic things, and thus "meta-relationships" like social circles and groups are exponentially so. My approach is to just ride with it; let relationships and the like build themselves, since the natural order of things will determine which associations form, which ones mix, which ones develop further and which ones don't come about at all.

Which is probably why I don't get this concept of cliques. I mean, sure, I know what they are and what some people mean when they talk about them. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't quite believe that they actually exist. Well, not outside of secondary schools anyway (and even then I don't remember them being a problem in mine). Here are three reasons why.

Firstly, there's the organic contradiction. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I belong in a clique. Assuming I wasn't there from the start, I had to be new at one point. And if there was indeed a clique, I wouldn't have been allowed to join it (and if I had been, then anyone else could too and there would be no clique). And if I was in a clique from the start, well then I would never get to meet new people.

Secondly, there's the issue of internal flux. For a clique to exist, all members of it must relate to each other in a perfectly balanced and flawless manner, since that's what defines the boundary of the clique. Otherwise what would be the point? Unless you have a membership card entitling you to discounts at all major high street chains or something, it would be the promise of bulletproof friendships that make cliques attractive, and I'm sure you'll agree that such things do not exist in reality.

Thirdly, there's the simple idea of personality clashes. I'm going to make a big, yet (in my opinion) reasonable, assumption that people like to meet new people, and that groups of friends usually gather over some kind of shared quality or experience. These can be concrete things like school, work or interests, but can also be more abstract like personality, character and senses of humour. And if they can gather on these things, then they can repel on them too. In other words, if you find yourself unable to enter a social circle, then it might not be about failing a membership criteria, but quite simply just because you don't get along with the people in it.

Social circles aren't about acceptance, joining processes, VIPs and "core members". They're just a way of cutting an infinitely complex ecosystem of relationships; they're the result of friends coming together, not the cause.

And if you're the type that feel cliques do indeed exist, well, then I'd say that at best you're just redundantly describing a natural occurrence that isn't personal and so not a real barrier. And at worst, well... Perhaps you just don't have the social skills required to make these new friends in particular, or awareness to accept that it's reasonable that these friendships might not even be possible at all.

Friday, April 13

Food: Spicy Basil Click for more info

This is a little Thai place on Kilburn High Road. I've heard a lot about it, and I must say I was slightly taken aback; from the manic recommendations I've had this quite dingly little place wasn't quite what I was expecting.

But I'm always about the food anyway. Cheap and cheerful is the catchphrase here, with our total bill hitting seven pounds per head for a slight over ordering of starters, soups and mains. Food was good enough, but nothing to go out of your way for; I went for the spicy basil prawn and struggled to finish it off. Service was good too and we didn't have to wait too long considering it was a Friday night.

The meat is halal, so Spicy Basil is well worth checking out if you happen to be passing by in need of a quick meal.

City Circle: Pluralism and Islam: Lessons from Malaysia Click for more info

Shout pluralism, and I'm there. However today's talk wasn't quite the pluralism I was thinking of; this was more about Islam coexisting with other faiths and cultures rather than exploring the common themes between them all.

Still, that's not to say it wasn't interesting. Malaysia is an interesting place to talk about, especially for Muslims in the UK. This isn't, as some people seem to think, because of the similarities in terms of integrating Islam into a western democracy. No, in actual fact it's because it's an example of the exact opposite: the integration of non-Muslims into an Islamic democracy.

Professor Khoo Kay Kim was the guest tonight. Of his many points, here are the ones I thought were interesting enough to jot down:

  • Malaysia is an unusual and complex place; enough so that most Malaysians don't understand it themselves.
  • Non-Malays don't really understand Islam.
  • Muslim Malays don't think that Islam is relevant to non-Muslims.
  • Not all Malays are Muslims.
  • Muslims are failing in their role as ambassadors of their religion.
  • Muslims need to explain their religion to others, and not just on a practical or superficial level.
  • Citizenship is rooted in education: "To build a nation, build a school".
  • Placing a national ideology into any curriculum must consist of more than just memorising a constitution.
  • The 31st of August, 1957 wasn't about independence, but more about the transferring of sovereignty from rulers to the people.
  • Politics seems to focus people on their "roots".
If I'm honest the talk was more about Prof Khoo than the subject he was talking about. Most of his lecture was composed of quips, anecdotes and stories, each very simple but powerful in demonstrating the issue he was trying to raise.

Like I mention above, Malaysia is a polar opposite to the UK with respect to the status of Islam in society. I found it surprising then that many in the audience felt that it could be analysed for answers to the problems we have here; the reason why I think it can't is because unlike in Malaysia the Muslims here are in the minority. The issues aren't just inverted, they're quite different.

