Saturday, 24 September 2016

After WWIII



Every time I see this picture, I imagine this weird story. 

It's the year 2107 and several major events have altered the course of human history.

Firstly, Earth's population was almost wiped out with the outbreak of World War III decades earlier. The war itself stemmed from a fatal conglomeration of pandemic disease, bad politics, pro-anarchic hacker movements, and nuclear weaponry. 

Secondly, China became the first country to assert territorial claim over a chunk of Mars, galvanising a furious space race that almost killed the precarious detente being negotiated between superpowers in the aftermath of WWIII.

Thirdly, mankind has begun to slice up and colonise Mars, with multiple countries pouring resources into a universal terraforming process that will take at least another twenty to thirty years to complete. However, most of the terraforming and other technology being used for interplanetary administration is being funded by a powerful technocracy led by tech giants in Silicon Valley and Zhongguancun. 

At present, Earth is being viewed as a backwash for the underprivileged. Those who are wealthy and educated book their tickets to Mars. Mars, where the technocrats have enforced stringent migration checks and requirements to ensure nobody 'undesirable' is able to penetrate the new intellectualist-socialist-democratic utopia they've started to build. 

On Earth, few cities remain standing, and even fewer still function under a recognised government. Most others were pulverised completely during the war, or have fallen away to anarchist groups and self-serving warlords.

In those still functioning cities, the people are gripped by a widespread dysphoria. People are depressed, lacking in motivation, without hopes and dreams. Because dreams of peace and the future now belong on Mars. On Earth, all there is left around them are architectural ruins and pockets of ongoing violence and civil warfare. 

New York and Washington no longer exist. Seoul and most of Southeast Asia is being occupied by belligerent Chinese and Japanese administrations. Much of Europe has succumbed to disease and is cordoned off as an extreme quarantine measure. After the war, many 'modern' first world cities turned to rubble, and have become just another graveyard for lost souls.

However.

In the midst of all the political bickering and daily threat of warfare, somewhere in the tiny and unassuming West African country of Gabon, this picturesque glasshouse stands. 

It is a sunny afternoon, and pleasant zephyrs roam the air. The owner of this seemingly misplaced glasshouse, an ailing 103 year old WWIII veteran, strolls slowly in her wheelchair next to the potted plants, flowers and manicured hedges she had installed herself some decades ago. She comes to a stop at the far end of the glasshouse, taking in the colourful vista before her, admiring a scene of bliss that at the moment, very few people on Earth or Mars would ever be able to enjoy. To sit there without a worry, among beautiful flowers, and hear nothing but birdsong to break the tranquil rhythm of softly flowing water from a garden fountain, was an unthinkably lavish privilege. 

A young boy bursts through the doors of the glasshouse. He looks about 16 years old. The veteran turns around, and says she's been expecting him. The boy blushes, apologising profusely for his tardiness, and then reaches into his bag, pulling out a weirdly shaped cylindrical instrument that is a holographic recorder. He has only been allocated 15 minutes for the interview.

Actually, that is incorrect. He won those 15 minutes through a lottery. 

He will be the last person to speak to the world's only remaining WWIII soldier. And there is no leeway to stretch the time, as after those 15 minutes are up, she will die. She has chosen to die at a very specific time, having taken the necessary steps to implement her death.

He bumbles through his questions, knowing all too well the importance of her last words. They are the usual questions one would expect him to ask. What is your strongest memory of the war? Do you believe the war was ultimately meaningless? What do you think about the new Martian society? Do you have family or friends on Mars? What would you say to those in control of admission to Martian society? Do you think they are repeating the mistakes that led to World War III?

It is not long before those 15 minutes are up. The boy gulps in nervousness, thanking the veteran and stowing away his recorder. As he steps towards the door, the veteran asks him to stay. 'Please stay,' she smiles, 'and enjoy the sunlight with me.' When the boy nods in agreement and slowly steps back, she smiles even more broadly, her wrinkles twitching. 

She sits in her wheelchair. He stands next to her. Both of them tilt their heads up to watch a flock of birds dance near the trees outside. In the further distance, hippos walk across the savannah plains. He doesn't dare peek a glance at her until minutes have passed. 

When he finally musters up the courage to face her, he sees that her hands are clasped on her laps, and her eyes are firmly closed. She has fallen into a deep sleep from which she will never awake. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

#angst

Last night, I accidentally stayed up till 3am reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation. I read 105 pages in 90 minutes and didn't want to stop. Eventually, I put the book away at what must have been an even more ungodly hour, and then went to sleep. I forgot to set an alarm and ended up missing all my classes today, despite having packed my bag already.

