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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

"Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character had abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and courage which it contained." - John Stuart Mill

***

It is all well and fine to make assumptions, as long as they are reasonable ones, and as long as one bears in mind the limitations of said assumptions.

However, assuming that one can make no assumptions is an assumption in and of itself, and can be even more misleading and damaging than the assumptions one fears making in the first place; Only the most irrational would argue that stereotypes always apply, and only the most irrational would argue that you either operate solely according to stereotypes or never at all.

In any case, no one manages to live life without making assumptions. Not without going insane, at any rate.

We always need epistemological frameworks to operate in, and to interface with the real world.

***

Me: guys have 4 categories they rate women in

1) would have sex with and would admit to
2) would have sex with and would admit to when drunk
3) would have sex with and would not admit to when drunk
4) wouldn't have sex with

Someone: hahahahahahhaahhhaa!!!!
i lk tat!!!

Me: :P
how do girls rate guys

Someone: 1) bf/ hubby (has sex with)
2) crush (secretly wanna hv sex with)
3) eye candy (declares to fren she will hv sex with him - need not always b the case)
4) intellectual CONFIDANTE (won't have sex with - dunno if drunkenness changes things)
5) sugar daddy (can be dad/ hubby/ guy who has crush on her but she doesnt feel the same for him)


Someone else: i had a teacher, ***, who was insane
the french exchange students in my year were so shocked by his behaviour that they tore up his worksheets

although i probably also detest *** and *** after spending too much time listening to *** rant about them

[she said] that they suck and were like basically boys with a mental age of 13 running around the school annoying other maths teachers

oh and that they were crazy. not exactly untrue

Me: as I said, it's the philosophy of singapore education
and the weird culture ** had
the sort-of public school thing

I wonder if I could stand the oppressiveness of secondary school now


Someone (2): payar lebar methodish
they have to wear slips under their pinafore

Me: slips?!
do people, err, check?

PLMGS got hair rules meh
I see some with long hair

Someone (2): yes got hair rules
the hair must cover ear one
YES they have slip check

Me: wah
enforcing long hair?
hahahahahahaha

Someone (2): there were these girls whose hair was too short... revealing ears or something
they got in trobule u know
i think they had to wear wigs

***

Someone: I was looking at the list of out MPs last night. Was quite shocked to see that about 70% of them are Christians.

Me: where did you get their reigions from

Someone: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/AboutUs/Org-MP-Cons.htm
Click on their names and then click on their CV.

Me: you very bored huh
they have tamil names!

Someone: A bit free lah. But I was curious why MCDS funded a Christian group [Ed: The "Liberty League"] to counsel gays.

I seriously did not noticed their names were translated into Tamil. We are more Politically Correct than the Europeans!
The following email was appropriately sent to my Junk Mail folder:


Dear Gabriel,

We have just recently entered our second year online, and I want to take a moment to ask you for your support of our free service.

Putfile has experienced a rapid rate of growth and development over the past year, growing from a small image hosting site to an enormous free multimedia hosting community with over 12 million uploads.

Putfile is run by a group of volunteers who donate their time providing everything from software development to server management and content moderation. We strive to create a safe and fun environment for people of all ages to enjoy. As part of this quality experience Putfile does not employ the use of flashing adverts or annoying popups, whilst using such advertising media could cover the shortfalls in our budget they would most certainly damage the user experience.

With bandwidth and server hardware bills continually growing at a rapid rate, we now need your support more than ever. Please consider a generous donation so that we can raise the funds needed to keep us online and further improve our free services.

To make a donation please visit: http://www.putfile.com/donate.php

Thank you from all of us at Putfile!


Meanwhile, I am still redirected to Putfile - Goodbye To Singapore.

Since you have the cheek to send me an appeal for donations while still blocking me from your site, I will now tell you, Putfile, to go to hell.
I was at Peach Garden, a Chinese restaurant at Novena, for dinner today, and we were relishing the pre-meal peanuts, which were very well stewed, being consistently tender and flavourful.

Witnessing our enjoyment, the waitress stunned us by doing something never before seen in a Chinese restaurant (not by us that we could remember, at least) and asked us if she could get us some more peanuts.

Now, Chinese restaurants almost always have a mercenary attitude, charging customers for peanuts/pickles/whatever pre-meal snacks they have, tea/iced water and towels, so having such good and proactive service was indeed a real surprise.

Another surprising thing was that the waitress asked us this in proficient English, and not in the usual SACSAL tone too, but rather with the ease of a native speaker of the language. Yet, she seemed to be fluent in Mandarin as well, in her conversations with the PRC staff (Aside: Such establishments nowadays usually hire PRCs. Maybe they get tax credits for supporting our local workforce).

I guessed that she was waiting for her A level results, and was proven right in my assessment. I suppose this counts as going somewhat off the beaten path, as most people in that demographic stratum would rather be waitressing in yuppie joints.

It is so rare to find effectively billingual Chinese Singaporeans these days.


In other news, my Friday the 13th went well, except for my tripping on a wire, sending 2 decorative lamps to the floor during the Economics Society bazaar (at a cost of about $25 to me).

Ah well. No one uses those as real lamps anyway.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Straight Dope: Can someone be literally scared to death? - "Here the patient was a man in his 70s who'd been diagnosed with incurable cancer and told he had only a few months left. Wanting to live till Christmas, he ate and exercised as directed and walked out of the hospital for the holidays much improved. He was readmitted shortly after New Year's close to death and expired within 24 hours. An autopsy found the cancer diagnosis had been exaggerated; his physical complaints weren't enough to kill him. Instead, he and everyone else were convinced he was going to die, so he did."
You can will yourself to health, and to death too.

