Saturday, April 14, 2007

I've let Mel and Tina persuade me into taking up a walk-on role in NYeDC's production of Othello. This, among everything else I'm working on. Tina's cut some of my lines, but that's a relief 'cos I don't have all that much time to rehearse long scenes with long orations. I get to play the Duke of Venice, quite a straight-laced, uptight kinda' guy, which isn't surprising since he's busy planning a war campaign.

A bit rusty with the stage-presence thing with the script looking rather static for now. But it's best to take Shakespeare slowly and pick up on his nuances first, before getting creative with it. Here's a first, anyway -- I've never done Shakespeare before, so I am a little envious of Johnny (Brabantio) and Ben (Iago): they get to be screwballs on stage while I just maintain order like some stuffy old patriarch, which I am supposed to be, of course. Still, no time to learn their parts, so break a leg, fellas!

By our 2nd debate training session held today, the bleeding seems to have been cauterized and my membership is holding at 6 JC1s. The rest appear to have no stomach for this sort of contest and have fled the field already. Huh. Young people!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Met the Robinsons. They're an oddball family who exist sometime in the future. Each family member has his or her own eccentricities, but they accept each other with mutual love and respect regardless. Such eccentricities include minor dementia, schizophrenia, belief in the anthropomorphism of amphibians, delusions of grandeur, extreme sibling rivalry, and psychomotor disability. Exhibiting any one of there traits could land an individual in an institution, but collectively united by blood and heart they pull together as the Ideal Family.

In fact, the only trait that poses any danger to anyone is typical teenage irresponsibility, and even then, Wilbur Robinson does his best to rectify the grave error he has committed.

The Robinsons are quirky enough to extend an invitation to orphan boy, Lewis, to join the family despite having their house nearly wrecked by a rampaging tyrannasaur as a result of his arrival (take it as it is, it's too complicated to explain). But when they discover that Lewis is from the past, they freak out and withdraw their invitation, insisting that he return to his own time.

The movie deals with the themes of failure and rejection. The Robinsons themselves celebrate failure -- the more spectacular, the greater the rejoicing. Or rather, they celebrate the learning that failure brings, while downplaying success which doesn't teach a whole lot. Hence the Robinson motto: Keep moving forward.

Lewis is himself a bright young man who has many great ideas, but his inventions often fail in their execution. He also has to face rejection several times over as his imagination and his devotion to science fail to endear him to the prospective foster parents who come to the orphanage to interview him. Apart from Mildred who looks after him in the orphanage, the Robinsons actually offer Lewis a home and a family, so it's especially heartwrenching when they eventually reject him too. But they have a good reason to send him back to their past.

The future is both predestined, yet it isn't set in stone. The choices we make in the present set a chain of events in motion that lead to the future. Conversely, the future depends on the choices we make in the present. The critical choice in this movie is Lewis's. One thoughtless incident is all it takes to change the idyllic utopian future into a horrific nightmarish one. He has to learn what that moment is, and make the right choice or end up irrevocably destroying the Robinson family of the future.

The plot sounds quite serious, but the comic relief comes in the form of the Bowler Hat Guy, arguably one of the worst evil villains to ever take up a career as an evil villain. He is the result of living a life of failure, yet never learning anything from his experience. His evil plans fail because he seriously lacks vision, knowledge and follow through. He is pure impulse who has unspecific goals, and no idea how to achieve them. It's hilarious when his plans fail. He deserves to fail because he doesn't think ahead or learn from his past mistakes. Resilient and persistent but neither resourceful or innovative, BHG is just pathetic.

Lewis, on the other hand, is driven by his desire to find his birth-mother. He studies through the night, attends university lectures uninvited -- and still dares to question the lecturer for more information -- and applies his learning to create a device that will help him achieve his goal. All he needs is encouragement and a realization that his many failures are necessary stepping stones towards the success that has so far eluded him. The bigger the goal, the more steps it takes. Lewis we root for, and hope that he will eventually find the belonging he so desires.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Perhaps it's because I don't earn a million bucks a year that's why I'm thinking: if I'm already earning a million bucks a year, how could the prospect of earning another half-million or so possibly motivate me any further to work harder, or be any less corrupt than I already am?

