Monday, January 31, 2005

Anguished music

Now this is interesting. Gene Edward Veith of World magazine quotes from Mary Eberstadt's book Home-Alone America that today's rock n' roll and hip-hop music are not just about negativity and promiscuity. Ms Eberstadt's study of such music reveals lyrics about abandonment, lament about broken homes and families, and especially absent fathers:
Papa Roach sings "Broken Home," with the lines: "I know my mother loves me / But does my father even care." Everclear sings "Father of Mine" about a father walking out on the family, with the plea "take me back to the day / when I was still your golden boy." And in Everclear's "Wonderful," which some call the best rock song about divorce ever written, the singer yearns for the way things were before his parents split: "I want the things that I had before / Like a Star Wars poster on my bedroom door." Blink-182 had a hit with "Stay Together for the Kids," which recognizes that there is no easy solution: "What stupid poem could fix this home," but then adds, "I'd read it every day." In Pink's "Family Portrait," the singer pleads with her father not to leave, making poignantly childish promises: "I won't spill the milk at dinner."

Kurt Cobain, a pioneer of such confessional music, said that he had a happy childhood until his parents got a divorce when he was 7, an experience that he wrote about again and again in his music. Ms. Eberhardt finds the same subject matter in songs by Good Charlotte, Pearl Jam, Linkin Park, Slipknot, Disturbed, and Korn.

Many rappers never even knew their fathers, and this fact, according to Ms. Eberstadt, is lamented in the lyrics of nearly every hip-hop artist. One of the most violent, the late Tupac Shakur, raps in "Papa'z Song Lyrics," about how he "had to play catch by myself," and prays, "Please send me a pops before puberty." Snoop Dogg in "Mama Raised Me" says, "It's probably pop's fault how I ended up / Gangbangin'; crack slangin'; not givin' a f—." And as for Eminem, perhaps the most foul-mouthed, angry, bitter—and popular—rapper of them all, Ms. Eberhardt shows that rage at his mother and father for abandoning him is the emotional center of virtually all of his songs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Singing a new tune

Two years ago, a planned visit to MacWorld was called off when one or two of our partners changed their minds at the cost of our registration fees. Ah well. At the time, analysts were hoping a new iMac would boost sales and revitalize Apple. Of course, the iPod which was released just after 9/11, was already causing ripples. But it hadn’t yet reached the feeding frenzy we’re seeing today.

Apple's foray into the consumer electronics market was an untypical shift in company policies, but it has certainly paid off in a big way for the ever inventive CEO Steve Jobs. Today the world’s singing to Jobs’ tune. Heck, Steve Jobs is convinced “iPod is clearly changing the way we enjoy our music, much the way the Sony Walkman did decades ago.

He’s probably right. Back when the first Walkman broke through an otherwise lifeless era in consumer electronics, I was proudly wearing its clunky headphones to work. Figures show IPod holds 31% of the global MP3 player market. In terms of revenue, this translates into 55% of global share. More figures:
Number of iPod units sold since launch: 10 million
Number of iPod units sold in the last quarter: 4.5 million (doubling previous quarter)
Number of iTunes songs dowloaded: 230 million
These numbers are mighty impressive. But according to a recent Forbes tech report, household penetration of MP3 players (all brands) is still low. Seems it’s the least popular of consumer electronics product, and trailing DVDs in units sold by a wide margin. Competing MP3 manufacturers won’t be sitting on their hands for sure, and Forbes columnist Arik Hesseldahl thinks the stage is set for a price war. Consumers like myself are saying, bring it on.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Natural Order

This is good! The late intergalactic author and hitchhiker Douglas Adams gives his take on our love-hate relationship with technology:
"I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Script vs. Screen

Two books I ordered have arrived:

Reel Spirituality by Robert Johnston
The Vanishing Word by Arthur Hunt III

Two books from opposite poles in some ways, one extols the virtues of films while the other warns against the loss of a word-centric mind.

If it shows anything, it is that I have not gotten off my hobby horse. Being a kind of media junkie myself (as labeled by some nice people), social critic Neil Postman (who remains a favourite author) helped me look across the fence. The late Postman who claimed not to even have an email address is insightful and extremely quotable and I poured through 5 or 6 of his books quite quickly. I loved the way he dissected our image conscious and technology-obsessed culture with the slightest hint of cynicism.

Of course there’s Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High Tech Heart, which a friend has been bugging me to look into. It’s on my list of books to read this year (Yes, I have a copy, Tony). Marva Dawn called it an “open-eyed, mind-boggling, soul-piercing look” at society’s love affair with cyber-myths of progress.

