April 13, 2009 Leave a comment

This has been reported by several blogs and it’s all over twitter, Amazon has decided to remove “adult” content from it’s rankings, unfortunately this “adult” content more or less includes everything and anything to do with homosexuality and LGBT fiction and non-fiction. Wtf? From the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy:

“American Psycho” is Bret Easton Ellis’ story of a sadistic murderer. “Unfriendly Fire” is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it’s “Unfriendly Fire” that does not have a sales rank — which means it would not show up in Amazon’s bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the “Twilight” series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon’s search results.

I’ve read American Psycho and I can tell you now that there’s a pretty good reason why the book is sold in Borders covered in shrink-wrap.  Explain to me why a book sub-titled as “Why the gay ban undermines the military and weakens America” should be lumped in the same category? It’s ridiculous, this is not adult fiction, it is a blatant attack on homosexuals in America, worlwide and on the internets.

Since then the hashtag #amazonfail has risen to number one on Twitter (in the space of an hour, reportedly, this is why I love Twitter). Twitterer @duncanriley reported that the top Amazon search result for homosexuality is “A Parents Guide to Preventing Homosexuality” and that’s by “relevance” search. Wtf?

Amazon must be destroyed. Yet another reason for Melburnians to buy books at Readings. Boycott Amazon, support your local bookstore, they can order books in for you anyways.

UPDATE: (Thanks Jacket Copy):

As the Amazonfail fiasco continues to grow online and people continue to question wtf is going on, Amazon has no decided that it was a “glitch”. Um. Yeah right. Jacket Copy:

Responding to our initial post, Amazon Director of Corporate Communications Patty Smith e-mailed Jacket Copy. “There was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed,” she wrote. “We’re working to correct the problem as quickly as possible.”

We wanted to know more. We asked for further explanation of the glitch, which has removed the rankings of gay-themed books such as Paul Monette’s “Becoming A Man,” Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” and others.

And I asked Patty Smith this:

From a layperson’s perspective, this glitch does seem to have affected certain types of books more heavily than others. In fact, only one of the top 10 books in your Gay & Lesbian section continues to have a sales ranking (the Kindle version of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”). No other section is similarly affected. Can you comment on that?

The reply:

Unfortunately, I’m not able to comment further.  We’re working to resolve the issue, but I don’t have any further information.
I smell panic & bullshit.

If the World was a Village of 100 people

April 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Many AIESECers would have seen powerpoints and cool vids depicting global demographic data framed under the concept of if the world was a village of 100 people, what would it look like. Toby Ng Design has taken these statistics and converted them to really interesting, simple but beautifully designed pictures. Check these out, and if you haven’t seem them before, they do make you think.

It’s interesting to see that Christians are still the dominant religion, I would’ve thought Islam would probably be more dominant by now but I guess if you lump together Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, etc then you’d have a sizeable amount. What I find misleading is the Atheists/Others category, I mean that includes Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha’is, Jains, Sikhs and many other fairly prominent religions, so how many atheists are there really in the world?



This is another interesting one. 6% of the world’s population apparently control 59% of the world’s wealth and they’re all from the States? Again considering how many billionaires there are in non-US countries these days, that is somewhat surprising (Carlos Slim anyone?)







Also I find the language one interesting, unsurprisingly Chinese rules the roost but by that much? Damn. And Hindi second at 8%? Russian scored pretty highly up there as well. I would’ve guessed differently but I guess demographic statistics for this kind of thing are pretty hard to agree upon.


I’m not sure what the source for the stats are but I’ve definitely seen them before, either way I think the design is really cool and check his website for more of it.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

3 Cool Cafes in Melbourne

April 10, 2009 5 comments

Some of you may be familiar with my previous post about 5 Cool Cafes in Europe. The fact is, I’m a coffee fiend and can think of few better ways to spend my time than lounging around in some cafe reading something interesting, having a good conversation or just chilling.

Melbourne is my home city and it’s a city with a thriving coffee culture parallelled by few cities in the world (few that I’ve been to anyway).  This means that this cafe post will be much more rigorous than the last one which was a bit random and far from exhaustive. Melbourne also has such a wealth of cool cafes that I’ll probably do a follow-up post at a later stage. So first up here goes:

1. Brother Baba Budan

359 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9606 0449

Almost a hole in the wall but big enough for a few counter tops & one communal table at the front, BBB seats around 20 people max. it’s a corporate a favourite with offices nearby but people come from all over the city and surrounding suburbs to enjoy their famous locally roasted coffee. BBB is probably the best coffee in the CBD (Central Business District) if not Melbourne. It’s run by the guys who used to own St. Ali’s (though the relationship between the two is a bit murky for me) in South Melbourne (see post below). Truly an amazing cup, run by friendly and very capable baristas, try ordering the ‘Magic’… that’s an insider’s tip 😉

