19 June 2009


There’s no hope
For me now, boy
To me now, boy
It’s all just
Dopamine, serotonin

But on that night
Nothing but
Tumeric, aniseed
Clove, lime, mint
Chilli, my cool sweat
And an idle waitress
On a quiet shift

So she sat down
Across from
The only customer
How deliciously
She hopes that
The boss doesn’t see

“Would you like
To come back with me
To old Penang town?”
Her warm, bold
That supple, smiling

I should have said “Yes”
All those forty-eight
Years ago
Before I learned
Too much about love
And its chemical


The brain revolution

We are getting smarter. And the technology our intelligence has created is accelerating the process. Whether through external prostheses like computers and the internet, or internal amplifiers like cognition-augmenting drugs, we now have the means to immediately improve our mental powers. The definition of ‘intelligence’ is changing: it’s going to be less about how much knowledge your brain stores and more about how proficient that brain is in acquiring information and processing it for a particular purpose. To that end, current brain-enhancing technologies, whether external or internal, are the harbingers of homo novus; the New Man. With the aid of external technologies at least, we will become less dependent on having to memorize gigabytes of facts and figures when such information is just a point-and-click away.

11 June 2009

When it rains, it pours

“Do you believe in God?”

He came on the train at Sunshine and sat next to me, the elderly gentleman. He was polite, thanking me for removing my bag from the seat next to me so he could sit. I was just tucking into a meaty dialogue on Holocaust denialism in April’s Standpoint when he asked what I was reading. I flipped to the cover with a caricature of Pope Benedict the Sixteenth and gave the gentleman a brief rundown on the rag: Cultural and political magazine. UK publication. Monthly circulation. Conservative bias. Pithy writing. Pretty pictures.

Just as I was about to elaborate on the various ways the rag edified me, he popped the question.

Something that gave me a good laugh

A man walks into a pub in Vladivostok and orders a black coffee. Suddenly, a gorilla bursts in, grabs the coffee, washes his balls in it and storms out. Quite shocked, the man asks the waiter: 'Mister, do you know why gorilla wash balls in my coffee?' The waiter can't answer, so the man demands to see the manager who has no explanation either, but tells him to talk to the band playing the joint as they have experience in such matters. So the man asks the band-leader: 'Mister, do you know why gorilla wash balls in my coffee?' 'No,' the musician responds, 'but if you hum a few bars, I'm sure we can play it.'

[As recounted by Jan Verwoert in 'frieze' magazine, who was told the joke by Boris Ondreicka. Verwoert wrote "It changed my life."]


You are bleeding.
…I was attacked, on my way up here. But I fought them off.
How many of them were there?
Three. No, four, but the fourth one just hung back. He looked no more than a boy.
Three attackers? Either you are stronger than you look, or they were particularly averse to pain.
Are you Khem?
I am Khem.
You… don’t speak like your countrymen. Certainly don’t sound like the man I was told I would find up here.
Hah! Do not let my appearance fool you. I may look like one of your Western caricatures of the exotic Other, the brownskin who summons spirits and believes in supernatural powers, in beneficent gods and malicious demons. I am not that.
I was told that you're a master of the fighting arts. That’s all that matters to me.
The fighting arts? Then you heard wrong. I know nothing of the fighting arts. But if it is the fighting sciences you care to learn, now that I know a little of.
Are you playing word games now? Is this one of your tests?
I do not play games, young man. I meant precisely what I said. If you want to learn how to harness your ‘chi’, or build up your ‘fighting spirit’, or execute the ‘death touch’, or any other such esoteric excrement, there is a fair glut of ‘masters’ of such nonsense who are only too keen to poison your mind so that they may maintain the illusion of being possessors of rarified knowledge.
I… I don’t quite follow you. So you don’t believe in ‘chi’?
I do not believe in anything that is not supported by evidence. I do not believe in ‘chi’, I believe in neuropsychology. I do not believe in ‘martial art traditions’, I believe in anatomy and biomechanics. I do not believe in the supernatural, I believe in the empirical laws of the universe. The laws of physics. Of biology. Of all that is measurable, quantifiable and reproducible. Are you following me now?
Yes... Yes, I am.
Good, you show promise. If you wish to learn the science of combat, I will teach you how to apply the principles of biomechanics and physics to break an opponent’s limbs in thirteen different ways. I will show you how to read his thoughts through his body language. I will instruct you in human physiology, how to manipulate, damage and even repair the human body. I will introduce you to psychological techniques that can be used to increase your fighting ability while decreasing your opponent’s. I will demonstrate how you can leverage biological facts to your advantage when facing a larger enemy, or when fighting in a hostile environment. You will learn the chemical properties of blood, sweat and tears, and not just shed them in a tired cliché. If all this is what you wish to learn, then I shall teach you.
I want to learn everything you care to teach me. Everything.
You are a hungry animal, who has been stalking after knowledge for some time now, all for a specific purpose. Am I correct?
…You're correct.
You will learn that the skills you seek need not be paranormal in order for them to serve your purpose. And that a rational mind is your most powerful weapon. What is your name?
My parents named me Bruce.
And your parents, they are dead?
You wonder how I know this, yet you wear your grief like a black cloak. You think to avenge them, yes? That is why you are here, to learn how to punish their killers.
I’m here to learn how to protect others from people like my parents’ killer. To make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to another chil- …another person.
Hah! How generous of you, Bruce. You think to transmogrify your personal tragedy into a righteous one-man crusade against the forces of darkness.
Will you teach me or not?
I will teach you, but not with that name you carry. If you are to become my student, you will die to your past. Though I cannot force you to forget the life you had up until this moment, you will not bear any mark from that time while you are here. Not even the name your parents gave you.
Then why did you ask for my name in the first place?
I was curious. You... intrigue me.
Whatever. I don’t care.
Yet you must have a name. I cannot just call you ‘boy’ now, can I? It may not grate on your pride, but it would on mine.
Then what do you propose to call me?
Hmmm… your grief shall name you. So long as you are my student, you are Karam.
Yes, for you have black wings. Now, let me see to your wounds.