Welcome to Darkside Daily

When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Anti-Terror Traffic

In some countries, the steps taken towards countering the very real threat of terrorism is swift, sharp and decisive. By now we have gotten accustomed to being strip searched outside almost every hotel, national landmark and public toilet; even the tedious task of removing belts, shoes and nipple rings before boarding an airplane is met with a collective air of resignation (and in the case of nipple rings, the occasional yelp of pain).

Yes, the world in general has accepted the fact that someone out there wants to kill someone else; every morning we pray that ‘someone else’ isn’t us. And so we comply with almost any form of security measure the powers-that-be deign appropriate. All the authorities need to do is assign a rather large and serious looking man in uniform at their checkpoint, create the illusion that by entering their little cordoned-off area we immediately become ten times more likely to be struck by a stray air-to-surface missile, and we do whatever they tell us to.

In most cases, this is the best course of action. Surely the police and security people know what they’re dealing with; it’s their job for crying out loud! You just need to trust that they have everything under control and get on with your life.

Not so in Sri Lanka. Our track record when it comes to security is rather shaky at best. There have been numerous assassination attempts at various political figures over the years, ranging from local ministers to the president. Though this in itself is nothing unusual, the success rate of these attempts is alarming. The last time an assassination attempt was botched was when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the president at the time lost only her eye instead of her life back in 1999. Yet, to consider the loss of an eye as a botched attempt is a frightening example of how successful these attempts usually are.

It isn’t hard to see why either; just the other day, the president had visited Kandy to stay in his hill capital residence. The police, who naturally are required to provide the highest form of security for the president, set into motion their tried and tested counter-terrorism tactics.

No parking in town.

Yes, this is their answer to the apparent threat to the president’s life; restrict parking inside the city to the single parking complex which is completely out of the way from anything of importance. I can just picture it now: two ‘terrorists’ in masks driving around town, bomb in the backseat, cursing the brilliance of the police as they struggle to find a parking spot for their mini cooper. “Curses! Foiled again!” they say in unison, and drive back to their secret lair to get their bicycles.

Our country has been involved in civil war for 25 years. For as long as I have been on this earth, we have been at war! Yet, despite all our years in the ‘business’, we seemed to have learned absolutely nothing, save for traffic diversions. Indeed, it seems our police department is extremely adept at this dark art, and continue in the fond belief that randomly interchanging the one way lanes in the capital will thwart the attempts of one of the most ruthless and well organised terrorist organisations in the world from entering the city for fear of getting lost. Meanwhile the average commuter is left to simmer in silence as entire routes are changed and basic traffic laws ignored in their frantic bid to appear busy.

Another common assumption by our beloved authorities is the fact that only buses and 80’s model vans are likely to carry suspected terrorists. At every checkpoint, it is a common sight to see 40 to 50 passengers of an intercity bus standing by the road as the police go through their belongings. Meanwhile, autos, cars and any other form of vehicle you care to name go speeding past. Surely terrorists can find alternate modes of transport, especially since these checkpoints are well known and advertised for the whole world to see! I’m sure our friends – the masked terrorists and their mini cooper – would go completely unnoticed by the cops, even if they were to carry a big ‘Wile E. Coyote’ style stick of dynamite strapped to the hood.

In short, it is hard to decide which side is more incompetent: the police, for using ludicrous methods like those mentioned above to ensure the security of the people, or the terrorists, for not having completely and totally crippled the country by now.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and right now, somewhere in the outskirts of Colombo, two masked men are watching their mini cooper being towed away by the police, as a large and serious man puts them in police custody for driving up the wrong way on a one way street.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bye Bye Beijing

In keeping with all the Olympic hype, it seems appropriate to write an entry on this, the last day of this year's Beijing Olympics. The USA Basketball team have just redeemed themselves after years of failure at the international level (their last national success was gold in Sydney 2000), and being the hardcore basketball fan that I am, I regret not being able to watch it. Basketball; now that's what I call sport! Athleticism, speed, stamina, strength, strategy, agility and cheerleaders. You couldn't ask for more! Football may be the 'beautiful game' and the sport that is most steeped in history, but nothing beats the thrill of stepping onto the court for me.