Still, some of the global themes apply, like teaching others about Islam ourselves, rather than allowing non-Muslims to do it for us, so if Malaysia holds any lessons at all for us, it should be to do that much.

Book: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck Click for more info

I must admit that when I started this book I was a bit flustered. It's the second in the book group series we started a couple of months back, and after hearing it was written by Steinbeck of Of Mice and Men fame (a book I didn't really enjoy) I was preparing myself for a slog of a read in order to get ready for the meeting.

I think that I've written before how I'm not really a fan of heavily descriptive writings (see: The Lord of the Rings), since I prefer to imagine some things for myself and would much prefer words to be used to bring characters to life. This book does this almost deliberately, leaving every other chapter to depart from the main narrative and give the reader a quick lesson about the issues about to be faced in the next "story" chapter. And so it was a bit of a chore for me at first. I think I may have even skipped the first chapter in contempt.

But then the book got better. Much better. All of a sudden I found myself in the Deep South, losing my own farm and having to migrate to California. I knew the Joad family personally, I had grown up with them and was concerned about their welfare in their current situation. I championed the heroes and booed the bad guys. To say I was taken in was a bit of an understatement; this book was a legitimate page turner.

Suspension of belief aside, the book is also quite scarily ahead of its time in terms of the issues it talks about. It considers faceless capitalisation, greed and desperation, human displacement and immigration as well as a horde of other social issues. I wouldn't be surprised if the book was used in Sociology as well as Literature classes.

I don't think there's much more to say in just a book review, although I can't wait for the group meeting since there's so many ancillary issues and themes to talk about. The Sunday Times says on the book's jacket of Steinbeck: "A novelist who is also a true poet", and I only realised what they meant after finishing.

As much a must read as a book can possibly get.

Thursday, April 12

Link of the Day Click for more info

Marumushi Newsmap is a visualisation of the Google News aggregator. That's probably not the best way to introduce a link, but what it does is show various headlines based on their popularity, classification and region. Actually the best way to understand what it does is to click on the link and check it out yourself.

For example, contrast the US news landscape against that of the UK (or any other country, in fact). Sports and Entertainment take the bulk of the coverage across the pond, while World seems to dominate everywhere else. There are other trends worth checking out too, but I'll leave that to you.

Make sure you check out Marumushi's other applications too. Oh, and thanks to Joyanta for the link.

Tuesday, April 10

Climb Shak! Climb! Click for more info

So, a bunch of us are climbing Ben Nevis on the 27th of May in order to raise money for Ulfa Aid. You can find the flyer for the event here, and my Justgiving sponsorship page, here. Please take a few minutes to check it out.

I don't blog for financial reward, but if you've ever liked anything you've read here then I'd ask you seriously consider sponsoring. And if you've hated everything I've ever written, then be the better person and cough up anyway. In return, especially generous supporters will get honorary mentions on these pages (which is probably cheaper than getting married in order to get the same).

Oh, and bear in mind that you can contact me directly if you don't want to use Justgiving.

Ta in advance!

Saturday, April 7

Film: Sunshine Click for more info

Sci-fi thriller with a little bit of horror thrown in too for good measure. Starts off pretty well as join the crew mid-mission, and carries on with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer relatively entertained for a while.

However it seems to burns too brightly. Much like the stars it's telling us about, it runs out of steam toward the end, presenting a conclusion that really doesn't live up to the rest of the film.

Still, when it's good it's good, especially when you realise that the whole saving-the-world business is secondary to the film's characters and the way in which they interact with each other and the situation they find themselves in. To that particular end, Sunshine manages to become a welcome diversion from more regular thrillers.

Friday, April 6

Film: Blades of Glory Click for more info

The usual Will Ferrel stuff, but this time on ice. I may have laughed out loud more than I really should have, and the film does have its moments. But make no mistake: this is a lowest-common-denominator, toilet humour experience so don't go expecting much more than that.

Tuesday, April 3

New Music

Today we have a loved up filmi special!

Pehla Nasha - Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander

How can you have any kind of Bollywood collection without this track? Yes yes, I am the cliché.

Jaaneman - Aryan

One of those songs that I couldn't be bothered to get at the time but came to mind while watching The Namesake for some reason.

Monday, April 2


Shak says (14:00):
    guy sold everything to start up 4 years ago
    now amillionaire
xxxx says (14:02):
    yeah yeah...but hes gay
Shak says (14:02):
    you know of him?
xxxx says (14:03):
    but if hes a millionaire then he gay
    are you gay?
Shak says (14:09):
    i wish :(

Sunday, April 1

Film: The Namesake Click for more info

Straightforward tale about a immigrant Bengali man and his wife raising their second generation kids in America. Spanning thirty years or so, we see the births, deaths, education, matrimony and everything else involved in the so called circle of life of the Ganguly family.

