Powered by Blogger
all © alf

   Friday, February 28, 2003

Having lived in the UK for 3 yrs (and loved it) and the US for 3 mths (ambivalent feelings), I do feel, after coming home that we're neither the best nor the worst country in the world (ie both cynics and rah-rah optimists are probably off the mark). There are so many things I long for that I didn't know I could miss until I lived elsewhere for an extended period of time. Some, like the space, the weather, the landscape and history, can't really be helped but try fooling your heart with that. Others, like the culture, the whole cataract in the eye of our collective consciousness here regarding the rest of the world, disturb me deeply. I guess what I long for is the need to be relevant, to find a way, however flawed the soil, to make it grow. More and more I feel that the work I do here falls on barren ground, it doesn't take root when it clearly seems to sprout so much easier elsewhere. The flower of poetry for instance is a small bloom anywhere in the world but it's a weed here, really. Every trip overseas makes it worse. What do I miss about Singapore? Well the clean efficiency (mostly the relative dearth of smoker and process-the-customer ASAP attitude), the hawker food (ok cliche but true), the comfort of Singlish (which the govt is trying to stamp out) and -- most of all -- a place where you feel you have the birthright to bitch about the weather and the govt to taxi drivers because it's YOUR govt and YOUR weather dammit! :)

There are plenty of great people in the US, decent, informed types, many of whom are appalled at their government's actions. But that's just the thing, it's their government after all and in a country that claims to be the world's best expression of democracy, I felt there really ought to be some accountability; that they should take responsibility for the government they now have rather than just point fingers and hold parades. Otherwise might as well admit that their democratic system is as impotent or as much in need of reform as any of the "authoritarian regimes" they love to preach about.

What can they do? They could, for example, leave. If the US experienced the sort of outgoing brain drain they are causing in places like India, Africa and Asia, I'm sure we'd see an impact alright. Obviously no one is about to jump ship because their love for the American way of life outweighs their queasiness at the present administration's abuses. OR they sincerely believe that they can stay and make a difference. Do we look at absolute results or relative intent?

Of course easier said than done. Same can be said for us. I like to think that cynics are (or were) idealists at heart who hold this country and its culture to very high standards and why not indeed?

Power structures exist everywhere and operate along more or less the same lines: information arbitrage, selective accruement of benefit, reinforcing loops of habit, skill and attention. It then becomes a question of where you apply your force; where you can have leverage in doing what you choose to do.

posted by alf at 7:15 PM

A good example of firm, incisive newspaper commentary:
Zadie Smith, Wednesday February 26 2003, The Guardian

The utterly fallacious idea at the heart of the pro-war argument is that it is the duty of the anti-war argument to provide an alternative to war. The onus is on them to explain just cause. The case against is clear. To begin war on Iraq would be to launch a pre-emptive strike on a country we fear will attack us on a future unspecified date, in a future unknown manner, with weapons we have not been able to find. It would be to set the most remarkable international precedent. It would be in contravention of international law and the UN charter. It would be to consolidate a feeling of injustice in the Middle East, the consequences of which we will reap for generations. It would be, simply, illegal.

It is telling that where the pro-war discussion becomes most urgent, most passionate, is precisely where it is least tenable, that is, as a response to September 11. It cannot be simultaneously unconnected (as has been
admitted) and the engine of all action (as is endlessly inferred.) Again, it is for the pro-war contingent to clarify their position. We are told that we shall "sweep in and out of Iraq", "set up shop" there, and then proceed in "sorting out" the Middle East situation.

The reality is that we will be told by television that we "swept in", but, as in the first Gulf conflagration, there will be massive civilian casualties, unavoidable in a military attack on a nation where children make up more than 50% of the population. If we are committed to the idea that a civilian death in the west is of equal value to a civilian death in the east, then we proceed in Iraq as hypocrites and cowards - and the world knows it. This is what people mean when they say "Not in my Name" - it is not liberal tosh or soft-headed fantasy. It is a repudiation of the responsibility of that blood. It is the pro-war contingent who become fantastical when they imagine a quick or a "smart" war.