2. Switchboard

11 & 12 Manchester Unity Arcade
220 Collins St., Melbourne, VIC 3000

Switch really is a hole in the wall, though they do manage to provide good toasted sandwiches along with the coffee machine that takes up half the space in the aforementioned hole. Run by two great guys, Switch has a back alley outdoor area covered from the rain and a cosy little room to sit in also. It’s located in a historic building and is a bit difficult to find (as most of the best places in Melbourne) but the coffee Switch serves up compares only to BBB in terms of quality (as far as cafes in the CBD that is). Oh yeah and the guys at Switch, the bloody lucky bastards, close the place up at 3-4pm most days so get in early if you want some of that goodness!

Photo Credit: 51 Mondays

3. St. Ali

12-18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990

Located in a small laneway that runs parallel to Clarendon St., in South Melbourne, St. Ali has had an excellent reputation for coffee for quite some years now.  St. Ali was also one of the original cafes to start the explosion of quality micro-roasting here in Melbourne. It’s a pretty big place and, as usual, attracts many of the office works from the surrounding offices (a fact of life in Melbourne is that often to survive as a cafe you need to bring out the corporates… but yet another reason why white collar work in Melbourne has its perks).

Not only is the coffee excellent but they also have a pretty decent food menu and St. Ali is therefore a great place to go to for brunch or lunch, not just for an espresso hit. The cafe also engages in some really interesting coffee-related business, including St. Ali’s customised tampers (for your machine) and a even a coffee project in Nicaragua. You can get more info on everything St. Ali related on their blog, but maybe just dropping by is also a good idea 🙂

Categories: Melbourne Tags: , , , ,

Vikas Swarup – bad writer and rather ignorant, it seems.

April 3, 2009 8 comments


Ahhh Vikas Vikas. What will we do with you? Why did you try to pack in as much crap as possible into one little narrative? Now I’m aware that the format you have chosen for your book, the random questions from a gameshow coinciding with events from the kid’s life in no particular order, allows you lots of “creativity” but why does your “creativity” have to have such lame and even ignorant results?

How did you manage, by page 168 (not even halfway) to incorporate film star pedophiles, Australian diplomats-cum-spies and even a Haitian voodoo practitioner (who apparently also is really good at sex, yay!) into an already eventful few chapters? I think just the regular poverty/crime/mafia/domestic violence/killing/slum-dwelling would have been more than enough to keep people entertained, dont you? I mean I would’ve thought that ridiculously philosophical 10 year olds with amazing vocabularies was enough implausibility

And on the topic of Haitian voodoo, get an education man! All I needed to do was look at wikipedia to know that all that black magic and voodoo dolls crap is bogus! It’s a myth! A MYTH! And it makes about as much sense as an Australian spy (honestly WHY would the Aussies want to spy on India, cricketing tips?)

I can clearly see why Danny decided to ditch like 75% of the book:

Mr. Swarup allows himself the occasional grimace in talking about the numerous changes in the script. But, ever the diplomat, he says the screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, and the director, Danny Boyle, stayed “faithful to the central narrative structure.” [NYTimes]

The occasional grimace? Faithful to the central narrative structure? Dude, the man (and his scriptwriters) turned a lousy book into a decent film! You should be pleased with how many copies of an otherwise dreadful novel you’ve been able to sell!

The novelist Salman Rushdie savaged the novel as “a corny potboiler” and “the kind of fantasy writing that gives fantasy writing a bad name.” [NYT]

Say what you want about Salman but the man has a point, I’d say “corny potboiler” is actually rather mild in comparison to what the book deserves. Vikas, in turn, never skipping a beat replied thusly:

Mr. Swarup was certainly stung by the criticisms, but said he understood the strong reactions.

“Indians are sensitive to the way their country is represented, but the film was not a documentary on slum life,” said Mr. Swarup. “Slums provide the backdrop to the story of the courage and determination of this boy who beats the odds.”

Oh dearie, he was stung. Vikas mate, I don’t think it’s the slums that are the issue… I think it’s more… you know… the Haitian voodoo maybe? Wtf?

More ranting about the book here if you missed my earlier post. Looking forward to more good times as I approach the halfway mark, lol.