Cook's Thesaurus: Vinegars

Memoirs of a Geisha--Mad TV Bobby Lee of Mad TV as Sayuri in The Memoirs of a Geisha - "A story like mine has never been told. That not true. This is just another movie about a poor but beautiful girl turned into a callgirl. This time, she is geisha... 'I can put fist in my mouth. 50 yen I stay all night' '40' '50 firm. I can shoot ping pong balls *whispers*'"

The Official God FAQ

The Christian Paradox - "Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.”... On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up... The power of the Christian right rests largely in the fact that they boldly claim religious authority... But their theology is appealing for another reason too: it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. Religious conservatives will always have a comparatively easy sell."
Sounds like Singapore to me too.

Richard Dawkins: Beyond belief - "What angers Dawkins most is the way religion gets such an easy ride. "We treat it with a politically correct reverence that we don't accord to any other institution," he says. "Even secularists talk about Jewish, Catholic and Muslim children. There's no such thing. Children aren't born with a particular religious gene. What they are is children of Jewish, Catholic and Muslim parents. If you started to talk about monetarist or Marxist children, everyone would consider you abusive.""

Naked-marriage-sex ban - "An Egyptian cleric's controversial fatwa claiming that nudity during sexual intercourse invalidates a marriage has uncovered a rift among Islamic scholars."

Revenge of the Tattooed Nerds - "Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking to people with “nerdy” tattoos — computer logos, video game themes, science, math, and engineering imagery. Below you can read their stories in their own words"

What, If Anything, Is A Byzantine? - "We might better name the Empire at Constantinople with the title of the "Romaion Empire" from the Greek "Basileia Romaion" [Empire of the Romaioi]."
Bah, mere semantics.

There are also battered men - "Men are presumed to be able to take care of themselves because they are generally bigger and stronger; but that advantage can be neutralized by a weapon, a surprise attack, or a man's reluctance to use force against a woman even to fend off her assault. (The most reliable research shows that up to 35 percent of victims injured by violent partners are men.)... male victims often have to deal with attitudes that are considered Neanderthal if expressed toward women - for instance, that they must have done something to provoke the assault... most of these groups espouse a radical feminist ideology that reduces the complex issues of abuse to "women good, men bad" - a secular religion with the patriarchy as the devil."

Singaporean skydiver falls to his death in Perth - "The seasoned Singaporean skydiver had reportedly made 270 jumps before this incident."
Time to ban skydiving!

NKF... And defamation - "It raised a question whether the republic’s defamation law is also – apart from preventing the innocent from any slanderous assault – protecting wrongdoings by the rich and powerful from being discovered... the defamation law became a weapon of the wealthy. You don’t often see a bricklayer suing a property tycoon for libel or defamation, only the other way around... Its frequent use has contributed to the sort of litigious society the government wants to avoid. The law has also rendered whistle-blowing (an insider revealing a grave wrongdoing) either in a government department or in a large corporation a virtually suicidal task. Because of the expenses, Singaporeans simply choose to turn a blind eye when they see something radically wrong, and society is the loser."
inex: You know what?

"We have girls getting molested here and what the fuck do we get? People accusing us of discrimination. racism. Is there any fucking wonder why we rather not push the issue? Why we would rather suffer in silence? Even my fellow LJier who was a victim of their sexual haressment(I read her post, and was astound to see other girls come forward with their own accounts, and yes all their molesters were banglahs.) could not bring herself to make a big issue out of it. "


Me: While freely conceding that from copious amounts of anecdotal evidence, Banglas appear to be committing a disproportionate number of molests, we must, I think, agree that denying that, all things being equal, a bangla is more likely than a local to blind you with foam spray and molest you along Orchard Road on Christmas and New Year's Eve is an unavoidable concomitant of a society that condemns racism and refuses to prejudge individuals based on their biological attributes, even if they are statistically correlated with certain actions, and that the rigors which Singaporean women have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

akikonomu: i've read accounts of the incidents in other blogs, and they don't mention banglas

Me: oh?
maybe they were blinded :P

akikonomu: nope.

Me: come, tell me more

akikonomu: what is more likely is the orchard road tourism board hired some teens to sell the stuff
it's their lame christmas = some other festival thing
i remember in 2004, christmas was mardis gras due to all the street performrs and clowns
this year christmas = songkran

Me: so everyone thinks it's banglas because they're racist?
has happened in previous years leh

akikonomu: not everyone

Me: well no one is saying ALL banglas molest
or ALL people who molest are banglas
just that most molests seem to be done by banglas

one thing sociologists like to do, I noticed in the module, is to find exceptions and crow that they disprove the rule

akikonomu: listen to me: some people who got spray blogged about it. their acconts don't involve banglas

Me: did they get sprayed and molested?

akikonomu: they got sprayed indiscriminately

Me: not the same

being sprayed all over
and being sprayed and molested

the first is annoying
the second is criminal and violating

I don't know lah
wait for the police report

I remember that immigrants are believed responsible for crime
but actually commit less crime

OTOH, why do they all congregate there?
and why do we have so many anecdotal reports

akikonomu: mmm. how many people got molested

Me: that's why must wait for police report lor

but this sort of thing, how to investigate?
easy to assimilate into the crowd

akikonomu: aka what is happening now is a moral/social panic, disguised by xenophobia
or rather, it IS disguised xenophobia

i don't really blog about stuff i can't confirm =D
from our conversation, you already see how incomplete my info is.


A: our society condemns racism in name only lah!

all individuals are prejudged based on biological attributes. that is an undeniable fact about being human. or being alive, for that matter... all animals prejudge based on physical appearances. it is hard wired into our genome and a consequence (or cause) of evolution

the simple truth is that, if you don't want to be molested and have foam sprayed in your face, 1) don't go to orchard rd during countdown 2) don't wear revealing clothing.