We all have our favourite sports; either we enjoy watching it or playing it, and what better showcase than the Olympics to do either. However, I sometimes wonder if the definition for 'sport' and 'game' has been somewhat blurred over the years.

Which brings me to - "Darkside Daily's List Of The Week".

In this edition, we shall focus on Olympic events whose inclusion in the games can be described as ludicrous at best.
Drumroll please!

5. Table Tennis

I don't understand how this works. Table tennis is a sport that is restricted to China, Japan and parts of South East Asia. How does it become an Olympic sport? Take this years games for example; Bronze - China, Silver - China, Gold - China. Yes, international sport indeed. In fact, as mentioned in one of the links in my previous post, the governing body for table tennis is considering major changes in the sport to try and boost its waning popularity globally; i.e., ladies, please ditch the baggy shorts and shirts, and dial Miss Sharapova's number pronto! More nations play rugby, cricket and golf; yet to even consider making these sports an Olympic event is laughed at.

4. Softball

Like most people, I don't understand baseball. Maybe it's because I've grown up following cricket, the sport from which baseball is supposed to be derived from. But I can accept that it is at least a sport, even if it's international appeal is also in question. So why include softball as well? Softball is a watered down version of baseball, and in almost all respects is identical to baseball. It's sort of like touch football (American football without the tackling), and played only for fun or by women. For the IOC to allow both versions of the game to become Olympics events is just bizarre, and apparently even they agree; neither sport will be featured in the 2012 London Olympics. Perhaps the paralympics then...?

3. Triple Jump

I love athletics, and I think no event captures the real essence and character of the Olympic games than track & field. Here is the one platform where all competitors are equals, where an advantage with regards to facililties and training programmes does not play as big a role as other sports. Jamaica proved to the world that all the high-tech conditioning and training programmes in the world can't beat pure speed and desire. But there's one event that I just don't understand, and that is triple jump. We have long jump, we have high jump; who invented the triple jump?? It's almost as if someone was on his run up for the long jump, jumped too early, kept going, jumped too early again, kept going and finally jumped into the pit; then when faced with the puzzled onlookers, he said "Triple jump; pretty cool huh?" In long jump, the purpose is to jump the farthest distance. Fair enough. In triple jump, the purpose is to jump the farthest distance AFTER jumping twice already. As a measure of athletic ability, it is a complete disaster.

2. Equestrian

Apparently I was all wrong about the Olympics. See, I thought it was a tournament to promote international goodwill through the spirit of sportsmanship by competing in events to measure athletic prowess. Naturally I just assumed that we'd leave the animals out of this. But no, we have Olympic events to judge how high we can make horses jump, how well we can make them look while jumping, and how well they look while jumping together as a group. The Olympics is probably the only place where men who sit on horses are considered 'athletes', which I believe is just absolute cock! To prove my point, look at this years events. Several animals were found to have illegal substances in their system and were disqualified from the competition. Now, if the riders really were the so-called 'athletes', why in the God's name are they doping the horses?!

1. Synchronised Swimming

A picture speaks a thousand words. So feast your eyes on these.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bizarre Beijing Bulletin

Its not often that I stumble upon something so bizarre that I decide then and there to add it to the blog, but like my earlier post stated, these olympics have just given me more than enough material.

Click here to read a short and somewhat bizarre article which was posted on Yahoo Sports.

Oh but there's more - click here for something equally interesting.

And one more - click here for the icing on the cake!

You gotta love the Olympics!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beijing Blues

We are bang in the middle of the month of August; and as expected, the gaze of the entire world has been on China for the Beijing Olympics. Well, not quite; our attention has been somewhat divided between the little crisis in Georgia (i.e. the war) and the fact that Madonna is now 50! But despite all this the air has been full of general camaraderie, sportsmanship, brotherly love and – smog.

