Friday, January 10, 2003
"letter to a son"
Soon, you will begin National Service.
You will pack your bags and report to a camp ringed by high wire fences and guarded round the clock by armed sentries. To keep intruders out, or to keep you in, I wonder?
You will leave the security and comfort of home to spartan barracks where you will have to live by a clock that is not yours, to a regimen of brutal training designed to break individuals into automatons who will jump to any order unquestioningly, no matter how stupid or physically dangerous.
The slogan that is shouted at you will be that you are being turned from 'boys to men' but the reality is that the training is designed to turn 'kids to killers'. You will learn dozens of ways to kill human beings. From shooting them with a rifle to bayoneting them in the chest, to a quick, silent slash with a commando knife.
During your training, you will probably learn most of the vices that you never knew as a kid. To drink, because beer will be almost as cheap as mineral water. To smoke, because that is what everybody else does. And to find release from hellish camp conditions in paid sex, when you and your platoon mates are let off once in a while. It is all part of the pseudo macho culture of camp life. You will probably learn to swear, too, because swear words are the lingua franca in camps.
You will develop a hardening of the spirit, a carelessness to life; the opposite of the sensitising influence that all your previous education instilled in you. The refinements of Shakespeare will seem far away in the coarse barracks. It will seem another world, another time.
After your 6 months of BMT, you will gradually wind down. Most of your time will be spent in aimlessness, like area cleaning, sleeping and just hanging around. You will waste 2 to 2 1/2 years of your life thus.
That is, if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, you could be shipped to 'peacekeeping operations' in a nearby country. Where you run the real risk of being killed or injured. If you have not been killed or injured in camp training.
You see, our Government is far too ambitious. Not knowing the limitations of itself, its intelligence and its men in uniform, it has a textbook approach to its geopolitical ambitions. It has military aspirations far beyond what is sensible, which may result in your possible death and the deaths of many more of your mates.
Attacking and capturing Johor to secure our water supply is probably justifiable in a crisis, if our Government is stupid enough to let it develop into a crisis, but all other military adventures are totally unjustifiable. Especially when all our neighbours know that we have atom bombs and can deliver them to their major cities. That is deterrence enough to preclude any military intentions towards us.
But no, we go on to overkill. In order to develop a powerful offensive capability, we are spending US$4 billion a year. That is enough to build several hospitals offering totally free hospital care with even airconditioned C Class wards; build several new MRT lines; pay 50% of the last-drawn salaries of all retrenched workers until they find new jobs; build all schools into single session schools, airconditioned and with the best computer and science labs; in short, even to achieve the most generous social and living benefits equalling the Scandinavian countries.
But at the rate we are going, it is we who will entertain and engage in geopolitical games and military adventures. For example, if Indonesia breaks up and descends into turmoil for several years, our politicians and generals, often one and the same, may decide to provoke an excuse to annexe say, Sumatra (if they think big enough) or at least, nearby Batam, Bintan and some Riau Islands because they are near and easily defended.
Of course, the same can be done if Malaysia descends into, say, racial turmoil. We would annexe up to the planned Segamat Line and the largely Chinese Malaysians within this territory will make it easy to consolidate.
Many lives will be needed for these adventures. Perhaps even yours.
It will not only break my heart but will incense me because I always believed that no one should be forced to fight and die for something he does not believe in. If you are a volunteer and you choose to join the army, that is fine but as a NS man, you have no choice. You are conscripted and ordered to fight and perhaps die.
I know that there are those who argue that the Government is 'elected' and therefore, once elected, it governs without further reference to us or our wishes. And that therefore, we should obey even if it means dying.
But in Singapore, the voters have no real choice. Because of the way the PAP rigs the General Election and opposition politics, the voters never had a choice of Government. Therefore, we did not choose the PAP willingly. Thus, we never gave them the mandate to order us into wars, especially wars not directly threatening our security.
Nobody should have to die for something he does not believe in. In Singapore, many, many Singaporeans have stopped believing in the PAP. You only have to visit the local websites to find the depth of feeling against the PAP. Even PAP members find no pride in being a member. It is like some dreadful, shameful secret they don't want others to know.
The GE will be upon us soon. If given the chance to vote, that is, if our constituency is contested, I shall vote Opposition, no matter who. It is a pity that you have no vote. Like they say, you are old enough to die for the country but you are not old enough to vote.
Make no mistake about it. The PAP has lost its moral authority. It is now even gagging the Internet, a futile exercise that indicates its desperation in trying to silence the vocal public. It is now engaged in a virtual war against even its own people. But it will lose. And I believe it will begin its losing in the coming General Election.
Take care, son.
Actually the above goes rather out of point towards the middle. The writer would fail his GP. I'm not vehemently anti-PAP, and the writer does start to rave incoherently towards the end, but much of the 'letter', especially the first part, *are* true :) I think it's meant to be a spoof of the "letter" that was in "Shoulder To Shoulder - Our National Service Journal".
Also found a very disturbing anti-Singapore website, with bad English, much rambling and general incoherence and irrelevance.
The Singapore Story! Haram!
11 May, 2001
Melayu Singapura bagaikan menumpang di negara sendiri
Sebagai sampah di-tengah laut, terapung apung tanpa tujuan.