Me: anyway people (including I) would argue that it's natural, but we shouldn't do it

in this case, everyone does it. just that when race comes into the picture everyone becomes touchy-feely and politcally correct

but actually does it anyway

A: yes. so what i sthe difference b/w discrimination by race vs discrimination by other physical (i.e. non-controllable) parameters?

race is a touchy subject because of historical precedent

Me: precisely
and culture is deterministic also
and people discriminate (or at least pre-judge) by it
there's no way not to without going insane

A: yes, one might argue that to view every single person on an equal level without bias would be, at best, hopelessly naive.

you always need counter-examples to convince you lah. e.g. if a bangla stopped to help up an old lady who fell on the floor
(that said the old lady might sue for molest, you never know singaporeans)

it woudln't be racist to say "a lot of the people spraying foam and molesting were banglas"
it would be racist however to say "all banglas are molesters"
but it wouldn't b eracist to say "a bangla is more likely to be a molester"

it's a fine line

Me: mmm
but people can only think in false dichotomies

A: that is because they are eager to jump to assumptions and see things that are not there.

Me: literature!
to quote my lit friend: "anyway the point, again, is that the intention DOES NOT MATTER"


Unnamed sociologist: is the writer opposed to the discriminate use of full stops in sentences
i cant believe that's an 8 line sentence with nary a stop
painful read.

it's a cultural thing. indian women are objectified in their own countries, and the men bring that culture over here

[Addendum: Someone else - if u ve watched amazing race...there're episodes where the female contestants in india were all molested on trains filled with indian males

i wonder if it's their culture or sth

but definitely..i think women rights need to be protected]


B: lack of a/c can do weird things to ppl
even lky had to acknowledge a/c as the best invention of the 20th c
George Soros & A Global Open Society - A Dialogue with a New Generation

Someone suggested to me that we go for this event together, but unfortunately was unable to make it at the last minute; if the following seems too much of a narrative, you can blame her (hehe) since she asked me to tell her what the talk was like. In any case, though we had to pre-register, there was no confirmation of attendance, so in theory anyone could have crashed. Bah. My observations and notes are integrated into the passage, so although at times it may sound like I spoke at the session, the fact is I didn't.

I've always had some bit of skepticism regarding dialogues with the youth, not least because the youth who get to take part in or even spectate at these events are hardly representative of youth in general, coming as they do from a handpicked group. Do these outstanding students, one of whom was acclaimed as "the best" of our next generation, really represent the future generation of Singaporeans? How in touch are they with the bulk of their generation? Indeed, I am given to believe that participants in these events are always the same few people, or at least the same type of people, most of whom probably know each other. Then again, the bulk of the future generation are like the bulk of all generations - apathetic (to one degree or other), so the problem is how to bring the airy-fairy concept of an "Open Society" to the masses. Also, at this talk there were a grand total of 2 youth on the panel - one SMU student and one NUS student, so it was hardly a "dialogue with a new generation" (then again, the Young PAP was headed by a 45-year-old at one point in time, so I guess it's all relative).

I have always been of the opinion that there is no reason to go to too many talks, seminars, symposiums and conferences, since one hits diminishing returns sooner or later. After a while, you find yourself hearing as well as saying the same things (which you of course already know), and those who attend or participate in such are likely already educated and versed in such issues already, and so do not have that much to gain.

Soros singled out the failure of states and repressive ideologies as 2 serious threats to freedom and an open society. Yet, I would think that even in the absence of these 2 factors, apathy would be a powerful threat to an open society. Given that he was discussing how the US was becoming less open ("An open society that doesn't understand the concept and doesn't abide by its principles") in its war on terror by parting from "reality" and entering a "fantasy world", hitting innocents and endangering civil liberties in the process, I'm surprised he didn't discuss it - given that George Bush has been instrumental in rolling back civil liberties, Soros's campaign to oust him would've succeeded if he'd managed to raise turnout among fellow opponents of Bush.

When his turn came up to talk, Kishore Mabhubani asked a "provocative" question. He claimed that the "West" had a nominally open society, but a functionally closed one, while the rest of the world had nominally closed societies, but functionally open ones. When I heard this I was flabbergasted, and my shock did not diminish as he finished his "provocative" question, for in elaborating, it seemed he had conflated the "West" (already a term some deride as being unhelpful) with the USA, and offered nothing at all to substantiate the latter half of his "provocative" question (ie showing how the rest of the world has functionally open societies); just because the USA is not as open as it should be, used to be or is claimed to be does not magically make the rest of the world functionally open. Nor does the US being imperfect mean that the rest of the world has the imprimatur to be more imperfect. He claimed that the US has nurtured the illusion that it is open, so its citizens do not feel that there is a need to know more about the world and now travel less, know less and care less about the rest of the world. I am not sure that this is a new phenomenon, even if it might have become more pronounced in recent years.

In reply to Mabhubani's "provocative" question, Soros replied that the US has robust institutions and a tradition of freedom, so although it has lost its way, it can find it again because it can change, and people criticise the government. So despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, the attempts to make the US a less open society will fail.

Assoc Prof Locknie Hsu next made some general remarks about disputing the veracity of accepted facts, but very importantly zeroed in on how Soros had not defined "democracy" and "open society". I think that lawyers sometimes are too zealous about definitions, resulting in the definitions of concepts almost everyone has an instinctive grasp of becoming more and more precise lose more and more accuracy, until one can have oral sex without this being covered by the legal definition of sex (as it applies to the case). This was a very important point, and I wondered why Soros had not tried to define these concepts in his opening remarks (or indeed Kesavapany in his Welcome Address - after all, the key phrase *did* appear in the title of the dialogue session).