Yes, smog. The IOC may consider themselves akin to the Greek gods of old, since they hold the power to designate the host country for each of the games. However, this time they must have had a bit o pot between them, because they seemingly dismissed the perpetual haze that hovers over Beijing as “smoker’s vision” and bestowed the honour of hosting the 2008 games to them. Little did they know that it wasn’t just the air that would give off a foul aroma during the games.

This edition of the summer Olympics has been full of controversy from day 1. In fact, it started well before the spectacular opening ceremony commenced, with athletes from several contingents expressing their concern about the air quality in Beijing. Using air filters and other technology, it was determined that the pollution was eleven times higher in Beijing than any other metropolitan city in the Europe or the Americas. One news reporter travelled to the Great Wall of China, some 40kms away from Beijing, and recorded the air quality there. It was found to me much better – it was only six times more polluted than London. Naturally, the Chinese authorities went into panic mode and shutdown most of the major power plants inside the city, as well as any other industrial zones. They even went so far as to limit the number of cars that could enter the city per day. Then, just to add extra oomph to their intentions, they issued a decree stating that each vehicle could only enter the city once every 48 hours.

This seemed to satisfy the IOC, who thought they could now relax. That was not to be, as bang on cue, the freedom of the press was put into question. Once again, several reporters complained of harassment by the Chinese authorities, who refused to allow them to video or interview any of the thousands of protesters that were demonstrating against the regime that was in power.

Once again, the government stepped in and allocated specific ‘protest areas’ where demonstrations could go on unheeded. However, to enter those areas one had to register themselves; mysteriously, those people would find themselves in jail the next day for jaywalking.

Oh but there’s more! The Spanish basketball team caused a stir by posing for a team photo while making what appeared to be a racial gesture. The fallout was somewhat muted, and the Spanish team didn’t seem to take it too seriously either, issuing a simple apology and not bothering to justify themselves further. And in keeping with national unity, another picture of the Spanish tennis team surfaced with them making the same gesture. Brilliant.

Could things get any worse? Definitely! A Swedish wrestler is controversially disqualified in a semi-final bout, and his opponent goes on to win the gold. He subsequently wins his bronze medal match, but throws his medal down on the podium as he receives it and walks away. Apparently, he “was aiming for the gold. Nothing else matters”. Sportsmanship at its peak. He was later stripped of his bronze medal too. A fitting punishment, considering he never took it in the first place, don’t you think?

But the crowning glory of Olympic cock-ups has to be the Chinese gymnastics team. It is a well known fact that younger girls are more supple and flexible, thus giving them an edge in gymnastic events. That’s why the IOC has set a minimum age of 16 for the games. Forcing anyone younger to compete would be deemed cruel and inhuman, as their bodies are not yet completely formed.

Enter the Chinese team, with girls that all look like they should still be playing with dolls and studying 8th grade math instead of competing for their country. Mysteriously though, they all have passports that show they are all 16 years old or older. Chinese girls obviously mature later – like around 30. (Click on the link, it makes for interesting reading)

A wise man once said that the world had gone mad. Well, actually he said it many times, and that man was me. But when the Olympics, of all things, cannot escape controversy and instead becomes a “bird’s nest” of unsportsmanlike behaviour, can you disagree with me, I mean, ‘him’?

Lets all look forward to London 2012, where Afghanistan wins gold in the shot putt by throwing a land mine 70 metres into the players tent and killing everyone. Perhaps the IOC will give him a stern warning and force him to shave his beard in apology.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shopping Fears

In general, the joys of shopping are restricted to the women-folk. Since the beginning of time, we men have somehow been inept at performing this task; hence we resort to repeated complaints and dissatisfaction with almost any purchase they make. Why, if we go back in time to the Garden of Eden we see that the first ‘trip to the grocers’ was undertaken by Eve; that was a disaster for all concerned, and yet we have not learned our lesson.

So when I say that I dislike shopping, especially for clothes, it should come as no surprise. But just wait till you find out why.

