Movie title: Underworld



NB: It were not going to be another ‘recycled’ vampire-vs-werewolf saga we mostly have been fed up watching year after year.

But this plot contains some metaphorical references to ‘vampire’ and ‘werewolf’. Should we set it, first, in the United States? Not necessarily, and I don’t really recommend it. We have seen pretty many movies talking about America’s underworld, and, okay, add ‘neo-Nazi gangs’ as additional spices won’t do so much. I think we should pay a particular attention on Third World countries, and given that political and social stability in those places are relatively fragile, this plot is much more suited there.

As poverty is highly prevalent, particularly in major cities as a consequence of decrepitude in government services and reliability, street gangs are oftentimes mushrooming, and in some instances, engaged in intense urban warfare. Killings, beatings, revenge, all of these perpetuate from one thug group to another, day by day. A tough guy, the main character, has grown so adjusted with it, that he has proudly termed himself as a ‘recidivist’. He has slashed his rivals’ throats, gouged one of their eyes, and cut off one of their arms, and he’s got stitches much across his body. As certain thug groups are backed by ruling parties, especially an autocratic regime, he’s subject to torture by security forces affiliated with the government. Nonetheless, no human beings are completely angelic or being permanently evil, though; in his little, suburban village, the tough guy is hailed ‘a stoic hero’, despite his overwhelming tattoos and scars on his body. He is also, unexpectedly, religious; religious in the sense that he originates from a community embracing a minority form of belief, and that community has always been ostracized by the majority. His fate is put into a big test, somehow, when the government announces to raze the entire village, and replace it with a wholly new urban development built by one of their cronies’ business empires. Some of the villagers had been bribed, some of those opposed are tortured, and rival gangs, backed by security forces, slowly intimidate every aspect of life in that village. What will the tough guy do? Either he fights the government – with a consequent risk that the entire village’s lives are put at stake, or simply acquiesce to their demands after offers of bribery – at a cost of having betrayed his fellow ‘people’?

Movie title: The Tallest City on Earth

the tallest city on earth


The theme may sound obsolescent – that post-World War fighting spirit that resonated with millions of young Americans in 1950s and 1960s, but personally I think it’s worth contemplating again, considering that it is becoming increasingly difficult for more people, not only in this country but also worldwide, in achieving their dreams and visions.

So, thanks to the random algorithmic system, this new plot has been unraveled. It will be something like a trilogy, each of which tells us a different perspective of life in 1940s New York City – the world’s Caput Mundi, epicenter of the planet where people from elsewhere strive hard to grab the American dream. There is a motivational speaker, seeing opportunities in giving fiery speeches to war-exhausted veterans about ‘the need to go on with life and strike the hardest out of it’. Then there’s a teenager, hailing from a poor immigrant family (my mental projection imagines him someone from Eastern Europe, and almost definitely a Jew), but has an IQ of above 150. Last but not least, a university student, once a trauma-beleaguered World War II soldier in Pacific theater, who is greatly gifted in mathematics. Their stories are hardly related, but they may intertwine: each of them, in Horatio Alger-esque literati, is struggling to overcome their odds, and, in ups and downs of life, by making use of Camus’ flow of thought, questioning the very existence of their lives. How their careers and life paths diverged as time went by, up to the time of 1970s, when signs of inequality, and the gradual backwardness of the city, became increasingly obvious.


Or I should use a time machine to return back to four decades earlier, I guess?

Love is Forever: teaching children to cope with loss

love is forever



Our love is a gift, a treasure to hold,
a story in our hearts forevermore.

This gift of love we have been given
is one that is pure, constant and sure.


Loss, as a matter of fact, is itself such a heavy-hearted keyword, that even conveying the word to kids itself becomes a burdensome duty. Loss, however, is an inevitable fate that everyone of us in this world will face. One day we will lose our beloved grandparents, or our parents, or our lovers, or someone else who we treasure, or who we grew up with. It comes in all forms, be it tranquil or tragic one. But we all know that dealing with it, sooner or later, is a must, and sometimes, we even must get prepared at all times with it. But, again, another problem comes: how to best equip people, especially children or toddlers, to cope with such devastating concept?