That is the price one pays for reading.

Well. Not that I'm too fussed about it. Reading fiction, especially from profound science fiction writers like Asimov, has been a much greater cognitive adventure than anything I've ever found at law school. Which in fact, is setting the bar quite low, because all the things you've ever heard about law school 'stretching the mind' and teaching you 'how to think' is spectacular grade A bullshit.

Law school teaches you how to think - adversarially - systematically - within the boundaries of a legal system. It narrows the scope of your lens so that everything you interpret must either be legal or illegal, right or wrong, black and white. Grossly manichean. Any grey areas are glossed over with whichever perspective best suits the interests of your client. Then - proceed to pursue that line of argument with the zealousness of a stereotypically (and often romanticised) hawk-eyed and ethically decrepit hot-shot lawyer.

On the other hand, the best and most life-changing fiction I've ever read have been firmly focused on challenging systems, questioning the world or society's expectations, and exploring those very real and sensitive grey areas. In exploring grey areas, these stories also describe with great eloquence the unbridled power of emotions and relationships. At the end, it encapsulates the best and worst of human nature, and alerting the reader to the critical importance of empathy.

Yes, empathy, something very lawyerly. *rolls eyes*

Bleh. I'm sorry. Every time I blog now, I end up ranting about how I look down on law students and well, people who are mentally incapable of idolising anybody other than Hugo Boss clad investment bankers or senior law firm partners. If that's you, please fuck out of my life right now. Or better yet, complete mandatory volunteering at homeless shelters and refugee camps so you'll have something to think about when you're sitting behind your antique mahogany desk at Barclays, signing off on a lucrative account with some corrupt as fuck billionaire Chinese CEO. Because I damn well know some of you idealise that lifestyle lel.

Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

P.S. just wanted to say that people have every right to worship power and money, but don't expect me to entertain you with my time if you're such a person.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

I'm dead

Last night, I felt obliged to attend a Dungeons and Dragons session with my Shanghai study abroad group of friends, and ended up having lots of fun but getting around four hours sleep due to subsequent academic commitments. 

Firstly, D&D is exhausting. You know how many bloody hours it takes to just get out of a cave and go sell some junk for gold pieces? Apparently, three hours. 

Secondly, I was already physically/mentally exhausted, sleep deprived af and would have skipped the night if I hadn't missed the last session a fortnight ago. Our dungeon master (i.e. the game's MC) is a beautiful person who has put hours into designing the campaign and writing up stuff for me to read. 

I would have felt really bad if I missed D&D again, and also, I didn't want to miss out on another three to four hours of campaign progress. After all, I do have the physically strongest character of the team - Harper Lee, a half-elf (half-human) paladin who was once third in command of a legendary mercenary group. I pretty much based Harper on a fusion of the main characters from the medieval fantasy anime Berserk, namely, Gutts, Casca and Griffiths. So yeah. My character is mightily charming, headstrong, and the embodiment of brute strength. 

Anyway. 

I need to die right now. Like, on a bed. All warm and snuggled up. 

With cocaine a cup of hot gen mai tea and a copy of Snow Crash.

But I can't. I have to go meet my friend, who is going to teach me how to use iMovie and edit videos properly (i.e. not have it look like a pile of shitty jump-cuts). 


City of Stars + a scenic drive in Melbourne

I just put all my songs on Spotify to play on shuffle.

How apt that the track to come on right now would be Logic's City of Stars.

The first time I heard that song, I felt like Spike Spiegel, leaning handsomely against the large window of their interplanetary fishing trawler (The Bebop), slow-burning a cigarette, and staring out into a swirling mass of glimmering stars, an insouciant expression hiding deeply felt pangs of existential awe. Spaceships hover in the distance, infinitesimal dots of colour interspersed among the hugeness of the universe. Words cannot possibly describe the feeling, but it tugs profoundly at the heart, and at the parts of the brain which process pleasure.

Anyway.

When I first heard it, I asked my boyfriend to take me on a drive. It was late at night, and with City of Stars pounding through the car's speakers, I felt a strong hedonistic need to see the city lights. We ended up doing a slow drive down Yarra Boulevard, in Kew.

You know. I've never done any drugs (unfortunately). But there are times where I certainly feel like I am on some. This usually occurs when I come across some exquisite concept art, or watch a really visually striking film. Blade Runner. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tron Legacy. Dark City. 