Sure, I'm grateful for my own pay rises and annual increments, but then I have room to upgrade and improve my lifestyle. But once we reach a certain tax bracket, how much further up can we possibly go? By then, we should have been able to afford all the creature comforts we could want, and then where does all the extra cash go? What good could so much money do, once we already have everything?

It's all a matter of perspective, though. We constantly tell ourselves that if we earned $x more, we would be happy, satisfied and have no worries about our future any longer. So when it comes to considering pay rises for our Ministers, we're all agape at how much more they'll be getting. While already comparing with their original pay, our salaries are a pittance. We think that already at their original salary, they should be contented because we are convinced that WE would be if we earned that much.

But perhaps asking the Ministers themselves if they are happy with their good fortune, or if the people are happy for them are the wrong questions to ask. The real question should be: now that we know how much our Ministers are earning, has 'politician' now become a viable job opportunity? Not too long ago, nobody wanted to get into politics. We'd rather abdicate ourselves and let the 'gahmen' make the decisions and solve our problems for us. But then, no one wanted to be the 'gahmen'. "No money in it," they'd say. But now that there's going to be plenty of money in it, I wonder if we're still going to be squeamish about getting into politics? If people still hesitate, then the pay rise would have been for nothing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Big Boss calls our vocational institutes the 'jewel' of our education system. I wonder if the rest of our population would agree, and finally put to rest the stereotype that vocational study is where the Epsilon semi-morons of our society end up to train to do the necessary but menial jobs that no one else would want to do.

In my 2 years of vocational training, even as far back as '83-'85, the VI was certainly no dumping ground for cannot-make-it kids. Believe it or not, I was there to study Accountancy. The textbooks were thick and detailed, the tutorials no less gruelling than the ones we conduct in JC, and the fact that we all felt like bottom-of-the-barrel kids motivated us to study harder to prove that we weren't.

CCAs were free and easy, but they attracted quite a few talented students. I, unsurprisingly, got myself involved in Drama, and Debate, and was ed-in-chief of the institute's newsletter (omg, I just realized that in over 20 years, nothing's changed!).

These days, the institutes are pretty much equivalent to N American Community Colleges that offer diplomas and degrees in vocational skills. Both are run in Uni-like campuses, though I think only we have an image problem. Giving our institutes more recognition is a good move, and a timely one too.

Some other bits of personal trivia:
In the 2 years I spent in the institute, I was determined not to get involved with anyone so I could concentrate on studying and getting my Accounting qualification. Irony #1: I flunked the course and didn't get my cert after all. In 2 years, I simply couldn't learn to count, a fatal disability for a career in Accounting. Irony #2: a couple of years after I left, June arrived at the institute to study Secretarial duties. Despite my intention not to get involved with my classmates then, I married a fellow alumnus of the institute anyway.

Funny, the curveballs life throws at us.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nice to see that old things can still be useful, even in a reduced capacity. Watson, my old desktop PC, once dead but now revived, had been lying around dormant for months already. Ever since Mr L33t replaced him, there wasn't much I needed Watson to do besides collect dust in the corner.

Today, Watson has a new lease of life. I donated him to the All or Nothing Cafe, my bro's workplace. So Watson can't play murderous, violent, bloodthirsty games anymore, but he can live out the rest of his retirement as a cash register for a Christian outreach centre.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Each one of us carries with us a gene that, while unique to ourselves, is also the result of several hundred-thousand years' worth of mixing different DNA strings in such a particular combination that it now defines us as the persons we are. Any tiny difference in the way your genes had been put together in all that time, and you wouldn't be you any more, in other words.

So the gene that we carry has survived up to this point in time, and our genetic imperative is to ensure this gene we carry will continue to survive by combining it with someone else's gene, thus passing it on to the next generation. And speaking in evolutionary terms, we hope that the new combination will improve the new genetic host, making it stronger and fitter to survive into the following generation after that, and so on.

