Saturday, December 27, 2008

Interesting Asian Restaurant Names

Now that all that kerfuffle with the US election is over, I return to one of my other main interests in life - chuckling at my Asian brothers and sisters. In a nice way of course.

Chinese restaurant names usually follow a certain predictable pattern: one adjective (golden, imperial, little, lucky, etc), followed by a noun (dragon, garden, palace, king, bamboo, etc). So you get names like Golden Buddha, Jade Palace, Bamboo Garden, yada yada. It's all pretty formulaic. Yet there are still some restaurant names out there that make you stop the car and think "Huh? What's that supposed to mean?"

Or alternatively, just a good old infantile Beavis & Butthead style "hehehe" at something that sounds slightly rude.

I love this. Not Nathan's. Just Nathan. As if it required no further explanation. I mean, if you call a restaurant Fong's, or Lim's, you can guess what sort of food it is. I'm not sure about Nathan though. Is this title a tribute to Nathan Road in Hong Kong? Or just some bloke named Nathan?

Turns out this place is actually called "Silky Swallow", which is quite a normal Chinese restaurant name (or alternatively, a good name for a pornographic movie). But their signwriter clearly wasn't having one of his better days. It was enough to make me stop the car and ponder that eternal question: "What is a Silky Wallow?"

Of course, finding Thai names that sound silly to the English speaker is like shooting fish in a barrel.

I wonder what cuts of meat this butcher specialises in?

(Oh,and I know this is a butcher, rather than a restaurant, so no need to point out my inconsistency, smartypants)

The salted plums here are like so good, they are like "Omigod!"

Clearly there were too many potential patrons who might mistakenly think that a place called "Rice Bar" serves nothing but rice. Glad they cleared up any confusion before it happened.

I'm told the food here is much nicer than you would expect from a place pronounced "Nausea's Kitchen".

These were all taken around Melbourne, in places that I happened to be passing. There are surely better ones out there. Please feel free to contribute more if you come across them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Santa Claus - profile of a sex offender

“He knows when you are sleeping…. He knows when you’re awake”

As Christmas draws closer and closer, ponder on this:

You are a parent of young children. You get word that there is a fat bearded stranger lurking around your neighbourhood giving out presents to children and encouraging them to sit on his lap. He has apparently been watching your children’s every move for the last year. One night soon, he plans to wait until everyone is asleep, then climb stealthily onto your roof and into your house through the chimney.

“Honey, get the f@#*ing shotgun!”

On a briefly serious note though, I do wonder if fairytales like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy may contribute to children’s susceptibility to falling prey to pedophiles. Someone should do a study on that.

Just pondering, that’s all.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Last week I played netball. Yeah, I said it. Mixed netball. Yes, it’s basically a girls’ sport. No, I didn’t have to wear a skirt. I was filling in for my friend Priya's team because they were one person down. I played half the game at centre and half at goal attack, and was equally underwhelming in both roles. The female centre on the other team totally outplayed me, I admit.

Does it make me any less of a man? I don’t think so.

If you didn’t know this, netball is pretty tough on the joints, since you need to be able to come to a dead stop once you run to catch the ball. And I came out of the game wincing at my throbbing left knee. Now, I play a lot of sport – soccer twice a week, basketball once a week, and coach badminton several times a week during school term. Knee problems? Nada. Yet it took barely 10 minutes of netball to give me a really worrying twinge – worrying because several of my friends have had knee reconstructions recently, and it doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. In the sports that I play, I’m pretty fast, but if you take speed out of my game, I’m a bit of a hack, really. So a damaged knee would remove much of the enjoyment from my week’s activities.

So I’ve decided never to play netball again. My knees and ankles are too valuable to jeopardise by playing something I’m not totally passionate about. That’s right, I’m retiring from a girl’s sport because it is too physically demanding for me.

Does that make me less of a man? I’ll have to think about that one.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kanye's new song: sh*t or not?

I figure I have a clue or two about good music. In fact one of my few redeeming qualities in life is my good taste in music. But musical quality is one of those things in life that are completely subjective. There is no empirical scientific theory that definitively proves that Mozart is superior to Britney Spears, or that Aretha Franklin is better than Crazy Frog.

Thus you get some songs that divide opinion, and Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" is one of those. Scan around the internet, and you'll find folks describing it as an innovative fusion of techno and R&B, as being daring, cutting edge, blablabla. I read someone saying he would play this to his girl in order to assist in getting her into bed. Or on the flipside, other folks refer to it as crap and unbearable. Personally I think its just about the whackest thing I have ever had the misfortune to hear. If this actually did help get someone into my bed, I think I would refuse to sleep with them just on principle. Unless of course they were saying, "Come on, let's shag, anything so I don't have to listen to this pile of steaming faeces."

Kanye has many good qualities, but singing is hardly one of them. His gratuitous use of auto-tune throughout the entire song is meant to be different and groundbreaking. Which it is, but only in the sense that conventional music is meant to sound good, and 'Ye breaks new ground in producing something truly awful. The first time I heard this on the radio, I felt embarassed for Kanye, in the same way that I felt embarassed for a girl in my grade 4 school concert who pissed her pants on stage. But I figure her pants-pissing had more artistic merit than Love Lockdown. Anyway, I have attempted to listen to it twice more on youtube, just in case I had been overly hasty in my dismissal of it. Unfortunately, I was unable to get through the whole song on either occasion without having the urge to blow my brains out.

Kanye has fallen off in a big way. He has been one of the best and most-imitated producers in hip-hop, and while never a great rapper, he has had his moments. His debut album The College Dropout is a true classic. His production work with Common, Jay Z, Talib Kweli, Alicia Keys and others has produced some magnificent tracks. But after that first album, his solo work has got progressively more “meh”, culminating in the totally, ass-sucking Love Lockdown.

Or could I be wrong? Am I past it, having no idea of what constitutes good music in this day and age? Am I a "hater"? (Hater being hip-hop parlance for anyone who is not totally on an artist' s jock.)
Maybe. You’ll have to judge for yourself.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Republicans have become "the stupid party"

Interesting and spot-on article in "The Economist" this week about the direction the US Republican party has taken. Author Lexington claims, quite rightly too, that the party has allowed itself to be dominated by the backward-looking rednecks in its midst.

"Many conservatives—particularly lower-income ones—are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honour."

You can read more about it here

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working with refugee kids

I had one of those weird double-take moments today.

I was at the Noble Park English Language School today, where newly arrived migrant kids learn a bit of English before being absorbed by mainstream schools. I was presenting a workshop on manhood and ways of avoiding conflict to a group of boys in their mid-to-late teens. Mostly Afghani, with a few Sri Lankan Tamils, Burmese and assorted others.

A great bunch of guys. But it was one particular fellow, a 16-year old Afghani boy who would have been in Australia for no more than 6 months, who spoke his English with a pretty heavy accent, who caused me extreme double-take. This guy was using words and concepts that I have never heard out of the mouth of an Australian teenager (Australian teenagers are often too busy dropping the f-bomb).

My first question: “It’s good for a man to cry. Do you agree or disagree?”
The group was divided mostly in favour of agree, but my young friend summed it up thusly: “It’s a good cartharsis for you.”

What the…? Cartharsis? Who says that? Certainly not teenage refugees from a country where the previous rulers were so backward they passed a law requiring all men to have beards. But it just got better.

I posed another question to the group: “What might happen if you hit someone, and the police come after you?”

Afghani-genius-boy replied: “They will find a panacea for you.”


Now I ain’t too proud to admit that that’s not a word that I drop casually into conversation, because I only vaguely know what it means. I had to ask him what he meant, because I was sure he couldn’t have actually used that word.

