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Monthly Archives: May 2007

 

 

 

 

walking home

in the rain

soaking wet

smiling

laughing

so alive.

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I finished watching Dexter on Sunday. I binged on it – intense bursts burning through the season in a day.

Dexter is a marvelously crafted, written and acted. It is complete at a level that is impressive.

It makes me wonder why so few people seem to have heard about it. It deserves wider exposure.

Dexter is a blood spatter expert for the Miami-Dade Police Department, and a serial killer. He was taught by his foster father to kill those whom he thinks deserve to die. These are usually violent criminals (serial killers, rapists, child molesters, etc) who Dexter thinks have escaped justice. What a brilliant concept. A serial killer who targets serial killers.

Like many a psycho he is emotionally disconnected from those around him. He’s learned to fake the things that normal people do. But he doesn’t feel them. He thinks cooly, rationally, and always one step ahead.

Dexter appreciates this irony, that he can fake connection to hide disconnection.

But the show provides a deeper contrast than that. As the season progresses you learn about the surrounding cast, the people who make up Dexter’s supporting cast. The other police officers, his sister, the rest of the forensics lab, his girlfriend, her children, their deadbeat abusive father.

And perhaps because you meet them through Dexter you see them in the same light that Dexter portrays himself. You find them disconnected from their reality. They’re living fictional lives, going through the motions. Hiding the truth from their friends, faking their happiness and sadness. Then losing it, flipping out under the pressure and their emotional anger and forced to lash out; find a scapegoat, enact their fantasy, obscure reality. Those all to human reactions.

Are they really that different from Dexter? Are we really different from Dexter? Are you? Am I?

I think an honest answer must admit that we are only degrees of separation away from Dexter. That we all dwell perilously close to the edge, perhaps closer then we admit to ourselves. As a therapist tells Dexter “we all have a dark wolf living inside of us, and sometimes it gets out”. Dexter himself, his wolf is always on the prowl, hidden in sheep’s clothing. Us more human mortals; we have an affinity for the wolf, one greater then we’ll ever acknowledge in public.

The Original

Function: noun
Etymology: google.com

The ability to quickly answer any given question using internet resources, such as a search engine, specifically Google.

I’m pretty damn fed up of answering stupid questions. Inane annoying questions that ask whether I can find X for someone. Or do I know of any Y. Or where could they find Z.

Stupid questions that no one should be answering in the age of Wikipedia, Google and the Interweb. Especially not from fucking twenty-somethings or teens who should know how this shit works.

When I ask what research they’ve done themselves, I get the answer I expected – none. They can’t be arsed to find their own information. Just pass it on to me. And they know that I’ll usually get them an answer within a few minutes.

How do I do that? Cause I have a minor bit of Google-Fu. I know how to use a fucking search engine. Its a public search engine. Which means that if you were arsed you could learn it too. They don’t hide the information. There’s no secret fucking handshake. Its pretty damn intuitive if you’ve got more then two ounces of spare logic. And if you practice it a couple of times, keep that link somewhere handy, slowly you’ll remember what operators do what. I know, fucking learning – who would have thought you could do that.

So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to stop  enabling. You can answer your little queries. I’m going to be an unhelpful jackass like most other people are. I’m going to say inane useless comments like “Have you tried Google?” or “maybe Wikipedia has something”. Or best of all “hmm..dunno”.

What I’m not going to do is look for it myself. If you can’t find it – well I don’t give two shits. Your inability to find basic information on the vastest trove of collective knowledge humanity has ever generated is a problem. Specifically, its your problem. And you need to solve it. Yourself.

A delightful Professor of mine, in the midst of his many diversions from the subject he was meant to teach, these trips down byways as fruitful as his main topic, mentioned a most interesting description of the business world. In his opinion all business studies, all business strategy, all business books are predicated on a fundamental assumption.

The assumption is this: There are three kinds of people in the world (1) Finders; (2) Minders; and (3) Grinders.

Let me describe this hierarchy from the bottom up.

At the bottom are the Grinders. Grinders do the work. They work 19 hour days nose to grindstone. They get the work done. Ultimately grinders are replaceable – they are an input to the business, a human input, but an input. You use them till they break and then you find replacements and restart the process. The intake process for investment banks is like this – they hire new associates and analysts every year and work them till they can’t think straight at which point most of them quit. My cousin once shared with me the brilliant statistic that Morgan Stanley changes 30% of its staff globally every year, mostly at the junior level.