The Malay langauage edition of LKY’s "The Singapore Story" has hit the market. Few Malays will show much interst in the book, as it is written by a man considered by many to be very ant-malay and anti-Islam. In fact a "fatwa" should be decreed that any Malay reading the book should be condidered an "apostate(murtad)".
LKY had softetened his approach towards all things Malays by stating that the Integration process between Malays and other Races are progressing well. On a scale of 1 to10, he claimed that Malays will achieve the scale of 7 or 8 within 20 years. The scale of 10 indicates that Malays are no longer Muslims. They will drink hard liquor at the same table as the Chinese and will be relishing pork meat dishes. Mayhaps LKY’s optimisim is stemmed from the Straits Times article (28/4/2001) "Malay Dancer" fined S$1000/- for showing(bared) her breasts (Buah Payu, the Bertita Harian calls it), at Venom discotheque on 18/11/2000.
What is MUIS or the Shariah Court’s action on this "Buah Payu" issue? Nothing.
All Malays should read instead the book writen by Dr. Lily Zubaidah Rahim "The Singapoe Dilemma- The Political and Educational Marginilty of the Malay Community". An abridged version of the book in Malay and English will be available shortly.
Watch the Harimau Organization website for the annnouncement.
Ever wanted your very own personal flying machine? Now's your chance to get one, but you'll have to shell out some serious cash - and resist the urge to take it for a spin.
The SoloTrek XFV, which made its maiden "flight" in December 2001, is scheduled to go on sale Friday on eBay with a starting bid of about $50,000. Michael Moshier, chief executive of Trek Aerospace, the military-funded company designing the machine, expects the final price in the seven-day auction to exceed $1 million.
The prototype has only hovered a few feet off the ground in tests. But it is built to zoom up to 69 mph for 100 miles, carrying a person who weighs up to 180 pounds. Two overhead ducted fans lift the gas-powered machine, and a standing operator steers with a joystick in each hand.
"We didn't want to test it higher than we were willing to fall," Moshier said.
Engineers at Trek Aerospace retired the prototype last summer to concentrate on a second-generation model with better joysticks and a smoother engine. The Sunnyvale-based company hopes to sell personal flying machines to the military, allowing soldiers to pass over swamps, mine fields and other rough terrain.
The company is studying whether consumers would use its craft, which theoretically could ascend to 10,000 feet.
The winner of the auction must sign a contract promising not to fly the prototype, to use it for exhibition only. Moshier expects to sell the aluminum and titanium machine to a museum or aviation enthusiast.
"It's a different kind of aircraft," he said. "It has a tremendous amount of historical value."
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE
China: Internet users at risk of arbitrary detention, torture and even execution
Amnesty International called today on the Chinese authorities to release all those currently detained or jailed for using the Internet to peacefully express their views or share information.
"Everyone detained purely for peacefully publishing their views or other information on the Internet or for accessing certain websites are prisoners of conscience," Amnesty International said. "They should be released immediately and unconditionally".
The Leidenfrost Effect
or how to walk over hot coals
By Raymond Ho
Browsing through my physics textbook (odd as it may sound) I happened upon something called the Leidenfrost Effect. The phenomenon, named for the German physicist who studied it, explains how it is possible for people to walk over hot coals.
Leidenfrost heated a spoon red-hot over a fireplace. He placed a drop of water in the spoon, and noted that it lasted for about 30 seconds. After the drop had evaporated, it left a "dull" spot, where the spoon had cooled considerably. The next drop of water lasted for about 10 seconds, and subsequent drops of water lasted for only a few seconds. Thus, at lower temperatures, the drops of water evaporated more quickly than at higher temperatures. How was this possible?
For many liquids, there is a temperature well above its boiling point called the Leidenfrost point. Water has a Leidenfrost point of over 200 degrees Celsius. Consider a simple experiment where a droplet of water is placed on a hot surface (hot: a temperature above the boiling point of water). If the temperature of the surface is below the Leidenfrost point, then the droplet starts to spread out and vaporises rather quickly. At or above the Leidenfrost point, however, the bottom layer of the droplet vaporises almost immediately on contact, effectively creating a cushion of vapour that repels the rest of the droplet from the surface. The droplet does not make contact with the surface, and thus no heat can be transferred directly from the surface.
At such high temperatures, one might expect that the vapour layer would quickly transfer enough heat to the rest of the droplet to vaporise it. Water vapour, however, is a very poor conductor of heat at these temperatures. Hence, the vapour layer actually acts as an insulator.
Being curious, I tried conducting this experiment myself. I took a frying pan and began heating it on my stovetop. I sprinkled a few droplets of water on it, and watched as they quickly fizzled away. As the pan grew hotter, the droplets took longer and longer to vaporise. After some time, the pan was hot enough so that the droplets of water remained for well over a minute. This "experiment" is actually a common practise in the kitchen, to determine whether or not your skillet is hot enough for making pancakes.
Intrigued by the effect, I continued. Eventually, I managed to produce a globule of water, approximately two centimetres in diameter, that vaporised at an extremely slow rate. It remained on the pan for about three minutes before disappearing.
At this point, I grew even more curious, and decided to conduct more experiments. I had read that it is possible to plunge wet fingers into molten lead for a split-second. The insulating vapour layer would allow very little heat to be transferred to the flesh. A variation of this: holding liquid nitrogen in one's mouth.