But my man just kept droppin’ knowledge. He then started quoting Shakespeare in order to bolster his argument. Yeah, Shakespeare. I don’t know anyone who quotes Shakespeare. And I don’t think he realised that no-one else among his classmates seemed to know what he was talking about. I can’t remember what the Shakespearean passage was, because I’m basically not smart or cultured enough to know any Shakespeare. Yet here was a teenager attending English language classes who was schooling me on English language and high culture, not to mention the topic which I was presenting as a so-called expert.

I’d met the Afghani Confucius, and he was all of 16.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Palin thought Africa was a country

Yep, apparently defeated US Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country, rather than a continent. I honestly don't know if this is really true or whether its based on a slip of the tongue that someone took out of context, but it's pretty funny either way. And honestly, I'm not surprised. America's religious right keep offering up these politicians to the world, based on the idea that its okay to be an ignorant fool so long as you have the right ideology. Fortunately, most Americans decided that the real George W Bush was bad enough, so they didnt need to hire the female version.

But before you laugh at Palin (and why else did God create ignorant hicks if not for the rest of us to laugh at them), ask yourself this: How many countries in Africa can you name? (There are approximately 53 of them.) How many African heads of state can you name?

Granted, you probably knew that Africa was a continent rather than a country. But try answering these 3 questions without resorting to google or wikipedia.

1) Other than English, what is the most spoken language in Zimbabwe?
2) Julius Nyerere was the first president of which country?
3) Which is the only country in Africa that was never colonised by a European power?

Now let me say that those should not be difficult questions to answer. If you couldn't answer them, maybe you shouldn't be laughing too hard at Ms Palin. See, I have noticed that a great many otherwise educated and intelligent people basically know jack about Africa, and indeed, treat it as if it is one big country. I have a number of African friends and this is the thing that seems to piss them off more than anything else. Asking a question like "Do you speak African?" is almost guaranteed to make them hate you.

It's interesting that Africa is seen as monolithic by many. It contains more countries than any other continent. It's people are more genetically diverse than in any other continent. Consider a Somali, a Dinka from South Sudan, a San (Bushman) from the Kalahari, a Moroccan Berber, an Egyptian Arab, a Congolese pygmy, a Merina from Madagascar (with Indonesian/East African genes) and a Kikuyu from Kenya. All look very different and are culturally very different from each other. Yet a shameful amount of people seem to see Africans as pretty much all the same. And while I don't like to throw the word racism around willy-nilly, it's hard to argue that racism is not an underlying reason for this ignorance.

An example of how this manifests itself, from about Congolese NBA basketballer Dikembe Mutombo: "Mutombo is fluent in 9 languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and 5 African dialects." This is pretty much a standard description of Mutombo's linguistic talents, and it pisses me off on 2 points. Firstly, why not bother to mention by name any of the 5 African languages? Secondly, the use of the term dialects (meaning a variant within a language) implies that they are not as distinct from each other as European languages are, thus carrying this assumptive subtext that Africans are pretty much all the same. Imagine it mentioning the 9 languages and describing English and Spanish as European dialects.

Since I am a community worker, I often deal with migrant communities and discuss them with others. 9 out of 10 times if I mention Eritrea, for example, the next question I hear is "Where's that?" or "Eri-what?"
And when I have often extolled the virtues of Melbourne's delicious Ethiopian restaurants to people, I can't tell you the number of times I have heard "Ethiopia? Gee, I didn't realise they had food." If you have ever uttered that (and this does include several friends of mine), allow me to snort contemptuously at you.

So come on people, ignorance may be bliss, but it ain't a good look. Learn a little something about the world around you.

Oh, and by the way, the answers to the questions I posed earlier are: (1) Shona; (2) Tanzania; and (3) Ethiopia. But you knew that, right?

Bali Bombers executed

This morning, on the prison island of Nusakambangan, convicted terrorists Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra were executed by firing squad. Convicted 5 years ago of the 2002 Bali bomb blast which killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, their death will hopefully bring some measure of peace for the families of their many victims.

I am generally opposed to the death penalty, but if anyone deserves such an extreme punishment it is these f*$#ers, and no one should shed any tears on their behalf. What puzzles me is that their spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir is still walking around preaching hatred. Most recently he's been declaring the three terrorists as heroes and martyrs, and urged others to follow in their footsteps to fight for Islam. His followers have vowed revenge for the execution, denouncing it as "murder" (as opposed to the murder of 202 innocent civilians, which is "heroism"). You may recall Bashir not so long ago exhorting his followers not to tolerate non-Muslims, and to beat them up if they see them.

I can't quite work out whether Bashir is insane or just evil or both (probably both). The radical cleric has claimed that the bombing was actually carried out by the CIA (in order to create a pretense for the oppression of Islam); this is despite Amrozi and friends proudly admitting to doing it themselves. I'm not sure what crazy parallel universe he and his flock inhabit, but does he really expect that people who admit to mass murder (including that of the innocent local Muslims killed in the blast) should just be let off with a pat on the back?

The thing I just can't figure out is that after so many recorded incitements to violence, Bashir is free to keep on doing it. Indonesia is a shady society which has a long history of anti-government figures getting locked up on trumped-up charges, turning up dead or simply disappearing. When you consider that, it is indeed surprising that Southeast Asia's answer to Osama bin Laden is still a free man. As much as Western governments have attempted to influence Indonesia to get him locked up, it is really Muslim communities and governments around the world who should be shouting the loudest on this. After all, the greatest enemies of Islam are not the "Great Satan" (America), or Danish cartoonists, but the radical hatemongers like Bashir who are doing their best to convince the rest of the world that Muslims are all crazy terrorists, and thus do more than anyone to contribute to Islamophobia everywhere.

Left: Extremist imam and perennial beauty pageant winner Abu Bakar Bashir.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama-love in Asia

Don't everybody just love 'em some Obama? Mostly, hopefully, this love is based on policies and character, but sometimes it's more about the fact that he's one of us. So obviously they are partying hard down in Harlem, Chicago and Nairobi to celebrate the election results, but Obama qualifies as "one of us" in a couple of other happy places too.

Case in point: the fishing village of Obama in Japan, which has embraced wholeheartedly the man who bears its name. Festivities (left) include a dancing troupe of "Hula Girls", in honour of Obama's Hawaiian birthplace. You can read about that here.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, students at the SDN Menteng 01 school are in similar raptures. The young Barry Obama, as he was then known, studied at the school in Menteng, Central Jakarta, where he is now commonly known as "Anak Menteng" (The Menteng Kid). They've been allocating 15 minutes every day to pray for an Obama victory, and clearly it has paid off. Students at the primary school (pictured below) are inspired to shout, sing and in one girl's case, pick her nose, by the electoral results. You can read about that here.

(I feel bad for this girl having her photo taken while seemingly in the midst of an excavation, but damn, there's just something so Indonesian about that)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

President Obama

The new most powerful man in the world is a 47-year old brown-skinned man born in Hawaii to a white American mother and a Kenyan Luo father, raised in Indonesia, a devout Christian member of a controversial black church, who 1/6 of Americans appear to think is a Muslim or an Arab, and who goes by the unusual-for-a-US-President name of Barack Hussein Obama.

This is a realisation that scares the bejeezus out of some people. There is a significant proportion of the American populace for whom President Obama is their worst nightmare come true. He's not white. He's sorta foreign. He offers to try to negotiate with hostile nations rather than just constantly threaten violence against them. He hopes for a more equal society. Yikes, head for the hills!

