Friday, June 23, 2017

TIGER ISLE ~ A GOVERNMENT OF THIEVES (BOOK REVIEW)

“If religion is the opiate of the masses, as it pretty much is in most of Asia and the Middle East, then Tiger Isle was the drug capital of the world. It did not help that most Tigerists lived in a state of denial, in particular about their religion.”

First-time novelist E.S. Shankar: encyclopedic erudition

E.S. Shankar is an erudite, articulate, Renaissance Man of multitudinous facets. A UK-trained accountant and management consultant by profession, Shankar also maintains a satirical blog called Donplaypuks where he lampoons local politics with a generous dollop of schoolboy humor laced with sagacious insight.

Recently he published his first novel, Tiger Isle, A Government of Thieves – a highly engaging 380-page study of the evils of kakistocracy (defined as “governance by a clique representing the worst elements of society, from the Greek, kakos, meaning foul, or filthy”). I don’t know if he has found a local distributor yet but the book can be easily ordered online. I can assure you, nobody will begrudge Shankar the $13.49 price tag, considering the massive amount of brilliance and sheer hard work the man has invested in this epic read, replete with evil machinations, murder, sex, and apocalyptic mayhem.

Shankar’s spicy fiction is based on depressing facts anyone who has been monitoring Malaysia’s political milieu since 1969 will be familiar with: the bureaucratic apartheid created by artificially imposed racial and religious boundaries; the boundless avarice and power lust of a privileged coterie that wields a deadly stranglehold on the national psyche through absolute control of the mass media; the audacious and systematic plunder of a nation’s wealth and the methodical hijacking of its destiny for private gain and ego gratification.

Indeed, while the events and characters depicted in Tiger Isle appear to be broadly inspired by actual events and characters in Malaysia, the scenario is easily modified to fit any post-colonial Southeast Asian nation. As such, Shankar’s lovingly crafted debut novel sheds valuable light on the nature and internal workings of corruption, hubris and megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur – and deserves to be prescribed as supplementary reading in any meaningful political science curriculum.

It’s no mean feat to construct a parallel universe populated by doppelgängers of clearly recognizable personalities - and yet allow the characters sufficient autonomy to generate the tension and drama necessary to animate this fictional domain called Pulipore, or Tiger Isle. There is enough narrative momentum to keep the reader turning pages – although one requires a photographic memory to keep track of unwieldy names like Rekha Krishnasamy Roshan Prasad, Adhi Sri Dr Bhairav Oak Broad Leaf Sivan, Kapalin Blowfish Black Panther Chandran, Maitreya Blue Dolphin Suryan, and Sri Sanatkumar Mutthiah Muralidharan. Those in the know will smile at the inclusion of a few “ascended masters” in the colorful cast of characters.

Not only are the names extended, Shankar gleefully provides genealogies for a few of them, going back several generations – in the process adding a wealth of side commentary on the fascinating diversity of cultures to be found in the region. Place names like Pulijayam, Chandrapore, Shaktipore and Suryapore evoke a subcontinental aroma – hinting at the lingering influence of ancient civilizations like the Srivijaya and Majapahit Empires.

With an accountant’s eye for detail, Shankar delves into a morass of financial shenanigans conducted under the corrupt aegis of UNTA (United National Tigerists Association). Indeed, one might conclude that Shankar is merely making it all up - were it not for the fact that most Malaysians are already aware – thanks to the internet - of the endless list of dubious deals signed behind closed doors and labeled Official Secrets.

I couldn’t help but smile wryly at the irony of it all. Whenever Shankar relishes his role as novelist and puts effort into fleshing out his fictional characters, he succeeds in giving his narrative a measure of realism; however, his intimately reconstructed accounts of high-level wheeling and dealing come across as pure fiction because their outrageousness simply boggles the mind. We shudder at the realization that Shankar didn’t have to invent anything – merely switch a few acronyms and names around.

