House Renovation

At the end of 2007 and in search of a new home, we looked around from Taman Tun Dr. Ismail to the myriads of new and confusingly named Damansaras but somehow Lake Fields always had a spot in our hearts due to its contemporary design and finishing. At that time, the realtor had 2 units from us to choose from: a Feng Shui friendly one (which had the entrance to the powder room sealed and hence not facing the main door) and another one which didn’t. In the end, Feng Shui played no part in our decision and we chose the one that was nearer to the guard house and the water tower. We figured then that the clear unblocked path from the main door to the powder room would work out well in cases of emergencies that couldn’t wait. 

Flash forward to roughly 7 months ago, which is the amount of time required to “complete” a purchase of the property (which warrants another rant), we appointed a contractor to perform some renovation work on the house for us. Perhaps “some” is relative as the work turned out to be quite major indeed. In addition to sealing the powder room entrance (after reassuring ourselves that the odds of the sort of emergencies that would actually occur in which such a configuration would serve to be beneficial is quite infinitesimal), we decided to include a show piece in the house.

One idea that immediately struck us was that our new place has a double volume living area. This would look very nice if the house that we got was a corner unit like below:-

But unfortunately, we got a non-corner unit so it unexcitingly looked like this:-

Which wasn’t too bad but we wanted to explore what we could do with all the space. That was when the thought of building a loft came to us. The more we thought about it, the more we fell in love with the concept of having a loft overlooking the living room. To build the loft, our contractor first built the structure of the platform with wood (as a mold for the concrete) and reinforced the stucture with intenal steel wireframes.

Next, they poured the first layer of concrete onto the structure. The holes in the walkway are for the downlights below. The white pipes contained electrical wirings.

Once the initial layer is set, another layer is added on top to even up the surface.

The whole concrete structure was allowed to dry. (I resisted the temptation to run into the area to jump up and down).

And penultimately, they’ve added the railings recently which made it safe(r) for me to climb over there to perform my jump tests. I did and the new loft was strong enough to withstand my jumps.

The whole process of building the loft took place over the span of 4 months. The final step will be to add in the wood railing and the timber floor which will take up another 4 to 6 weeks.

Hopefully, we will be able to move into the new place before June this year (fingers crossed so very tight!)

Shoot the Dog or the Messenger?

An office colleague of mine recently sent an e-mail soliciting signatures to stop Guillermo Vargas, a Costa Rican artist from repeating an installation that he did in 2007 of a starving dog. The event was scantly reported in the local press but it seems the installation involved tying a dog up in a corner of the art gallery and allowing it to starve to death by withholding food and water.

Starving Dog 1

 Starving Dog 2

On first reading of the e-mail, I was outraged. But I did a little digging.

Peta and other reports on the web indicated that the event could be a stunt and the dog was actually fed daily and released quietly at the end of the installation.

The the artist said that the “art” was performed to show the hypocrisy of people. We treat abandon animals no better and yet we get outraged when one of them is displayed on the stage for all to see. We see his act as an abuse of the animal but yet we are no better when it comes to the treatment of strays when we see them loitering near our houses. Neither do we shed any tears when they are carted off by the city councils and shot.

I brought this to my colleague and she was angry with the artist. She sees the artist as being inhumane, exploitative and inconsiderate. I don’t blame her and the multitudes who signed the protest petition as I believe that everyone can take out different messages from an “art”, especially those that are meant to provoke.

I do not know whether the artist truly planned it that way but it did raise my consciousness towards our hypocrisy towards issues bigger than just stray dogs. If the BBC has not highlighted the plight of the unknown war in Congo that has killed more people than World War II, will the world care about it? Or are we so fixated on the global war on terror not because it has killed more people but because it is more shocking and received more airtime coverage?

 Has art evolved to a point in our modern world that artists have to resort to shock art to get their messages across? Is this an example of the relativist nature of art?

Goodbye 2007, Hello 2008!

I always do not know what to do when it comes to a  year end. When people ship off like sheep to a slaughter to countdown parties, I would be comfortably sitting in front of my glowing TV set, reminiscing about the year and what I should have done.

I think that it is quite therapeutic to pile regrets upon regrets on what one should have done when there was still time to do it. It makes me feel guilty. Now, don’t get me wrong. For someone who doesn’t have much cares, feeling guilty gives me a sense of much needed urgency. As Cheryl rightly pointed out to me: I have cares but I just don’t care about what I’m supposed to care about.

Take my weight for instance. For years, I’ve been working hard to maintain a bubbly personality as well as a bubbly figure. Honestly, the later doesn’t require much work which is the point that I’m trying to get at. Unlike Dr. Phil who breaks people down by calling them fat cows and then making them feel all the much better in their bovine physical state, I’m the opposite. I really do feel good about my large frame.