Casey Rislov and Rachel Balsaits collaborate together to publish Love is Forever, an illustration book about dealing with loss of beloved one, but this time aimed for children. Eking out a delicate balance between telling a hard truth and illustrating lightly-colored pictures, featuring owls as reflection of us human beings, Rislov and Balsaits hope that this work will inspire not only children, but also all of us, to appreciate more the meaning of life itself, and in particular, to cherish every single moment with our beloved ones, especially in such age of modernity where people are increasingly becoming self-centered.

See more examples of this illustration book in Brain Pickings.

Zen Pencils: Inspiring people with cartoon work

zen pencils


Why you should visit this website: wisdom doesn’t have to be judgmental; no human beings are born perfect, and we are all prone to making mistakes. But, one good thing about humanity, again, is our automatic tendencies to never cease reminding each other to learn from our misdeeds, to not repeat the same errors, and to live life with a wider perspective. Somehow, we also must realize that not all people are ready for feedback, in particular if it sounds harsh and superiority-inducing to one another. Gavin Aung Than, an Australian freelance cartoonist, has one creative approach to fill the void: make the fullest out of his passion – drawing adorable characters – to disseminate those messages of wisdom, preferably in a humorous and self-evaluating manner. And there comes Zen Pencils: with wise quoting by well-honored public figures, Gavin wants to prove, once more, that spreading wisdom doesn’t always have to be uni-directional. Thank you, Gavin!


Dear ladies, she wants you (only if totally ready) to shave your heads


Carly Pandza (Sinead O’Carly) is not joking about this notion; she is now organizing a huge event on it! The Los Angeles-based artist and social activist has been making that breakthrough since last year, and through that mind-provoking courage, she wants us to break a stigma not only about people worldwide who are suffering from baldness, assuming it as ‘divine punishment’. There are people suffering from cancer, having finished their strings of chemotherapy, or from alopecia, trichotillomania, and what have you, and this is heartbreaking particularly for women. And Carly has succeeded in breaking ‘the wall in the mind’ with her bald head now.

But, again, as we see from reality, not all people in the world, not all men, not all women, are willing to go hair-free. Nonetheless, at least, we now can learn a new perspective from Carly, showing that with or without hair, people should not be judged solely by their physical appearances or flaws.

Abroad, we’ve heard a lot about headshaving charities (I think there’s only one in Indonesia so far) overseas, and Carly Pandza is making that effort through ‘You Are Not Your Hair‘, a one-day female-only massive campaign held in Los Angeles by which she’s targeting approximately 200 courageous, mentally ready women to get their heads completely shaved. This event will be held on August 16 this year, and you can view her promotional video above. Only if you really, really, really want to.

Now, I must admit that you are gorgeous.


Bonus: Carly shares her experiences about going hair-free in The Bald Movement.

Innovations for Successful Societies: Achieving a civic society

innovations for successful societies


Why you should visit this website: firstly, there’s no doubt that almost every person is always questioning whatever an authority is doing. Be it city management, corruption eradication, simplification of red-tape obstacles, provision of basic welfare services, etc, etc. No doubt that many people, as well, will oftentimes get disappointed with the governments. Nonetheless, for Princeton University, this is a healthy sign. A sign that people ‘participate’ in public discourse about issues pertaining to their countries, their provinces, or their cities. That they are concerned about anything that the authority is doing, and of course, as government itself is primarily consisted of human beings, too, they’re prone to mistakes and wrongdoings.