Minders are the next step up – minders look after grinders. They tell them what to do, and they tell the higher ups what’s getting done. Minders are middle management – they don’t work as hard, they have some great perks and they generally are no longer considered to be the go to people for doing work. They just get it done.  Minders are more important in the scheme of things – and often a company will make the effort to hang on to a good minder. The problem is that you need minders only as long as you have enough grinders, and say in a recession where the amount of grinders on the payroll declines the minders also become dispensable.

Finders are the top of the pyramid. They are the Partners, the CEOs the Directors. They don’t actually do very much real work. Instead about 20% of their work is public orientated or making decisions. That may involve hours of being involved, gathering information, giving and receiving presentations and generally being the final decision maker for their department or company. The other 80% of their works is essential. They find new clients, use their extensive networks to get things done, wine, dine and play golf with the buyer, and pay attention to the client in all those small details that make things go smoothly. Finders are indispensable, because for any company to survive it needs to retain its best finders. It will never fire a finder except at the last resort, because it will suffer a direct revenue loss if it looses one.

This has interesting implications. This is why we have a disproportionate number of upper class people at the top of the business food chain – their connections enable them to be effective finders. But the more important lesson is that people are what matter. It is the people you know, (how many, how influential, what do they do), that makes a good finder. A finder is either born or made, but he is made deliberately. What you do – the job itself – can be learned as a trade, and you can learn a new one and succeed in it.

If you have the people skills, and the networks to draw upon, then you can climb to the top in any and every profession.

I’ve been reading Mao: The Unknown Story by the husband and wife team, historian Jon Halliday and writer Jung Chang. She of Wild Swans fame. The book is a revisionist history of Mao Tse Tung, the great Chairman Mao who is popularly lauded as the founder of modern China.

The eleven years of research for the book included interviews with hundreds of people who were close to Mao, revealing the contents of newly opened archives. Additional knowledge comes from Chang’s personal experience of living through the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. The book appears to be meticulously researched, with wide ranging series of interviews that are combined with archives to put together what actually happened.

It is a penetrating insight into the difference between what the official story is according to the Chinese government and how different reality can be. Events that have passed into the propaganda mythos of the CCP such as the Long March, the Battle at the Luding Bridge and many other minor events that populate the official history of modern China are revealed to be the propaganda they are. They are all event spun after the fact to make Mao a hero and to make the CCP look more benevolent then it ever was.

The underlying theme is Mao as Monster. There is consistent focus on his brutal purges, his constant scheming, his manipulation of both the CCP command structure and of the USSR to support him personally instead of the hierarchy of the CCP. His personal incompetence shines out. Mao comes across as a bumbler, unable, but ruthless who knew what his goals were and sacrificed all other people to achieve them. Including his wives (3 of them) and his children (lots of them), friends (when he had any) and any other person that was useful as a mere pawn.

Standing alongside Mao’s ruthlessness is his single mindedness. He wanted power above all things. Even, perhaps especially, given that he had no wider reason for power, no goals or hopes that he hoped to bring to fruition through power. Power was the means and the ends for Mao, and it had to be achieved at all costs. And the costs were terrible and the human costs unbelievable.

On a personal level, reading the book has been an eye opener because as part of the GCSE History syllabus you do a module on the rise of Modern China. And that module it is now clear to me is entirely based on the propaganda – that it lacks any of the depth, nuance or reality on the subject that would have really made it enjoyable and appreciable or even accurate.

We got that kind of contextualisation in the more modern scholarship of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution which admittedly were A-Level subjects, but I think that we would have been better off studying the Chinese Revolution in the same way. It’s a rich rich topic with so much underlying the spin and so much concealed facts that sometimes it seems to me ridiculous what we believed in hind sight as to be the true history. Stuff about how well the CCP treated its peasants, and how the leadership suffered equally with the solders during the Long March, or how Mao was an instrumental leader of early Chinese communism now seem ridiculous in the light of Jung Chang’s book.

What I can’t get over though, on the personal level is that my teachers lied to me. The scholarship was there before the book, albeit in different sources and not collated together as well. I hope that if they’ve had a chance to read the book that they won’t be teaching the same lies to a new generation of people. Not everyone is going to find out some parts of the truth by themselves.

Link To The Original

“Employment contributes neither to advantage nor happiness. It is but honorable exile from one’s family and affairs.”

— Thomas Jefferson

I am fiercely proud of my  blogging record over the last few months. I set out a commitment – that I would be posting three times a week, and that would be maintained come hell or high water as far as I could. So it is with some trepidation that I contemplate the decline of this little escapade because of the intrusive reality of employment.