Soros replied to the comment about his not defining his key terms by saying they had no definition, and that people had to define these concepts for themselves. He did conceded, though, that the rule of law was important in an open society, and so you need some legal definitions. I would note that the problem with being so iffy is that definitions can be hijacked in pursuit of political agendas (some would argue that trying to promote civil society in a country is in itself a political agenda, but I have much more faith in the noble intentions of NGOs without vested interests trying to improve the lot of a country's citizens than the motives of repressive governments trying to stifle and control their citizens), and governments, with the aid of co-opted intellectuals, could find all sorts of excuses, including "Western Imperialism", "National Sovereignty", the people not being ready and "Asian Values" to disenfranchise their peoples.

Dr Suzaina Binte Kadir was up next and she voiced the usual question about the alleged dichotomy between economic development and democracy, and if a certain level of economic development was needed before democracy could be attained. This was hardly a new question to me, and I think at least half (probably more) the people in the hall were better read and more well-informed than me, so I wondered why the point was being brought up since it would be neither novel nor informative (see above about diminishing returns). A more interesting question was her asking if some people enjoying an open society was predicated on these people's getting rich at the expense of the rest of the world's population, and if a just and equitable distribution of wealth was possible in an open society (actually I didn't understand why this was necessarily the case, but nonetheless it was an interesting question, being what seemed to be a personal jibe). And then another slightly worn question followed about the role of religion and specifically Islam in an open society.

Soros's answer was that material reward and prosperity was needed for a society to become and remain open: "I spent half an hour grandstanding about an Open Society, but for the first 50 years of my life I was making money... When you're hungry you think about making money... I couldn't stop making money." He said he became successful first before he devoted himself to promoting Open Societies, and that he respected people who did that without becoming rich first. But then he qualified this by saying that an Open Society helps create prosperity by liberating people's creative energies - a bit iffy, and ignoring the role of transparency and openness in encouraging good governance and limiting governance, but fair enough.

Then followed some de rigueur remarks on his part about freedom of belief/faith being necessary because no one was infallible, and an observation that since there is no Church/State divide in Islam, no separation like in Western socities, Islamic politics becomes guided by religion. He drew a parallel with religious fundamentalism in the US, and how "literal interpretation of scripture, frankly", was in conflict with critical thinking because the rules would be set down once and for all. He observed that Islam was struggling with this, especially with regards to women, and that conditions have changed since Islamic scripture was written, and modern realities had to be reconciled with them.

Professor Tommy Koh asked Suzaina if secularism was necessary in an open society, and asked if there was a contradiction between Islam and an Open Society. She replied that although there was no Church-State separation in Islam a la the Enlightenment, they were thinking about how to attain it and so the two were not irreconcilable, at which I chuckled, having witnessed what apologists have managed to do - nothing is irreconcilable!

Next came the two students. Alvina Teh asked how the international community could be persuaded to support an Open Society in a country, since military force, being against the principles of an Open Society, was proscribed - in short, how to bring Open Society to a country needing freedom. Soros replied that people had to be protected when they couldn't protect themselves, and wryly remarked on the UN as a failed tool for protecting people: "It is an imperfect organisation, like all big organisations. Maybe a bit more imperfect than most".

Mabhubani, noting the popularity of UN bashing, then quoted an immortal line he attributed to Margaret Thatcher (the original quote is welcome): "If you don't like the UN, look at a mirror. It reflects you... It's the 109 member states that have screwed up the UN". He then related how a Western intellectual, when asked by him to define the "International Community", said it was the views that developed Western states dictated to the rest of the world.

Soros mused on how the Security Council reflects the power balance in 1945, and warned that only they can fix it, or it will become increasingly irrelevant. But then, I observed that those with the power to fix it have no incentive to do so. An application of game theory, it would seem.

Soros talked about how Canada was the first country to propose the phrase "responsibility to protect", and that when it did so, there was an uproar, but last year, the phrase was sneaked in to a summit document.

The last panelist was Benjamin Lee, who asked how India and China would feel on the developed societies leading the way forward in pursuit of Open Societies (presumably on their being left behind, I think). He also questioned how, if individuals were on the same level as states, an Open Society was not to degenerate into anarchy. Finally, he asked the million dollar question - how far Soros would rate Singapore as an open global society, and where on the spectrum it would lie (someone would definitely have asked this during Q&A if it hadn't during the panel session. I know I would have).

The million dollar question was, of course, greeted with much mirth and approval. Soros was forthright in his appraisal: "Obviously Singapore does not qualify as an Open Society". This was, of course, also greeted with much mirth and approval. He qualified his words, of course, by saying that Singapore was prosperous and so eventually would become an Open Society. The usual platitudes about our enlightened leadership, his admiring their achievements and hoping they would take the next step in the country's development followed. He even talked of how he met one person who was sued for libel and bankrupted, and commented that the use of "libel can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of speech, or freedom of expression", and recommended that it not be used to suppress those freedoms anymore, to more applause from the audience.

And with that, the Question and Answer session started. Some of the questions were: insipid, uninspiring, trite, irrelevant or one or more of the above, so I will not bother recounting them or their replies here.

One person reminded Soros that he hadn't answered Benjamin's question about anarchy, and so he replied that each society had to draw its own line, and he was not advocating introducing Western democracy to the world. Of course, I think this had its own perils (see above on "Asian Values").

Some people asked Soros financial questions for some reason, even though this talk was not about finance at all. His answer to one was interesting in its own right, though, so I will record it here: he said that he was against market funamentalism because financial markets do not tend to equilibrium since perfect knowledge does not exist; the expectations which people hold change the future, so markets tend to extremes, and he recommended intervention if they swung too far from equilibrium (but not to guide them to equilibrium in the first lace).