I’m already at a Nirvanic state when it comes to weight, ie. All fats are an illusion and no one enters heaven (or an atheist equivalent) feeling good about themselves by not eating well.  Which is my biggest problem. How do I feel bad about myself in order for me to something about it?

I guess I could look at the signs:-

  • No one gets a hernia when they try to tie their shoe laces
  • Fitting into a pair of jeans doesn’t require a crane.
  • XXL T-shirts don’t need to expanded on a large chair frame 12 hours before wearing them
  • Running out of breath when I’m typing this.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate. While I’m not large enough to attract heavy bodies by my sheer gravitational force alone, I am coming close.

So it is with this great sense of guilt (which is good) that I regret all of the delicious meals that I had had this year. I regret eating lightly toasted caramelized foie gras. I regret drinking great tasting fruit-nosed, full palette Pinot Noir that comes with a slightly spicy end note. I regret engaging in juicy blood filled medium rare stakes. And most of all, I regret downing crates of sweet bubbly sugared non-diet Coca-Cola.

Mostly, I think that my biggest regret is not moving my lazy ass to exercise. And no, running and jumping in a Playstation 3 game as great as Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune doesn’t count (even though it requires one to swing the controller from time to time due to the SIXAXIS functions). I also regret, as does my wallet, that I have wasted RM 150 per month to sign-up for a gym membership that I do not go to. I regret relegating my dumb bells to become expensive paper weight. I regret too that I wear my running shoes as fashion wear and have bastardized it from its utilitarian purposes.

Now that I’m a broken man, I’m going to built myself up again. I’m resolving to lose the excess weight so that:-

  • I don’t have to buy 2 tickets for myself to watch Indiana Jones 4 (coming memorial day 2008, yay!) and Star Trek (end 2008, another yay!)
  • AirAsia doesn’t charge an extra fuel surcharge on my cheap flight tickets
  • The proprietor of my favorite restaurant doesn’t have to double up in washing the piles of dishes every time I go there for a meal
  • I don’t cause a solar eclipse when I step in front of someone during sunrise or sunset

Ah…I must say that I do feel good (but not too good) about myself now and I’m ready to face 2008 with this new resolve.

Have a Great and Happy New Year!

Is God Moral?

Sometimes, I get a little concerned when my Christian friends quote the Bible as a source of morals. According to them, any atheist who denies the existing of God (their God in particular) is bound to be immoral as there is no moral compass to show the right true way. Furthermore, they argued, the absence of such morality would lead to humanity’s decadence and, ultimately, to the end of the human race- whether God chooses to end us by smiting us (remember, he IS all powerful, after all) or will cause us to perish from disasters, diseases or something worse.

But is God truly moral by today’s pluralistic standards of human morality? Of course, some would argue by saying that we do not really know what morality is because God is Morality and what God does is morality. There are some who argue that God defines the standards of morality and whatever action he does corresponds to those standards. There is some merit in the second argument as the Christian God has been known to set morality laws in the Bible. The Ten Commandments with its romanticized imagery (courtesy of a white bearded Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 movie of the same name) plays to the argument that God is a law giver and he is the ultimate police man who will punish us.

But is the Torah, Bible and Koran a good source of morals? Over the course of the following weeks, I shall highlight several “interesting” verses to highlight the morality of God. In this article, I shall focus on the most fundamental one of all- the taking of another human life.

Passages that discourages killing are commendable standards that almost all societies, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist, subscribe to. But there are passages too, especially in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim faith that show killing is allowed. As I am not familiar with the Judeo-Muslim scriptures, I shall quote from the Bible to illustrate my point:-

1Samuel 15:2-3
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

When I read the passages quoted above, I feel quite disconcerted with my conjured mental image of God looking more like Saddam Hussein than the peaceful looking white bearded man in the sky as envisioned by Michelangelo in his Sistine Chapel ceiling painting. God commanded Saul, through Samuel, to go forth and “put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” What the cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys did to deserve this fate, only God knows! Dogs and cats lovers, rejoice, though, for they were spared and not in God’s hit list!

Saul did go forth and carried out God’s command. However, he returned with the captured the king of Amalekites, Agag and spared the best of the cattle and sheep for the solders and as offerings to God.
When God realized what happened, He was as pissed as hell! (Funny isn’t it, God always seem to be not in the know even though he all knowing). This evidenced by the following passages:-

1Samuel 15:20-26
“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

 But Samuel replied:
 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
 as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
 To obey is better than sacrifice,
 and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
 and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
 Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
 he has rejected you as king.”

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.”