Categories: Literature Tags: , , ,

Reading Vikas Swarup’s Q&A/Slumdog Millionaire

March 30, 2009 2 comments

The more I read the more it hurts (and not in the good way), it’s one of those books. Let’s start with Vikas’ protagonist, Mr. Ram Mohammad Thomas. Firstly, wtf. I mean I know Swarup was probably trying to indiciate religious unity in his name, trying to make him the representative of all Bombay (what about the Parsis, Jains, Sikhs?) and whatnot but… really? Apart from his name, Swarup has chosen him to be his first person protagonist, a rather bad choice considering some of the language used in the book. For example:

I reflect on how good it is to have simple, uncomplicated ambitions, like shaking a film star’s hand.

This thought occurs to Ram during the first 1000Rs. chapter where he is supposedly a small boy living in a Bombay slum. The idea that a small boy, regardless of where he lives, can have meta-cognition of this level and be able to personally reflect to this degree suggests that he could be the next Tibetan Lama. I mean what kid of like 10 years old would be able to ‘reflect’ on ‘uncomplicated ambitions’. I don’t think so. And this is just *one* example where Swarup’s first person protagonist seems to have maturity and age (and vocabulary) far beyond his years.

Suddenly Salim looks up. ‘Do you think I could speak to her? Maybe I could persuade her to come back to Armaan. Tell her that it was a mistake. Tell her how sad and contrite he is.’

Speaking of vocabulary, Ram’s childhood friend Salim also appears to be blessed with an advanced lexicon. Even assuming that Swarup’s characters would speak in Hindi and Swarup would be pseudo-translating to fictional English, ‘contrite’? Lol. Who uses that word in general conversation, let alone a bloody kid?

I mean Swarup obviously has a decent understanding of Indian society, even its lower echelons, and Bombay (as evidenced by his recounting of how things in a police cell work, his characters’ preoccupation with the female film stars’ breasts and male film stars action sequences, cat calls at cinemas, etc.)… well good enough for me anyway, but his dialogue and prose is so spectacularly terrible that it makes me cringe. Rohinto Mistry this man is not.

And finally, the main plot point in the first 1000Rs. chapter, the idea that a film idol would don a false beard and come to a cinema screening his film to molest a pre-pubescent slum dweller (who by coincidence, idolises him) is so ridiculous that it makes me giggle (and pedophilia is not funny).  Now I see why Danny only ‘loosely’ based the film on this novel.

So far so bad, Vikas Swarup. I’m sure you’re an impeccable diplomat. But you suck at writing.

The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan – Foreign Policy

March 29, 2009 1 comment

Foreign Policy magazine published a great article titled “The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan“, written by Nicholas Shmidle who spent two years in Pakistan (06-07) and is soon publishing a book about his time there. Myself being a relative layman when it comes to the complicated situation, I can’t point out many inconsistencies but it definitely serves for an interesting read.

Firstly Shmidle draws a line between the commonly confused FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and NWFP (North West Frontier Province), two different areas that are often confused. The first point of interest is that these areas have been troubled for quite a long time, this is not a recent development. Shmidle includes a nice quote from Lord Curzon on Waziristan, an area effectively run by the Taliban:

“No patchwork scheme — and all our present recent schemes, blockade, allowances, etc., are mere patchwork — will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine.”

On the supposed “border” between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Pashtuns ignore the border separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, named the Durand Line after the Englishman who drew it in 1893; the Pashtun “nation” encompasses wherever Pashtuns may live. Fighting the Americans, therefore, was seen as self-defense, even for the residents of FATA.

An interesting example of where colonialism in frontier areas wreaked havoc by trying to impose the Westphalian system of nation states by drawing random borders not defined by any real demographic or rational reason other than possibly the interests of occupying powers. We see similar issues in areas of post-colonial Africa, for example.

Here we have an interesting example of the fractitiousness of what outsiders know as one force the “Taliban”, in fact it is not one force and hardly united and even locals differentiate between them quite often:

(Maulvi) Nazir is only interested in fighting U.S., Afghan, and NATO forces across the border. He is not part of the TTP and has not been involved in the wave of violence sweeping Pakistan of late. Therefore, in the minds of Pakistani generals, he is a “good” Taliban versus Baitullah Mehsud, who is, in their mind, unequivocally “bad.” That’s just one example of Talibs living in Pakistan who do not necessarily come under the title “Pakistani Taliban” or the “Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan” moniker.

Sipahs, Lashkars and Jaishes:

Although Lashkar-e-Taiba is committed to fighting the Indians over Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Janghvi is bent on killing Shiites, and Jaish-e-Mohammed seems ready to attack anyone. The proliferation of these terrorist militias became so bad that in January 2002, Musharraf was obliged to declare, “Our army is the only sipah and lashkar in Pakistan.”