One NUS Business School student took trade disputes to be a sign of isolationism in the EU. Huh? In (sort of) reply to that, Soros observed that the EU was a prototype of an Open Society, since no one has majority power, and that the way its principles developed was one step at a time, proceeding incrementally towards an end goal, while realising the imperfection of each step, but that it couldn't go on developing at this rate because it had been driven along by the elite, and people felt alienated so they needed to engage the grassroots (again, nothing new here). Meanwhile, one HCJC guy asked whether speculators destabilised the global community (to which Soros gave the clever answer of their destabilising it half the time and stabilising it the other half).


A "SMU alumni" (sic) asked if Soros felt he was fighting a lost cause, and said he was appreciative of what he had done. Tommy Koh interjected: "You're so young and yet so cynical... I think 'Open Society' is a sunrise concept, 'Democracy' is a sunrise concept". He then continued by saying Soros's answer earlier (about Singapore not being an Open Society) was too abrupt, and that this sort of thing was not a black or white issue: the US was moving from a "totally open" society to a more closed one, while Singapore was moving in the opposite direction, so he should say "Well done. Continue making progress."

Soros admitted that other societies existed which were worse off, and that this was a relative thing, depending on the direction in which a society was moving, and was hopeful for an opening of society. As for lost causes, he related what he'd been told by Kovaliov, who was the human rights commissioner of the Russian parliament and had helped bring the Chechen war to an end: "All my life I've been fighting lost causes", and that if you don't fight for a lost cause, you won't get freedom so one should do it regardless of the chances of success. It sounded a touch vainglorious to me, even if the sentiment was admirable.

At 4:20 sharp, the moderator, exercising a great deal of discipline, cut the session short. Prof Howard Hunter, making the closing remarks, related how when Soros spoke at the Stock Exchange of Singapore on monday, there was a whole row of investment bankers, and that he'd never seen so many SMSes and notes being scribbled except among a row of 13 year olds on the MRT. He also remarked how it's easy to make a lot of money, but you will be forgotten by history if making money is all you care about. He thanked the audience for their sharp, provocative and pithy questions - evidence of critical thinking in Raffles City, and the session was at an end.

The only thing I have left to note is that as I was entering the MRT, JBJ was setting up his stall and hawking is books, with the sign: "Singapore - a country with no rule of law". Somehow, I doubt it was a coincidence that he was there at that time.


Professor Tommy Koh is a very amusing speaker: "As you can tell, Mr Soros, Mr Kesavapany and I beong to the Mutual Admiration Society, which has many members."

"I have the pleasure of introducing Mr George Soros... I will begin by saying I do not share Dr Mahathir's view of him... he might have slightly exaggerated his power, even though he brought down the British Pound a little."

***

Clarifications in response to queries by HUICHIEH:

I must confess to not understanding Agagooga's point about "definitions can be hijacked in pursuit of political agendas"--how does one do such a thing? Perhaps along these lines--a manifestly unjust regime applies a novel definition of a normally positive term, say, "democracy", and under that novel definition, the regime turns out to be "democratic". But this is no argument against the usefulness of definitions--when such things happen, all the more do we become aware of the defectiveness of the unjust regime's novel definition.


North Korea is proclaimed by its government to be a Workers' Paradise, many Communist countries were "Democratic" or "People's Republics" and Singapore has a press model which is defined as suiting our unique circumstances. As such, I was arguing for Soros to provide rough definitions, rather than for the meaninglessness of definitions (they are only meaningless if defined by repressive governments such that their regimes qualify).

And obviously, one would have "much more faith in the noble intentions of NGOs without vested interests trying to improve the lot of a country's citizens than the motives of repressive governments trying to stifle and control their citizens" (emphasis mine). But it doesn't say very much, does it? The question is not whether one ought to have more faith in the good guys as opposed to the bad guys, whoever they are, but just who are the good and who are the bad guys. Personally, neither NGOs nor governments should get a free pass. The noblest intentions can be the direct cause of the worst evils, while the basest motives may yet be the engine that actually make the world work.


Repressive governments like to rail against the nefarious influences of foreign agents, or claim that they should and can not have any say in the internal affairs of a country (sometimes allegedly because they do not have any vested interests in the future of it). Yet, this argument against external interference does not hold any water - we should evaluate what they do, rather than where they come from (from within or without).

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"I'm still an atheist, thank God." - Luis Bunuel

***

"Couldn't happen by chance?... Rarity by itself shouldn't necessarily be evidence of anything. When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable." - John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences

***

"If a white man attacks an Asian, it's racial assault. If a black man attacks an Asian, it's robbery." - Dal Singh Dhesy, who runs a Sikh community group in Birmingham, presumably commenting on occidentalist attitudes

Someone: If a white man attacks anybody from another race, it is racism. If a non-white attacks a white man, it is not really his fault. We should look at the root causes. Ha!


If participation and dialogue on so-called women's issues is restricted to women, then by default all other issues are already relegated to men, which circumscribes women's rights as citizens and restricts their full participation in society.

***

The Master Test Tube Washer:

"In Singapore, we have a small population, we have no such luxury to do basic science. The key is to be practical. We cannot have everything. By nature, I want to see some outcome...I want something I can feel and touch, and knock."

"My job is to create jobs. It's not just to create great science and great things. Don't forget Nobel Prizes don't create jobs. Research, to me, is a means to an end. The end, to me, is to attract and encourage local companies and MNCs and create jobs for all Singaporeans, from the CEO down to the cleaning lady."


And this is why Singaporean research is doomed.

If you treat people like commodities, they will behave like commodities.

***

Someone on my first bank statement being rejected by immigration on a technicality and the second being lost because it was delivered to the wrong place: they better get u a limo when u land


Someone else on the "ah, what is truth?" school: wah lau, how to summarise half a year of me being intelleectually traumatised into one msn conversaiton

...

shit, it's 8pm, i have to shower

Me: why, the water goes off later?