Yet, in the world outside the USA, support for Obama is overwhelming. Apparently Australians favoured Obama over McCain 4 to 1. And why? Because for all our imperfections, us global citizens can spot class and character when we see them. And we don't quite get the bizarre combination of bibles and guns, pro-life and pro-war, rampant capitalism and conservative family values that characterises the Right of American politics. It is hard to imagine any country other than the US voting in George W Bush once, let alone TWICE! Yet Obama is the leader so many nations would love to have - broad-minded, intelligent, charismatic, inspiring and seemingly benevolent. And he represents the new face of Western civilisation for the 21st century - a multicultural face with an eye of the global community; in contrast to the 80% of US congressmen and women who apparently do not have passports.

Obama's election also represents something great - the triumph of hope and positivity over fear and ugly politricks. The main thrust of the Democrats campaign was in looking toward the future; the Republicans focused on whipping up the old anxieties and xenophobia of the past. For all the ridiculous smears thrown Obama's way by the Right - he's a communist, he's a Muslim, he's an Arab, he wants to kill babies, and so on - he remained calm and poised, as if he was above engaging in this game of gutter politics. And the majority who cast their ballot in Obama's favour were also sending the message that they are better than that. This election asked a big question of the American public - can they rise above a history of racism, warmongering, and blindness in the guise of patriotism? Their answer: "Yes we can."

Oh and one more thing: How good was Obama's acceptance speech? All wannabe public speakers should spend some time in the black churches for inspiration.

Oh and yet another thing: Kudos to McCain for a gracious and honourable concession speech. Showed a level of class that was often lacking in the Republican campaign. Had he shown it earlier, things could have been different.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What went on on this ship?

Can't speak for anybody else, but this is the kind of thing I find funny. I took this photo in Kuala Lumpur a few months ago but forgot I had it. Anyway, it's a scale model of a historical ship. Nice work.

But with closer inspection, the ship's name amused me somewhat...

Soundtrack: The Village People, "In the Navy"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

McCain - "I hate the gooks"

I stated in an earlier post about race in the US Presidential campaign that although the Right was guilty of fomenting anti-black, anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner sentiments, I did not believe John McCain himself was racist. He has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter, for example.
Well, I stand corrected. McCain apparently commented to a reporter on the campaign trail in 2000 that "I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." You can read more about that here.

I know McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and suffered torture at their hands, but really, if that quote is correct, is this the sort of attitude we want from a leader of the free world?

Blasphemy? Jeez, take a chill pill.

In "for f#@*'s sake" news this week, several cases of alleged blasphemy against Islam are causing headlines around the world.

First, Sony has delayed the release of its much anticipated new video game "Little Big Planet", in order to remove a piece of background music that some deemed to be offensive to Muslims. The music in question is Malian kora player Toumani Diabate's song "Tapha Niang", which includes a sung quote from the Qur'an.
A Muslim gamer playing an an advance copy of the game alerted the company to this and asked that it be removed. Some Muslims consider that the sacred texts of the Qu'ran should never be combined with music. Wishing to avoid controversy and surely thinking of their bottom line, Sony duly had the piece of music removed.
Now I have little interest in gaming so probably shouldnt care at all about this, but this whole issue is just a load of crap. I'm all for allowing for ethnic and religious sensitivities to a point, but it's got to stop somewhere. People are waaaayyyy too sensitive about stuff these days, religious people in particular, and plenty of Muslims seem to portray themselves as the most easily offended people on earth.
I would understand the consternation if it were a song cursing out the Prophet Muhammad's mother or something, but I mean, c'mon people, think about it. Referencing a couple of passages from the Qur'an to some beautiful West African music - that sounds more like a good advertisement for Islam, rather than an affront to it, in the same way that black gospel music is a great marketing tool for Christianity. Diabate himself is a devout Muslim who says that far from being blasphemous, his song celebrates Islam. I'm with him.

You can click below to listen to the song. If you are so fragile of sensibility that you going to get offended, DON'T LISTEN TO IT!

I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of Muslims could not give a damn about the musical background of the game. On the other side are those people who just love to get offended about things, and who seize on the most unimportant details and work themselves into a lather of indignation. This is hardly restricted to Muslims; others can see sexism, racism and indefinite other kinds of -isms in places where they don't exist. Some things in life are genuinely offensive, and it's valid to place restrictions on them. But some among us just need slightly thicker skin and a sense of humour. There is a certain point where if you are offended by something, that's kinda your problem.

But the Sony case is a minor thing really. In Afghanistan this week we saw a much more serious example of the ridiculousness of religious insensitivity and the concept of blasphemy.

In the Christian world, the idea of blasphemy has become antiquated and almost irrelevant, which is how it should be, really. There are few of us who don't exclaim, "Damn", "Jesus", or "Bloody hell" now and then. (It's hard to imagine sex without anyone ever saying "Oh my God!") No one really cares about these utterances. In the hardcore Islamic mindset, however, blasphemy is punishable by death.

So within a week we have seen British aid worker Gayle Williams murdered in Kabul by two gunmen, with a Taliban spokesman justifying the action because she worked for an agency he alleged to be preaching Christianity in Afghanistan; meanwhile 23-year-old Afghan journalism student Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for questioning Islam's attitudes towards women, first in his university class and then in an internet article. He had previously been sentenced to death.

Any condemnation I can give would hardly be sufficient in either of these cases. All I shall say is that there is no "Christian" nation today I am aware of that stops Muslims practising or proselytising. And as for Islam's treatment of women being somewhat less than enlightened, that’s about as shocking as saying Tiger Woods is rather good at golf.

I’ve always taught the teenage boys I work with that a sign of a mature man is the ability to rise up what provokes you, and the self-confidence to accept difference rather than always being threatened by it. The faith of Islamic radicals instead comes across as a school bully or abusive spouse, beating up on anyone who dares step an inch out of line, to cover up a deep insecurity about its place in this changing world.

All religions have their medieval elements that need to be discarded, but Islam in particular has struggled with the transition to the challenges of modernity when compared to some other faiths. My big problem with the concept of blasphemy is this: is God such a fragile, sensitive being that we must continually protect Him from the possibility of being questioned or getting hurt feelings? I think not. However it is that you perceive God, I’m more inclined to see Him as a magnanimous being, rather than the fascist control-freak of the fundamentalists.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Race in the Race to the White House

It's a sign that the Republicans are desperate. John McCain is clearly losing the US presidential election, so his campaign, and the US right-wing media machine as a whole, has resorted to the worst kind of race-baiting in order to win the election at any cost. McCain himself has mostly avoided this, but his campaign no longer seems to be within his control. This was exemplified by an incident at a Republican rally where he was actually booed for saying that Obama was a decent and upstanding citizen.

No prizes for guessing that I support Obama, but I actually don't mind McCain. His scary hawkishness aside, he seems to be a far better option than George W Bush, although I could say the same about a wedge of camembert cheese. McCain seems to me to be a man of decency and dignity, and no racist, so I wonder at the internal conflicts he might be feeling at the way the Republican cause has sunk so low in its pursuit of victory.

It's funny that the right have often tried to accuse Barack Obama of playing the race card; for below are some of the smears the Right have resorted to to whip up fear of Obama:

He's a scary black man:
Yeah, vote Obama in and soon enough the logic goes that Louis Farrakhan will be VP and 50 Cent will be Secretary of Defence. Or something like that. FOX News had the audacity to refer to Barack's wife Michelle as his "baby-mama" (black slang for the unmarried mother of a man's child), and to describe the couple's affectionate fist-bump on-stage as a "terrorist fist-jab". Obama's attendance at a black church has aroused suspicion, with his former Reverend Jeremiah Wright's condemnation of America's wrongs against blacks and other nations seen as anti-Americanism. So just to be clear, the US has NEVER done anything bad, ever.

Barack HUSSEIN Obama:
A favoured tactic of Republican speakers introducing Palin and McCain has been to emphasise Obama's middle name. A clear attempt to somehow tie him with Saddam Hussein, and to imply that he is a Muslim, which is apparently a bad thing.