Then there’s Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, a book that sat on the must-read list of books of hundreds of homeschoolers for a time, and I just had to get my hands on it too. Healy ponders over why today’s kids are skipping mental activities like reading for less arduous ones like pushing the TV remote buttons. Hers is a book that indicates a shift in child development studies – from behavioural science, to brain science. If you can get through her medical gobbledygook, it’s an eye-opener. Her other book Failure to Connect took a dig at computers, but I found it harder-going and scanned through the last half.

Neither a techno freak or a closet Luddite, I do appreciate the ongoing tussle between word and image (or script vs. screen , as someone said). For a person who straddles both worlds daily, my butt has taken its share of punishment so I understand a little about the stakes involved. There are larger issues undoubtedly, and I suppose we have McLuhan to thank for opening up Pandora’s upgraded techno-box.

The reality of our postmodern generation and the technology we all take for granted requires engagement and response. Now to switch off the computer, turn off the dvd, and really, really dig into those books.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tsunami relief

Some good work and reporting in Malaysia are being spearheaded by bloggers, among whom are bobjots, jeffooi (of Screenshots), lucia lai, and others. Good job and may their tribe increase!

On the global front, Compassion International in particular, announced that at least three projects in India and Thailand have been significantly impacted. On the eastern coast of India, Compassion-assisted families were among those who lost their homes and livelihood, and at least one sponsored child died in the tsunami.

I am impressed by their 3-phase relief initiatives which have been spelled out as follows:
Phase One : Initial Emergency Response Activities
·Kitchen providing two meals per day
·Medical treatment two-three days per week
·Emergency shelter construction
·Identification of unaccompanied children and their care
·Trauma counseling
·Distribution of basic household and hygiene kits

Phase Two : Transition Response Activities
·Distribution of dry rations
·Distribution of cooking kits
·Continued medical care
·Continued counseling
·Continued efforts to reunite children with parents

Phase Three : Long-Term Assessment for Stabilization
To find out more visit

While relief continues frantically, Wong Chun Wai of Star wrote about heartless Malaysians who took the opportunity to dump unwanted goods at relief collection centres. He mentioned “trophies, business cards, used stationery and even a set of dentures (!)” among stuff that were ‘donated.’ The paper also received calls from shameless business organizations that asked how much they had to give for their pictures to be published in the main section of the newspaper.

On the other hand, the intuitive response by so many to offer genuine help in cash and kind is gratifying - yet there’s always the niggling thought if all these are reaching the intended. Already there are reports that some ‘helpers’ are helping themselves. This and the fact that politics and religious sentiments are now beginning to surface is not good news. Sanctimonious posturing and finger pointing about motive and size of financial aid, etc show how fractious relief efforts will become in the coming days.

Our church Hope EFC, is directing our cash collection to CREST (Crisis Relief Services & Training Bhd), a non-profit Malaysian Christian crisis relief ministry that has teams on the ground in Bandar Aceh and Sri Lanka. In the past CREST has deployed multiple teams comprising trained volunteers to disaster-stricken areas such as Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Honduras, India, and Turkey.

To contact CREST, call, fax, or email
Mrs Lana Wong (Executive Director)
mobile: 016-3011721
or Ms Catherine (Administrator)
tel no: 03+7725 7299
fax: 03-7725 7298
or email:

Monday, January 10, 2005

Remembering the past, pursuing the good

So the earth is still wobbling on its axis after the devastating 9.0 Richter scale earthquake off Sumatra and the subsequent deadly tsunamis. The earth “rang like a bell” said Australia seismologist Cvetan Sinadinovski. Fissures in the tectonic plates were hundreds of miles long, according to reports. Some experts say the impact could have resulted in significant regional shifts with smaller islands moved southward by as much as 20m. An earthquake may not be predictable, but tsunamis are. These giant killer waves that wiped out hundreds of thousands are “low probability - high consequence” hazards that some scientists say may not occur again for the next 200 years, but do we want to take their word for it?

A letter written to Malaysiakini pointed out that a 10-year old girl saved hundreds because of what she learned in a geography class. The writer lamented the lack of importance attached to the study of geography in Malaysian schools and said that teachers who once taught geography had become English language teachers. That would explain why no one bats an eyelid save the usual greenies associated with NGOs when bureaucrats and developers callously rape the land.

The writer is only half right. Malaysian students not only ignore geography to their peril (and ours), they know practically nothing about the history of the world as well. I remember talking about Hitler to a class of 14 and 15-year olds but no one had heard of him. It brings to mind Santayana’s words that, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," and one does not have to guess at the dire outcome of such negligence. In Malaysia, we’re already reaping what we have sown (and what we have not sown).