I wasn't about to try my hand at these activities, but I did try an experiment that relates to walking over hot coals. With the frying pan still hot, I wet my fingers and went to touch the hot surface. After conjuring up enough courage to go through with this, I put my finger on the pan for a split-second, and marvelled as I felt no heat. I did this several times, with the same result. By this time, my finger tips had become slightly charred, but I didn't feel any pain. I tried touching a dry finger to the surface, and noticed that it became quite hot.
I still wasn't satisfied. I took the frying pan off the stove and stared at the red-hot element, wet my finger, and touched it. As expected, I didn't feel anything. I repeated this several times. And as if this wasn't enough, I went one step further. Being a brave fool, I wet my entire hand, and placed it across the element for an instant. The laws of physics did not fail me; I was unharmed, but I noticed afterwards that there were white marks on the palm of my hand, roughly in the shape of a stove element. It was probably just some burnt dead skin. Nothing to worry about.
The Leidenfrost Effect explains how people can walk over hot coals without burning themselves. Either they wet their feet prior to the stunt, or they become so nervous that the perspiration on their feet is sufficient. In addition, the heat capacity of coal is relatively low. So although the coals may have a high temperature, they will transfer little heat to the person's feet. If walking briskly, then the time that one's foot is in contact with the coals is very short, thus decreasing further the amount of heat that can be transferred.
The Leidenfrost Effect has long been observed in various carnival stunts. Personally, I would not recommend doing any of the more ambitious experiments that I mentioned above. These stunts have been performed by many people, but not without a few accidents. Though if you're more foolish than I am, and you really, really, have faith in physics, then who's going to stop you?
Thursday, January 09, 2003
"Subject: pork post
Body: I was searching google for info on the coke-worms rumor, and I stumbled upon your grossly ignorant, pretentious - american commentary on the subject. Instead of wasting my time countering every ignorant statement made by you, in all your teenage glory - I will assault yet one. The worms they speak of eating are the parasitic type. You are not such a genious afterall, huh sweetie?"
I don't really understand what this person was trying to say, but I got inspired and updated my rebuttal of the Poorly argued article on why we should not eat pork, reproduced below, with one or two additional points from Xephyris :) Once he's done with his research, more will follow from him, now, won't it? *poke poke*
"guiness book malays world most stupid race" - Someone really doesn't like our Malay brothers.
"blog singapore soc" - It's tough. At least the one I think the person was looking for.
"nude singapore ah lians" - Argy. Will this nightmare of bad taste never end?
"aunty's nude photos" - Eeeeeee. This is even worse than Lians.
"morrowind nude naked sex" - One level up from nude character dolls.
"lindy hop knee hurts" - Ooo. After Runner's Knee, we have Dancer's Knee.
"pictures of singaporeans nude in swimming pool" - Weird tastes people have.
"killer chicks" - Chickens can spread Salmonella, you know?
"bubbly girls nude pix" - How can you tell personality from a picture"
"SCGS Uniform" - I'm sure there're lots of pictures of these on Yahoo Auctions. I notice no other school gets searches for their uniforms. Not Nanyang, certainly.
"how to find child porn" - I'm the only hit for this query. WTH?! I hereby disassociate myself with Pedophiles.
"Daniel Radcliffe shaving photo"
"daniel radcliffe pictures in swimming trunks" - He's so young. Isn't it rather cruel to prey on one such as he? Be content with the slash fics and begone with ye!
"chinx blog" - Someone's looking for Mr Chong Chin Xiang's rants?
"blog, jc orientation" - 3 years past, I am *wistful*
+"singapore armed forces" +invade - Someone looking for Classified information? Won't find it on my blog, no you won't. Though I've some eccentric ideas, which *just* might work, yes I do.
"cute guys from rjc" - Very few. Very very few.
"military "powder bath"" - This doesn't work at all, I tell you. The flies still get at ya.
"Smurf Porn" - !!! That is just so repellent. Corruptors of my childhood - off with ye!
"how to avoid reservist singapore" - Ask a clerk. I don't know. I might want to know myself :)
"malaysian malay girl's sex service" - Eugh.
"featherlite condom review" - Never tried them, won't know.
"sweat" + "smell of ammonia" - Yes, this plagued me a lot in BMT. Disgusting, it was.
"Sun Yanzi Porn" - Erm. Try Kazaa.
"chij girls nude" - Sigh. Why CHIJ anyway?
"nude cheongsam picture" - Doesn't wearing a cheongsam preclude being naked?
"fhm ladies malay" - I think there are none in FHM. Maybe FHM Malaysia.
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Sunday, January 05, 2003
On New Year's Eve, my last full day, I went to Greenwich with my sister and brother in law.
At the Royal Observatory, I looked through a replica of a 1774 telescope, only to see Pluto in all its glory, in full colour. With ears, tail, ears and all. Someone has a sense of humour, apparently. I also got to try using a quadrant, and there was a corner about the stupid Powder of Sympathy way of finding longitude. When I was done I had a look around the National Maritime Museum.
We had lunch - at 3pm or so - at a place called 'Saigon Buffet' which supposedly served Chinese and Vietnamese food. In fact, there wasn't any Vietnamese food at all, and there was beef and chicken curry too. It was awfully cheap though - £5.50 for a weekday lunch (12pm-6pm), and there were about 40 things to eat, though there is this odd 10% surcharge on Valentines Day and Mothers Day.