Osama / Obama:
Yes, due to the similarity of these two names, you can find a lot of people who think that that's a little fishy. These darn foreigners and their weird strange-sounding names! Although I question whether Barack Obama is a stranger name than Mitt Romney, or Sarah Palin's sons Track and Trig. (Seriously, Track and Trig! Even Hong Kong Chinese wouldn't consider those to be names)

He's an Arab:
Right-wing nutjob and commentator Rush Limbaugh recently made the claim that Obama is not even black! He's really an Arab. "He's from Arab parts of Africa!" Well if anyone knows blackness, it's Limbaugh, he's totally in tune with black people. Anyway, the story is that some hack studied Obama's family tree and concluded that he was 50% white (from his mother), 43% Arab and the rest black African. Hmm, apparently Kenya is an Arab part of Africa. Which leaves me wondering which part of Africa Kenyans are from. Obama Snr was Luo, who are pretty much as black as it gets, and while he was a (non-practising) Muslim, this hardly makes anyone an Arab. (In case I need to spell it out for you, Arab is an ethnicity and Islam is a religion). In any case, right-wingers are now citing Obama's Arabness everywhere. Interesting thing about this situation is that it seems that being black is no longer scary enough to put off voters, so the right had to paint Obama as something even scarier.

Above: "Arab" Barack Obama Snr. Not black, apparently.

Above: More "Arabs". The candidate with his Kenyan family. No black people in sight.

His parents were communists, which means he is too:
According to Lisa Schiffren of the National Review, Obama's parents must have been communists. Her evidence for this? They had an interracial marriage in 1961, at a time when that sort of thing just wasn't done; the only people to do that invariably had communist connections. Nothing to do with love or passion, obviously. Anyway, since his parents were clearly commies, the young Obama obviously is too - ideology is an inherited trait like eye colour, apparently.

He's a terrorist, or at least his best friends are terrorists:
Much has been made of Obama's tenuous association with Bill Ayers, formerly a member of 60s violent radical group The Weathermen, and who is now a respected college professor. The key to this attack is the word "terrorist" - despite Ayers being a white American, the subtext is that we should link Obama to the kind of terrorists the Western world is currently fighting (ie. swarthy foreign hummus-eating ones).

He hates America and is going to flood the country with Mexican illegal immigrants:
Obama recently commented that it was shame that so few Americans spoke a second language, in comparison to many European countries where it is common to speak 2 or 3 languages. Right-wing commentators immediately seized upon this, implying that because Obama believes Americans have scope to improve themselves, they are inferior to Europeans, and he lacks pride in his country. His comment "Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English . . . you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish" was interpreted by some as meaning that he was planning to open the USA's southern border to all and sundry.

Overall, there is a clear intent to paint Barack Obama as "the other", and not "one of us". And it doesn't matter that the above smears are lacking in the truth department, because if you repeat them often enough, there are sufficient numbers of ignorant xenophobes in America who will believe it, and won't vote for him. Hey, maybe one of them will even try and assassinate Obama, seeing as he's been painted as such a dire threat to the nation. It says less about a fear of black people than a fear of difference, particularly foreign-ness.

There are still a few weeks to go on the campaign trail, there is still time for some more race-baiting, and more smears of this kind. Below I've compiled a list of what allegations the Right might come up with next.

* Obama is a practising Voodoo priest and plans to sacrifice goats in the backyard of the White House.

* Obama is an active member of the Crips street gang.

* Obama's late Indonesian step-father, Lolo Soetoro, was one of the founders of Jemaah Islamiyah, the SE Asian Islamic terrorist movement.

* Obama has appointed Suge Knight as his manager and will release a gangsta rap album in 2009. Dr Dre will produce it.

* Obama's favourite pasttime is deflowering young blonde white women with his giant African manhood.

* Obama's other middle name is Miguel; he is also Mexican as well as being black and an Arab.

I bet at least one of these will come true.

Jakarta's new badass cop on the beat

Move aside, Dirty Harry. Rollercop is here!

Indonesia's notoriously corrupt police force just got even harder to take seriously. You can read about it here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

RIP Norman Whitfield (1940 - 2008)

Sadly, after the recent passing of Isaac Hayes, the music world has now lost another soul colossus. Songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield died last week aged 68. While not a household name, Whitfield was responsible for some of the greatest songs in the soul music canon, such as "War" and "I Heard it Through the Grapevine". Starting out at Motown records, often working in partnership with Barrett Strong, he wrote and produced virtually all of the Temptations' output from 1966 to 1974, as well as hits for Gladys Knight & The Pips, Edwin Starr, Undisputed Truth and Marvin Gaye.

Production-wise, it was Whitfield who dragged the Motown label into the 70s, moving the Temptations away from boy-meets-girl cuteness and towards psychedelic soul and socially aware lyrics. Then after parting company with Motown, he wrote and produced for funk band Rose Royce, who had a stellar string of hits in the disco era.

Below are some key Norman Whitfield compositions and productions to check out:

Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1967)
Originally a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips, Whitfield re-recorded it with Gaye a year later, turning it into Motown’s biggest ever hit. Although also covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gaye’s desperate vocal over creeping organ and edgy, dramatic strings and horns make this the definitive version of one of the all-time great songs.

Edwin Starr – War (1970)
Songs protesting the Vietnam War had previously been the province of the hippie/folkie set, fairly meek give-peace-a-chance stuff. Then this just blew the roof off – “War! Huh! Good God! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin!” Whitfield’s powerful arrangement and Starr’s muscular vocal showed that you could be pro-peace yet also be tough as nails.

The Temptations - Ain’t Too Proud To Beg (1966)
A killer hit that gave Whitfield carte blanche to write and produce for Motown’s greatest vocal group. It also showed signs of the rougher, rawer musical territory Whitfield was dragging the company into.

The Temptations – Cloud Nine (1968)
Truly signalled a new era for Motown; no longer the polite crossover music of the 60s, this was a polyrhythmic extravaganza of searing psychedelic guitars and lyrics told from a drug user’s perspective. So ahead of its time that it scared label head Berry Gordy, who delayed its release by 6 months. Won Motown its first Grammy Award.

The Temptations – Papa Was a Rolling Stone (1972)
Whitfield was pulling out all stops now with this one, a 12-minute slab of tense, heavily orchestrated funk, with the Temps’ voices dropping in and out to lament the disintegration of the black family. Won 3 Grammys.

The Temptations – Just My Imagination (1971)
Its elegantly swirling strings and Eddie Kendricks’ plaintive lead vocal make this possibly the most beautiful ballad in the entire Motown canon. The other Temps' sweet backing vocals have never sounded better.

Rose Royce – Car Wash (1976)
Turning his attention to disco, Whitfield created this classic of the genre, which bounces to some real funk and elaborate orchestrations. A #1 hit, while the Car Wash album won a Grammy for Best Soundtrack.

Rose Royce – I’m Going Down (1976)
Majestic ballad showcasing Whitfield’s knack of orchestration and song dynamics. Well known for Mary J Blige’s cover version. Another #1 hit.

Rose Royce – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (1976)
A mighty bassline and fat-ass horns make this pure, unadulterated funk of the best kind. Unlike anything Whitfield had pulled off before.

Rose Royce – I Wanna Get Next To You (1976)
Want to seduce someone? Invite them over, put this on and your chances of making out increase by 400%, it’s that good.

Rose Royce – Wishing on a Star (1977)
Beautiful, majestic and covered by Soul II Soul a decade later.

Rose Royce - Love Don't Live Here Anymore (1978)
One of the great lost-love songs of its era, proving Whitfield's mastery of big ballads yet again.