Back to the tsunami. Former banker and columnist with The Edge business weekly Radzuan Hashim commented that 12/26 (his label for the tsunami tragedy) should not make us lose sight of other priorities. In Malaysia, far, far more lives and property are lost to motor accidents, landslides (human induced), dengue-malaria, and HIV-AIDS, all of which have preventable causative factors.

I’m glad someone’s brought this up. In case you didn’t know, Malaysia has one of the highest incidents of road accidents in the world. Reports on road accident fatalities according to deaths per 100,000 population rank Malaysia together with Thailand, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia at the top of the chart. Another estimate placed the figure at 16 deaths on our roads every day. And we haven’t even started talking about rampant development, illegal logging, and environmental degradation that have resulted in polluted rivers, massive landslides, and flooding.

What a sober start to a new year. The world is in decay, as the Bible says; a cosmic wind down that can be traced back to a moral breach in the Garden of Eden. We can’t stop its inexorable downward slide, but we can slow its descent. Eugene Peterson summed up his devotional on Psalm 120 by saying it marks a turning point “from complaining about how bad things are to pursuing all things good” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction). Sounds like a good new year resolution - even for people who have long given up on making any.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


The year ended with a bang. After Christmas, no less, when vicious tsunamis smashed into Asian coastlines obliterating holiday resorts, villages, and towns.

We were in Bandar Botanic, Klang, with some young adults celebrating Christmas at a friend’s new home. An SMS came in saying 28 people died in an earthquake in Penang. Earthquake? 28 dead? Now, that’s unheard of. Not in Malaysia anyway. Some hoax, I thought, not having read the papers nor gone online throughout the Christmas weekend.

Someone changed channels on the TV and there it was: earthquake in North Sumatra, tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The truth sunk in, and incredulity turned to horror. Geologist Kerry Sieh of the California Institute of Technology said on CNN, "Sunday was one of the biggest earthquakes in the region in the past 200 years."

I don’t know about you but the scale of the devastation across the globe – 10 nations in all – has occupied my mind since then. I scour the web, clicking link after links; the indescribable terror as the first waves swept through unsuspecting locals and tourists, the heart-wrenching scenes of the tsunamis’ aftermath in Penang, Acheh, Phuket, Sri Lanka. Washed-out coastlines, flattened villages, debris-strewn towns, bloated bodies on beaches. I check blog after blogs, taking in words, pictures and videos of this unprecedented display of nature’s fury in morbid fascination, numbed and lost for words.

To date over 155,000 have perished, and millions have been displaced. The numbers are sure to rise even as aid begins pouring in.

"She didn't deserve to die like this, I can't believe that something like this can happen to someone so beautiful," Australian Asha Balachandra said of her mother Magdalene Balachandra, who died when the van she was in was washed away in Sri Lanka.

British tsunami survivor Shenth Ravindra was luckier. He escaped from a train that was swept off its tracks in a town near Galle, leaving over a thousand dead. “I know it has been an unbelievable sequence of events that enabled me to escape in the first place," he said, adding "I won't be complaining about being unlucky in anything in life ever again."

A mongrel, Selvakumar, saved the life of his owner’s son Dinakaran, 7, when he dragged him from the oncoming tsunami by his shirt collar.

23-year old McMurray who had been struggling to stay afloat when waters flooded the Merlin Hotel in Phuket turned to see a little Russian girl wedged between two columns frantically keeping her head above water."I dived straight back in there. I grabbed the little girl and I held her in my arms and let the current take me to the stairs. I couldn't imagine what would have happened to her if I had left her."

Rod Tokubo, and Joseph Cienega, of Salinas, California abandoned their golf vacation in Takuapa, Thailand and headed for Phuket to help recover the dead.

These and other tales of selflessness and survival will quickly become urban legends, if not bestsellers.

Then there’s the story of Governments in Asia conceding that they had failed to issue warnings after the initial earthquake. "We have no equipment here that can warn about tsunamis," said Budi Waluyo, an official with the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, Indonesia. "The instruments are very expensive and we don't have money to buy them." That will change now, tragically on hindsight, and I pray it will come soon.

But Asia Online journalist David Simmons has a thing or two to say about heroism and clich├ęs, and he casts his cynical eye on the massive cleanup in Thailand. Survivors are finding their feet if not their voice, and life goes on. But not for thousands. Reminiscing on how small spur-of-the-moment decisions have made a huge difference between life and death, Simmons writes, “(T)he line between us is imperceptibly, arbitrarily, unpredictably small.”