I have some of that now. Well I have it for this week, I can’t make any comments on how much longer that situation might obtain. It’s a week to week kind of gig. As my brother would put it, I’ve joined the cast of informal labourers in Hong Kong.

So what am I doing? Well I’m working as a Temporary Legal Assistant [Official Title] at Pinsent Masons. They’re a medium sized law firm that specialized in construction law. It’s not the cutting edge of exciting. And its not the cutting edge of wealthy either. But you have to start somewhere.

And this is a good place to start. They are good people, always smiling, quite open, very helpful. Who knew there were lawyers that were  pretty good human beings first. At a superficial level at any rate. They’re still professionals and damn hard working ones at that.

It’s also been a nice chance to discover how I react to the every day world of employment. One of the things that has been reassuring to learn, even if its just in my own experience, is that I have the ability to get into the zone very easily. You give me some space, cut off my internet, and tell me what to do and I’ll monster it. I find it very easy to transition into that mode where you loose track of time and focus on the task at hand and work at your maximum capability. The result has been that I’ve been far more productive and gotten more done then they expected me to achieve. I take this from the fact that I’ve already made my boss struggle twice to come up with a task for me to do. That would suggest the sailing for me has been pretty smooth.

The other realization, not so personal and much more broadly empathetic, is that I have real sympathy for those people on my LLM who work and study full time. I’ve been reduced to studying in my lunch breaks (one of which I’ve sacrificed to write this post), and even then making only incremental progress.

I would again prefer to be able to devote multiple hours to my school work but the reality is that once the work starts back up again its pretty damn hard to get anything done but the assigned task. Partially because I have a pretty strong groove to slide into when the clock is back on. And because I have that slight sense of responsibility and duty: I don’t think I should be goofing off on the clock, even though its pretty necessary to maintain your mental health, I think that you have to do that if you have a high stress job like many of those who are quietly working around me.

Mainly it’s been a learning experience and the results have  been encouraging for me, at least in my opinion. But I don’t disguise that I’m keenly anticipating the weekend. Not only would it be nice to have a bit of free time, but I need to really get kicking on my school work; there’s the Spanish GP as well which I’m looking forward to. But to ensure I don’t get too carried away at the thought of freedom, Pinsent Masons want me to be in Saturday mornings as well from 9am to 12am. Even these wonderful people have limits on their generosity.

Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
John Berger

I’ll start with the obvious point: when you see what are dubbed Mens’ Magazines, they are predominantly full of naked or partially naked women. Great giants of the publishing niche such as FHM, Maxim, Playboy and Hustler, even if we’ve not all seen a copy, we know what they’re about. The polite way of expressing it is eye candy. They display an artificially polished beauty,  photoshopped, which we call sex appeal and pretend it’s not the the standard of beauty of our times; we’re too hip and trendy to use old fuddy duddy words like beauty.

On the other hand, we have those magazines that no guy would be caught dead reading. Names such as  Vogue, Cosmopolitan or ELLE. Women’s magazines. And yet the few times I’ve flicked through them, I’m brave enough to admit it, what I’ve noticed is that they’re almost entirely like mens’ magazines. They are full of pictures of naked or partially naked women. Oh sure you’re thinking, dirty perverted, man (man used here as a pejorative), just remembering the parts that caught his eye. But take a good look at Vogue and Maxim side by side, and you’ll notice that a similar page count is dedicated to the same thing: Naked women. Almost no space is given to naked men in either magazine. The few that are grudgingly there are either underwear model (back pages, black and white, or tucked inside the front cover where you won’t see them on the way to the main feature) or runway models that are substantially clothed.

It is this similarity that brings me to a pause. Why should magazines aimed at two disparate targets as men and women come to such similar layout choices? It’s like there’s a consensus that men are ugly, not aesthetically pleasing at all. The shape’s all wrong, they have all sorts of odd lumps and bulges, and well they’re just not very good to look at. So we’re going to stock up our pages with pictures of women. It simply might be that while men want to see the hottie, women might prefer to see the competition. Or it might be a reflection of the suggestion I recall reading in the IHT, but can’t find a link to now, that while men get turned on by the their partners bodies, women are actually more sexually responsive when they think they are looking good. And so to know what good is, what the standard is at the moment, a women’s magazine performs the signaling function of informing on the societal standard of beauty.

Oh sure there’s a lot more text and the text is not so gender biased. It moves with the audience, so that the text in a women’s magazine is about getting to grips with men and the text in men’s magazines are more on the yes she’s crazy, but look at Random Pretty Girl to distract yourself. Okay so the men’s magazines aren’t really about the text. Even I couldn’t pretend to defend the position that we read Playboy for the articles.