Exiting Covent Garden tube station later, on my way to watch My Fair Lady, I heard an announcement - "Customers are advised that there are 193 steps. This is equivalent to 15 storeys". No wonder I got so winded in 2001 when I got sick of waiting and decided to climb all the way to the top!
At the theatre, some people were obviously struck with compulsive photo taking syndrome, for I was asked by *2* couples, one elderly and the other consisting of 2 young women, to take their pictures. And at the end of the wonderful show, the cast came up for their second bow just a little too early.
It was interesting contrasting the musical technology used in HMS Pinafore and My Fair Lady. The late 19th Century show has a static stage, but in the latter the floor keeps moving and props fly down from the ceiling.
The good thing about watching shows in London is that NO mobile phones ring. Not that I've heard. Yeh! However, people like to clap at inappropriate times, so sometimes the dialogue is cut off, or the beginning of a song cannot be heard.
The night of New Year's Eve was pleasantly warm, but there were many Bobbies at Embankment and many young people running around deliriously, many clutching bottles of cheap alcohol (mostly champagne).
I got cheated of 50p at Canary Wharf because the machine swallowed my money and wouldn't vend anything or give it back. Looking at the LCD, I saw that it had already swallowed £23.90 of hapless consumers' change before I'd been conned. To add insult to injury, calling the hotline, I was told - twice - by an automated voice that calls from mobiles were chargeable, so I gave up.
The next day - New Year - the train was full of young people coming from the party at the Millennium Dome. They all were bleary-eyed and were dazed and wasted. I wonder how many did drugs or got lucky the previous night. And in the next carriage there were people dressed as high school basketball players and cheerleaders. Weird.
At Heathrow, I decided to try Dr Pepper again. The first and previous time I'd sampled it was in Hawaii and I recall it being so vile that I threw the rest away. I thought, 'Surely it can't be so bad a second time?', and indeed it wasn't. It reminds me of artificial cherries, among other unspecified things. Does it really contain pepper?
"Its unique flavor comes from the blending of 23 fruits, none of which are prunes." - Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.
It now behooves me to decide whether F&N "Freaky" Fruitade or Dr Pepper is the worst drink of all time.
The flight back was very crowded, so I couldn't spread my legs as I did on the flight to London. We got ice cream again - instead of the cheap Nestle Crunch type, we got Losely Natural Flavour Ice Cream (the same brand as what I ate during HMS Pinafore). I also got to read the New Straits Times on the flight back - it's rather parochial, covering Malaysian stories of no import (I'm not interested in the ins and outs of the latest Khalwat case), and the selection of World News pathetic. It is also very biased in its writing. The 'Life and Times' section is rather good, though, with a wide range of topics.
Some idiot stole the Men's and Women's cologne in one of the aircraft toilets. Must be a kiasu Singaporean. Lucky no one stole the toilet seat covers. There were no sanitary pads or tampons to steal, though. It's rather stingy of MAS not to provide them, actually.
I got a free upgrade to Business Class on the way back to Singapore. 40 mins, but nice anyway. Must be to reward me for my steadfast loyalty to Ma-laysia Airlines!
There was this crazy woman running around with a one strapped top and a half thigh long skirt one night.
I saw the Kingfisher Book of Evolution going for £14.99 at Greenwich's Maritime Museum. Maybe I could've bought that for my MO :)
I got 3 Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Mmm.
The confectionary machines in the Underground stations are really nice, but they need drink machines too.
There were these ads for a "School Disco", one of the weird concept parties. Basically you have these grown adults going to a disco in school uniforms. Altered ones, rather. In the ad, there's this girl whose white blouse is tied under her breasts, is playing with her tie and is wearing a microskirt. I saw some people going to one of the School Discos on New Year's Eve. The males look disheveled and typically have ties that aren't tied properly, pants that are too short, untucked shirts and weird shoes. The females dress like the girl in the ad, and I saw one with thin knee high socks (this isn't a Japanese School Disco!). Maybe it's a fetish.
Maybe I will make a company selling funky tudungs in the future. The ones they have now are just so plain and boring.
Why do Airline Stewardessed have to wear so much makeup? They look like dolls or, dare I say, harlots.
My jet lag on the way to London was much worse than what I got when I returned. Wrong sequence of events, I say :(
Cheapskate enough to get me to bring toilet paper to London, my sister got me to mail her postcards for her from here. Bah.
My 13 SMSes suddenly became 2 when I returned my father his SIM card :(
[In Canary Wharf station toilet] Surveillance cameras in constant operation (!)
Suicide Bomber Barbie! Ultimate empowerment.
Someone: anyway i've lost most of my confidence in the military thanks to you.
Me: you're welcome
but just what did I say
Someone: no, it's just the thought of people like you having to defend us. i mean, you have soft toys in your bunk
Me: umm, I can let the sick patients cuddle my lavender scented bear!
Someone: this isn't helping
Me: don't worry, you can go to the S-Cube seminar next year!
Security, Survival, SUCCESS!