A conglomeration of colours, evening textures, restrained pacing, and haunting music will make for an overall atmosphere of psychedelic paradise. And I wasn't kidding when I said it tugs at the heart. A physical weight comes over me. The experience, for me, is both extremely cerebral and wonderfully somatic. In other words, it feels fucking amazing on every possible level. #betterthansex

So we're driving down this winding boulevard next to the Yarra river, and I had turned City of Stars up to dangerous volumes. I had obviously never been down the boulevard before (apparently it's a popular meeting place for drug dealers), and didn't even know such a scenic drive existed.

For a while, we were just driving in darkness. There weren't any lights because the boulevard was technically, located within the Yarra Park reserve. All I could see on either side of the car was bush and shrubbery. Well, black lumps and shadows that swayed against the crepuscular, purplish shade of the night sky.

Then. All of a sudden. Boom.

There it was. The Melbourne skyline, rising majestically above the jagged outlines of the foliage that festooned the entire length of the boulevard. It was like watching an 8-bit cyberpunk city come to fucking life.

The skyscrapers appeared to shoot out of the ground right in front of us. From our elevated perspective, the city indeed looked deceptively close. As the car continued forward, I would crane my neck back, admiring the blue, red, silver lights. And the crane! A brightly lit construction crane, with the construction company's name emblazoned brightly across its shaft, positively glowed against the city backdrop.

Yep. It was like drugs. Or how I imagined MDMA might feel.

Even reminiscing this night is making me feel all sorts of awesome right now.

Oh, and it turns out that Logic's album - The Incredible True Story - the one with City of Stars on it? I could not fucking believe it when I found out.

The entire album is a fictional story set in space, on a spaceship, with a rat-pack crew of friends. One of the characters that speaks before a few of the songs? Is the actual fucking guy who voices Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop (Steve Blum). AND it turns out that Logic is a huge Cowboy Bebop fan.

This is why that album will always be one of my favourites. Or even my favourite album of all time.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Kill.

'Who the fuck are you??!' yells the fat man with the cigar hanging out of his mouth. 'You ain't supposed to be in here lady!' He starts to get out of his chair, his left hand still gripping a bottle of Johnnie Walker King, his right hand clutching the game's winning set of cards - a Royal Flush. Well, how unfortunate for him. 'Fuck bitch! I said get ou-'

BANG. BANG. BANG.

One two three. Heads explode. Bodies drop. Blood splatters an expensive Persian rug. And all over their Spring 2015 Armani suits. I stroll over to their table, once host to a poker game, now petri dish for brains. I pick up a partially cracked shot glass, quickly take a sip of straight whiskey, gulp, exhale, cough like a fifteen year old taking their first hit of weed, then proceed towards the next anteroom.

'WHAT IS HAPP-'

BANG. BANG. 

One two. Beautifully splayed out like pirouetting ballerinas on the black marble floor. Skulls caved in. Eyeballs missing. A romantic embrace by two decapitated lovers from the grave.

'SHE'S GOT A FUCKING MAGNUM!' shouts a voice from above. 

BANG. BANG.

Shouldn't have spoken. Idiot.
I hear kerfuffles from the balcony. Many men. Moving. Organising. Arming themselves. 

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.

Silence. 

I have shot all the lights out. Time for fun. Time to party. I put on my night vision goggles. I scurry up the stairs like a ninja. 

Ahhh... look at them, so bewildered, so scared, huddling like little animals at the abattoir, about to be butchered, skinned, diced and cubed. Open season just began.

Snaking my way nimbly through the crowd of blind suits, I reach the bar and take my place beside the quivering bartender on the floor. I bring my magnum up. Breathe. Focus. I stand up and all I see are their backs. This will be easy.

A deafening series of blasts rock the darkened room as I let loose a tsunami of metal, copper and lead that's off the fucking seismographic charts. I smile as dozens of bodies shake and vibrate, dancing to the bullets perforating their flesh like sex. The bartender cries, pissing with fear, and covering his ears. I shoot him in the chest. 

I return my gaze to the front, and finish a few of them off. Some are hiding. Behind sofas. Behind shelves and cabinets. Hmm. I don't have time for this. I grab a couple of little lovelies from my belt, hit the 'detonate' buttons, and throw them into the centre of the room.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

The high-tech grenades fry them to smithereens. Limbs fly majestically. Juices flow like the Nile in the summer. Beautiful, haunting, operatic music, echoes within my brain. It was Deliverance. 

I walk out of the bar, turn right down an empty corridor, rip my goggles off, and make my way to the The Office. 