Issues with the Frontier Corps, the real front-line against the “War on Terror” or would that be “overseas contingency operations” now? Lol:


First off, the FC falls under the Interior Ministry, not the Defense Ministry, which overseas the half-million-member Army and has received the lion’s share of U.S. aid since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Defense Ministry’s dominance of the aid game means that the money Washington gives Islamabad to reimburse Pakistani security forces for operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda, money known as Coalition Support Funds, hardly, if ever, trickles down to the FC units manning a border post in South Waziristan who are, truly, on the “front lines” of the so-called war on terror.

Second, there is an issue of command structure because the FC is officered by regular Army colonels and generals. And finally, there is the problem that, owing to the widespread anger among Pashtuns toward the United States and the Pakistani establishment, no one can say whether the FC won’t simply hand over night-vision goggles and new weapons to the Taliban, especially when oversight by U.S. officials in FATA, parts of NWFP, and Baluchistan is so scarce.


Scary stuff. And an amusing account of the Pakistani army:

There is some leeway in the grooming standards and fitness levels expected by the Pakistani Army — especially for officers. Mornings are for praying and sleeping; lunches are for buffets; and evenings are for gallons of tea. Not much time for exercise, is there? And mustaches? The thicker, the better. Beards? The longer, the better. Does that mean that the Pakistani Army is composed of Islamic fundamentalists salivating at the opportunity to fire some nukes? Yes and no.

Umm. lol? On the famous ISI that we hear so much about, we have:

The ISI is the intelligence wing of the military. The Army, meanwhile, has its own intelligence wing, confusingly named Military Intelligence (MI). The Interior Ministry has its own: Special Branch. And so on and so forth; there are more intelligence wings in Pakistan than there are varieties of dal. And when Pakistanis on the street suspect that they’re involved in something nefarious, they simply refer to “the agencies.” That way, there’s no need to specify which agency was responsible because no one has any idea who is behind what, frankly.

Moreover on the perceived Islamism within the ISI:

The ISI draws from the ranks of the regular Army (in addition to some civilians), the same Army that is commanded by Sandhurst-educated, Johnnie Walker Black Label-loving Anglophiles.

And this is pretty much where he wraps it up, not exactly a conclusive conclusion as, at the moment, we’re getting a picture of more or less utter chaos everywhere, seems… about right? Good luck in “Afpak” Mr. President! And for those of you that are now better informed and view the region with more interest, why not get news from the source? Here’s a link to the Urdu-Pashtu Media Project, a project that concerns itself with the translation into English of Urdu-Pashtu media. No more BBC and Al-Jazeera, we now have the Pakistan Daily and the Indian Urdu Daily. Good times.

Categories: Afpak Tags: , ,

Boxed Water is better for the Earth

March 28, 2009 5 comments

Another interesting new design project popped into my feed this afternoon thanks to Design Rehab. Boxed Water!

The basic premise behind the product is fairly simple, boxed water is more enviromentally friendly than bottled water, not only because of the materials used but because of the shipping methods, a bit more information from the website here:

About 90% of the Boxed Water container is made from a renewable resource, trees, that when harvested in a responsible, managed, and ethical way serve as an amazing renewable resource that benefits the environment even as it’s renewed. Our carbon footprint is dramatically lower as our boxes are shipped flat to our filler and filled only as demand is created, opposed to most bottled water companies that ship their empty bottles across the globe to be filled, then shipped back for consumption. 

I think it’s a cool idea and the design of the “boxes” is also pretty cool, quite minimalist but interesting nonetheless. Available in the US only at this stage but let’s hope it’ll be hitting our shores soon, I’m fairly sure they won’t have any difficulty finding distribution in Australia, people here are all about cool bottled (or in this cased boxed) water products and considering how bad bottled water is for the environment… it’d be a refreshing change from that particular status quo.

Random Thoughts on a Friday Afternoon

March 27, 2009 2 comments

– Apparently Freida Pinto has become the highest grossing Indian actress, bigger than Aishwarya and Katrina Kaif, after landing various big name roles in Hollywood including one working with Woody Allen (!). I’m wondering if the Bollywood A-List are going to bitchslap this newcomer with no Bollywood pedigree and who hasnt done the hard yards… or if they’ll try to get on her back and ride the wave into Hollywood.

– People who do those Herald Sun quizzes in a big group in cafes really loudly are annoying…. ANNOYING! Because I constantly want to yell out the answers while those dumb-arses go “umm” “arr” “umm”… 

Idiot 1: “What country is Sa…sas…sak… sask…. Saskatchewan a province in?”

Idiot 2: “Duhhhh… dunno”

Idiot 3: “Omfg what?” 

Idiot 4: “India? Afghanistan?”

