gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The mobile phone business is pretty big over here, with all the little stores popping up and selling all sorts of phone accessories and other little things. As part of this huge wave, there is actually quite an amount of money to be made selling ringtones and wallpapers as well, to the point where, over here where I'm based, I see newspaper advertisements selling ringtones and wallpapers every single day. In fact, the companies doing this business can take out eight to ten whole pages to advertise their wares. They'd take out more, were it not for the fact that they also have competition from 1-900 phonechat services and football betting news agencies. Oh, and the regular advertisements for products and services unrelated to mobile phones.

So anyway, these mobile phone wallpaper sellers often put up a sampling of the latest nice wallpapers they have, which usually feature funny-looking logos and designs, as well as pictures of various Japanese anime characters. (By the way, anime is pronounced ah-nee-may, not ann-nee-may as I have heard recently, but then I suppose the persons in question don't actually know that much Japanese.) For those who want something a little more real-life stuff, they also have shots of pop stars and bikini models (usually female, so I guess they're working the men's market most of the time). There is nothing too odd about this in itself, since there is something about us that makes us like looking at pop stars and bikini models, more than we would average people and pet dogs.

The funny thing I saw in the papers today is how some of these wallpaper samples have been completely blacked out, with a little word telling us the reason for this. That little word, as you can guess, is 'censored'. Let's admit this, censorship is all around, and women don't usually go around flashing their breasts or giving titillating peek-a-boos, so there is nothing particularly out-of-place to censoring images out of public view. More pertinently, the wonders of Photoshop and other similar imaging software are such that it is possible to crop a picture in such a way that nipple-flashes go completely out of view. Indeed, the golden rule about a woman showing her breasts is that as long as the nipple is not seen, it generally survives the censor's scissorhands. All of this explains why it is possible to turn a pornographic (or artistic nude, take your pick) picture into a totally innocuous mobile phone wallpaper, with little more than the face, neck and cleavage coming into view.

I am not sure why the wallpapers that got censored got their treatment, given that I own an old mobile phone that is not exactly wallpaper-friendly (not that I care). The odds are I cannot see those pictures for myself on the Web, since the advertisement does not indicate any URL for me to view the pictures (and any other services they may have). But then, since I'm not exactly interested in this service, that should not be a problem.

What is amusing is that the censored images are still very much up for sale, since every image comes with a unique identification number which customers use to refer to the images they wish to purchase. Whoever censored off the images somehow left the associated numbers alone, so I could know, for example, that Image 123456 has been considered unfit for print but I can still buy the image anyway. I don't know about you, but there will be people out there who will feverishly want to purchase Image 123456 just to see what the fuss is all about, and if it is censored for a really good reason, like a boob-flash, it's going to make everyone somewhat hot. It's the whole thing about forbidden fruits and such, you see.

The incongruity of censoring off the image, yet leaving the number on, has me in stitches. One would have thought it more sensible if they just rejected the advertisement altogether and asked for a replacement copy that would not carry any offending images. In any event, peddling of nipple-flash images is illegal in these parts altogether. We don't sell things like Playboy magazines over here in black bags; we don't sell them at all, period. So if a mobile phone company is selling images that could be censored off the newspapers, those images would probably run afoul of the law anyway. What, then, is the company doing exposing itself (pardon the pun) to the possibility of police action and forcible closure? Not exactly the way to keep your business alive and running, I should think!

Oh, news has filtered through that United beat Liverpool at Anfield. Very nice! I'll have to look at the newspaper reports in the morning.

gambitch [ 11:06 PM]

Friday, January 14, 2005

I think it's absolutely stupid that, more than a few weeks after James Wong has died, I have heard absolutely no news of anyone producing a memorial album of the songs he wrote. That, in my mind, is one of the most ridiculous things. Anita Mui dies and there's a memorial album for her. Leslie Cheung dies and it's the same treatment. Why not James Wong? Mind you, I have nothing but respect for Anita and Leslie, but it just isn't right that nobody's done anything similar for Uncle Jim.

Or maybe, they did produce something, just that it is only available in Hong Kong. Which is rather daft, all the same.

Speaking of memorial CDs, a bunch of artistes who can't really sing and a few musicians who perhaps can are releasing some kind of special album to help raise money for donations to tsunami-hit countries in Southeast Asia. Nice and sweet as the idea is, I personally think it's a total waste of good, proper plastic (and whatever else goes into producing a CD). People are going to buy it, put it on the shelf for a few months, and then sell them on to second-hand CD shops who will probably never get rid of the CDs thereafter. What a waste of money; they could have just directly donated the equivalent of their production costs instead.