Natural selection tells us that often, gene-lines come to an end because the genetic mix was flawed and was thus unfit to be passed on. These genetic hosts are therefore literally dead-ends, and deserve to be removed from the gene-pool because they were defective. These genes will not contribute to develop the species any further as the stronger, fitter genes that do get passed on to the next generation pass them by.

But although the biological drive to have offspring is strong -- after all, the more offspring there are, the more likely it is for the parents' combined genes to continue to survive another generation -- these days, the human species is making evolutionary history by making a conscious decision not to procreate any further.

Considering the falling birthrates that today's ST is pointing out in Taiwan (politics too unstable, therefore we'll not have kids), and throughout the developed nations of Asia, people are declaring themselves as evolutionary dead-ends, thereby voluntarily removing themselves from the gene-pool. Thus, they summarily end several hundred-thousand years' worth of their own gene's evolution, not because the genes are themselves defective, but because the current hosts are "exercising a choice" not to pass them on any further.

It's almost like saying that we are the epitome of our gene-line's evolution, and this is as far as it goes... because we said so.

We human beings think too much. We intellectualize our environment by assessing and analyzing risk factors and cost-benefit ratios. We imagine worst-case scenarios and visualize perfection, and are even prepared to hold out for it even though the ideal is only ideal because it is unattainable. We have developed over-complicated mating relationships, and possibly childcare duties as well.

Our big brains that we're so proud of, the one that has led us to evolve into the dominant species on the planet, could perhaps also be our greatest impediment to evolutionary progress. Evolving smarts has helped us immensely, but evolving too smart could in itself be a genetic defect. I can already imagine the gene-pool lifeguards yelling, "OK, everybody, out of the pool!"

Those of us who do have children, we sometimes think of in animalistic terms. We say that they "breed like rabbits," and we are aghast at men who have voracious sexual appetites, calling them "beasts," "wolves" and "buaya," but chances are, in the long-run, their genes have a better chance of advancing our species than those of the more conservative persuasion. If our wholesome couples persist in choosing not to have kids, we can be assured that the future will only belong to the horny bastard.

Now, there's a future to contemplate!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dusted off my old street performance outfit this morning. 900 SAC recalled I performed an item for them a few years back, and commissioned an encore in honour of Easter Sunday today.

The piece is a short solo set to "Watch the Lamb" by Ray Boltz, a strongly narrative song. The performance was originally choreographed by Todd Farley, but I 'koped' it and modified quite a bit of the movement because the original was too slavishly literal, acting out the song line-by-line. Boring.

I got the music and burned it onto a CD as the only track so there could be no screw-ups in selecting the right song. I arrived early before service to do a sound-check, no problems. We were all set.

Just before the sermon, they introduced my item. I entered to appreciative applause, centered myself at zero-position, cued the sound-booth, and... nothing. No music over the loudspeakers. Now, that is quite an experience -- to have hundreds of pairs of eyes staring at you, expecting you to do something, and there you are frozen like a rock because only you know that technology had somehow managed to mess things up again.

It was a contrast of panic states: me petrified onstage, while in the sound-booth the techs are freaking out, pressing buttons, sliding sliders, double-checking connections, the works. That was it, I broke with performance discipline and went for a mike to buy a little more time for the tech crew to resolve the problem.

As I ran out of patter, they did get the problem fixed, sort of. The guys jury-rigged a laptop to play my CD over the speakers, but the sound quality was crap, barely audible and not quite doing the music much justice. Still, the show had to go on, and that was my show for the day. I won't be expecting rave reviews for this one.

Post-mortem report: during service, someone came into the sound-booth and made off with the cable connecting the CD player to the amplifier. A-mazing. I can be as careful as I ever could be, and yet someone else's human error can ruin the whole show.

Guess that's a clear sign from on-high: Thou shalt not quit thy day job.