Someone else: coz if you're a girl and you have long hair, it takes time to dryoh wiat, you have long hair too
what am i saying
haha

Me: yes
if you're a guy and you have long hair, it takes a long time to dry too
the laws of physics are immutable as far as gender is concerned


Me: ah well. no wonder literature is a doomed field haha

Someone: Hey considering what happened before, not surprised
Actually, doesn't post-colonial lit make assumptions of colonialisation

Me: yeah. always blame the colonialists
aiyah these lit people are too divorced from reality

Someone else: exactly!
if you don't drive yourself nuts first

Me: hoho
that's why they all kill themselves

Someone: I think the danger has always been the type of assumptions made tend to be bad for civil liberty

Me: either nuts or too depressing
it's not about assumptions, it's about probabilistic considerations

Someone: The left gone relativist

***

Me: how come you didn't come ah

Someone: its a stupid story
I missed the bus
from KL to JB

Me: uhh

Someone: look at it this way
more fodder for your anti-msia post

I missed the bus cos there was no indication where my bus was to be at
I had to search all the bus bays to find my bus plus the buses don't have numbers
and I had to ask all the people whether the bus was the one gg to JB
in the end I missed the bus
malaysia boleh!

Me: were there signs... in malay?

Someone: no signs at all
luckily the ticket only cost me 20 ringgit
lol
otherwise I'll feel fucking pissed if I wasted more than that amount

I guess the good thing about msia is that even though many things make you lose money (i.e. inefficiency, corruption), its affordable to us singaporeans cos of the exchange rate lol

***

My Favourite Misanthrope (MFM): I have trouble reconciling this melodrama with your usual frivolity
until I recall that you used to write highly emotional posts back when you were still a slave

Me: you call this melodrama?

MFM: the idea of you crying over ***

Me: by the standards of this sort of thing, it is not melodramatic at all

I am not given to strong emotion usually
but even I am human

MFM: bah. humans.

Me: we are weak and frail creatures of carbon

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

To the morons (I consider the term to be appropriate here in lieu of the usual "idiots", because something supposed to praise their religion was taken by them to be an insult to it) who got offended by Meritocratic Jesus, all I have to say:

"Did you see the latest WWJD bracelets? I am offended by those blasphemous heretics! How dare they compare themselves to the Lord and insinuate that they are following in his footsteps? NO ONE CAN BE WORTHY!!!111ONE~!!!"

This is what happens when you indoctrinate people without having them consider the meaning of what they're supposed to be doing. Either that or they subscribe to the fire-and-brimstone, Supply Side Jesus school of thought rather than the conventional textual one.

Someone else in the comments:
"Singaporeans are way too politically correct to speak their minds these days. They feel uncomfortable when addressing issues pertaining to race, religion, sex and pretty much everything EXCEPT food."

***

Me on going to Malaysia: if I get paranged, come to my funeral

Someone: haha
i will

u want me to read eulogy?
heehee

i'll tear down every cross in sight ;)
that much I promise u

(can i tear crosses off the necks of the ppl who come for your funeral? esp those who said u died early n tragic cos u didnt' believe in God n He struck u down?) =p

Me: haha
your choice :P


Someone on accepting a rosary: [accept it,] gives her peace of mind

Me: would you accept a wiccan good luck charm?

Someone: no way
but this aint' wiccan

Me: yeah but it's the same principle
it's a religious object of religion other than the one you subscribe to

Someone: but u have no religion..so it's diff for u

Me: err.
yes, but I have similar feelings towards donning religious artefacts


Catholic friend: ***'s catholic meh? how come she gave you a rosary?
there's no harm in just accepting it

Me: would you accept a wiccan holy charm?

CF: actually yes
I've accepted a japanese buddhist/taoist charm before

Me: good for you
most of your brethren wouldn't

how about a satanic charm?

CF: er no. that would be too scary
and that would be AGAINST Christ

Me: so there


Someone else: u shouldn't knock it till u try it
i know it's fashionable and all to be atheist now

Me: should you knock drugs before you try it?
suicide? prostitution?

besides, I've tried it.

you must be joking
christian fundamentalism is surging in singapore


"Whenever we read ... the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize humankind. And, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel."

- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
On Friday evening, LMD kindly drove some of us up to JB for Cowboy's wedding.

Our guide was late, so we only crossed the border after midnight and this, coupled with the rain, meant that the members of our convoy who desired ample drinking time were disappointed.

Malaysian traffic lights have countdown timers which flash in the last 10 seconds. Very useful. Too bad we don't.

On the way up, someone saw a sign for Ponderosa and remarked that they hadn't seen one in Singapore for quite some time, and lamented that the quality of the joint had gone down. I remarked that maybe they got bad and moved to Malaysia (unfortunately, on the trip down I saw a sign for Ponderosa golf resort, so it probably wasn't the Restoran Ponderosa which they saw).

Even the roads in the Moors in Yorkshire - the middle of nowhere - aren't as bad as those in some parts of JB (the parts approaching Austin Hills).

