Friday, April 22, 2011

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate

The Pull-It-Surprise!

(apologies to Kinder Surprise)


"The Pulitzer Prize in fiction takes dead aim at mediocrity and almost never misses; the prize is simply not given to work of the first rank, rarely even to the second; and if you believed yourself to be a writer of that eminence, you are now assured of being over the hill--not a sturdy mountain flower but a little wilted lily of the valley." William H Gass.


WE came up with that pun on the way to breakfast @ New York Tomato*. And it reminded me of the Gass quote. And the waiter there reminded us of No1 Son's joke last night...

Q: How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: It's a really obscure number - you've probably never heard of it.


* Really nice breakfast place in an obscure part of town - you've probably never heard of it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't Mention The Scalp - Reuters Journalists In Shit Storm of Political Correctness

Seriously, this is bullshit. Reprimands and sackings over absolutely nothing!

I have blogged about a friend of mine, Andrew Marshall, before. He is one of the guys in the spot of PC bother alluded to above. I chatted with Andrew on FB about his predicament last week, when he thought he was the guy about to walk the plank after a bit chat-room banter went from mole-hill to mountain at Thompson Reuters last week...

But things have developed quickly over there. It was not Andrew who took the brunt, but David Fox, the colleague he was chatting with. Unfortunately for the cause of world sanity, it was a internal chat-line open to others from Thompson Reuters. Someone was offended, not so much by Andrews light-hearted witty line, but from David Fox's response.

Here is an article from Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that I will paste in its entirety in the interests of fair comment and common piracy, as otherwise you (I) would have to pay a year's membership. (And get used to that!)

The bald facts behind a hair-raising sacking
Howard Winn
Apr 19, 2011

These days you need to have more than good reporting and editing skills to keep a job at Thomson Reuters. If the fate of two of its senior journalists is anything to go by you need to have a political correctness radar tuned to the sensitivities of its recently appointed editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler.

The two journalists got into hot water over a brief exchange in a company messaging chat room during the middle of the night while both were covering the recent Japanese disaster. The two journalists were Andrew Marshall who is based in Singapore and David Fox who in January was promoted to Jakarta bureau chief. When the exchange occurred Marshall was in Singapore and Fox was in Tokyo. Marshall attempts some gallows humour in what was a tense situation, and inquires of Fox, who is bald: "So how is the radiation mate? Has your hair been falling out?" For this remark Marshall was formally reprimanded and given a warning letter. Fox, it has to be said, replied somewhat coarsely but alas, we cannot repeat it.

Despite his 20 years' service with the company he is given the option of resigning with three months salary or of being fired and receiving one month's pay. The decision to oust him is believed to have been taken by Adler. Friends say he is likely to take legal action to obtain better terms from the company.

The punishments have infuriated staff throughout the world and both journalists have been inundated with e-mails of support expressing outrage at the punishment. It is a particularly bitter blow for Fox, having covered something like 35 wars for the company, to be laid low by a careless comment. But people at the company say that the fairly robust culture that existed at Reuters before the Thomson takeover is changing and will change further under Adler. People say he did good things at BusinessWeek where he was editor-in-chief for five years.

South China Morning Post

Hardly gallows humour, but if only David has just replied with "ha ha", I am sure neither of them would have been reprimanded, let alone sacked. If only...

There was also a more subdued article in The Guardian in the UK, which I will merely link to as it free online. Well, maybe a brief quote:

There is also a belief that the decision, which was made by Reuters in the US, is further proof of the agency's Americanisation since it was acquired three years ago by Thomson.

A little bit of trans-atlantic rivalvry there, what? And probably unnecessary as political correctness is not an exclusive national trait. But I really hope that this blows back into the faces of Adler and the powers that be at TR and that Fox and Andrew manage successful suits against them, should they decide to pursue that path.

After reading both articles, I put up this comment on The Guardian's website:

At first Andrew Marshall (who was bureau chief in Baghdad during the Fallujah dramas) thought it was himself in the firing line, as he too was given a warning and letter of reprimand.

You go to these wars, see your buddies get killed, and still you provide reports from the amazing stress at the front-line, reports that keep up the company's profit as they keep the world informed. Then you get pinged for a throw-away chat-line comment.

And Fox, who is bald, sees his career explode over his somewhat coarse response to his buddy over this line: "So how is the radiation mate? Has your hair been falling out?".

Perspective? Editor-in-chief Adler seems to have none.



I blogged about a similar story of Political Correctness in Australia when a good friend of mine in Melbourne got into hot water a few years ago: Sad Sick Little World.

When I sent this blog-post to Andrew, he said, "I once had a harassment claim made against me. It was total nonsense and luckily I had e-mail and other written evidence to prove that. Nevertheless, outside of the violent death of friends and colleagues, it was the worst experience of my life."


In a recent post on his blog, Andrew tells of these violent deaths and what it's like being a journalist on the front-line. The timing of which post was not necessarily coincidental...