 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”

Poor Saul…so, let me put this in context:- 

It really isn’t entirely clear what the Amalekites did but they sure did something that really, really pissed God off. And why couldn’t God, with his omnipotence and omniscience, solve the Amalekites problem himself? What kind of an omnipotent God is it that creates a being so flawed like us, expects us to do right all of the time and gets pissed off when we don’t do as He pleases?

God asked Saul to utterly annihilate the Amalekites (men, women and children) and their livestocks. The price of not following such an instruction is equivalent to a sin. Therefore, Saul has committed a sin, according to Samuel’s reasoning. Hmm…whatever happened to “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13), one of God’s own Ten Commandments?

I mean, God could have made his teachings consistent- “thou shall not kill” and asked that Saul imposed economic sanctions on Amalekites. But no, God, like George Bush commanding the invasion of Iraq, commanded Saul to carry out a very brutal ethnic (and inter-species) cleansing.  After all, Saul, had he subscribed to the “thou shall not kill” rule, would have been very, very confused when he was commanded by the God to do the very thing that the same God commanded against a few books back in the book of Exodus!

If God have omniscience (all knowing), wouldn’t he had known that in some future point that He would have to arrange for the elimination of the Amalekites? Couldn’t he have commanded Moses to convey to his followers that “thou shall not kill, except, in the case of the Amalekites and their cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys, which, I can foresee, will be pissing me off big time in the near future.”

Perhaps if God did do that, then the Bible is clearly consistent. But then again, why did God create Amalekites in the first place if HE can already see the end result?


Thoughts on Boxing Day

I have been reading the works of Richard Dawkins lately and I’m glad that he was the final nudge that drove me back into being an atheist. Thank God Darwin!

The problem about the resurgence of religious extremism in the later part of the century had made this world a very ugly place to live. We have people from all sides who claimed that God demanded them to blow up the world back to the stone ages. I don’t know about you but if God asked His children to kill each other, it seem to me that Satan (if he exists) is the one who is probably doing the talking.

Furthermore, enterprising people are using religion as a vehicle to accumulate huge amounts of wealth. Whether this wealth is used to enrich the soul is another question altogether. I’ve seen a church in Malaysia that is so obsessed in building a big multiplex mega-church activity center that it has programs to continuously raise funds just so that The Holy Spirit can have a proper home. The congregation is asked to support this vision through “faith” pledges, building funds, etc.

I’m just thinking aloud but if the Holy Spirit exists- which I know he/she/it doesn’t- I think that he/she/it would have wanted the congregation to focus its energy to doing good and helping people. It is through this good work that gains them respect, not huge monuments that play to one’s ego. And what is this fixation about building the biggest church, temple, mosque, statue got to do with God anyway?

Some people would quote some Bible passages and said that somewhere it is there. God wants so-and-so to build a great monument as decreed in the scriptures so that …ya-da-di-ya-da-da…. And since God’s scripture is divinely inspired it is always taken as the truth. But this is not the case as the Bible has been reinterpreted more times than George Lucas has ever tinkered with his Star Wars trilogy (or sextology or whatever you call a 6 parter). 

Take for example, the passages relating to slavery. We don’t keep slaves anymore (see slavery passages in Matthew 10:25, Luke 12:45-48 and many more) and that puts the Christian text into a little bit of a quandary. To be politically correct in the 21st century, we have to interpret “servants” in these passages as servants and not slaves. However, the historical context of the era in which these texts were originally written in refer to “servants” as slaves, not the meek and mild definition of servants that we are familiar with today. It is a far cry for us to imagine that two thousand years ago, there were people who voluntarily seek a life of bondage (unless you are that kind of sexual deviant, but that’s another story). Jesus had a chance to make Abraham Lincoln redundant but he didn’t.

Of course, one can’t do that nowadays without being labeled a heretic. It’s convenient, isn’t it? When it comes to religious matters, one just need to invoke the divine nature of God and all contrary forms rational and logical arguments are summarily dismissed. It is as if our priests, pastors, imams and mediums have an exclusive inter-dimensional direct hotline to their gods. How can they interpret ancient stories and myth to come up with something that is relevant to today’s world? I have an answer but it is not something that most will agree with me with.

I believe that it has to do with an earlier point that I was trying to make: in the world of big business, the business of salvation is a pretty lucrative one. What more if I can entertain you with stories about the parting of a sea, the virgin birth of a foretold saviour and the eventual ufo-like lifting of believers into la-la land before the final uprising of machines against unbelievers. Err. Okay, so the last one was lifted from the Terminator and Matrix movies but Schwazenegger and Keanu Reeves did make hugely obscene bucket loads of money from them. And when money is involved we all know what happens as one thing that still rings true today as it did two thousand years ago is the old maxim: The love of money is the root of all evil.