The anti-war contingent is accused of being without alternatives, which is rather like being told by a young thug: "I'm going to rob this house, and I'll be justified in doing so, unless you have a better idea as to how I can make a thousand quid in an hour." The lack of alternatives to an illegal action does not legitimise that action. "Why now? Why here?" are not idle questions, they are requests for explanations on why a pre-emptive, illegal war has become suddenly become more palatable than the diplomatic stalemate that preceded it. Rather than insane cowboy rhetoric, political fact is requested. The following questions were asked by Senator Byrd two weeks ago in the senate, a speech which made no appearance in any form in the American press. To whom are we handing power after Saddam Hussein? Will our war create chaos in the region and result in a horrific attack on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governmen! ts be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which, after all, has far closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?

I hope it is not considered anti-American to suggest that when significant questions like these go unreported anywhere in the American media, the pro-war contingent appears to need to add suppression of information to this extraordinary descent into illegal, irrational procedure. Why are the answers to Senator Byrd's questions being fudged? Why are the questions themselves not discussed in the American press? What exactly is going on here? Anti-war movements are often sentimental, muddle-headed and politically naive. This one merely requests an explanation.

posted by alf at 11:00 AM

   Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The problem with memoirs

Call it the "I remember the smell of Grandma's house" syndrome. Often the memories that are dearest to the writer are the least interesting to her readers. Colorful and melodramatic immigrant relatives with their funny curses ("May an onion grow out of her nose!" is a particularly choice one here) and the food they cooked and the stories they told and the sayings they said, are a dime a dozen in memoirs and are all more or less alike. - Salon

posted by alf at 11:59 AM

   Tuesday, February 25, 2003

"[The American] policy is, 'We'll take the risk that the reward of change is worth the risk of instability,' but Russians fear instability more than they want change," said Russia expert Tobi Gati, who served as a special assistant to President Clinton. "We take 9/11 as an affront -- 'How dare you disturb the natural order?' But the Russians take 9/11 as an affirmation of the natural order. World War I started and the Romanovs fell. Instability terrifies them."
posted by alf at 1:02 PM

   Saturday, February 22, 2003

The beauty of the organic, of analog, of biology: consistency without uniformity, balance without rigid symmetry, emergent purpose without premeditated control, fluid grace.
posted by alf at 10:56 AM

   Friday, February 21, 2003

"There are over 90 UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by countries other than Iraq. The United States has blocked the enforcement of the vast majority of these since they involve important U.S. allies such as Morocco, Israel, and Turkey. In addition, over the past thirty years, the United States has vetoed over 50 Security Council resolutions, more than all the vetoes by all other members of the Security Council during that same period combined. In all but a few cases, the United States cast the sole dissenting vote in the 15-member body. Indeed, the United States has done more to undermine the authority of the UN Security Council than any other member state. "

"Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter specify that UN Security Council resolutions cannot be enforced by military action unless the Security Council as a whole determines that the government in question is in material breach of the resolution, that all non-military means of enforcement have been exhausted, and then specifically authorizes the use of force. "

"The real substance of the Bush Doctrine is not preemption -- or we would have already attacked North Korea -- but expediency. The unstated Bush Doctrine is the same one that animated the Spanish-American War: You fight the war that is easy to win -- 15 minutes to 90 days -- which is why Bush, like McKinley, has made no call for national sacrifice. To do so would violate the conditions on which we are now prepared to go to war."


posted by alf at 2:08 PM

Oldie but goodie:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe; no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it's clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be; and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it's still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, 1927

posted by alf at 1:14 PM

   Thursday, February 20, 2003


Something that needed to get off my chest: I'm afraid the integrity and worth of the Young Artist of the Year Award (YAYA) has been compromised. The rules make it clear that an individual has to be nominated by a member of the public in order to be eligible for YAYA. But in recent years including this one there have been open solicitations for nominations (at least, in one particular field) by would-be YAYA receipients. At least two recent YAYA receipients had actively solicited -- and successfully received -- nominations and endorsements from well-placed individuals they know.