It's clear from the start how The Namesake is based on a book. The condensation process that the story went through was pretty blunt; that much was clear by the way we were thrown from major event to major event every few minutes. A lot happens in the two hours the film ran for, but I wish that I got to experience a few of the juicy bits that seemed to be absent, even if doing so had made the film even longer.

And that's why this editing of the story had a detrimental effect on the film. I didn't get a chance to process on milestone before the next one came along. At times it felt like just a frame of a story, an outline with some of the important detail missing. Fortunately, this flaw wasn't terminal and the film manages to do well anyway. And then some.

The Namesake was well filmed and had some class acting in it, but it was the story that kicked the most ass. The film's brilliance lies in its simplicity; there was no baggage here and it wasn't constantly trying to prove anything about Indians living in the west. It wasn't lecturing us on how to live our lives here or how we need to change.

There were no overt morals, false pretences or offensive stereotypes here either (Chanda, I'm looking at you). What it did have were some very real characters each living very real lives, and in doing so it treated us, the audience, with the utmost respect.

For me the film was more about the relationship between Ashok (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) rather than their son Gogol, but that's an indication of how multi-layered the film was rather than any particular focus it may have had. Speaking of Gogol, Kal Penn didn't manage to pee me off this time with his cash-in style of acting.

Simple yet deep, sweet and poignant, thought provoking and emotional. Along with Monsoon Wedding, this has made me quite the fan of Mira Nair, and it probably goes without saying how much I wholeheartedly recommend this film.

Team Building

Since it's full term and school is off for a couple of weeks, the good folks at ICSS took all the volunteer teachers away on a team building event thingy. Or at least "team building" was the excuse we all told ourselves in order to have a bit of a social gathering. It turned out to be pretty fun, and for a select few of us, pretty wet too.

Lambourne End was the venue, a kind of farm-cum-outdoor centre seemingly built for corporate events of this type. All in all, we had around thirty people (some whom I'm certain I've not even seen at ICSS. Hmm), so the first thing to do was to split ourselves up into three groups, one of which were to be put through the watery assault course. Guess what group I was in?

It was the usual stuff that some of you may have seen already. We were greeted by a long and narrow pond with various ways of getting across it; rope bridges, rope swings, tires, wires, that sort of stuff. The idea was to use teamwork and mutual encouragement to get ourselves across each safely, although I must admit some of us might have enjoyed others failing (and so plunging into quite scummy water) a bit too much. I'm sure some of you will be delighted to know I completed the exercise completely dry.

After the morning's physical session was over, we settled down for a bit of lunch (mmm, Naan Kebab) and a pep talk by some of the more senior members about what ICSS is and how we're each doing a good job by volunteering. We're professional role models, apparently. Cough.

After that, we ended on a game of "Simon Says", a game I've not played since primary school. I was asked to be Simon, and I must confess that I found it a harder job than I thought, especially when the candidates were reduced to the few hard core people who seemed to be taking the game a bit too seriously (although I would have probably been the same had I been playing). After that, we had cake.

So yeh, a nice day of fun and games and an excuse for adult teacher types to act like children, and once again it makes me realise exactly how normally my own teachers must have acted behind the scenes. As for us, I'll never get over how immature we behave when the situation calls for it, but then if it means we come out a closer, more effective, group because of it, I don't think that there's any reason to complain either.

The Last Post

After almost three years of making posts on this blog publicly available, I've decided that it's time to stop.

There isn't a single thing in particular that's led me to this decision, although generally I just don't think those that read these pages take them as seriously as he who writes them. I get that it's extremely pathetic to feel unappreciated over a blog, but still, it's how I feel.

Some use it to build up a cache of ammunition against me, some think the blog is the only thing I'm about, and some don't even bother reading it properly at all. Even though I've always claimed to write for no one but myself, faced with all that I no longer see the point.

I will still be writing, and then to Radio Shak. But I'll be turning on some of Blogger's new security features in order to administer who it's read by. I've already contacted those who I figure want to continue reading, and for you guys there should be no change. For anyone else who wants to continue reading, I'm sorry, but I'm not open to the idea of allowing any more members.

I'll be making the switch early tomorrow morning in order to give people and RSS readers a chance to pick up this post. Regardless of what you think about these articles, I'd like to thank you all for reading for as long as you did anyway. I hope that you each got at least something out of them.