"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Friday, July 02, 2004

Quote of the Post: "People who have no weaknesses are terrible; there is no way of taking advantage of them." - Anatole France

Random Playlist Song: King's Singers - What's in a tune?
Yet another of the songs from my old, super-long playlist that I've finally found again, this piece is a medley of popular classical music pieces like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Air from BWV 1068, Brandenburg Concerto 3, Water Music (I like the way they imitate trumpets). Now if only I could find Sourwood Mountain...


In the days of yesteryear, formal letters written for Chinese exams were always addressed to 10 Kay Siang Road (Xiang Lin Lu) and to 5 (?) Kim Hua Road (Jin Hua Lu), the former being the address of the old MOE.

Now that MOE has shifted to Buona Vista, and 10 Kay Siang Road is now Republic Polytechnic, do they still use the same addresses?

My research so far has been inconclusive.


About the best advice I've gotten about growing my hair out is Yiliang's "wear a cap", since that supposedly makes it softer. I'm sure there are many more tips out there!


Another priceless Foxtrot strip. To think that this guy has a physics degree.


Venturing onto Chinese MP3 search engines, I found "八骏赞". Well, three versions actually but only two were what I was familiar with, and one was a 22kbps 22khz WMA file. Unfortunately, I couldn't find "云飞天不动". Damn. And the first version of "远方的客人请你留下来" I found sounds like it was sung by sluts and pimps (thankfully I found a proper one after sifting through many versions hateful to the ear).

The Chinese really like to sing to synthesised music. Maybe they can't afford real orchestras or even pianists. And some of their soloists have this overblown way of blasting notes,.

There was also "这是一个小世界", but I don't think I would have liked that :X


"I've no objection to boy singers as such, quite the contrary in fact since I've gone out of my way to hear the best boy choirs in the world (various English cathedral choirs). No, the problem is these particular boys, compounded by Harnoncourt's direction. To my ears his boys do not sound like choirs of angels (which I believe Bach intended), but rather like the boys from the 'Lord of the Flies'. Their lack of beauty and innocence may be a social artefact, perhaps reflecting Germanic notions of 'masculinity', but more likely it is indicative of the decline of a once great Germanic choral tradition."


Fondly Fahrenheit (On the right wing ruckus about Fahrenheit 9/11):

"If ever a president deserved to be the subject of a vitriolic, one-sided, emotionally manipulative diatribe of a documentary, Bush is it.

[...] But if [the movie] does play a little loose with the facts, omits some key details, implies more than it can prove, and generally takes after Shrub with a cinematic hatchet, I won't be surprised. But I also won't mind.

For years now, Limbaugh, Coulter and their inferior imitations have been passing off their slanted misreadings, unproven allegations and flimsy lies as factual reporting. When caught out on a lie or a smear, they either ignore the evidence, or - like Limbaugh - retreat into the phony defense of arguing that all they're doing is expressing a subjective opinion. 'I'm just in the entertainment business,' Rush likes to say.

Well, now there's someone on the left who knows how to play their game, and play it brilliantly. Moore may be an egomaniac, and a huckster showman in the best (or worst) tradition of P.T. Barnum and Walter Winchell, but man, he's effective. He's learned to play the mainstream media like a Stradivarius.

No wonder the right wingers are scared of Moore - he's even better then they are at using the media as an unwilling amplifier. Which is why all the conservative caterwauling and all disapproving tut tuts from the 'responsible' press have only helped ensure Fahrenheit 9/11 a wider distribution.

In other words, Moore's managed to break the code. He's figured out how to sell an angry radical (or at least semi-radical) message to a mass audience.

That's a major accomplishment. And if the end result isn't exactly my idea of a civilized political discourse (I'll reserve judgement for now) it clearly is a powerful and successful example of fighting fire with fire.

And right now, a little fire may be what the American left needs most."


Shoveling coal for Satan

"Courage is a willingness to face real risks—your neck, or at the very least, your job. The journalist with courage would have threatened to resign rather than repeat George Bush's justifications for invasion before it began. I don't remember anyone resigning last winter... If journalists had courage, they would form unions and refuse to work for any company that made decisions about editorial content based on the bottom line, on profit."

Journalists report, they do not necessarily try to verify everything they say, for if they did they'd die of exhaustion. Reporting George Bush's alleged justifications for invasion is one thing. Parroting them mindlessly is another. And as I recall, even at the time there were people who questioned his justifications.

News is not and was never meant to be truth.


Is nature ever evil? Religion, science and value (edited by Willem B. Drees)

This collection of essays, billed in its blurb, as marking "a fascinating contemporary return to a persistent cultural debate" is largely clunky and flummoxing (at least to laymen and those who aren't students of philosophy or theodicy).