And, just as happens in real life, we are confounded by a plethora of acronyms: PACC (Pulipore Anti-Corruption Council), CCCP (Chandrapore City Center Plaza), PPC (Pulipetrol Corporation), PSA (Patriot and Security Act), PSB (Police Special Branch), and PITS (Pulipore Information Technology Service) – so much so the reader is at times compelled to refer to the acronym list on page 382.

As a writer, E.S. Shankar occasionally suffers from what may be called “the fisheye lens” syndrome – in effect, his omniscience and encyclopedic knowledge compel him to throw in too many asides and insider jokes. This slows the pace down – but only minimally. On the whole I was impressed by Shankar’s fluid syntax and flashes of literary virtuosity, for instance, when he begins a chapter with a killer line like: “The economic picture was pretty from far, but actually far from pretty.”

The story acquires a hint of Ian Fleming towards the end, when Shankar conspires to put all the biggest crooks of Tiger Isle together on board a private jet – and then leaves them at the mercy of seven female amateur ninjas and a couple of renegade pilots. Regime change through the ballot box is simply too banal and boring, I suppose. Or too unlikely. Or perhaps the eternal child in E.S. Shankar just felt like giving the plot a tiny twist of Quentin Tarantino.

Regrettably, Shankar’s magnificent effort will not qualify for the epithet “The Great Malaysian Novel” – simply because it’s all about Tiger Isle, heh heh, not Malaysia.

GOOD NEWS! Shankar has found a local publisher, Gerak Budaya, and Tiger Isle ~ A Government of Thieves will be officially launched at the Royal Selangor Club at 7PM on 20 November 2012.
[First posted 28 September 2012. Reposted 23 November 2014, 28 May 2015 & 23 June 2016]



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three Versions of David Bowie's "Space Oddity"



Behold... the original 1969 music video for David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' from the promotional film Love You Till Tuesday directed by Malcolm J. Thomson that only saw the light of day in 1984 when Bowie had become a major star. It was reissued on DVD in the UK in 2005.



Low-budget "official video" produced & directed by Mick Rock in New York, December 1972.



A revised version of David Bowie's Space Oddity, recorded in 2013 by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station with all the benefits of digital tech. Revel in paradise, Starman!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Oil Spill and the Blood Spill (repost)

"I know, I know. I am proposing a sane world. I must be crazy.~ Steve Bhaerman


Same Problem, Same Solution


By Steve Bhaerman
Sometimes it's just not funny.

There is nothing funny about oil hemorrhaging in the Gulf of Mexico, or blood flowing in the Mediterranean - just the sad joke that we humans are largely the cause of our own suffering. And we are largely clueless as to how and why.

For millennia, we have been under the spell of the lowest common dominator, the notion that it's a you-or-me world, that to survive we must dominate or be dominated. Never mind that at the root of every religion and ethical system is some version of the Golden Rule. We have as a species chosen to apply this law selectively to those in our own family, tribe or nation. When we feel threatened - not necessarily ARE threatened, but feel threatened - we very easily adopt a conveniently modified version of the rule: "Doo-doo unto others before they can doo-doo unto you."

So, for tribes or nations to be manipulated by a sociopathic few, all these misleaders need to do is convince their people of an external threat, and this protective mechanism is activated. While fight-or-flight is a necessary response to an immediate danger, the blood flow to the hindbrain has to come from somewhere. It comes from the forebrain, the place of creative thinking and discernment. In other words, when we are in fear we are less intelligent.

In places like the Middle East, the us-vs.-them story is well established, and each atrocity by the other builds the story one more story high. The one thing the Palestinian terrorists set to blow themselves up and the Israeli soldiers firing on civilians have in common is the belief, "We are the good guys."

It's this belief alone that turns good guys into bad guys. It's how America justified using atomic weapons on Japan, napalm on Vietnamese, and bombs on Iraqi and Afghan citizens. It's the cost of war, paid by the other guy - the bad guy.