There are all sorts of nice CDs you can find out there in second-hand CD shops. On the other hand, there is also the junk that practically no one will buy. Once a friend had taken me to this shop that sold all sorts of second-hand goods, including CDs. He was the scrimp and save type, and so am I, mostly (although I have not bought all that many second-hand CDs). While helping my friend search around for a couple of CDs, I saw this entire drawer full of nothing but CDs from the movie Titanic - yes, the one starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo the Ambivalent Face. I was initially surprised to see that many copies of the soundtrack CD, but on second thoughts I should not have been. The whole world was clamouring to hear that Celine Dion song, but didn't have much difficulty getting sick of it soon after. Hence the massive dump.

Once again, what a waste of money...

gambitch [ 10:40 PM]

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A brief word of salute to Jamie Furniss, world champion turned tsunami relief volunteer.

Here's a news article from Canada's Globe and Mail.

I have never met this man, but I think he has shown extraordinary heart by volunteering on this job and skipping a month - possibly a whole semester as a consequence - of school. Most of us would have just quietly gone home because we don't want to waste the fees we've already paid. But then, most of us are like that.

gambitch [ 11:48 PM]

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

In the past few days, this humble blog has been getting hits from search engines looking for nude pictures of contestants in The Amazing Race. Unfortunately for whoever was searching (a few of those searches originate from the US), I don't actually have any photographs on this blog.

In any event, I would not think that these people would have much luck anyway. The only person who I think would have nude pictures anywhere on the web would be Victoria, who is a former Playboy Playmate. Having said that, she hasn't exactly aged gracefully, so that may explain why so far no searches for Victoria's pictures have turned up my site. Mostly people have been looking for Hayden, Kris and Kendra. Tough luck, boys!

gambitch [ 6:27 PM]

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

In our latest edition of What Have You Read Online Lately?, I would like to present two websites.

The Christian Coalition

Articles on the Religious Right

If you're the religious type, be warned - this doesn't make the most comfortable reading...

gambitch [ 8:32 AM]

Monday, January 10, 2005

I'm feeling some kind of ache in my arm/shoulder-blade area for reasons I do not quite understand. What I do know is that it hurts rather unpleasantly even when I do not move it much. It is not debilitating, but it is uncomfortable. Fortunately, it's my non-writing arm so I don't have to grit my teeth while taking shorthand.

I made a trip out this evening to catch some football, and for some reason I ended up talking to this American man who got hit on by hookers when all he wanted was a quiet beer and some American football on TV. He and I had a long discussion about prostitution in its various forms across the world, which, as informative discussions always are, was extremely interesting for both parties. Having never stepped on American soil, it was amusing to learn that prostitution was officially illegal over there, although they have things like topless bars and lapdancers, which is a totally different form of prostitution. The meaningful difference was that the girls over there don't ask customers to take them to a hotel, unlike the people who tried to hook him while he had his beer.

The American man (we didn't exchange names) looked like he was about 50, with greying hair but a healthy disposition, and it would appear he was actually quite well-travelled. He had been to Tokyo, and he was rather amused by the Japanese fascination over karaoke (which actually is a greater Pacific Asian fascination, although I don't know about the situation in some parts of the region). Even something seemingly healthy as karaoke had its own tie-ins with "working girls", in the form of social escorts who accompanied customers and tried to get them to buy massive amounts of alcohol. Asians will recognize this as a variation of the nightclub, another sex-related export of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Whatever it is, it can be very amusing just how businesses try to sneak a little bit of blatant sexiness in. The sex industry just doesn't die anywhere.

Let me categorically state, at this point, that I am in no way whatsoever an expert on prostitution and the sex industry. I have never bedded a prostitute before. Heck, I have never even checked out a brothel or go-go bar before. To quote one of the nuns in Sister Act 2, though, "you don't have to bite the donut to know it's sweet". In any case, I take it as some kind of personal mission to understand the world around me better. It's a matter of personal interest to learn more about the society I am in, not because I'm a social scientist by training (I'm not), but because I think knowing the world around us is up there somewhere in our personal priorities, whether it be in "the profession" or in life in general.

Why the big obsession, you might ask. I just think that understanding the world puts lots of things into perspective and helps us see through all sorts of initially confounding phenomena. When we understand our world better, it helps us to appreciate the differences as well as similarities shared by different races and communities. One big difference about Kris and Kendra on The Amazing Race (yes, it's a bit of a shameless plug, but anyway) is that Kris is immensely appreciative and happy to embrace the different cultures she sees on her travels, while Kendra is just a very pampered princess locked up in her vacuum tower, unwilling to learn about and empathize with what the rest of the world is like. The whole Ugly American speech Kris gave in one of the interviews describes people like Kendra really well, the people who don't have the compassion and don't like to look at other people and races as equals in opportunity, if unequal in fortunes. We all know who we like better.