The other day the family had gone to Colombo. As with any pilgrimage to the only developed city in our island, our trip would not be complete without dropping into the marquee department stores. Most of our trips to these shops come about not because we are looking for a particular item to add to our wardrobe, but simply to ‘check it out’ in the off-chance we do find something good and worthwhile. I was hesitant for many reasons, one of them being that I hadn’t found anything in these stores for years. Either their standards had dropped or my sense of style had suddenly died. Nevertheless, I trudged to the men’s section, and looked over a few pairs of jeans. I was just putting a pair back in the shelf when ‘it’ happened; the dreaded act that almost always happened to me in clothes stores. “Excuse me”, a man said, “do you have those trousers with those extra pockets?” With a slight look of disgust, I stared at him for 5 seconds before telling him politely that I didn’t work here. Once again, someone had mistaken me for the shop assistant.

As mentioned before, this is not the first time this has happened. Oh no, this scenario seems to shadow me like something out of bad horror flick; and just when my guard is down and I feel that I’m only being paranoid, the music rises to a crescendo and ‘it’ jumps at me in the shape of a confused shopper asking for another size. I just don’t get it! At first it was mildly humorous, but after the hundredth time I seriously started to wonder if I was part of some extremely well organised prank! What is it about me that says ‘shop assistant’?? I’d understand if by some freak chance my t-shirt and jeans happened to match the dress code of the shop’s staff, but that has never been the case! It was especially frustrating when I was in college. My girlfriend and I would often drop into a particular clothes store when we weren’t too broke. I never bought anything, but I enjoyed shopping for her (a loop hole in the system apparently). Yes, believe it or not I have taste, or so it seems. But just when I think I’ve earned a lot of plus points during the spree, ‘it’ happens. Imagine the scene; she opens the door of the changing room, looks for me to ask my opinion and instead finds me with an embarrassed smile, talking to an attractive girl holding a halter that is obviously too small for her. Let just say I’m glad I wasn’t standing in the lingerie section.

Over the years it has been a pattern - either I’ll be picking something out of a shelf, putting something back or just standing and looking out the window - it doesn’t matter. Young and old, men and women all come running to me asking where the kids section is or whether the denim capris came in size 38 as well. Once some guy actually came up to me and asked me whether the underwear packages in the shelf were briefs or boxers. Or maybe that was just a really lame gay pick-up line.

But the most bizarre occurrence had to be a few months ago, and let me tell you why it was bizarre. It wasn’t because it was an old lady that mistook me for store staff, nor was it because she was asking me about chinaware (we were in a interior d├ęcor store – my little ‘problem’ wanted a change apparently); it was because this time I was by far the most out of place person in the shop. There was no way that I could have been working in that store, not a chance in hell. Why? Because of what I was wearing, because of the colour of my skin, and because of the camera in my hand.

You see, this incident occurred while I was on vacation – in Denmark. Though I suppose this should come as no surprise, given my history. I might as well have hung a sign around my neck that said “I don’t work here – no, I really don’t” in Danish; who knows, maybe the manager would have walked up to me and said “Good job, Olaf, we’re giving you a raise!”

Monday, August 4, 2008

'When Darkness Falls, A Knight Will Rise'

Have you ever been in the situation where, through no fault of your own, you suddenly find yourself completely and totally out of the loop? One second you were in the thick of things, 100% modern and totally, like, ‘hip’, like; then you blink and suddenly you’re as current as the ‘Macarena’. My mind journeys back to the late 90’s, when I was in 8th or 9th grade and very un-cool. Just when I thought I was making some form of progress in the quest to improve my ‘cool’ factor, I was dealt a death blow; I didn’t know the names of the ‘Spice Girls’. The fact that I didn’t want to, or that I didn’t even like them was irrelevant. They had a hit single (“Wannabe”), they were hot and there were five of them. What followed was a desperate search through magazines to find their names, as well as the equally desperate attempt to catch their music video on TV so that I could clarify which Spice Girl pinched who. (“Ah yes, that’s ‘Baby’! And she’s pinching – hang on, is that ‘Mel B’ or ’Mel C’? Wait a minute, then who’s ‘Sporty’? AARGH!”) Needless to say, it was terribly traumatic, and took years to repair.