Me (in my head): “Canada, you fools! CANADA!”

– Can’t wait to get my new iPhone on Tuesday. woOt! I’ve been iPhoneless for far too long now…

– Having finished Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” which deserves all the praise that it gets (it was awesome) I am now reading Vikas Swarup’s Q&A/Slumdog Millionaire… and well, given my extremely low expectations for it, it’s been moderately entertaining (while being as poorly written as I expected).

Is Israel an Apartheid regime?

March 22, 2009 6 comments

Yet another excellent op-ed from Tony Karon for Abu Dhabi’s The National appeared in my reader feed this morning.  Accusations of apartheid politics have been thrown at Israel for some time now from members of the Left and Palestinian solidarity groups but Mr. Karon seems to be suggesting that these accusations are soon going to hit the mainstream. Moreover, it seems these suggestions are prompted by comments made by Ehud Olmert himself.

In a remarkable interview last November, the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert cautioned that unless it could achieve a two-state solution quickly, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”. The reason, he said, was that Israel would be internationally isolated. “The Jewish organisations, which are our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.”

I myself must have missed this interview last November but it certainly does sound remarkable – especially for Olmert to make such an admission which, it should be noted, was made even before the Gaza offensive began. That offensive, as Karon also points out, has seen a bit of a seismic shift in global perceptions of Israel.

Jewish communities in western countries have long been Israel’s trump card against international pressure, because they mobilise support for Israel and restrain critics by painting opposition to Israel’s policies as motivated by hostility to Jews – a toxic accusation in a world still sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust. But what was palpable during the Gaza conflict was the diminished enthusiasm of young Jewish people abroad for Israeli militarism, and the increasing willingness of many to openly challenge Israel.

Karon invokes Jon Stewart, one of the left’s favourite political commentators and satirists. I also had no idea that Stewart was Jewish, which hardly matters I guess as opinions on Israel’s regime need not (and should not) be formed on a basis of religious or ethnic camaraderie. In the past, Jewish critics of Israel’s regime have been labelled “self-hating Jews” as carelessly as the accusations of “anti-semitism” have been thrown at gentile opponents. I have not heard such accusations thrown at Stewart, and hopefully they haven’t been and they won’t be. Hopefully we’re seeing a shift away from careless labelling and equating opposition to Israel to denying the Holocaust. Whatever your opinions on the matter, a discourse tainted with hysterics is never a positive thing.

Even as Israeli officials admitted last week that they were hoping to “rebrand” Israel’s image abroad, the Israeli media were reporting that six Israeli soldiers who had fought in Gaza were alleging that men in their units had indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians because of what they said were permissive rules of engagement. There is only so much that “rebranding” can achieve when it is the product, rather than its packaging, that is at the root of the problem.

This is a fairly serious accusation. I have long said that the civillian casualties in Gaza were unacceptable and that the old defenses about fighting in densely-packed urban areas and Hamas using civillians as human shields, to me, just don’t seem to stack up to the numbers reported. 1,417 Palestinians died in a 3-week conflict, most of them civillians including many many women and children. I’m fairly sure the Israeli military command was not instructing its soldiers to fire at civillians but I’ve always suspected that the culture within the IDF has always been one of nonchalance towards civillian Palestinian casualties, I’ve always had a hunch that the motto seems to be “destroy Hamas at any cost, apart from Israeli lives”… Palestinian lives just never seemed to equate to the lives of Israelis.

In addition to what Tony Karon has wisely said, Israel will not be able to continue on the same track unless it starts to value the lives of Palestinians as equal to those of Israelis. Children are the same everywhere, and other innocent non-combatants should be too.

[Update]: Just seen some new articles from Haaretz and The Guardian about fresh allegations of massive disregard within the IDF for Palestinian civillian casualties and a disgustingly gung-ho culture. We’re talking about:

“Shoot and don’t worry about the consequences” was the message from commanders [Guardian]

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques – these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription “Better use Durex,” next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter’s T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, “1 shot, 2 kills.” [Haaretz]

It’s really really sickening.

Sandstorms in the Khaleej

March 11, 2009 2 comments

Some great photos from Riyadh, thanks to the Guardian popped up in my reader feed of the sandstorms in the Gulf. They look a little more hardcore than the ones I was used to in Bahrain but reminded me of those many times when walking from the car to the apartment was hazardous for your contact lenses and usually involved repeatedly being lashed by hot grains of sand tot he face… and stepping out to your car in the morning, only washed the day before, and seeing it covered in brown sand. There’s also the fact that cars have to be washed and apartments dusted on almost a daily basis because these particles just come from nowhere and get in everywhere… all the time.