Someone: the s-cube is lousy... there are 2 words on the same plane
the third one ought to be on the yellow face
Me: they claimed that each dimension had to be of an equal size so the tube wouldn't topple over
evidently they don't know basic physics
larger surface areas make it more stable
supposing it were a wide, long, low cube (with security being the lowest dimension).
it'd never topple over
anyhow success is more a result of survival and security
Someone: like, whatever. it's not aesthetically pleasing. it's badly photoshopped
and i think they're running out of ideas. it's soo obvious they just picked the nicest sounding s-words
Me: well. these are bureaucrats
they need to hone their skills at rebuffing troublesome malcontents like me
please follow in my footsteps and suan the guy
Me: the guy who will be trying to brainwash you
I wonder if he still remembers me
*wistfully* in an odd way I'm actually rather fond of him
he managed to dissemble and ignore the points I was making, bringing up irrelevant qualifiers
The Associate believes that all religions are prone to misinterpretation (if the true interpretation can ever be grasped at, which he denies) and that socio-economic-political-historical-cultural factors affect the extant and popular interpretations of any doctrine.
On the other hand, while Gabriel acknowledges that while everything is subject to interpretation to some degree, certain philosophical doctrines are inherently more rigid than others, being spelt out in black and white rather than being left ambiguous, and injunctions are injunctions, however one chooses to view them. Furthermore, minor points of polemic in certain places are more prone to uncharitable and condemnable interpretation, resulting in a Pareto degradation in the amount and quality of free utility and happiness in the world. Even considering the wider social context and demographic in which these doctrines are applied, it is demonstrably harder to justify a libertarian, non-radical perspective which is compatible with such doctrines. Such doctrines are fundamentally unable to remain more equitable and less injurious to others who do not follow such doctrines in certain issues when compared to other contending doctrines.
Gabriel is a a Bear of Very Little Brain, and big words bother him.
It will be obvious to all but the most unenlightened reader why we have phrased our issues in such a manner.
Transcripts of our long debate are available upon request for readers who wish either The Associate or myself to clarify our positions further.
Gabriel would like to add:
For further reading, you way want to view a Liberal Muslim Website (the most Liberal that Gabriel has found in his virtual travels), which shows that Islam is really not as intolerant as it is usually expressed, and a supposed Muslim-Christian dialog page which is not as cheery, happy and jolly as it is made out to be on the front page, but which nevertheless does have some excellent points for all and sundry to ponder over.
On the former, your may rack your brains over the injunctions to engage in Wife Beating, wonder why polygyny is permitted, albeit with caveats, but not polyandry. On the latter, you can see how they try to slime and discredit by bringing up all the terrible things Mr Mohammad is said to have done (whether he did them or not is another matter), like marrying a 9 year old girl when he was 53. Anyhow, he made no claim to be sinless, so whatever he did was not necessarily grounds for doing the same thing.
Gabriel has, with you, reframed and restructured your post, such that it rises, soaring like a Phoenix, from the ashes, in more than its accustomed splendour and glory]
Two Jews are sitting on a bench, reading newspapers. One notices that the other's paper is a vile, anti-Semitic rag.
"Why read that trash?" he asks.
"Well," says the second, "I used to read a paper like yours. But it was too depressing: all that news about suicide bombs and Ariel Sharon. My new paper, on the other hand, is full of good news: apparently we control Hollywood, own all the banks, dominate American politics."
Probably the best of the Christmas articles:
That's what they want you to believe
Dec 19th 2002
From The Economist print edition
Why are conspiracy theories so popular?
WHO crashed those planes into the World Trade Centre? Israel, obviously. Mossad must have known that their country would profit from a surge in American hostility towards the Arabs, who were set up to take the rap. Shortly after September 11th 2001, the consensus on the Arab street was that only the Israeli secret service could have managed such deadly precision. Corroboration was quickly found in a report that 4,000 Jews who worked in the twin towers had been secretly warned to stay away that day. (*For the record, around 300 Jews and 100 Muslims were among the 3,000 victims. The origin of the rumour was probably a report in the Jerusalem Post of September 12th, which mistakenly said that 4,000 Jews had "disappeared" in the disaster.)
This was not the only interesting theory bandied around the souks. The doyen of Egyptian pundits, Hassanein Heikal, blamed the Serbs, noting that they were mad about losing Kosovo. Others fingered home-grown, Oklahoma-style extremists, or a plot by America's military-industrial complex, ever hungry for new enemies to boost defence budgets.
One fellow in a Cairo café told The Economist that the culprit was clearly not al-Qaeda, but rather something called al-Gur. Was this, perhaps, a terror network still more murderous than the Bin Laden gang? No. On closer listening, it transpired that the evil al-Gur was bent on avenging not some wicked Yankee geo-blunder, but the theft of the 2000 American presidential election. "It's obvious," declared the café sage. "Who else could have wanted to hurt George Bush more than his rival, the former Vice-President al-Gur?"
The citizens of Cairo may be skilled at concocting diabolical scenarios, but they are not the only ones. Plenty of Africans from further south pooh-pooh the conventional view that the virus that causes AIDS originated with monkeys. It was cooked up in an American lab, of course, to kill black people.