Shoots the fuck out of the double mahogany doors. Kicks them open. He is cowering behind his desk.

'Hello Vitaly.'

'WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?? WHO SENT YOU?!!' his eyes dart frantically. 'YOU HAVE KILLED ALL MY MEN. ALL OF THEM.'

'But I haven't killed you.'

'I CAN GIVE YOU MONEY! RICHES BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION! JUST SAY WHAT YOU WANT! I HAVE EVERYTHING, ANYTHING! JUST-'

'I don't want your shit you motherfucking pig.' I step towards him. 'You don't remember me?'

He pauses for milliseconds. 'W-WHO...ARE YOU?!?!' He pauses again. He stares at me, intently. Thinking. Revising. Scanning memories. Then his eyebrows furrow in alarm. 'Ana??? Anastasia?!! I'M SORRY! I'M SO SORRY... PLEASE, PLEASE FORGIVE ME...'

I look at him, dead serious. We stay like this, locked in a trance. Slow, taunting moments pass by.

I suddenly burst into laughter, thumping my gun on his desk, scaring him shitless. He was about to erupt with tears, looking sweaty and pathetic. What kind of mob boss was this?

'Who the fuck is Anastasia? A long lost daughter you used to sexually abuse, Vitaly? A woman whose family you ordered to be slaughtered? Perhaps a demon, rising from the shadows of your conscience, come to take you to the ninth circle of hell?' 

His eyes bulge, watery and round. He clasps his hands together as if in prayer. 'P-PLEASE...'

I press the cold steel tip of the magnum to his forehead, grinding it into his filthy, wrinkly skin. 

'Just fuckin' with you old man. I don't know you. But salutations, from my boss,' I wink.

'Wh-'

Bang.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

I just laughed really loudly for 20 seconds straight because I saw this on GoodReads:




Oh god. You have no idea how hilarious this is.

Movie: Eye in the Sky



Premise: 
Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a young girl enters the kill zone, triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

(Edited out of my post a lot of swearing and top-notch insults...there's still a lot of swearing)
------------------------------------------------------------------

I just finished watching this incredible movie. All that I can think about right now is this.

Every single international relations student needs to fucking watch Eye in the Sky. 

Actually, every single person who holds any opinion about war, politics, and human rights needs to watch Eye in the Sky.

I am not kidding. 

You know how many people think they know what it's like to make a judgement call in the heart of an ongoing war zone?

To think that wartime actions can be critiqued through the black and white lens of moral absolutism (i.e. "this act is always wrong" and "this act is always right")?

To think that their personal interpretation of an intricate military or government decision is somehow an 'obvious' one, and more credible than those held by the people who actually knew all the available facts, have experienced war on the ground, and have to bear real-world responsibility for their decisions? 

A LOT. Because I had to debate such persons (friends IRL) with such views on Facebook recently.

Eye in the Sky, a consummately woven and utterly compelling story, will make what I think is already totally fucking obvious even more obvious. 

Wartime decisions, especially under tight time frames and unforgiving public scrutiny, are extremely difficult to make. They also and very often involve moral ambiguity, and moral relativism. Sometimes, it is as impossible to decide on a wartime action as it is to answer the biggest philosophical/ethical questions of our time. 

e.g. THAT 'trolley problem':

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the most ethical choice?


I feel like everything I'm typing out right now is so commonsensical and shouldn't even need to be stated. I feel like a fucking pedagogic, tautological dickhead even pasting the trolley problem here, and bolding certain lines that I think are important. I don't want to come off patronising and yet... 

The fact that I had clearly intelligent friends not understanding or unwilling to recognise this concept of 'yeah, sometimes there is no way to decide on right and wrong, and thus it is probably not a good idea for us as privileged first-world netizens to impose our opinions onto other people with more knowledge than us, relating to problems that they personally deal with' - was immensely frustrating.

Of course, it would be acceptable that somebody make a moral judgment AFTER they take into account every possible factor (that is available to them) about the conflict. But frankly, we're twenty something year old college students living in the most liveable city in the world. Come on.

There is simply no way we are in any position to know everything about a freaking war occurring 3000 miles away in a country, and then comment authoritatively on a morally ambiguous situation occurring in its midst. 

Anyway, Eye in the Sky is a MUST WATCH. It is just a beautiful film. I weeped for a few seconds at the end. 

KIND OF A SPOILER (pretty obvious ending anyway) (the most apt summary of Eye in the Sky):

Tear-stained politician:

"In my opinion, that was disgraceful. And all done from the safety of your chair."