Monday, August 11, 2008

In praise of Hayes

"Well some girls like to be bad girls, with whips and chains and leather/ Well I forget what it's called, but uh... the freakier the better"
- Isaac Hayes, from the song "I'll Do Anything to Turn You On"

Last week the music world lost a giant of soul music - Isaac Hayes, dead from suspected stroke at age 65. The casual music fan knows Hayes primarily from his deep chocolate bass voice on his biggest hit, "Theme from Shaft", and for his role as Chef in the animated series South Park. But Hayes should also be remembered as a pioneer who expanded the boundaries of black music, and as a writer who helped pen some of the greatest songs of all time. In sample form, his music became the foundation for some of hip-hop and R&B's great hits too; if you've ever listened to Dr Dre, Massive Attack, Public Enemy, Portishead, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious BIG, 2Pac, Tricky, Erykah Badu or Geto Boyz, you've no doubt heard Isaac Hayes in there somewhere.

Hayes at his early 70s peak was totally pimpin', owning a basketball franchise and decking himself out in phat gold chains, yet he came from humble beginnings; after dropping out of high school, he picked cotton and worked in an abbatoir. He had sung in church from age 5 and taught himself a number of instruments, which eventually led him to work as a session keyboardist at Stax Records in Memphis. But it was a chance meeting with budding songwriter David Porter that truly sparked Hayes' music career into life; Porter apparently tried to sell him insurance, but then ended up talking about music instead.

The two co-wrote some of the standards of Southern soul - Carla Thomas's B.A.B.Y., as well as Sam & Dave classics like "Hold On, I'm Comin". These were songs that exemplified the best of the Stax Records catalogue - raw yet catchy enough for crossover appeal, all over in less than 3 minutes.
Yet Hayes the songwriter and Hayes the performer were very different. Much of his output consisted of covers of pop and country standards, yet interpreted almost to the point of unrecognisability. His breakthrough solo album, Hot Buttered Soul (1969) consisted only of 4 songs, each far longer than anything on black radio at the time. It opens with Hayes' 12-minute version of "Walk On By", a song that blew the doors wide open for soul music. Originally a Burt Bacharach and Hal David tune, Hayes epic treatment (psychedelic guitar, thudding rhythmic pulse, orchestral dramatics, gospel organ and tormented bluesy vocal) ushered in an era of new possibilities for black performers. The album itself arguably turned Hayes into soul's first "album artist". It was a bold statement of intent, which allowed legends such as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder to follow in his footsteps with album masterpieces of their own.

That album also featured an 18-minute cover of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", which opens with an 8-minute spoken monologue over piano chords. These "Ike's Raps" would become a trademark, and he was one of the very first performers to popularise the idea of speaking over a beat (although his raps are nothing at all like hip-hop).

Hayes' biggest hit though was his soundtrack to the blaxploitation flick Shaft, which also netted him a number one hit and an Academy Award. His musical output gradually waned in quality as the 70s wore on, and his lavish lifestyle and no-holds-barred approach to making music led to his bankrupcy. He began to focus more on acting, and has appeared in a number of films and series throughout his career, most notably in the recent Hustle and Flow.

Hayes' resurgence in the public eye came in the late 90s, in the form of Chef, South Park's kindly dispenser of wisdom and school lunches with a propensity for breaking out into songs about making sweet lurrve to the laydeez. For all of the show's frequent vulgarity, Chef was a wonderful character and it is hard to imagine anyone but Hayes being able to pull it off so well. Unfortunately he left the show in 2006 after a disagreement relating to his membership of the Church of Scientology.

As befits a man who recorded his fair share of songs devoted to lovemaking, Hayes had 4 wives over his lifetime and fathered 12 children, the most recent in 2006.

Classic Isaac Hayes compositions
Sam and Dave - "When Something is Wrong With My Baby"
Sam and Dave - "Soul Man"
Sam and Dave - "Hold On I'm Coming"
Carla Thomas - "B.A.B.Y."
The Charmels - "As Long As I've Got You"
The Emotions - "So I Can Love You"

Classic Isaac Hayes albums
"Hot Buttered Soul" (1969)
"Movement" (1970)
"To Be Continued" (1970)
"Shaft Soundtrack" (1971)
"Black Moses" (1971)

Classic Isaac Hayes songs
"Walk On By"
"The Look of Love"
"I Stand Accused"
"Theme from Shaft"
"Do Your Thing"
"Never Can Say Goodbye"

Classic Isaac Hayes samples in other artists' songs
"Ike's Rap III" - sampled in Portishead's "Glory Box"
"Bumpy's Lament" - sampled in Dr Dre's "Explosive" and Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady"
"Hung Up On My Baby" - sampled in Geto Boyz' "Mind Playin Tricks On Me"
"Ike's Mood I" - sampled in Mary J Blige's "I Love You" and Massive Attack's "One Love"
"Walk On By" - sampled in Notorious BIG's "Warning"
"Our Day Will Come" - sampled in Massive Attack's "Exchange"
"Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" - sampled in Public Enemy's "Black Steel"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak and Sabah

Village Park Restaurant in Damansara Utama - famous for its nasi lemak, and crammed with customers eager to partake in that most Malaysian of dishes.

Below: Kuching's fabulous Sunday farmers' market.

So there I was, in Malaysia again. The mission this time: Eat lots of food, thereby getting inspired to cook, yet somehow without getting fat; attempt to burn some of that fat through jungle trekking; attend a world music festival; and of course catch up with friends and family.

Well, I definitely did gain 2 kg in less than 3 weeks. I've been trying to gain a bit of mass in the gym, unfortunately this is the wrong kind of mass - the kind inspired by consuming enormous quanitities of roti chanai, char kway teow and teh tarek in a country that is just too damn hot to exercise in.

In my 19 days in Malaysia, half in Kuala Lumpur and half in Borneo, I learned many new things worth sharing with you. Below are some of them:

Getting about in Malaysia, Part 1: Driving
When driving a car in Malaysia, a few important pointers should be remembered, as people go by different rules than in most Western countries.
* The white lines that mark the lanes on roads are there for purely aesthetic reasons only. Feel no obligation to actually drive witin them.
* Indicating should only be done when absolutely necessary, and even then, only if you REALLY, REALLY feel like it. For the most part, ignore the presence of the indicator, it will only distract you.
* If you are young Malaysian driver, it is apparently compulsory to drive while talking on the phone. My friend Manesh related to me a story of a friend who crashed his car only weeks after obtaining his license. When asked why, the reply was: "The sun was in my eyes while I was SMSing."
* Double parking all over the place may be terribly inconvenient for lots of people around you, but it's convenient for you, which is all that matters. So go for it lah!

Getting about in Malaysia, Part 2: Commuting
Observing commuters in Kuala Lumpur is a fascinating experience. The prospect of not getting a seat on the train and having to stand is apparently so horrible that it turns normally reserved Malaysians into complete barbarians. Just try to get off the train at a busy time - as the doors open, you will be gathered by an advancing wall of eager Malaysians who have no conception that anyone may wish to get off the train. If Malaysians could apply the same drive and ruthless determination they display in trying to get on a train to something constructive, this country could really go places.

Clearly eager to change this culture of uncivilised commuting, the transport authorities give periodic announcements to move aside for disembarking passengers, and post signs exhorting travellers to give up their seats for the elderly, the pregnant, and the otherwise needy. Unfortunately I am yet to see anyone actually do any of these things, even when the opportunity is clearly there.