Many Asians, including the prime minister of Malaysia, blame a clutch of Jewish financiers for causing their economies to crash in 1997. Some Jews, meanwhile, equate Amnesty International, which often criticises Israel, with the Nazi party. Credulous Indians see the hand of Pakistani intelligence behind everything from train crashes to cricket match fixing, and many Pakistanis return the compliment. Slobodan Milosevic, smug in court at The Hague, has testified that the 1995 massacre of 7,000 unarmed Muslims at Srebrenica was carried out not by Serb militiamen, but by French intelligence. Less whimsically, China's government launched its vicious campaign to crush Falun Gong in the belief that the movement, whose stated aims are to improve its devotees' spiritual and bodily health, is a dangerous cult bent on subverting the state.
Americans like a good plot too. The assassination of John F. Kennedy still generates a thriving industry, complete with a thicket of suggestive websites (see article), books, college courses, one big-budget movie and a whole vocabulary of arcana. (If you don't know what is pictured in frames 112 and 113 of the Zapruder film, or wonder what the Grassy Knoll is, better stay quiet on the subject.) A 1991 poll showed that, three decades after the president's murder, 73% of Americans still think he was a victim of conspiracy.
Such fables are nothing new. American pamphleteers in the 1790s warned of a plot by atheist, libertine Illuminati and Freemasons to concoct an abortion-inducing tea and "a method for filling a bedchamber with pestilential vapours". The bestselling book of the 1830s was a racy confession by a repentant nun detailing a scheme by Catholics to undermine Protestant morals. At around the same time, Samuel Morse, better known as the inventor of Morse Code, exposed an Austrian plan to install a Hapsburg prince as emperor of the United States. In the 20th century, Americans feared reds more than royals; hence Joe McCarthy's witch-hunts, and the popularity of Father Charles Coughlin, who told radio audiences that "Masons and Marxists rule the world".
In "Under Western Eyes", Joseph Conrad wrote that "to us Europeans of the West, all ideas of political plots and conspiracies seem childish, crude inventions for the theatre or a novel."
Some modern scholars go further, arguing that the conspiracist habit is a sort of disease or syndrome. The "paranoid thinker", instructs material from a course at the University of Rhode Island, is "rigid, victimlike, cowardly". This contrasts with the traits of the "rational thinker", who is "open, flexible, empowered, strong".
Daniel Pipes, the author of two books about conspiracy theorising, describes the classic grand theories - such as those about Masonic or Zionist or Papist plots for world domination - as:
a quite literal form of pornography (though political rather than sexual). The two genres became popular about the same time, in the 1740s. Both are backstairs literatures that often have to be semi-clandestinely distributed, then read with the shades drawn. Elders seek to protect youth from their depredations. Scholars studying them try to discuss them without propagating their contents: [with] asterisks and dashes in the first case and short extracts in the second. Recreational conspiracism titillates sophisticates much as does recreational sex.
Mr Pipes does good work in skewering anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists, but his recent founding of "Campus Watch", a website devoted to "outing" pro-Arab academics, emits a whiff of burning books.
Belief in conspiracies is not necessarily foolish. Some are real. The Holocaust, for example, actually happened, though few believed it before the camps were liberated. Consider also the Bolshevik revolution of 1917: a small group of violent fanatics seized control of a large empire, as millions of their victims could testify, were they still alive. Businessfolk conspire, too. Adam Smith, a man to whom The Economist accords considerable respect, once wrote that: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public."
That some conspiracies are real, however, does not mean that they all are. As a tool for explaining how the world works, conspiracism has certain drawbacks. It inhibits trust: if everyone else is out to get you, better have nothing to do with them. It dampens optimism: if "they" are sure to frustrate your plans, why bother doing anything? And, of course, it leads to harmful errors, such as the belief, once popular among Africans, that condoms were yet another ploy to reduce their population.
The evolution of theories
So what is the attraction of conspiracism? For starters, as grand unifying theories of geopolitics go, it is simple to grasp. In ill-educated societies, that makes it appealing. It is also impossible to disprove, because any fact that does not fit the theory can be dismissed as a trick by the conspirators to throw ordinary folk off the scent.
In countries with opaque and authoritarian political systems, rumour is often the only alternative to official news sources. If the people in such countries remember falling victim to real conspiracies, they may be inclined to attribute fresh misfortunes to a similar cause.
Take more or less anywhere in the Middle East. The very borders of countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are a product of the 1916 Sykes-Picot accord, a secret agreement between Britain and France to divvy up the region between themselves, despite earlier British pledges of statehood to Arabs. In 1917, war-pressed Britain sought to curry favour with the growing Zionist movement by promising a "Jewish national home" in Palestine. The Palestinians, nine-tenths of the territory's population at the time, were not consulted. Thirty years later, when the UN voted to give Jews 53% of the land, the 13 "Eastern" countries that objected were overruled by 33 "Western" countries, which between them ruled over some 120 future members that surely would have voted otherwise had they been able to. Small wonder Palestinians see the world through a lens of victimhood.
In the West, conspiracies have, for some reason, tended to fail, and so fade from the popular imagination. Who now frets about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a gang of Catholics failed to blow up Britain's Parliament? Or the doomed Carlist uprisings in 19th-century Spain? Or the European anarchists who assassinated seven heads of state in the 1890s, to no avail? Or the Watergate scandal?
In Iran, by contrast, people still seethe over the CIA-backed coup of 1953 that toppled Muhammad Mossadegh, a man much loved for having dared to nationalise British oil interests. Syria and Iraq have suffered a dizzy sequence of successful plots and counter-conspiracies, ending with the pair of Baathist coups in the late 1960s that installed their current ruling cliques.