Me being a bit of a simpleton, sometimes all I notice are the pictures, and it seems odd to me that given what we’re told about men and women – that men are very visual and women are very emotional, that there is this strong component of the visual in female magazines, and that visual component isn’t what we would think it should be given that the vast majority of the population is heterosexual. I’d love to know if there is any research done that could explain this, but so far I haven’t found any.

My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror. 

–W. Somerset Maugham

I’m reading this post for the second time, laughing again. The eloquent, the loquacious, the sublimely crazy Ali Eteraz has written what must be feted, a brilliant post. And given the reaction he’s generated it looks like its genius has been recognized by the vox populi. So it should be; brilliant writing ought to be lauded. Yanking people’s chains while engaged in brilliant writing – well now that approaches perfection.

Since Mr. E linked to another blog, I thought I’d best go and read that post as well, so that I might appreciate the full glory of his majestic satire. That post was a more sober look at a simple problem. Teenagers and sex. Specifically teenagers having sex. That hoary old chestnut. And how good Muslims and Muslimas in the US of A are probably feeling each other up and putting tab A into slot B at about the same rates as the rest of the population. Good I say. Get rid of that annoying Islamic Exceptionalism bullshit. People are always people first; categories such as Muslim, Christian, Black or White second.

What it reminded me of was this news article. Which reminded me in turn of this one. And from another AE link I arrived at this article, in the paragon of left wing magazines, The Atlantic Monthly. Unfortunately the link is an abstract of the main piece, but the full text is available from most academic search engines, or all good newsstands. It’s worth your while to read the Atlantic Monthly. It’ll make you smarter. To save time and effort I’ll give you a brief summary of the links.

The first link is about how 70% of the content saved on mobile phones in Saudi Arabia is pornographic in nature, and that 3G networks are being used to rapidly distribute this content. Of course its illegal in the Kingdom, but like many stupid laws that try to get in the way of human nature, it’s not preventing anything.

The second link from the LA Times, although I can’t find the original article. It describes rampant homosexuality in Taliban ruled Afghanistan, even amongst men who don’t identify themselves as gay. Yes, the hyper orthodox country, ruled by Islamic fundamentalists was a nancy boy paradise,  because when the women are all hidden, when even their eyes are hidden away, people turn to the only gender they can have a relationship with without being hounded – their own.

The final piece, the one in the Atlantic, tries to make sense of this phenomenon. How she explains it is that in Super Straight but Secretly Bent Saudi Arabia, where its impossible for a man and a women to spend anytime together, or to date, court or develop even friendships with the opposite gender, people do what they have to do to meet their urges before being married off to a stranger.

This has led to a unique conception of gay sex as an act and sodomy as an act, but has not generated what we would call a gay identity. There is no set of individual characteristics that manifest as public homosexual behavior. What it comes down to is that the society is hetero-flexible. What a fantastic word that is. People are gay in terms of action until something better comes along (women), and then they turn straight, which was always their preferred orientation.

All you women sitting smug there reading this, thinking how atrocious, depraved and irreligious the Kingdom’s men are, how damn determined they are in putting their penises inside things, should take a cold hard look in the mirror. You’re gender is up to the same shenanigans:

Yasmin, a 21-year-old student in Riyadh who’d had a brief sexual relationship with a girlfriend (and was the only Saudi woman who’d had a lesbian relationship who was willing to speak with me for this story), told me that one of the department buildings at her college is known as a lesbian enclave. The building has large bathroom stalls, which provide privacy, and walls covered with graffiti offering romantic and religious advice; tips include “she doesn’t really love you no matter what she tells you” and “before you engage in anything with [her] remember: God is watching you.” In Saudi Arabia, “It’s easier to be a lesbian [than a heterosexual]. There’s an overwhelming number of people who turn to lesbianism,” Yasmin said…

For me, having pulled all this together, I think what stands out so clearly is the utter ridiculousness of a fundamentalist approach to Islam, and a rigid over interpretation of the hijab. It shows how this kind of radical gender seclusion backfires by promoting behavior that is clearly as unislamic as what they’re trying to prevent. It speaks loudly how delicate proper gender balance is to maintain, and how blatantly off kilter the fundies have it.

It says to me that if you claim to have a perfect and preeminent revelation, and that you’re putting it into perfect effect with the utmost purity of purpose, and yet you’re still getting such an entirely messed up result, that perhaps you’ve not got things right. Maybe you need to find out why your gender roles and gender relationships are so flexible and ill-defined.

And maybe, just maybe, you need to understand why your children are rebelling against your crazy rules.