Getting about in Malaysia, Part 3: Taxi
If you haven't gotten ripped off by a taxi driver, you haven't really been to Malaysia. It's gonna happen at some point, just accept it. I'm sure there are nice taxi drivers out there, but as a profession it seems to attract nefarious types. Thailand and Indonesia are no different. The best way to get around it is to know where you are going, and to seem confident about it. Then hope that the taxi driver knows where you are going also. I'm pretty clueless about directions in foreign countries, so I may as well have "sucker" written on my forehead.

The standard form of the Malay language, known as Bahasa Baku, is quite easily understandable by speakers of Indonesian, or anyone who has studied Malay at school. However, good luck trying to find someone who will speak it to you. As someone who speaks English fluently (I hope) and a bit of Indonesian, communication is an all-or-nothing affair. Educated Malaysians, especially Indians and Chinese, tend to be fluent in English so will speak to you in that tongue. Those who are less well-educated however, constantly address me in a rapid-fire, mumbled and colloquial version of Malay of which I can understand maybe 10%. As a contrast, I watched bits of the televised economic debate between Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and Information Minister Shabery Cheek, and understood about 50%.

Manglish (Malaysian English) terms I have learned:
* "Shiok!" - awesome, very good. Eg. "This mee goreng is damn shiok, lah!"
* "See first" - to investigate and then make a decision. Eg. "Let's go see first lah."
* "On" and "Off" - adjectives in standard English, in Manglish they are verbs. eg. "Hey can you on the fan, boss?" "Aiyah, too cold now, off it lah."
* "Can" - used instead of phrases like yes I can, or it is possible. Eg. "Go this way to the station, can or cannot?" "Can!"

One of the appealing features of Manglish is the way it takes standard English and then strips away much of the trimmings, leaving just the basic forms. Single words like "can", "have" and "dowan" (don't want) becoming entire sentences in themselves.

"Hey Boss! Boss!"One of the things I love about being in Malaysia is that you can refer to any male as "Boss". This is heard most frequently in Malay and Indian restaurants, but really you can use it anywhere. Don't call women "boss" though, it doesn't go down well.

Subcultures and stereotypes
Hanging around central KL on a weekend, I was struck by the sheer uniformity of the young mat rock males there. Almost all Malay, all seemed to have the same basic uniform: trainers, jeans, and black t-shirt with some slogan or band name. Don't get me wrong, it's not at all a bad look, I just wonder at the point of looking exactly the same as the next guy when you don't have to. You may as well be at school.
Malaysia, like any country, has its various subcultural stereotypes. Some, like the mat rocks (Malay rock fans) or hip-hoppers (Indian homeboys) are defined by their musical taste and the culture that goes along with that. In addition, here are three notables to look out for:

The Mat Rempit - Malay motorcycle hooligans. Can be found whizzing past you on the highway in their favourite "superman pose", and getting involved in various kinds of anti-social behaviour such as illegal street racing, robbery, assault and vandalism. The girls attached to this culture are called Minah Rempits.

The Ah Beng - the Malaysian Chinese equivalent of the British chav, or the Australian bogan or yuleh. Identifying features include shoddy English, brightly dyed hair (with matching mobile phone cover) hanging down to cover at least one eye, highly modified car, and tight jeans. The female equivalent is called Ah Lian.

The Macha - the Malaysian Tamil working class guy. Frequently spotted making roti chanai. Identifying features include moustache (starting at 11 years of age), gold chain, shoddy English, ambitions to be a Bollywood star, and a propensity for hassling passing girls by making kissing sounds and calling out "Hey, sveetie!"

Eating in Kuching
One dish I seemed to find myself eating frequently in Kuching was Kolo Mee, also called Mee Kolok. Not quite sure what was so special about this local specialty (essentially noodles with a bit of garlic oil and a few things on the side), but it certainly satisfied my hunger. Fried paku (fern) is the other everpresent dish in the local cuisine, while to wash it down try Teh C Special - it's a 3-layered drink consisting of tea, carnation milk and palm sugar syrup. Like every other drink in Malaysia it is tooth-rottingly sweet, but nice nonetheless.

Sarawak Laksa (right) is the local spin on that distinctive staple of Nonya cuisine. Compared to the peninsula's laksa lemak, its gravy is heavily spiked with the local black pepper and belacan (shrimp paste), with chicken and prawns resting atop vermicelli. We woke up at 7am one morning to drive across town just to sample the place that apparently makes the best Sarawak laksa in town. That's committment, and is the kind of food-crazed behaviour that is commonplace in Malaysia but considered strange elsewhere.

Sago Grubs
When we were in Kuching, one of my companions Woei Jiun had acquired an insatiable yearning to eat sago grubs. When you cut down a sago palm and dig out its starchy pith, you can come back a few months later to find big fat juicy grubs feeding on it. The grub is considered good eating in various parts of the archipelago, particularly in New Guinea. It can be eaten raw (and alive if you are brazen) - just hold the head and bite off the fatty body. But the guy at the market who sold them to us recommended frying them with a bit of garlic and kecap manis.

Grubs being sold live at the market.

Aveena, Woei Jiun and Sophia were all game enough to have a munch of fried grubs - apparently it's just like eating a bit of fat. Mmmmm! For me, I had to say thanks but no thanks - I'm vegetarian, after all. Is this what people mean when they tell me I'm missing out?

We spent a week in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak province. A sleepy riverside city of 500,000 people, Kuching has a certain laid-back charm that seems lacking in much of the rest of Malaysia. Our first clue that something strange and un-Malaysian was going on when a friendly passerby stopped his car to give us directions without even being asked. Compare that to Kuala Lumpur, where the only time a stranger will approach you on the street is to sell you something or rob you.

The populace of Kuching is made up of Malays from the peninsula, Chinese and local Ibans and other indigenous peoples. In contrast to peninsular Malaysia, there are hardly any Indians in Kuching; it took us several days before we spotted a local Indian. Strangely enough, he was working in a Hainanese Chicken Rice restaurant.

Kuching is notable for its waterfront area, where locals spend much of their leisure time eating, drinking, singing karaoke, dancing, playing soccer and generally chilling out; and its various museums and buildings of interesting cultural value. It has some pleasant parks in which to while away your time, such as the Malaysian-Chinese Friendship Park (pictured).

We stayed at Nomad B&B, a cheap but lovely place that I can't speak highly enough of. Hardly fancy, but with a soulful friendly vibe. It's run by a bunch of heavily tattooed young people, all local Ibans, some of whom would look scary if they weren't so friendly and full of smiles. They stay up late drinking tuak and playing acoustic guitar with the guests, crash on the floor of the common room and then get up and make you pancakes in the morning.

The main reason we were in Kuching of course was the annual Rainforest World Music Festival. Taking place over 3 nights at the Sarawak Cultural Village (just out of town), the various performers conducted workshops during the day, demonstrating their instruments and explaining their cultural significance. The artists were drawn from all over the world, from Sarawak itself to Portugal, India, Palestine and Trinidad & Tobago. Highlights included the Japanese taiko drummer-cum-rockstar Hiroshi Motofuji, and a pair of African bands - the brilliant Kasai Masai from Congo via the UK, and Yakande, with members from Gambia and Guinea.
Less wonderful was the mud. They don't call it rainforest for no reason, and a shower on the first night turned the area in front of the stage into a mud pit, which smelled vaguely of horse manure. Many in the crowd didn't care, and jumped and danced around in the mud with gay abandon. Gotta admire their spirit - I was too busy trying in vain to stay dry. However I can't say I admire those among them who figured they would throw mud at everyone else in the crowd.

The other drawcard of Kuching was Bako National Park, not far out of town. Reachable only by boat, its great natural beauty far outweighed the discomfort I felt from swollen waterlogged feet, spiny tree branches and sunburn. For some strange reason I got it into my head that I wouldn't need sunscreen, since Malaysian sun is not as harsh as Australian sun. I'm an idiot. If you don't believe me, check the photo.