Half the governments of the Middle East trace their origins to coups. In a sense, conspiracy is the region's only real form of politics, which can make it hard for Middle Easterners to understand the dynamics of open, democratic societies. Hence, for example, the Arab tendency, as the French say, to "occult" America's generous backing for Israel. Aiding the Jewish state infuriates hundreds of millions of oil-supplying, American-product-consuming Arabs and Muslims. So why does America do it? It must be a conspiracy by the Zionist lobby, or perhaps a plot to divide and rule Arabs to control their oil, or part of a Christian crusade against Islam.
Blaming others for one's troubles may be emotionally satisfying, but it is a counsel of despair. Stella Orakwue, a journalist, writes in the New African that: "Today, [Africa] has to remain in deficit so Europe and America can maintain their obscene wealth." Given that Africa accounts for less than 2% of global trade, this is hardly an adequate explanation of why the West is rich and Africa is poor. And without understanding why their continent is poor, Africans will find it harder to grow rich.
In extreme cases, conspiracy theories can cost lives. Osama bin Laden genuinely seems to think he is fighting a Zionist-Christian-materialist assault on Islam. Adolf Hitler sincerely believed he was ridding the world of a Jewish menace. Many Serbs were convinced that the Muslims of ex-Yugoslavia were out to annihilate them. And many Rwandan Hutus, informed by their leaders that the Tutsis were planning to kill them, were happy to follow orders to pre-empt this threat.
I am aware of my cultural and racial prejudices that colour my pereceptions of other races. However, most of the time this manifests during more nationalistic and political type of arugments - for instance, I find myself becoming oddly defensive of Malaysia at times, despite the numerous indefensible positions Malaysia assumes:) For isntance, I admitted that the government was stupid to ban Brad Pitt, and I freely admit that a lot of the PAS doctrines are ridiculous. And I have very strong racist feelings (Racist, as opposed to religious bias. Not QUITE the same thing)
But in issues of religion, I can safely say that I am almost completely objective and neutral, despite a slight sneaking bias towards Buddhism for its philosophical elegance.
And as for complicating your argument I do so because you're bringing up wrong points, and not backing them with evidence of your own. I submit that if we were to bring the record of our debate to any objective adjudicator, they would award the argument to me for having the better case.
And in all honesty, I AM tying all my points back to a single basic argument, while you are just heaping out individual snipes and points without any overarching coherence.
Look. Put it this way. Can you prove to me that Islam is MORE susceptible and MORE prone to misinterpretation and hijacking. Independent of cultural and social defaults and factors? If you're going to say that your "gut" instinct is that Islam is more irrational and wrong than Christianity, then any argument is futile. Agreed?
[Ed: Ah, but I never said ANYTHING about my gut instincts.]
But if you say you can logically prove it, then that's when the argument truly begins.
It's like saying that 2 + 2 = 5 is not as wrong as 2 + 2 = 47,231 - you have to objectively show that one proposition is further off the track than the other. (although it's hard to objectively gauge "futher off the track" when religion is concerned, I admit, so this may be a bit of a wrong metaphor)
Concessions are one thing -but lest you let pride master you, let me remind you of my real feelings in this matter: "i but marshal a fraction of my powers towards this pitiful debate. to use more would be a waste... i'm just providing practical criticism in case you meet another foe - it'd be embarrassing for me to have admitted i sparred with one of your feeble standard."
[Ed: Unlike you, I don't need to keep piling layers onto other people's arguments and complicating them till they you hope they give up, confused, annoyed and irritated by the disparate irrelevant trains of thought, none of which are less than a mile from the original topic of debate.
Unlike you too, I don't have perfect recall skills.
The thing is, for every point I bring up, you heap endless quantities of qualifications onto it to nullify it. If we proceed like that, no point I make will ever be valid.
This is unfair. You're a Uni student. And a debater too.
I have a mere Higher Secondary Certificate, and have been in atrophy for 13 months.]
The amount of research that I've had to do...
"and i note that you remain silent under my withering onslaught
yet another opponent's fallacies silenced and defeated by **** **'s noble debating crusade for truth."
At least I got some concessions from him:
"Parables .. good one. I had to think a fair bit and actually dig up some old notes before I could answer you."
Bodiam Castle is one of the quintessential ones, alongside places like the Tower of London and Crac des Chevaliers (or, as I prefer to spell it, Krek des Chevaliers) Bodiam's visage is familiar, its sheer walls rising from the moat. Inside, however, it is less complete and its dilapidated state is more evident. Furthermore, it was rather muddy and wet that day, so my shoes got sullied and soaked. I should've brought my stout pair of outdoor walking shoes (as I observed many other visitors to the sites I went to doing, changing into them just as they exited their vehicles).
Before we left Bodiam, we had National Trust Elderflower Sorbet. Wonderful!
Then we drove down to Hastings. Or rather, the site of the Battle Of Hastings, a town which is, very imaginatively, called "Battle", built around Battle Abbey (which was built by William the Conqueror to do penance for the blood he had shed in 1066), sited on top of Senlac Hill.