So, how do governments, particularly in developing countries and semi-democracies where people’s voices are oftentimes overlooked and repressed, respond? Here is where the university releases a public-policy studies initiative, titled ‘Innovations for Successful Societies’. Looking into hundreds of case studies spread over 56 countries worldwide over decades, this program attempts to disseminate positive ideas, creative methods, and out-of-the-box courage as already practiced by dozens of successful leaders in their respective fields. These are just a few examples:

1. How Joko Widodo (or Jokowi, now Indonesia’s elect-president) transformed his hometown, Surakarta (Solo), from a city once plagued by crime, poverty, and extreme violence, into a creative arts and tourism hub in Southeast Asia

2. How Bertrand de Speville spearheaded massive anti-corruption efforts in transforming Hong Kong, once one of the world’s most corrupt cities, into now one equivalent to Singapore in terms of financial transparency, economic freedom, and almost non-existent red-tape practices, in less than 4 decades

3. How a former British police commissioner reformed a once-decrepit police force in Lesotho, a country completely surrounded by – and dependent on – South Africa

4. How anti-corruption watchdogs are working to bust political cronyism in several former Soviet states

Get inspired and be participating in building up your society!


Forever in chains: The tragic history of Congo

congo crisis


One of the Belgian hostages during post-independence Congo Crisis in 1960.


Misfortunes appear seemingly associated with the history of Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC as we now preferably call. Even its geographical existence itself, in agonizing terms, is a ‘colonial wound’, already carved by the personal ambitions of King Leopold of Belgium more than a century prior. Firstly known as ‘Congo Free State’, King Leopold brutally exploited his approximately all his subjects, mutilating their hands for failing to fulfill quota required by his private company. It was estimated that 10-30 million people died from 1885 to 1908, the year the colony was taken over by Belgian government directly. Renamed ‘Belgian Congo’, the colony underwent rapid economic growth, and near its independence in 1960, it became the most industrialized colony in the whole continent. Nonetheless, skills and technology transfer were virtually nearly non-existent, as bulk of the expertise was managed by a tiny white Belgian community, no more than 90,000 strong, against more than 16 million Congolese people, of whom only a few dozens had ever accomplished higher education.

As independence came, anti-Belgian sentiment was overwhelmingly terrifying; thousands of businesses were ransacked and looted, and the entire economy came into a complete stoppage. Another three-decade authoritarian rule by Mobutu Sese Seko, meanwhile, foresaw a relative political stability and a stronger Congolese identity under another more authentic African name, Zaire, but corruption remained severe in nearly all aspects. With his downfall in 1997, the whole nation plunged into an African-sized ‘World War’, by which more than 5 million civilians and soldiers died until 2003. Right now, the country ends up on the lowest bottom of the world’s poorest, desperately dependent on its mineral resources. It’s not to say the future remains bleak, but at the very least, the country needs a serious leader to unify the population, shed a light and cast a new hope on its own people, otherwise the country will not survive long, and simply end up as ‘a mere colonial wound’.

Read the whole article, published in 2006, in The Independent.




Other testimony disclosed how Belgian officers ordered their men “to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross”. This blood-curdling business carried on for more than 12 years before word leaked out. One of the first to blow the whistle was the captain of one of the riverboats that transported the ivory and rubber downstream to port. His name was Joseph Conrad, and eight years later he wrote a book that has shaped the emotional language in which white people discuss Africa.

It was called Heart of Darkness. The atmosphere it conjures is of fetid fever-ridden ports in an Equatorial river basin surrounded by dense tropical rainforest. It is a climate of persistent high temperatures and humidity, as enervating to the soul as to the body. It is a world of madness, greed and violence, centred on a charismatic ivory trader called Kurtz who turns himself into a demigod to the local tribes and gathers vast quantities of ivory. Eventually, he dies – “The horror, the horror,” his last words.

When the book was published in magazine serial form in 1899, it did not just expose what Conrad was to call “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”. It also gave backing to the writings of a man whose campaigns on the Congo the public had been reluctant to believe.

ED Morel was a clerk in a Liverpool shipping office who began to wonder why the ships that brought vast loads of rubber from the Congo returned carrying no commercial goods, but only guns and ammunition. He began to investigate the Force Publique and concluded that Leopold’s well-publicised philanthropy was in fact “legalised robbery enforced by violence”. He wrote: “I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers with a king for a croniman.”