We also spent a couple of days in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah province, where we went island-hopping just off the coast. Now, I know that 2 days is not a very long time to get to know a place, but I couldn't shake the feeling that there was a decidedly dodgy side to KK. That was largely in part to the local guys who would leer and make sexual comments to my female companions, but in general it lacked the feeling of friendliness that I got from Kuching. But there's only so much you can really pick up in such a short time. Someone I spoke to ascribed any dodginess to the large population of illegal immigrants in KK - most of them from Indonesia and the Philippines - but that's a little too convenient an explanation for me.

One thing I kept noticing at various kopitiams in Borneo was corn juice. The idea of such a drink plays havoc with my mind. Corn juice! I tried ordering it once, but this particular place was out of it; I had an opportunity to try it later on but I guess I decided it perhaps wasn't a good idea. I mean, come on, corn juice? Yet a part of me still remains curious. I've had corn icecream before after all, so how bad could corn juice be? Beats eating sago grubs.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Racists are out to get me! Aiyah!

I don't wanna come across like I think I'm being oppressed or anything, or that "The Man" has it in for me, but I've been a victim of racism this week. Twice actually, which is the weird thing. Pure coincidence I'm sure. One was kind of funny, the other was a bit more disturbing.
Anyway, the first incident involved some mofo drawing a swastika and writing "WHITE POWER" in texta on the back of my passenger-side rear-vision mirror. Because it was not in a part of my car that I look at frequently, I'm not sure how long it was there - could have been days before I noticed it. This also means I don't know where it happened, although most likely it would have been in the street outside my house.

Now as racist attacks go, writing a slogan on someone's car is fairly mild, but it's the sort of thing that can do your head in if you give it some thought. Questions flood your mind: Who did it? Why? Was it completely random, or did they actually know the car belonged to a person of colour and that's why they did it? Was it just some stupid kids with too much time on their hands trying to get a power buzz from committing an anti-social act - or something more sinister?

I've come to the conclusion that it's probably random senseless act of teenage bravado, but it's hard to shake those nagging possibilities.

My mate Sid suggested staking out my place with some baseball bats... except I don't own a baseball bat. Will a badminton racquet do?

The second incident was a week later. Having just had dinner (at the excellent Italian eatery "Mr Wolf" in St Kilda) with my parents and another Indonesian friend, we had just left the restaurant when a passing dodgy-looking guy starting ranting incoherently. Something about Asians taking over the country, a few swear words thrown in for emphasis.

Hardly threatening in this case. Funny if anything. I smiled and gave the standard response to being abused by random passing idiots: "Jesus loves you, my friend!"

No response to that, he just kept walking and raving. Something about Asians stealing jobs. I shouted back, "That's right, we're here to take your job!" since careers as drug-addled-vagrants are highly sought after by Asian go-getters. I think the irony was lost on him however.

Like this post? Try these:

"F***ing scum" - the phone call I received this week
Some f***er kicked my car! Why?

"Curry-bashing" on the rise in Melbourne - Indian students targeted

Your guide to the "F*** off we're full" Facebook group

Random comic genius: Uncle Sameer goes to Frankston

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Great black covers of white songs

It is undeniable that the history of modern music is really the history of white folks ripping off the innovations of black folks. From Elvis to the Stones to Eminem to Justin Timberlake, white performers usually became bigger stars than those they emulated, despite the music more often than not being a diluted shadow of the original.
Yet this was not always one-way traffic. Lenny Kravitz, for example, showed us what Led Zeppelin and The Beatles would sound like if they were black. And there is a whole list of songs by white artists that were covered by black artists. Some are good, some less so; some are easily as good as or better than the original versions. Below are the ones to watch out for.

Isley Brothers – Summer Breeze
The first family of soul turn Seals & Crofts’ tune into a wonderfully smooth sexy classic. The Isley’s had a penchant in the early 70s for covering rock songs, not all of which worked that well, but this is where it all comes together.

Otis Redding – Satisfaction
Given that Mick & the boys spent their career trying to sound black, it makes sense that a black man’s rendition of the Stone's classic hit is so smokin’. Otis brings so much energy and sweaty southern funk to this one that it’s hard to listen to the original the same way again. The Stax horn section is the piece-de-resistance.

Wilson Pickett - Hey Jude
The same applies to "Wicked" Pickett's cover of this Beatles standard. I imagine Lennon and McCartney would appreciate the happy irony of this - after getting their early inspiration from R&B performers from the Deep South, by this point in their career an R&B legend was copying them. I like that this version de-emphasises the obvious la-la-la bit and put's Pickett's phenomenal vocalisations to the fore. Plus the opening 6 seconds are so awesome that it's no wonder De La Soul sampled it.

Nina Simone – I Shall Be Released
A brilliant songwriter Bob Dylan may have been, but vocalist extraordinaire he was not. Nina Simone’s heart-rendingly soulful interpretation is one that would have made Bob mighty proud. And like Sam Cooke’s cover of “Blowin’ in the Wind”, there is an added poignancy in this song of struggle and yearning for deliverance being sung by an African-American. The definitive version.

Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
Another Dylan cover, and again the definitive version. Sporting possibly the greatest opening 20 seconds of any song ever, one of the extreme highpoints of 60s rock.

Al Green – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
The Bee Gees wrote a number of songs performed by black artists – think Diana Ross’s “Chain Reaction” or Tavares’ cover of “More Than A Woman” and Portrait’s cover of “How Deep Is Your Love”, which make the best of the Gibb brother's songwriting talents but compensate for their annoyingly chipmunk-like vocals. But Al Green’s cover of “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” is far and away the best of them, slowing it down and wringing every emotion out of the lyrics. With one of the greatest and sexiest male voices of all time, coupled with producer Willie Mitchell’s perennially great arranging, it is no surprise that this is beats the pants off the slightly twee original.

Ike & Tina Turner – Proud Mary
Not necessarily better than the original CCR version, just different - still quintessentially Southern, but with the church all up in it. Forgetting the extremely nasty side to Ike's character, he was a brilliant musician and bandleader, and Tina in her heyday was an electrifying performer.

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By
A slightly different case here, since this classic by writers Burt Bacharach and Hal David is best known as a Dionne Warwick song. But Hayes gets special recognition for his obsession with taking Bacharach & David's nifty pop numbers and reinventing them as orchestral soul-funk epics of love and betrayal. Despite taking inspiration from the white rock world, with his embrace of lengthy songs and extended psychedelic wig-outs, Hayes makes these songs far "blacker" than Warwick's versions. While his cover of "The Look of Love" is also notable, "Walk On By" is where it's at; it features one of the great bass & drum breaks - sampled by Biggie, Wu-Tang, Tupac among many others. By the way, check out the video and wonder as I do how Hayes looks exactly the same in 2008 as he did in 1968. I bet he was born with that beard and those sunglasses.

Living Colour – Memories Can’t Wait
Originally a fairly average Talking Heads track, Living Colour crank up the rock element as well as some funky soul, creating one of the highlights of their debut album Vivid. Big respect to Living Colour for busting down the colour barriers of rock and turning me on to black music - if not for them in the early 90s I might still be listening to hair metal.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sex scandal rocks Formula 1

You may have read in the news recently about Max Mosley, the 67-year old boss of the FIA, Formula 1 racing's governing body, who found himself under pressure to resign his post. His misdeed? Being caught on video by News of the World engaging in a 5-hour sado-masochistic orgy with 5 prostitutes, who were all dressed in SS uniforms; Mosley allowed himself to be subjected to various degrading treatments, then beat the women with a leather whip while giving them orders in German. All of which cost him a cool £2,500 in cash.