When we arrived at Austin Hills Golf Resort, we found that it was huge - even palatial. The entry hallway had huge pillars, but was otherwise sparsely furnished and populated, contributing to a Mines of Moria feel. The corridors, halls and rooms were all large; the corridor on our floor was probably as wide as Raffles Link, and our room could easily have fit 4 king-sized beds (it already had 2) - considering the promotional price of RM$100, this was dirt cheap. However, the interior of the room was too bare, and looked too empty. Perhaps a table and a chair in the middle of the room would have made it feel less barren. Also, one of the power plugs in our room was spoilt, the fridge was empty (no minibar) and the toilet had no shampoo (let alone conditioner), toothbrush, toothpaste or hairdryer (I heard some girls went to the toilet downstairs). A map laid on the table helpfully marked out possible walking/running routes, but we were told that we "must register with the reception a day before your jog/walk/cycle" (yeah right). Annoyingly, the lifts had no sensors (meaning the doors closed on people while they were walking in), and one of them had a button for the second storey which couldn't quite work, and after pressing it repeatedly to no avail, I gave up and whacked it - causing the doors to open. One room's kettle also didn't work. Maybe after building such a big place they had no money left over. And to top it all, a sign on the way out of the resort read: "Thanks and welcome again" - this is probably not one of the resorts managed by a Singaporean. [Addendum: The resort was not terrible, in fact for the price it was great; I'm just pointing out some pertinent points.]

When we got down to the bar there was a tudung-ed woman sitting there. I hope she was drinking Jus Oren.

The security people wore black berets and looked quite silly. I even spotted what was proably a baton on their belts.

The next morning, after 3 (!) hours of sleep (admittedly after a game of Scrabble which I in usual form lost), a procession set off for the bride's house to fetch her. As we pulled into the general area, all the cars started blaring their horns (must be some quaint Malaysian custom). We were looking forward to what devious plans the bride's "姐妹" ("jie3 mei4" - lit. "younger and older sisters" - in this context referring to her coterie of hangers-on and female companions tasked with protecting her from the depradations of the groom and his bully-boys) had come up with to torture Cowboy.

Disappointingly, we were made to wait for a long time, so they got only about 15 minutes to torture him. In the end, one person spun a hula hoop around his arm while Cowboy sang a song, and then we all charged the staircase (with one person even vaulting over the railing), only to be stopped at the door. Various people were forced to eat various unsavory things (corresponding to the Chinese categories of "酸甜苦辣" ("suan1 tian2 ku3 la4" - lit. "sour, sweet, bitter, hot") including wasabi sandwiches and bittergourd. A raw egg was then passed up his trousers (an encore performance of which was witnessed at night) and he finally was let in to see the bride. So, question: why is it always the groom who is tortured, and not the bride?! Gah.

After that, it was off to church for the ceremony. Unusually, the wedding march was played by a girl on a violin, though it was a touch too slow (someone said it sounded more like the funeral march). The priest, in his homily, urged the couple not to be influenced by Hollywood ("We are Asians, we have very high conservative values" - uhh...). He also remarked that as a confirmed bachelor, he couldn't really give the couple advice for their marriage (which makes one wonder how the Catholic Church, full of confirmed bachelors, can make pronouncements with such authority on sex and marriage). I was very happy, though, that unlike the last Church marriage I was at, there was no nonsense about the wife obeying/submitting to the husband (maybe because this one was a Catholic wedding, and the last was a fundie wedding). There were 2 flower girls present, but they didn't throw any flowers on the carpet (maybe there were worries about cleaning up).

After the end of the ceremony, the bride threw her bouquet, but no one wanted to catch it, so it ended up hitting a pillar... and landing on the floor. In the end someone picked up, so maybe there'll be more good news in the blogosphere soon!

After lunch at Cowboy's place, we returned to the hotel to catch up on sleep, except for poor Terz who was sorting photos for the slideshow in the evening.

It is interesting to see teenage girls walk. They haven't yet mastered the more subdued swaying gait that adult women have and are still transitioning from the bouncy walk that pre-pubescent girls have (like how sub-10 year old boys and girls tend to move the same way).

The waiters looked somewhat shoddy; many didn't even wear proper footwear, and they didn't look very happy (another reason why I think the resort is not managed by a Singaporean, and so much for Malaysians being more friendly and jovial, flaming aside).

Someone remarked to me that hotel food in Malaysia is inferior to restaurant food, since it can't have the magic ingredients (pork, lard and alcohol - some of the latter is added to fish, for example). I agree - fish steamed in "superior" soya sauce (it tastes like the normal soya sauce) can't beat fish steamed in XO sauce. Also, our first dish was not the usual "BBQ combination", but a "Four Seasons Platter", since a BBQ combination is not a BBQ combination without char siew and suckling pig.

The flower girls made another appearance, and this time they threw flowers on the carpet (the resort staff will clean it up anyway). I wonder if Screwed Up Girl still wants to be a flower girl.

The evil man operating the dry ice machine smiled evily at us as he gassed us with copious amounts of sublimed carbon dioxide.

I wonder if anyone has solved the problem of the awkward silence that ensues when people who don't know each other are seated at the same table.

All brides look the same. So what's the point?!

Usually during the yamseng(s) there'll be at least one guy who goes "Yam-yam-yam-yam" when he runs out of breath. There wasn't this time.

I noticed that some of the songs played during the wedding were the same as ones played during JC orientations. Which makes you wonder about their evil social engineering agenda (or alternatively, just what the Students' Councils have in mind).

After the dinner the barflies were jabbering entertainingly. And my Asian Prince card was very well-received (so to speak).

A new perspective on couples counting angbao money on wedding night (a practise which my sister has spoken about in less than glowing terms in the past): It lets them settle the bills as soo nas possible, and they can get rid of all the money, since it's not good to carry so much money around. Both parties are probably too tired to perform anyway!

A trip to Malaysia is not complete without having some (preferably late night) hawker food, so at about 1+am, Cowboy led some of us out for supper. I've always wondered about the quaint Malaysian practice of going to a Kopitiam Restoran to eat Maggi Mee soup. Or better yet, of frying the Maggi Mee again. The latter seems to fall in the same category as baked beans on toast.