You can't totally fault the book, for it is really a collection of papers written for a conference, "Is Nature ever Evil, Wrong, or Ugly? Neutrality and Engagement in the Scientific Study of Reality", but the thing is that it is placed in the category of "Popular Science" when it is nothing of the sort, containing, as it does, talk of Bayesian models, probability equations like: P(E|D & K) >> P(E|~D &K), and talk of monozygotic and dizygotic correlations

Nevertheless, there are interesting nuggets here and there:

"Tragedy versus Hope. What future in an open universe?" by Arnold Benz:

"Thesis 4. The new does not emerge from nothing, but is a new organization of existing or decaying entities.

Physical theories describing the formation of the universe are still very speculative and unproven. Nevertheless, it is imaginable that the universe could have formed from a vacuum containing zero energy but obeying all physical laws known today. It could have 'borrowed' energy against gravitation during a fluctuation in the primary vacuum. It would follow from this vacuum hypothesis that the universe did not originate from nothing, but from a physical entity, the vacuum, and according to pre-existing rules."

Intriguing, for is not a vacuum literally "nothing"?

The next bit is slightly longer:

"Thesis 7. The universe and its development appear to be optimal for human beings. However, there is no scientifically provable hope for new beneficial development.

The universe has properties that are necessary for the developments that have led finally to the evolution of living beings. The basic physical parameters are precisely such that life could arise. The properties of the carbon nucleus, for instance, are favourable for its easy forming in nucleosynthesis, but this is not so for oxygen, the element that would have depleted carbon otherwise... There are many more such fine tunings of the universe that are necessary for our existence.

The anthropic principle states that the observed cosmic and biological developments are the a priori condition for the possibility of cognition: 'What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers' (Carter 1974). To put it more simply, to make it possible that we can wonder at all why the universe is as it is, the universe must be exactly as it is, for otherwise we would not be there to wonder. This principle proceeds from the tenet that the human being is part of the universe and has originated according to natural laws. It reminds us that, as for any observation, the limits of the measurement apparatus (in this case the observer himself) must be taken into consideration.


To explain coincidences on the level of the whole universe, there appear to be three possibilities:

1. There are physical reasons, which we still do not understand, why the universe must be exactly as it is (a casual explanation).
2. There are many universes. We inhabit one that has the correct characteristics for evolution and for life (a selective explanation).
3. The universe is given a direction, the goal of which is to create life (a teleological or purpose-oriented explanation)."

I would say that the coincidences do not need explanation, for that is the nature of probability, and as pointed out earlier, "the observed cosmic and biological developments are the a priori condition for the possibility of cognition". Alternatively, as Stephen Jay Gould is quoted in another essay:

"something has to happen, even if any particular 'something' must stun us by its improbability. We could look at any outcome and say, 'Ain't it amazing. If the laws of nature had been set up just a tad differently, we woudln't have this kind of universe at all.'"

"Improvable nature?" by John Hedley Brooke:

"In a memorable aphorism [Darwin] wrote that the contented face of Nature is but a mask. The unmasking was a staggering experience because one was brought face to face with the enormour extent of extinction. Once unmasked, what were Nature's imperfections? For one thing, the sheer volume of pain and suffering... Nature could be repugnant as well as diseased. The revulsion Darwin experienced when thinking of the egg-laying habits of the Ichneumonidae is well known. Such behaviour meant a gruesome death for the caterpillar in whose body the eggs would hatch. This was one of the 'horridly cruel' works of Nature on which a 'devil's chaplain' might write.

The instability of Nature was arguably another imperfection. During the Beagle voyage, Darwin witnessed the devastating effects of an earthquake. Would Paley's natural theology have been quite so plausible if England had been ravaged by such disturbances?"

I'm sure Paley would have found a way to reason backwards from his a priori conclusion to rationalise England being ravaged by an earthquake, and reconcile it with his Natural Theology.

Anyhow, my next read is definitely going to be less dry and technical, for today I collected the book I bought from Amazon.com:

Atheism: The Case Against God
George H. Smith

"Does a god exist? This question has undoubtedly been asked, in one form or another, since man has had the ability to communicate. . . Thousands of volumes have been written on the subject of a god, and the vast majority have answered the questions with a resounding 'Yes!'"

"You are about to read a minority viewpoint." With this intriguing introduction, George H. Smith sets out to demolish what he considers the most widespread and destructive of all the myths devised by man - the concept of a supreme being. With painstaking scholarship and rigorous arguments, Mr. Smith examines, dissects, and refutes the myriad "proofs" offered by theists - the defenses of sophisticated, professional theologians, as well as the average religious layman. He explores the historical and psychological havoc wrought by religion in general - and concludes that religious belief cannot have any place in the life of modern, rational man.

"It is not my purpose to convert people to atheism . . . (but to) demonstrate that the belief in God is irrational to the point of absurdity. If a person wishes to continue believing in a god, that is his prerogative, but he can no longer excuse his belief in the name of reason and moral necessity."

"Should be taken seriously by Christian theologians..." - The Christian Century

". . . welcome, hard-hitting." Publishers Weekly

Perhaps one day I will get the other books in the Skeptics Bookshelf series.
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