Those of us who worked in Reuters in Baghdad were big fans of Pirates of the Caribbean. We agreed between us that there were some principles we would always try to live our lives by. We called it the Pirate Code. The first rule was that we would never, ever, give up on somebody unless we knew absolutely for certain that all hope was gone.

I still follow the Pirate Code today.

If anybody wonders why I fight for lost causes: now you know.


Andrew just said this on my FB page: "It was a ridiculous decision and I refuse to accept it."

I hope that the cause of David Fox and Andrew Marshall, for common sense to be restored at Thompson Reuters, is far from lost.


Sunday, April 17, 2011


God created this universe for us and us alone. And he helps us find our missing car-keys. And he know when we've been naughty...


Zoom right in. Every one of those pinpricks of light is a star, is a sun like our Sun.

We are nobody.

We are nowhere.

We are nothing.

We are hungry.

If you are going to stare into the existential abyss you might as well do it at the Mandarin Oriental over a champagne brunch tomorrow. Profoundly satisfying, unlike contemplating infinity when you should be in bed asleep.

Cheers, fellow nobodies.


Saturday, April 16, 2011


A view from the past... (Yesterday actually.) Sigh.

The Star Virgo spins into dock outside the window I USED to have. Seriously, set this at double speed or your brain will implode with boredom. In reality, sitting there watching the slow scene unfolding is quite a zen-like experience, calming and de-stressing, it turns so ponderously yet so elegantly.

FYI, the small Japanese company* I work for has been swallowed by a large Japanese company that doesn't want to spend any money on rent. We have had to move out to somewhere near the end of the earth (well, you can see it from there as Indy would say.)

Coincidentally (not ironically) , GE Medical (who gave out massive bonuses last year I hear) is moving in upstairs at Harbourfront in the month that we move out. One of my buddies (not who I heard about the bonuses from) is ex-Philips in HK (like me), and is now at GE in Singapore, will have this view. Bastard.


* and as they make radiation detectors are doing quite well thanks!

Mercer Machine - Guest Post

(Reciprocal posts going on here. Over at SomethingStickyThisWayComes I have contributed a rant that will no doubt send Mercer's stats through the floor as his usual readers drop to said floor, narcoleptic with boredom. However I expect mine to shoot into triple figures thanks to my good buddy Mike's considered and considerate prose, presented here for your delectation... And like anyone cares about stats any more.) Here it goes.


I first met Expat at the Sg Blogger's Convention. I remember he was holding a glass of wine, and I remember we were both quizzed by a Straits Times reporter, being the only two white guys there (as far as I can remember; it was a long time ago.

Since then many, many thousands of words have been blogged, and blogging itself has been replaced as the new hotness by facebooking and twittering. Expat has bemoaned the fact, and wondered often whether he should stop blogging and just be a twit(terer), or a booker of faces. To me, the medium is the message, and if all you have to say fits into 140 characters, then what you have to say could well be left unsaid.

My great friend Expat has also perpetually been not writing a novel for about as long as I have known him. Oh, he has bits and pieces written down and in his noggin, but the pace of production could be termed glacial. He occasionally has a fit of wailing/teeth gnashing, comparing his blogging output to the non-progressive progress on his literary opus. To which I would point out that I would rather read Expat at Large vs the Fraternity of Infinite Monkeys than the Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Now, you may be wondering why this whole 'guest blogger' thing. I could tell you that, in certain authorly circles, it has become fashionable to invite others to write a post on your blog, generally so that the writer is exposed to a new audience who will (hopefully) go out and buy said writer's works like a pack of rabid hyenas, but I'm not selling anything today, and many who read this blog are at least on a nodding acquaintance with my own anyway.

The reason I suggested we swap blogs for a day was simple: I wanted to thank my good friend for being a good friend, and to urge you Dear Readers to do the same. Our friend Expat lives something of a solipsistic life (though he maintains he still recognizes people as people and does not generally run screaming from the bulk of humanity), and it's nice once in a while to be reminded that there are other people out there who know you, who care about you, and who are appreciative of the fact of your existence and its intersections with theirs.

So please, do let our dear Mr P know this is so. It might cushion the blow of his having to move away from the office with the beautiful view he sees maybe three days a month :)

Mercer Machine.

Friday, April 15, 2011

And They Call It Democracy

Rumour has it that in the upcoming elections in a certain small country in the Straits of Red-Dot, the Gahmen will be buying votes rewarding those who voted for the Peoples inAction Party with a cash bonus, allegedly. Isn't that great? But of course it is, it's wonde... hey, hang on! How do they know who you voted for?

Rumour has it that every voting card has a number on it and that as it is assigned to you... um, allegedly. But logically, if the Gahmen knows that you voted PAP, they will know if you voted for some other party (with a leader bankrupted or in jail or both, and hence ineligible to stand), allegedly. People here seem to be aware of this, but are afraid to speak out, IKYN!

Expect a knock on the door at 4am. Allegedly. (I certainly am.)


Already the PM has been vocal in his defense of the policy that specifically ignores the needs of the people in wards that elect non-PAP candidates. Their HDB (public housing) flats will not be upgraded- the lifts on many currently only stop on every second floor, for example. You must walk up or down stairs to take a lift if you live on the wrong floor.


