Gotta be standing for something

It can be hard dealing with pigheaded people. But someone stubbornly set on an opinion is still better than someone who’s wishy-washy. You have to stand for something and figure out what you’re for and what you’re against.

Sometimes what angers you is a good clue about what makes you feel alive. And I figured out that it riles me up when people make excuses for poor use of language in the public sphere.

Use all the bad grammar you want on your blog or at home, but I have no patience for people justifying it on government websites. Have some standards for pity’s sake, Malaysia.

I can haz new job?

It’s my first day sub-editing for The Malaysian Insider. The only real change is that instead of working in pyjamas from 8am to 6pm, I’m working (still in pyjamas) from 7am to 4pm or 4pm to 12am.

I wrote this blogpost last night but scheduled it for  9am today SO NO I R NOT SLACKING AND BLOGGING AT WORK REALLY REALLY.

Though am slightly sad didn’t work out the way we envisioned it, but I learned a lot about  managing a “proper” website. Lesson No.1: to make a lot of money with a site, you actually have to put in a lot of money and have sponsors lined up before even launching.

Am looking forward to subbing for TMI as the experience will be quite different from, say, my last stint subbing at Malaysiakini. Not going to talk badly about my previous employers as that is not classy. What I like about my current employers is that I can work from home, I don’t need to come into the office except for the odd meeting or to prove that it is me subbing and not my cat, Wally.

That means: being able to play loud music and dance like a crazy hyena in-between uploading stories. The blog will probably be continually updated about life as a sub-editor, tricky style guides and how to resist the temptation to illustrate political stories with random pictures of kittens.



Hello, 2012.

The first Monday of the year and I’m as happy as a lark. Just because.

Joy, after all, can be where you find it.

Dear HSBC: please support the arts

I heard that the local HSBC bank is pulling its arts funding. That is sad news for the industry, especially when it has and will always need all the support it can get.

Why is HSBC pulling the funding? Rumour has it that its CEO thinks funding the arts provides “no value”.

If this is true then I question said CEO’s “values”.

The arts is often shortchanged and seen as a poorer cousin of the sciences or the wealth creation monolith of finance and economics.

But there is value in the arts by what it gives in ways that cannot be quantified. If it were up to the bean counters, the aesthetics of buildings would never be taken into account when building them. We would go to work or live in grey buildings that all looked the same, give a floor or two because buildings would solely be created on functionality and cost-effectiveness.

HSBC is obviously too fixated on ROI.

“Funding the arts isn’t going to help us sell credit cards, loans or premier services.”

No, it probably won’t. There is no justification, monetary-wise to give money to the arts. Yet taking away arts funding isn’t going to help with the poor image banks and financial institutions have now thanks to the shaky global economy.

Banks take, and trade, on the needs of its customers. Using money held in trusts, banks routinely gamble on what they call “investments”, encouraging consumers to build debt so as to rake in hefty interest on said debt.

While people lose their homes or struggle to survive on credit, the top employees of banks like HSBC still make more money than the poorest of the poor will see in a lifetime.

So is it too much, HSBC, to ask that you give a little back to the community? Is it a lot to ask for what to you constitutes pennies to support creative expression and the things that make life better?

The sciences gives us tools, economics and finance gives us means, but the arts make life worth living.

Kevin Spacey makes a far more eloquent appeal in this video.

Writing – the basics

Due to my change in job circumstance (more on that next year), have been brushing up on my language skills. That includes reading a lot of house style guides including The Economist’s. Found this gem in the latter’s style guide introduction:

George Orwell’s six elementary rules (“Politics and the English Language”, 1946):

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print (see metaphors).
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do (see short words).3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see unnecessary words)

    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active (see grammar and syntax).

    5.  Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent (see jargon)

    6.  Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see iconoclasm).

Still holds true now.

I’m a bunny momma again!

So the significant other got me…a rabbit. Say Hi to Malone the Christmas bunny! He’ll be the sixth rabbit I’ve ever owned.

The good: he’s got personality and doesn’t bite.

The bad: he disapproves of his current feed. Finicky eater, this one.

Both my cats are far from thrilled but who knows? Maybe Malone might end up being a better playmate for Cat No.2 than ornery loner Cat No.1 is.

In defence of Superman

A depiction from the graphic novel Kingdom Come

A friend of mine said that Superman was boring. That he was, as a character, lifeless. Batman was more interesting, more flawed, more real. Even Spiderman was a better character. Superman was just…meh.

I probably should have bitchslapped him. But part of me was a little too overwhelmed to come up with a reply.

Taste, even in superheroes, is really subjective. Most of my friends are Marvel die-hards. But it never mattered to me what imprint was on my comic so long as I loved reading it. And I loved Superman.

While Batman was a millionaire playboy cum secret vigilante, unlike Batman’s Bruce Wayne, Superman’s ‘other’ identity as Clark Kent was no mere facade. This was a being like an angel out of the Scriptures, literally falling from the heavens, invulnerable and able to fly. But considering the average human being is easily swayed by the trappings of money and power, Superman was happy enough to have a steady job and the company of his loved ones.

His upbringing brings up the question of nature versus nurture: he could have chosen to reject humanity as a “lesser race”. Yet being raised by humble, decent folk, Clark Kent grew up a humble, decent man.

Superman, for me, personifies all those people who live for bigger things and bigger causes. Who sacrificed much to do good and make the world better in some small or big way. He lived to serve as do so many people today and for me that lack of selfishness, the compelling urge to just “help somebody” – that’s a superpower in itself.

This superhero didn’t need to learn the hard way, as Spiderman did, that great power comes with great responsibility. All Superman needed was a good heart. And that, I think, is a story worth telling too.

The following panel from the graphic novel Kingdom Come encapsulates everything I love about Superman.

“Of all the things you can do…all your powers…the greatest has always been your instinctive knowledge of right…and wrong. It was a gift of your own humanity. You never had to question your choices. In any situation…any crisis…you knew what to do.”

In The Hobbit, lies my hope

When the last LOTR film came out in 2003, I felt both joy and grief. For three years, December had meant a new Lord of the Rings film. The Return of the King, I knew would be the last and possibly best of the LOTR trilogy, and would mean an end to my looking forward to Peter Jackson bringing a world I loved so much to the screen.

Then The Hobbit film rights came up and Peter Jackson said that, no, he wouldn’t be directing it this time.

Hasn’t anyone told you to never say never, Pete?

When he eventually ended up helming the film, I wasn’t surprised. Why bother with a new director, really? I shudder at the thought of anyone else doing it. Jackson understood what so many other Hollywood directors didn’t about the franchise: that the material, really, doesn’t need much mucking with.

(I still haven’t quite forgiven him for what he did with Faramir’s character in the second film and for making the otherwise not-really-all-that-talented Orlando Bloom a star)

The Hobbit is at heart a children’s story. But without The Hobbit, the Lord of The Rings wouldn’t have started. As a “prequel” it has far more heart than the ridiculous Star Wars prequels put together.

I know Tolkien’s often criticised for being moralistic and pushing too much of his agenda into his books. But unlike C.S Lewis’ Narnia series, the overt proselytising doesn’t come across. Gandalf isn’t Jesus, even if he does come back to life after a great sacrifice.

What The Hobbit does try to put across is that even the littlest of people, in the biggest of worlds, can have an impact. Bilbo chose to show mercy to Gollum instead of killing him and in his own way, set the course for the future of Middle Earth.

It’s something that we often forget, in the daily run of our lives, that we can do things that matter in the long run for a bigger reason, for bigger causes than we are.

I expect the next two films to make the next two Decembers worth waiting for.