A Lieutenant General stands up, preparing to leave the room. In a deep, measured tone, he reminds her:

"I have attended the immediate aftermath of five suicide bombings. 

On the ground, with the bodies. 

What you witnessed today, with your coffee and biscuits, is terrible. 

What these men would have done would have been even more terrible. 

Never. Tell a soldier. That he does not know the cost of war."

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A catharsis about being free from society's sycophantic bullshit

A few days ago, I read an extremely well-written feature piece on Moxie Marlinspike in the latest issue of WIRED Magazine. No, Moxie Marlinspike is not Hollywood's next purple-haired, uber sassy but impossibly cute manic pixie dream girl.

He is the programming genius who invented the software Open Whispers, which enables double-end encryption on your text messages, online messages (i.e. on Facebook and Whatsapp), and phone calls. He's the world's number one guardian of privacy. A cynic of government and law enforcement. A believer that only rule-breaking leads to progress. He is, by all means, the people's hero. And truly, his technology played a critical role in the events of the Arab Spring.

Moxie Marlinspike is a grade A rebel. He doesn't play by society's rules and he will never have his life suffocated by the boundaries that other people set for him. He did things like drop out of school, not go to college, couch-surf among different friends for months, go sailing around the world with a few of his best mates. He once had to sleep on a bench. But this was the life he had chosen and wanted. It was the most precarious, the most exciting, and the most personally satisfying.

And then I realised something. Something that has further changed how I understand myself and what I want out of life. On the other hand, I can see how some people may argue that this is something borne dangerously out of my own fantastical desires - a harbinger of my vocational death. And perhaps what I say next is only further testament to my quixoticism, but goddamn, I only have one life, and if I had to conduct myself according to the rules, conventions and expectations dictated by the rat race of society, its ridiculous fashions, and its cretinous toxic industries, then I'd rather fucking die right now. What I wanted was to be - was Moxie Marlinspike. 

I envied the hell out of Moxie Marlinspike. Reading his story, I became acutely aware that I am not a genius coder, and that in my lifetime, I probably will not possess a skill anywhere near the level of consummation that Moxie exercised over coding (except maybe writing? lol). But I definitely recognised that the more I read about him, the more I was nodding to myself in absolute awe. Here was a guy who was both changing the world quite drastically, and not having to commit to bureaucratic bullshit, eight hours a day of sycophantic smiles, memorised by-lines, and tea-sipping etiquette with old white men/boring white-collar suits. He was answerable to no-one, and absolutely free to be himself.

And I loved it. 

Maybe this is just a phase, spurred by my countless interactions with bosses who believed that 'respect' was a top-down hierarchy and not an egalitarian, horizontal one. Spurred by the neverending comparisons and heavy expectations placed on me as a law student. Spurred by the extreme stress and existential crisis that law students feel when they apply for clerkships. 

To be honest, it's probably more to do with the first factor (where I've been underpaid, ignored, insulted, misunderstood, disrespected etc etc). And the fact that growing up in a Chinese family heavily involved in prominent Chinese-Melbourne circles, I've been forced by my parents to 'kiss ass' every time I attend a function, and battle for photos with whichever politician was present. I've been doing this since high school and I have barely ever self-promoted such photos on Facebook or whatever. I don't know, it's just fucking embarrassing. Like, taking a photo with the President of the Electoral Commission when I was 15, or with the MP for Box Hill and his wife when I was 17. Who the fuck cares? Do people care? 

Every time I post shit like that now, which is certainly not often, is because I'm finally at the point where everyone around me is doing the same shit and I feel pressured to self-promote. I also sometimes do feel a bit guilty. I have had all these incredible opportunities to network and I haven't capitalised fully on them, or I never actually sustain the networks I've built. I once had a lovely mentor who graduated from Cambridge business school and did a JD at Monash. He's now the Asia Pacific director of some international law firm. We used to exchange emails, and then I just stopped replying (it might have had a little to do with the fact that I was 17 and he was 41 when we first met, and I was uncomfortable that he was driving me around to get coffee and stuff oh god I'm sorry mister, you were a good guy).

Anyway. I know. I was fucking stupid to give that up. But honestly, I'm exhausted. I was thrust into a world of sycophantism when I was very young, and although I know that I am good at talking to people, I hate having to try really hard to please people that I don't know or like, and seppuku my own personality for the sake of what other people deem a necessity of life. 

Fuck I really need to study now.