Years have gone by, and now after almost a decade, I suddenly find myself in a similar situation. No, this has nothing to do with knowing the names of the Pussycat Dolls (lets be honest, no one really CARES about their NAMES), nor does it have anything to do with Brangelina’s newborn’s names. This time it’s something that is completely out of my control.

I’m talking about the movie of the decade, the entertainment story of the year, the blockbuster that has blown its competition out of the water, the movie that has taken the place of ‘The Godfather’ on top of imdb.com’s coveted ‘Top 250’ of all time.

Yes, I’m talking about ‘The Dark Knight’.

And the fact that I haven’t seen it.

Like I said earlier, this is completely beyond my control. In keeping with our nation’s image of being a little bit backward in all things under the sun, the movie is yet to release in Sri Lanka! To be fair, it is yet to release in many parts of the world, with Germany being the last country to officially get her hands on it later this month. However, since most of my friends are either in the States, the Gulf or India, I am a conspicuous absentee from all the online chatter about the movie. To make things worse, everyone knows I’m a die hard fan of the Caped Crusader, ever since I saw the first Batman movie back in the early 90’s. Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson brought a comic book legend to the big screen, and what a performance! For a movie made in 1989, I still think it is a stellar piece of work. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker has stood the test of time – till now, apparently. Ever since that first movie though, I’ve been a big fan. I saw all the movies, read the comics, and was such a hardcore fan that even the release of the fourth (and the most pathetic) instalment of the franchise - ‘Batman and Robin’ – (which had Batman and Robin ‘sky surfing’ and using ‘bat credit cards’) could not shake my love for all things Bat-related.

To me, there is something special about the whole persona of Batman. Allow me to educate you; please bear with me. Unlike most ‘super-heroes’ portrayed in comic books, Batman has no super-powers, no alien-inherited ability to fly or destroy things with a magical ‘zap’; instead he is one of the few completely human super-heroes, one who relies solely on his skills of deduction, his determination and dedication, as well as physical prowess in all forms of fighting styles. But this would all sound somewhat larger-than-life if not for the dark nature of his origins. Unlike other comic book heroes, his motivation and drive to do what he does is not borne out of some sense of moral obligation, but rather a form of penance. Bruce Wayne was only a child when he witnessed the murder of his parents, and the scars from that traumatic experience is what gave birth to the Batman; a hero that works in the shadows, seeks no praise, and lives with the knowledge that no matter how many crimes he stops, he will never be able to prevent the murder of his parents. How cool is that?!

That is what I love about the character; the feeling that this is no fairy tale story, and there is no happy ending. The Batman universe is dark, evil and without comfort. Gotham City, the domain of the Batman, is always depicted as a corrupt, dirty and infested place. It is uncompromising, and it is much like the real world in my opinion. It is a place where the only saving grace is in the shape of a hero who is in most cases considered as bad as the villains he hunts down. Again, this is somewhat like the real world, where one often finds that in order to survive you have to become as twisted and ‘evil’ as the people we complain about.

I could go on and on, but I fear that if I do I’ll probably be branded a bit of a ‘freak’.

Bottom line – there are no words to describe how frustrated I am about now being able to see it. There are loads of camera copy prints available on the internet, and the only reason I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of downloading them is the fact that a work of art like ‘The Dark Knight’ should be experienced on the big screen. Or so everyone keeps telling me, much to my annoyance. I swear if I get one more mail or message reading “Why so serious?” I’m just going to flip out! However, I’m just glad that comic book heroes are finally getting the recognition they deserve. The artists and writers behind these comics put in a lot of time and effort to create a world that lives in the hearts and minds of millions around the world. Now, thanks to the world wide success of movies such as ‘The Dark Knight’, instead of being a branded as ‘kids stuff’ these writers can now truly call their work ‘art’.
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