Click here to read on.

posted by alf at 3:07 PM


1. At heart, Poetry is non-fiction: or as Stevens puts it, the supreme fiction. It is driven by or aims to be driven by the truth or validity or plausibility or existence of a condition, situation, emotional state, line of reasoning, crisis, mood, tone, insight. The other elements of poetic form and structure are devides and props -- not that they are unnecessary or unimportant (for instance as an indication and exploitation of how the human mind thinks in metaphors). But their plausibility, factuality, chronology, originality or degree of artifice serve the poem's heart-truth rather than prettify or overtake it. In which case, poetry's honest intentions can be well served or badly served in a particular instance: the whole is a good or bad poem.

2. "Poetry is the human voice scored", said Li Young-Lee. A voice develops with use. Experimentation, practice, diversification, reading, experience: all serve to broaden and clarify the mind and the voice, adding to capabilities just as one practises singing the scales even if you never use the highest or lowest notes - it stretches and tones your vocal chords to serve all songs. Experimentation is sometimes publishable but publication isn't its purpose and value.

3. Publication denotes or connotes the deliberate broadcast of work in a particular state of its evolution (usually taken to be its final or "complete" state although in this age of rapid editing it may not be necessary to pin it down thus). Does it also imply a broad invitation to view and read the material (by the author or otherwise, intended or otherwise, setting issues of permission and copyright aside)? Certainly: a diary is not publication (at least not unless it becomes memoir or falls into the wrong hands). Nor is showing your work to a few friends before compiling a book. What about the average blog or online diary, where the potential for a mass audience exceeds that of a traditional book, yet there may be a certain reticience, even reluctance to advertise? I can only compare my view of it to ancient codes of hospitality: I am by no means inviting the world to my house; there isn't a party. But anyone who drops by, seeking solace perhaps, is welcome to stop, visit, rest, partake of what food, drink and healing there may be, and move on.

posted by alf at 9:29 AM

   Wednesday, February 19, 2003

IRAQ: A plausible conclusion: The scary thing is how this all makes sense. If democracy vs despotism can be measured as a ratio of the number of decision-makers to the population of those affected by decisions, then the US could be the greatest despotism in world history.
posted by alf at 9:20 PM

   Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Rumour has it that Apple is revamping the iPod with new features (at least a bigger hard disk).

Given Apple's investment in iPhoto / iMovie / iDVD / iCal and FireWire 800, and the iPod's positioning as a digital jukebox cum digi-wallet for files and personal info, it seems sensible for Apple to go the next step and make it a full-feature portable digital wallet and media hub. All they'd need would be a colour screen, the right interface(s) + firmware to download digital photos and videos from cameras on the road, and firmware to play/preview JPEGs, MOV and MPEGs. Think of it. You're on the road with a DigiCam / DV Cam / Microphone. You shoot your thang, zap it into your iPod, play your pics/vids/interview or bootleg concert mp3 on the spot (perhaps even with basic editing and certainly jog-scroll -zoom functions), then get home or to your hotel room and zap your load into your Mac for full featured editing.

I'd buy it on the spot : why bother with any other digital wallet like Mindstor when you can get a miniMac? Fingers crossed that the cool dudes at Apple are thinking same way.

Drool factor: 5 of 5 -- it may well make an Apple owner of just about anybody with a serious digicam/DVcam... and put Mindstor & co. out of business.

Reality check : 4 of 5 -- the technology's already there, it's just a question of implementation and product intent.

posted by alf at 7:16 PM

I've finally given up and done a blog in place of my "reflections". Everything that's just a tad bit more written up / thought through will turn up in the columns section of this site. The raw and uncooked will show here; this makes it a great place to park thoughts and ideas from anywhere at all, until I have time to process them.

The burning issues on my mind now? How much of my old writing to put up on the web (all, or just the good ones, which are the good ones etc.) And whether I am deferring my writing by doing all this housekeeping. I prefer to regard it as a sort of preparing the ground, tilling the soil before sowing.

Reading: The Dress Lodger, The Essential Rumi.

posted by alf at 5:43 PM