At the Restoran, signs very strangely informed us that the Air Halia (ginger water) was "Ikut Pasaran" (priced according to the market price), and the Nasi Campur and Nasi Beriani were "Harisa Ikut Pasaran" (don't ask me how this is different from "Ikut Pasaran"). The supply of Ginger and cloves in Malaysia must be very inelastic! Or maybe in Malaysia they're like saffron and caviar elsewhere.

I tried sup kambing. Very good, but probably as bad for you as Ma Ling Luncheon Meat (though the recipe I found didn't look that bad).

I have thought up an arcade game based on driving in Malaysia. At first it was called "Miss the Potholes" - your objective is just that, but this has since been relegated to the easy mode of a more complex game, the advanced mode of which has you racing to your objective within a certain time limit. You also have some cash, into which spare time is converted at the end of a stage. This cash can be used to repair your car (damage is suffered if you go over a pothole) or illegally zhng (modify) it. To get to your destination more quickly, you can (nay, must) make illegal u-turns, run red lights and generally break all the rules in the book (you even get a small time bonus when you do so). You have to be wary, though, of the police, who will appear every now and then to catch you. When they do, you have the choice of paying a hefty bribe or doing things the legal way and losing a lot of time. I considered adding in mobs of people coming after you with parangs, but couldn't think of a way to add them in without compromising gameplay. Pity, that.

Almost all the time, I didn't smell the Malaysian smell, and when I did, the food was comparable to (or once, worse than in) Singapore. So this is more evidence in favour of my theory of relativity!

Some of the Malaysian suburban neighborhoods can pass for Eastern Singapore (the Katong area) - lavish praise!

On Sunday morning Cowboy again led us out for breakfast and we got to try KL-style chee cheong fun (it's mostly other stuff, with very little chee cheong fun - plain chee cheong fun just can't compare, though the type with prawns/char siew inside is good). I thought of asking for wanton mee with ketchup just to see whether the hawker would freak out, but decided against it.

At the Restoran, when the rain got heavier, it started flowing down the ceiling beam and dripping onto the table, including into someone's glass. Someone suggested taking a picture and captioning it: "Malaysia boleh!"

Some Malaysian roads are paved with brick - maybe it's a way to avoid potholes.

The Perodua Kenari and Kancil both look like very cock cars. I hope the rest of the line isn't as bad. Looking at their homepage, one is inclined to think not, but then again the Kenari and Kancil don't look that cock there either.

On the three-laned road just before JB immigration, there were 4 cars travelling abreast. And on the Singapore side there were many signs cautioning against littering and asking drivers to slow down.
Someone was lecturing a group of us on the differences between Malaysia and Singapore, and he characterised them like so: In Singapore, you get ahead on the road by obeying traffic rules (not strictly true, but fair enough), but in Malaysia you need to break every rule and take every shortcut in order to do so.

Fair enough, but then in the latter case, while you yourself might get ahead, others are delayed and a few might even crash in swerving and/or braking to a halt in trying to avoid your dangerous and illegal manouevres.

So I guess it is an appropriate analogy in more than one way.

The same person also boasted of how Malaysia has more millionaires (or was it billionaires) per capita than Singapore (despite its per capita GDP being a third of the latter, according to geekgeek), and this gels with the traffic analogy - everyone thinks they have a chance to beat or lead the pack, but in the end the country as a whole lags behind.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A hat tip to LAPD Laughing As People Diet (a Malaysian too!) for the information that this blog was reviewed in Lime Magazine:

Dawn Yang vs Agagooga

"Lime Mag gave Dawn Yang's blog a 4 star rating compare to the other famous Agagooga who only managed to obtained 3 stars...

im kinda disappointed not to find any pics of Agagooga. i can't use the picture of a blue power ranger being tied up as him kan?. aiyah. lack."

If someone has scans or can lend me the thing, I will be most grateful, still being sore after wasting $7 on a crappy magazine last month, only to be greatly disappointed by the lame cover story (which was what I bought it for).

***

Someone: u can hang out more in temples. buddhist girls date outside religion people

hahahaha it's ironic. and u know many guys go to church just to buaya girls and the girls would give in easily cos they have to only date other christians, so they think 'what the hell'

and atheist guys are at a disadvantage. they have no buaya hunting ground they can pounce on every week

the government being so anxious to pair people, should set up an atheist social club that all the atheists llike you can converge in to find other atheists who are disadvantaged by the muslim and christian date insiders only policy


And this just in from the teeming millions:

Someone else: There's this mgs gal standing in front of me on mrt who looks like a less feminine version of u. Wish she were further so i k take pic of her. Too crowded too

***

The Straits Times can't do maths:

[On the NTU hall strike] "The current monthly rate of $160 for a single-occupancy room has been almost double to $350 in the new

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"It is a curious thing... that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste." - Evelyn Waugh

***

Women are like elephants - they never forget.

I remember our history teacher was telling us in Sec 1 about why she chose to work in a boys school instead of a girls school.

She said that girls might buy cakes and all that, but you can scold a boy one day and the next day he'll wave hi to you. That won't happen with girls.

On a side note, I was accused over the weekend of disliking women. How shocking. In any case, as my oft-repeated maxim goes:

"Men like women.
Women like women.
Nobody likes men."

***

Okla. Pastor Arrested on Lewdness Charge - "A pastor who has spoken out against homosexuality was arrested after propositioning a male undercover police officer outside a hotel"
I'm not normally a fan of Freud, but there's something to be said for projection.

What's the point of detoxing? - "The body is well capable of getting rid of toxins - that's what the liver, lungs, kidneys and skin do. So what's the point of detoxing?"

Starbucks Economics - Solving the mystery of the elusive "short" cappuccino. - "Here's a little secret that Starbucks doesn't want you to know: They will serve you a better, stronger cappuccino if you want one, and they will charge you less for it. Ask for it in any Starbucks and the barista will comply without batting an eye. The puzzle is to work out why."
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