From the Mideast ... to the Midwest

In order to bring this notion home, literally and figuratively, we need to take what is happening in the Mideast, and apply it in the Midwest. Just as surely as the Israelis and Palestinians are at war, we the people of America have been divided into two warring tribes, the Red Tribe Republicans and the Blue Tribe Democrats. The main difference between these two tribes is that the right wing understands there is a war going on; the left wing merely feels assaulted.

Here's why.


Whether you believe it's an actual conspiracy, or merely the out-picturing of our divided collective consciousness, the body politic has been split into left-brain and right-brain, masculine and feminine. The political left represents the values of novelty and nurturance; the right stands for structure and protection. Each of these tendencies - progressive and conservative - represents a healthy biological impulse. However, separately they are incapable of wise rule. Why? Well, imagine living your life using only half your intelligence, or worse yet with two parts of your psyche constantly in mortal combat.

Consequently, each political party represents a toxic distortion of a valuable asset. Put bluntly, the Republicans represent the abusive male, the Democrats the enabler female. All of the muscle is on one side; all of the compassion is on the other. Instead of working together, these two opposing impulses have inflicted a deadly autoimmune dysfunction on the body politic. Who benefits? Those who have the most to lose by these two divided forces uniting as an integrated, whole "we the people."

In a healthy, integrated, whole system the forces of protection protect life. Consider the eggshell. It is absolutely necessary to protect the egg during development. However, for a chicken to be born, the shell must break. Structure must yield to life.

In our distorted, divided system the structures designed for protection all too often protect the predator. That's why back in the 1930s, Gen. Smedley Butler, at the time America's most decorated Marine, wrote a booklet called War is a Racket, where he confessed that most of the defending he did during the early part of this century was for United Fruit and U.S. Rubber. In the nearly 80 years since Butler's pamphlet, we have seen the simple desire for defense and protection rigidify into a Military Industrial Complex, a structure largely in service of itself, in partnership with the American empire.

Interestingly, the more libertarian right represented by Ron Paul know about Smedley Butler and his assessment of war, whereas he is an unfamiliar figure to most on the left. That's because each political polarity has it's own information pipeline telling them the "truth." The left is told that the Ron Paul variety of populist - as represented currently by the Tea Parties - are backward racists and isolationists. Meanwhile, the right wing impropaganda machine bangs away at the notion that "liberals hate America," making them as much of an enemy as Al Qaeda is.

Progressives are outraged by the assaults of Limbaugh, Beck and the like, but cannot respond effectively or courageously. Why? Because all the martial energy has been marshaled over on the other side. The right, meanwhile, doesn't dare empathize with the downtrodden, lest we empower welfare cheats. In having their attention focused on the lowly criminal, they are conveniently distracted from the highly criminal.

We are a political house divided, a body politic afflicted with bi-polar insanity. Somewhere in the netherworld, Machiavelli is smiling, for his lesson of divide-and-conquer has been well learned by our misleaders. We the people have learned to identify so much with what divides us that we completely ignore the common virtues and values we share as non-sociopathic humans.

It's Either an Awakening ... Or a Wake

Which brings us to the oil spill.

The major missing piece in this web-of-life threatening tragedy is our ability to act in unison in a moment of crisis. The bi-polar political dysfunction has bred so much mutual distrust, that we've wasted valuable time and energy in obfuscation and blame. But the problem goes deeper than that, as deep as the subconscious programming of "survival of the fittest." We are so programmed with fear of not enough - Swami calls this "scare city" - that we spend our attention, intention, time and resource on protection and acquisition, at the expense of other healthy human "cellular souls."

The cost of this agreed-upon greed, goes beyond the trillions of dollars spent and the millions of lives lost. We now have a rupture in the web-of-life itself, as the fluid we value more than life gushes uselessly and harmfully into the ocean, unstoppable by the magic of technology. Like Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice, in our ignorance and innocence, we unleashed a power far too powerful for our Mickey Mouse consciousness.