Lots of stuff about the upcoming elections can be found on the recently gazetted (made to register because they express political views, and unable to accept overseas contributions, an old anti-communist law I believe) The Online Citizen. (I'm not linking to it, as the connection is suspiciously slow, but please Google).


Welcome to the world of tiger democracy. Allegedly.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not Safe For Work, Or For Children

Seriously, not for kids.

Funny pseudo-porn cartoons...


Thanks Izzy.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Story Competition: Application #1

Ideas suggested by MercerMachine.


We waited, my son looking around the vast hall, awed. He pointed to the doors. He pointed to the apertures far above us. He pointed to the clocks. Soon, I nodded.

People waited in family groups of three, four or five. They had taken our luggage already, and had promised to give it back upon our arrival. My wife held our son's hand. His other held Scotty, his favorite soft bear, up against his cardigan. He had his name pinned on the cardigan and another on the bear. It was the only thing they had allowed us keep, though I could sense from the purser's look that this arrangement was not going to last. We were assured that everything, eyebrows were raised when they said everything, would be taken care of. My wife and I also had our names pinned to our clothes.

We waited. It had been several minutes now. I could tell that my wife was getting anxious. She shifted from foot to foot. I smiled at her, nodded again. Won't be long, I said. Although they are taking their damned time, I thought.

And no sooner had I had found the meaning in the emotions that had become this thought, than a great surge of guttural sound began to rise. It had a deep bass core that at first was just a vibration of the ground. It built into something audible, and generated a tide of nausea that resonated in our bodies. Was this how it starts? The sound came from something earthquake low and it became frighteningly intense and loud like the approach of giant machines churning in the earth below. My son began to whimper, ready to cry. My wife picked him up. She tried to make him smile, despite her own trepidations. Is this right? Will we be together as they promised? Her eyes begged me. I nodded. We had read of what would happen. She knew, but wanted to be sure. As did I, I must admit. I smiled, hoping that she would not see the uncertainty beneath. The roaring filled our heads.

And as with the sound, so too with the light. It built from a series of blue-white flashes, quickly to a blinding suffusion, an oscillation between peaks of whites that were all indescribably saturated, all different, yet past organic differentiation. My son buried his face into his mother's shoulder. She hugged him tightly. The light, the pure radiation of it, was terrifying not just to my son but also to my wife. In the second before I gave up my sight to it, I placed my arm around her shoulder.

This absolute brightness streamed up from underneath us, from the shaking floor of the hall. I could feel its flow, warm like a zephyr, towards those apertures so high overhead. The great windows above sucked up the wavelengths and they somehow liquefied. We arose within the liquid of the light, towards that gulping mouth. Our clothes fell away, my son's soft toy dropped back to the ground. They had said that these would be gathered, stored for us.

I felt transparent. The light carried us up from the station floor and we were drawn into the channels within the beams, one each for our own frequencies. There was a bandwidth appropriate to only one person, like a retinal colour wheel, a fingerprint, like the spiraling code in our cells, a bandwidth that would feed us perfectly deconstructed into the fiery chariots outside. This had been determined earlier, (step into this machine, they asked us one by one) when they took our bags.

The pulsating energies roared and flared around us, a monstrous humming of immense potential that turned us into light and the sound. Despite the extreme forces doing untold things to us, it felt pleasant, reassuring, and personal. Not only was this no longer frightening, it was exciting. If I had a body at this time, I am sure I would have an erection.

Thanks to the mathematical equations that underpin this process (way past my poor high-school understanding), our individual channels could safely merge into each other. This happened as we passed into the maw of the aperture. We were together as promised. The giant machine outside our apertures, called the Transform Courier, was assigned to speed us on in the blink of an eye - even faster, I had been told, than the oscillation of a twin-star, and then to unwind our energies. We, now the curling strings of life-screaming bosons that would be my family again on reconstitution, would arrive almost instantly on the famous holiday planet that has been our long-cherished family dream.

They say getting there is half the fun. I only wish we could be alive to enjoy that journey.


Please be cruel. It's only the kind thing to do. I know it's fuzzy, but is it TOO fuzzy?


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Science of Journalism

I once read an obscure one-act play I came across at a church bazaar. The young protagonist, a budding newspaperman, had just been promoted from obits to ambulance chasing. His first assignment, a fire, had him interviewing a desperate landlord outside his burning apartment building, who was wringing his hands in concern over his tenants, all of whom were safe.

The greenhorn rushed back to the office, typed up the story in a flash and proudly handed it to his editor. The editor took one look at the article and red-lined every word. “You can’t say this!” he scolded. “People don’t want happy news. You’ve got to have drama. Here’s your lede[sic]: ‘Brazen tenement lord nowhere in sight as helpless tenants burn.’ There’s your story.”

The play continues: ‘Whereupon, the hapless reporter was struck by the massive fact that journalism is an inexact science.’

viaThe Telegraph: comments section.


Sunday, April 03, 2011

April Fool

Yesterday was a joke.


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