It's also awfully difficult to be convincing in the creative arts industry when the writing reflects a lack of understanding of what the real world is like. I'm not talking about the likes of Tolkien and Rowling, of course; Middle Earth and Hogwarts exist in an altogether different dimension and don't have to follow Terran rules as we know them. But it would be awfully out of place to write something about Las Vegas and show nothing near some proper understanding of what casinos look like and how big performances by singers and dancers appear or sound like. It would be terribly wrong if a description of a baseball game sounds more like people are playing cricket. You can't talk about the world with anything approximating street cred if you sound like you're reading off a human geography textbook.

That's all I have to say about that (c.f. Forrest Gump).

Oh, the game? Arsenal beat Stoke City 2-1. Er, woo hoo?

gambitch [ 1:38 AM]

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Palestine enters the weekend readying itself to elect the man who would succeed Arafat and, perhaps, succeed where Arafat has failed. In name it's a six-way race or thereabouts, but there can be little doubt that the man to be handed the job will be Mahmoud Abbas. Opinion polls reflect a 40-point lead for Mr Abbas over his closest opponent, and even though opinion polls aren't the most reliable thing (just ask John Kerry), it is hard to imagine anyone else pulling a surprise win.

In that respect, the election would just be a formality, more than it was for Afghanistan, and more than it probably will be in Iraq (on schedule or otherwise). Yet, ignoring the outcome, this election will also take on a powerful symbolic meaning for all Palestinians as they continue in realizing their ideological struggle for nationhood. For this will be, as far as my limited memory can tell, the first election process in Palestine, or at least post-Israel Palestine. Pre-Israel Palestine I will admit I know next to nothing about, except that as recent as the tail end of the 19th Century, it was part of the Ottoman Empire, which isn't a place known for the ballot box process. George W Bush may rave on and on about how important and historic it was that Afghanistan held its first elections last year, but if "ballot box democracy" was such a big deal for a country that pretty much existed and minded its own business for the past half-century if not longer, then it is a much greater deal for a people who aren't even a proper country yet, just an ideological blob and a couple of sandboxes surrounded by barricaded walls and Israeli security forces. And not so much because voting is supposed to represent the introduction of democracy, but more importantly, because voting gives a massive sense of being one step closer to nationhood.

Nationhood, lest we all forget, is the current dream of all Palestinians, who had already once lost their homeland following the dark events of the 1940s. All they've struggled and fought for in the past half-century has been the reformation of their motherland. This election for their new spiritual leader, regardless of outcome, would bring Palestinians together and unite them in their belief that they are gingerly stumbling to their objective, in a way far more powerful than a quiet huddle-up in Ramallah among Fatah cadres ever would. And that is simply because elections are what whole nations of people, with at least some kind of physical stability, do, and that says plenty about how far the Palestinians have gone since Arafat and the PLO came into existence. That, Mr Bush, is more pregnant with meaning than the Afghan process that merely rubberstamps Hamid Karzai's authority in Kabul.

(Side-note: I actually forgot for quite a moment the name of Afghanistan's capital city and had to look up an encyclopaedia. A clear sign that gambitch's memory is already fading...)

On a slightly different take, this is also the first election since Arafat. Saying that sounds dumb, perhaps, when I already mentioned that this was probably the first election anyway. However, the fact that Arafat is no longer around gives a different meaning to this election as well. Optimists will doubtless want to hail this as the dawn of a new age for Palestine now that "the troublesome old man's gone for good". But if you're a pessimist - and I've cause to be one - then Mr Abbas could find himself stepping into the Last Chance Saloon, with the whole of Palestine joining him.

Commentary and opinion pieces in the international press have been close to unanimous in saying that winning the election is just the easy part for Mr Abbas. Pieces like this one from Pakistan (of all places, then again it could have been Israel) outline the problems that Abbas would face to get the country anywhere near up and running. Disregarding internal problems like getting them power and water, and building some semblance of an industry (yes I know this sounds very SimCity), Mr Abbas has the additional unpleasant task of dealing with the fact that he's running a country that has been at some kind of war with Israel. That just adds an incredible amount of work doing the diplomacy and negotiations. At least Karzai doesn't have to worry about Pakistan or the ex-Soviet bloc in Central Asia sending unfriendly soldiers across the border.