Sounds like another attack of the wowsers. Why, what man among us has never had a marathon S&M session with hookers dressed as Nazi guards once in a while? Sounds like a typical Saturday night for me, except my German ain't so crash hot.

I just want to know how a 67-year old man has the energy, let alone the time, to cavort with ladies of the night for 5 straight hours. Doesn't he have any hobbies? Don't people garden anymore?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Indonesian Contributions to World Culture

People of various ethnicities love that feeling of superiority and pride in the grand cultural achievements of their forefathers. Like the Greeks who will brag about how the ancient Greeks invented democracy. (Although if democracy is so grand, how did it produce a President like George W Bush? Anyway, I digress.) So yes, we have much to thank various cultures for introducing the rest of us to things we now take for granted. The Chinese invented paper, printing and gunpowder, the Croatians invented the necktie, the Arabs came up with glass and algebra, and the Dutch invented the TV show Big Brother, legalised spliff and a way to make carrots orange.
But what about Indonesia? I’m here to stick up for a nation whose contributions to global culture are criminally underappreciated.

Running amok
There are hardly any words in the English language to originate from an Indonesian language. Bamboo is one. Ketchup is too. Amok is the other. In Java, amok means to suddenly flip out and go on a rampage. This is obviously not an exclusively Indonesian phenomenon, but clearly this occurred enough for the Javanese to give it a name which found its way into English.
Typically, the amok person would be an otherwise normal citizen who would suddenly, inexplicably snap and run around trying to kill people. It could be perceived as the result of black magic placed upon the person; modern science would probably recognise this phenomenon as some form of schizophrenic psychosis. But it also fits with the emotional repression that is a part of Javanese culture. The Javanese place a great deal of emphasis on remaining halus (smooth), meaning that you keep calm and diplomatic at all times, and don’t let show any displeasure or anger. After a lifetime of acting like that, is it any wonder that somebody might snap?

The staple diet of millions of cash-strapped students all over the world. Instant noodles are hardly an original concept, but Indomie is the caviar of the instant noodle world, coming with things like fried shallots, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), chili sauce and flavoured oil within the packet. There are roadside stalls in Indonesia that specialise solely in selling this stuff, which you may see as the lowest possible rung on the restauranteur’s ladder, but hey, it’s a tasty and cheap way of getting your fix of simple carbohydrates and saturated fats.

Korupsi, Kolusi & Nepotisme
Otherwise known as corruption, collusion and nepotism. Sure, not an original creation by any means, but as a nation Indonesians have perfected this unholy trinity to a fine art form. If you’ve never been involved in bribing an official or police officer, you are probably not a real Indonesian.

Nasi Goreng
Fried rice was invented by the Chinese, but the Indonesian adaptation is so much better that it makes the original Chinese version pretty much redundant. The difference? More onions, more garlic, a generous helping of chili sambal. Commonly eaten for breakfast, since you’ve got to find something to do with last night’s leftover rice.

Anti-colonialism and pro-colonialism in the guise of nationalism
Having defiantly thrown off the shackles of Western imperalism when they kicked the Dutch out in the 40s, Indonesians are justifiably proud of their nation’s legacy of struggle and suspicious of Western interference in the affairs of the archipelago. Strangely, few Indonesians see any irony in their own colonialist subjugation of East Timor or West Papua, as those peoples should be honoured to be part of the greater state of Indonesia. Because clearly, colonialism is only bad when the West do it.

Beef rendang
Malaysians might try to claim this as their own – to them I say “back off lah”. This dish, as I understand it, originates in Padang in Sumatra. Like much food of that region, it was probably based on the Indian idea of a curry, yet with entirely Indonesian ingredients. Cooked for hours in coconut milk and a myriad of herbs and spices, this is one of the great curry-type-dishes of the world.

Fermented soybeans pressed into a firm cake – again the Indonesian specialty of taking something from a bigger nation (China in this case) and making something new out of it. Tempeh is fairly uninspiring if you don’t know how to cook it properly, but potentially brilliant when done right. Sometimes seen as a poor man’s food, tempeh is protein-rich and very good for you, and has become adopted by vegetarians worldwide.

Clove Cigarettes (Kretek)
The value of nutmeg and cloves, used for flavouring and preserving food, was the main stimulus for a 16th century European race to colonize and exploit the various kingdoms that made up the Indonesian archipelago, with the Dutch ultimately beating off the Portuguese and others to claim what was then the Dutch East Indies. Thus without these two spices, Indonesia as we know it would not exist today. Strange then, that Indonesians have almost no culinary use for them. The main purpose for an Indonesian clove is to be shredded up and mixed with tobacco to make the kretek cigarette, so named for the crackling sound it makes when smoked. The cloves give a pleasant numbing sensation and mild sweetness to the cigarettes, which is not really a good thing since they are very high in tar and generally bad for you.

Yes, move over Brazil, Indonesia is now the world leader in rainforest clearing. Its rank as one of the highest carbon emitters is due to the phenomenal amount of trees being cut down. Much of this is done illegally, but when it comes to big business interests operating out in the jungle away from prying eyes, illegality is a fairly loose concept. It is for this reason that the orang-utan, a beautiful creature and one of our close relatives, seems certain to become extinct in the not-so-distant future. I wonder: would we would treat orang-utans with more respect if they didn’t have red hair?

Kecap Manis
Otherwise known as sweet soya sauce, a thick molasses-spiked version of the traditional Chinese variety, invaluable for marinating satay and making peanut sauce, among other things. I've seen a lot of Australian TV chefs using this now, and none of them pronounce it properly (usually they come out with something like "keckap manners"). There is irony in that, since the English word ketchup is derived from the Indonesian/Malay word kecap, and is pronounced pretty much the same.

Indonesian English
Not a well-developed variant of English in the way Manglish (Malaysian English) is, the Indonesian way of speaking English still has much going for it. Common characteristics include:
· inability to pronounce the sounds sh, f and th, which do not naturally occur in Bahasa Indonesia except in foreign words. They are respectively replaced with the sounds s, p and d. Thus, “the film” is pronounced de pilem, and “fishing” becomes pissing. The phrase “I have finished” thus sounds like the slightly unnecessary declaration “I have penis”.
· Apparent gender confusion – this is caused by the misuse of pronouns rather than any sort of indigenous Indonesian sexual identity dysfunction. Since the Indonesian language uses the word “dia” to mean both “he” and “she”, this carries over into speaking English. For example: “Hey Chris, you have girlfriend? What is his name?”
· Enthusiastic rolling of Rs. The unkind might call it “machine gun mouth”. Most common example said to foreigners: “Hallo misterrrr!”

Ketch you leterrr, ya?

Premier League Team of the Season, 2007-08

I did one of these last year, so I guess I should keep up the tradition. If you don't like the world game, feel free to ignore.

Goalkeeper: David James (Portsmouth)
Right Back: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)
Centre Back: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Centre Back: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
Left Back: Joleon Lescott (Everton)
Right Midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Central Midfield: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Central Midfield: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Left Midfield: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)
Striker: Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal)
Striker: Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

Disappointed that Arsenal's beautiful football was not rewarded with anything (apart from plenty of bad reffing decisions and bad luck which cost them the season). But few could deny that Manchester United were the standout team this season and deserved their victory.

Man, that was painful to say.

Arsenal's French defender Bacary Sagna - the league's best right back and best hairstyle.

Danish Embassy Bombing

Just read in the news today that the Danish Embassy in Pakistan was bombed, with Al-Qaeda the likely suspects. It is almost certainly related to the reprinting of the infamous cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist.

The concept of the Prophet being portrayed as a terrorist so outraged Islamic militants that they responded... with a terrorist attack.

That'll teach those pesky Danes the error of their ways.