And the good news is?

If we choose to use it as such, the oil spill may be the significant emotional event that bumps us out of the illusion of separation and into a healthier relationship with one another and the planet. What is called for is no less than a spontaneous spiritual evolution from children of God to adults of God, from victims and villains to aware, responsible co-creators. It's never happened before. But never before have we faced such a blatant and immediate human-caused disaster, one that calls into question our fitness as a species.

As many of us have seen in the "try this" or "try that" emails that have been circulating, there is no dearth of potential remedies or even solutions. We already have the worldwide network of communication to create an open-source approach to a situation that threatens every one of us. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention ... and intent is the father. What an opportunity for the people of this world to "gather under one big intent" to take the initiative to create a worldwide "we the people" authority to, for the first time, confront a species-wide threat as a species.

This would not be some top-down New World Order, but a bottom up, grassroots "new world ordering," where we access the heart-and-soul essence of who we are, an essence that has been lost through millennia of domination and programmed fear. It would mean gathering in intentionally diverse groups, and using existing polarities to stretch ourselves beyond the limited choices we currently perceive. It would mean calling forth the Sacred Masculine and the Sacred Feminine, to act in accord as dynamic duo dance partners. It would mean taking the obsolete political polarities of progressive and conservative, and turning them into healthy intentions by asking, "How do we wish to progress?" and "What do we choose to conserve?"

I know, I know. I am proposing a sane world. I must be crazy.

But the question to ask ourselves and one another is, how sane is the institutionalized, homicidal, suicidal insanity we have now? As the saying goes, if we keep on the same path, we will arrive at where we are going. Even if we are able to stanch the current oil flow, and we contain the damage to "just" one ocean, what will the next blow be? Will we be able to recover, or will it just be a matter of time before a human-made disaster kills us?

In our book Spontaneous Evolution, Bruce Lipton and I point out the phenomenon of "spontaneous remission," where an individual is told their condition is untreatable and terminal, and yet something mysterious and miraculous happens. They recover, and show no sign of the disease whatsoever. While we might imagine this some super-human miracle, when we look deeper we find that the recovery is preceded by a profound change of belief, and change of behavior.

In other words, a spontaneous remission is often the result of a "spontaneous remissioning." And so the choice is before us to collectively change our mission from "dominate or be dominated" to re-growing the Garden together.

This has been the wake up call we have been waiting for. And the snooze button is no longer working.


Steve Bhaerman is a writer and uncommontator who has written and performed comedy as Swami Beyondananda. He is also the co-author with Bruce Lipton of Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From Here (Hay House: 2009). He can be found online at http://www.wakeuplaughing.com/ If you like what you read, and want to get more of it, subscribe to Notes From the Trail here.


[First posted 6 June 2010]







Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Mysteries of Machu Picchu ~ 52-minute National Geographic documentary



A National Geographic documentary about the fascinating and mysterious pre-Columbian Inca lost city of Machu Picchu.

Deep in the Andean mountains lays a mysterious ruin named Machu Picchu. For 400 years it sat abandoned on its misty cliff, the quintessential lost city in the jungle. Rediscovered in 1911, it contained no written records or carvings, nothing that could shed light on its history.

For a century since, it has defied the endless scores of visitors and scientists who attempted to understand its purpose. Who were the mysterious people who built it and why did they build it here? Today an international team of archeologists, engineers and scientists are finally piecing together the clues. Together they are discovering astonishing new burials, revealing the intricacies of its ingenious engineering and finally decoding the secrets of Machu Picchu.

© 2009 NGHT, Inc. and WGBH Educational foundation

[Well, the mystery of Machu Picchu isn't quite solved in this documentary... but everything about the Incas is fascinating anyhow...]

First posted 13 February 2013, reposted 14 November 2014.