So why is this a Last Chance Saloon thing for Palestine? Mostly because, as much as the likes of Abbas and Shimon Peres would like to see peace in the form of coexistence between the Jews and the Palestinians, there are those on both sides of the border who are not nearly as accommodating or moderate. Ariel Sharon isn't exactly what most of us would consider to be in favour of having a Palestinian state, and if his plans to ally Likud with Labour are anything to go by, there are those within his Likud party who feel even stronger about that issue than he does (that this is at all possible raises more than a few eyebrows). Then of course we have Hamas, who are no less fundamentalist or extremist following the fairly recent assassination of their spiritual father by the Israelis (exactly the kind of act that will further steel their resolve to exterminate all the Israelis, armed or unarmed). While Abbas will doubtless want to pursue the pacifist route, it is something he has already tried before, and the results on that occasion were not at all inspiring.

Where does Arafat come in? That depends on which side of the border you're on. For many Palestinians, in spite of all of Arafat's failings he is a spiritual leader with a personal charisma nobody in all of Palestine today can match. Mahmoud Abbas is himself partly a product of American and Israeli hype, and there will be those among the Palestinians who eye him with some kind of contempt. Arafat fought the war for much of his life, and stormed the battlements to get Palestine to where it is today - no mean feat by any standards. He is a man whose credentials dwarf everyone else because, for most Palestinians if not all of them, Arafat was and still is the founding father. History tells us that regimes built around the personal charisma of one man can collapse quite quickly following that man's death, and unless Abbas is able to bring home some quick and very significant results, the Palestinians will find their patience wearing thin very quickly.

As for Israel, Sharon and his biggest backer of the moment, George W Bush, have long reiterated that Arafat was the greatest stumbling block to the Middle East peace process. They have waited quite a few years for the old man to go away, and they must be terribly pleased that their wait was shorter than they feared. Not that this is supposed to suggest assassination by poisoning on Mossad's part, though; I am just saying that waiting for Arafat to die while you cannot do much more than twiddle your thumbs is not the most enjoyable thing to do. So we have evidence that suggests Arafat was, in his last years, a power-grabbing nepotist who thought it more important to secure his Ramallah bunker than to shut Hamas up and disarm the suicide bombers. That is a great negative image to play to, a man who Sharon and Bush can conveniently blame (and in the case of Bush, he gets so much practice with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden he almost has it down to an art). But he's dead now, so they will need a new excuse.

Having built Mahmoud Abbas up to be the great person and near-perfect negotiating party we are supposed to think he is, Bush and Sharon now have what is essentially one shot at making things work. Another failure and this time it will be hard to claim it is Arafat's fault, because Arafat isn't alive anymore. If they don't get the roadmap, or any other peace plan, to bear positive results, then the Israeli hawks will start having both the West Bank and Gaza Strip in their sights, and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups will start approaching border guards with bombs strapped to their waists. If and when such a day comes, the bloodbath will be worse than just about everything we have seen before.

Unfortunately, the Israel-Palestine conflict is one of those intractable problems that will only solve itself when the Israelis and Palestinians actually manage to exterminate each other. Every roadmap to peace that has ever been drawn never really succeeds in dealing with the problems in a way that will produce a resolution for both parties. The Oslo accord was probably the closest in terms of laying down practical requirements, while Camp David with Bill Clinton was, as with many Bill Clinton tricks, a feel-good fiesta. (Not that I'm slamming Clinton, because he did pull some great economic results for the US overall, but it is hard to deny that there is something feel-good about the man's period in office that we do not see in the GWB years.)

Israel and Palestine are two-thirds of the three-way religion problem surrounding Jerusalem (the Christians being the final party). As long as both the Jews and the Palestinians, for religious reasons, cling on to the concept that Jerusalem is their holy land and that they therefore have a religious responsibility to ensure they had sole possession of the land to ensure some kind of integrity, there is no way we will see a lasting peace based on happy coexistance. I am not sure if the Christians have already given up their interest in physically holding Jerusalem (Christian readers of this blog, please inform us all on your religion's current position.), but two parties tugging for sole control of the city when there's only one city just does not work out.

And people wonder why I still have not embraced any religion. The Jerusalem problem is one strong reason why. I know it is told somewhere that Christian and Muslim stories share a great deal of overlap, like how Abraham (Christianity) and Ibrahim (Islam) are probably references to the same person in biblical/Quran lore. Having not touched a single page of Jewish text like the Torah, I have next to no idea what is told in Jewish lore, but if it shares any number of similarities with the Bible and the Quran, then the tussle for Jerusalem is, quite simply, despairingly sad. When allegedly different religions that actually originate from the same root argue and fight (quite literally!) for dominion and the keys to the Holy City (holy to all three, mind you), it only serves to emphatically highlight mankind's natural desire to create in-groups and out-groups and play them against each other, rather than embrace our similarities and origins and give everyone some peace and quiet.

Violence does not court us. We court violence, with devastating results - most of the time that devastation is generously served on us.

gambitch [ 7:34 AM]


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