Though it was drizzling and very windy, I deigned to take the "Battlefield Walk", which took me and Kheng Hwa across the battlefield. It was very wet and muddy - if Bodiam was bad, this was 5 times as bad. At the end, just before we left, I espied two people who'd dressed up in period dress in the gift shop - a Norman Knight (with arrows for demonstration purposes) and a Saxon Huskarl (who looked a little sad because the American Tourists didn't want to talk to him, being fascinated with the more glorious and chainmail clad Norman).
At night, I saw La Boheme. It's the first opera I've watched, I think, and I don't think, after this, I want to watch any more. I hate constant vibrato, I couldn't understand what was going on despite having read the plot outline in the program before the show and I dosed off a few times. The music (the only thing I could understand) was okay, I guess, appropriate but not very striking. Or maybe that's because I wasn't awake during the nicer songs.
Yeah, I'm lousy. I'm not an Opera Person. I think I prefer Aeschylus, Sophocles or Aristophanes, at least from those of their plays that I've read.
I know that most or all operas were written for a popular audience, and the combination of song and action is meant to keep you occupied so you won't fall asleep - which is partially why opera is the or one of the most popular aspects of "High Culture" today. It is also understandable (if you understand Italian or have memorised the English version of the script, at least), unlike the bulk of extant plays which are arty-farty/angsty/deliberately obtuse.
On the 30th, I popped into the British Museum to see what was new since the time I breezed through its halls and saw everything. There was an Albrecht Dürer exhibition, of his Renaissance art, which I would've wanted to see but the queue was too long. There were also two minor items - one of Graphic (lit) War Scenes in Islamic Literature and the other of some minor trinkets that Charles Mason had unearthed in Afghanistan. Neither were very impressive (but then, I have high standards).
Outside the British Museum, I had a hotdog. It was £2.50 - 50p more than in 2001! I expressed my concern to the vendor and he claimed that the rates the council was charging were ridiculous and kept going up. Right.
After that I trudged down to the Science Museum for the James Bond exhibition. Only to be informed it was fully booked until 5:30pm. Apparently only a limited number of people are allowed in each time. Maybe they're afraid someone will steal the shoe with the knife in it. Anyhow later, after my sister advised me to eat out instead of returning home for dinner, I went to the ticket booth for the James Bond exhibition again, only to find that it was sold out for the day :(
So I ended up browsing the immense hulk of the Science Museum. Among other things, I saw ploughs, Arabic chocolate, a V-1 and a sword that Japanese doctors used to carry (they used to carry swords? Wow.). The place was just overwhelming. I had some time to spare after I got weary of the Science Museum, but I cared not to look at Victorian tables, footstools and steel grates at the Victoria and Albert, so I went to my show have an early dinner before my show - a McChicken Premiere. Very nice, it was, with salsa, sour cream and chive sauce and a focaccia bun.
That night, I viewed HMS Pinafore at the Savoy Theatre, burnt down in 1381 by William Tyler and friends, where it was first performed. Now, why anyone in the Royal Navy would christen a ship after a piece of female outergarment is beyond my comprehension, and I didn't see any of the cast, female or otherwise donning pinafores either. Maybe Gilbert and Sullivan were trying to send subliminal messages about cross dressing and transsexualism, seeing that the show features strapping young men prancing around in sailor suits.
The show was pleasant and funny and - thank god - there was little vibrato. Nice music, and from a 125 year old show too. Some of the jokes were a little corny though, some sailors -did- salute wrongly (not that I care, this is simply a POI), and for all the 'rank doesn't matter' talk, the ending reinforced the conception that it does - very much so. And there was the hearty British nationalism, with all the patriotic ditties. Twas worth queueing up for 45 mins at tkts (formerly known as The Official Half Price Ticket Booth)
Anyhow, the bar offered free ice, water and lemon slices - a nice gesture on their part. And during the intermission, there was ice cream being sold at a very reasonable price - £1.50 for 125ml of Loseley Strawberry Ice Cream, and the usher was very helpful and helped me throw away the empty tub.
The car my brother in law rented lets the driver control the radio from his right side. Wah.
I thought Britain had moved to the metric system in the 1970s. So why do they still use miles and yards on their highways to measure distances?
People seem enjoy life more in Britain. I saw very few skeletal figures compared to Singapore, and a good deal more cellulite too :)
The woman sitting behind me at La Boheme put her legs on the seat to my left. Gah.
What are all the "open" buttons on London Tube Trains for? They're totally useless and non-functional (except on the Docklands Light Rail, which isn't strictly part of the underground).
I swear that there were more Americans than British present in London. The demographic breakdown was roughly: Americans, British, French. And there were many PRCs too.
The Savoy Hotel is so exclusive, there are 2 armchairs in the toilet adjoining the male cloakroom. Do people actually sit there and smoke their cigars?
My feet hurt many afternoons :(
"Wow! Welcome to the Azn.nu! We have lots of free services just for ASIANS only!" Haha.
Me: I don't know who Heidegger is :) and don't know much about Nietzsche. He said "God is dead". His first name was Frederich. And was German (I think). That's most of what I know :)
He Who Must Not Be Named: Your knowledge of Nietzsche is stunning - and, disturbingly, above average for most singaporeans.
Later: "your insolence and sheer insensitivity is refreshing at times."
The preceding covered more than half of the remainder :) The end is in sight!