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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Someone: you know what.
i had a really odd thought a couple days ago.

"if there's something i don't understand about NUS, ask Gabriel"
and it's true!

for some reason it's an association i can't get rid of.
everytime i think NUS is screwing me over, the first thought is "maybe Gabriel knows why".

mmm! *nodnod* you know =everything=.
it makes me happy.

it's like... you're the little NUS buddha that sits at the top of the hill.
and everytime we get disillusioned with the world below we trudge up to make our pilgrimage.

"oh great gabriel! why the hell is NUS such a fucked up place?"

and you always have an answer that works.
it's fantastic.

i can totally imaging you at the top of the NUS hill, in a lotus position and a gold light shining up from behind. and answers are always given with a toss of the hair.

you're the NUS buddha and *** is the rubber band ball.
woah. we could start an exhibition on the top of the hill.
the NUS buddha and the biggest rubber band ball on earth.
July trip
30-7 - Utrecht-Singapore

The piece of paper with the notes for the last day of my July travelogue seems to have gone missing. Oh well, just as well. The paper was inside my laptop sleeve. My mother put it inside.

I missed my target for finishing the travelogue (the end of the year) by 1 day. Hmm, still alright.

In the last days I was in Europe, I experienced 1 or 2 of what I imagined were normal Dutch summer days. It was nice - cool enough, except around noon.

Appelflappen, replacing the pictures I took at the start of my trip but were lost thanks to the French bastard in Nimes

God ad at the airport

This sign was plastered at stations around the country when I returned. Grr.

I arrived at the airport at 9:55 for my noon flight, and the queue already extended far beyond the queuing area. In the end I finished checking in at about 11, and the queue still extended beyond the queuing area. The 'exclusive, limited edition' Economy class luggage tag they were offering seemed to add insult to injury. I don't expect very much from MAS, but they still hadn't met, let alone gone beyond, my expectations.

Easyjet had a sign projecting an aura of being nice: 'More hand baggage!, no weight restriction (within reason!)'. However, this was contingent on the bag being able to fit within the box provided, and it being able to be put in the overhead compartment without assistance.

In Europe, I noticed that all airports had a notice about your being able to seek recompense if your flight was delayed for at least 2 hours or if you were denied boarding. Somehow I don't recall seeing one at Changi.

A very brusque announcement: 'XXX, you are delaying the flight. We will proceed to offload your baggage.' Gotta love Dutch bluntness.

On the flight, I found that MAS finally had gotten movies on demand, at least 2 years after SIA (we had movies on demand on the way to and from Lancer). Oh, except that they play Celcom ads before the videos. Wth. And the fast forward is inaccurate - there's no timer so it's hard to go to the right location; and you can't immediately change the direction of fast forwarding (you've to press play first). Stupid half-hearted implementation. The in-flight entertainment also had some other bugs I won't bother writing about.

The person sitting beside me on the flight back said on Amsterdam TV they were doing an interview with some musicians, and in the background one member was doing it doggie style with a groupie.

King Kong was horribly butchered. Damn MAS.

Walking with Monsters showed the first ever fish, and proclaimed it out 'first known ancestor'. Wasn't that bacteria? The series was good but the CGI was a bit stuff and jerky.

Even for airline food, the servings we got for lunch and breakfast were tiny.

It's been 6 months so I don't think I'll bother compiling a master list of travel tips.

July Secret Diary #4
"I sketched out the basis of a more complex, more questionable theory: generally speaking, white people want to be tanned and to dance like Negroes; Negroes want to lighten their skin and straighten their hair. All humanity instinctively tends towards miscegenation, a generalised undifferentiated state, and it does so first and foremost through the elementary means of sexuality. The only person, however, to have pushed the process to its logical conclusion is Michael Jackson: he’s neither black nor white any more, neither young nor old, and, in a sense, neither man nor woman. Nobody could really imagine his private life; having grasped the categories of everyday humanity, he has done his utmost to go beyond them. This was why he could be considered a star, possibly the greatest — and, in fact, the first — in the history of the world. All the others — Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart — could at best be considered talented artists; they had done no more than imitate the human condition, had aesthetically transposed it. Michael Jackson was the first to have tried to go a little further."

- Platform, Michel Houellebecq (ripped from Jtan)
"Orthodox medicine has not found an answer to your complaint. However, luckily for you, I happen to be a quack." - Richter cartoon caption


Me: women show affection for same sex friends by edifying them and buyign them presents

men show affection for same sex friends by insulting them and physically tormenting them

Someone: ahahahaha
i treat most girls like the latter anyway

well for some reason the above two rules switch vis-a-vis women

women perceive affection from teh opposite sex if they get insulted and physicalyl tormented

men show affection for teh opposite sex by edifying them and byuing them presents

Me: haha
I wasn't quite thinking of the first

Someone: 'tis true

oh no you must show them complete disdain for their womanhood
then they'll want to "work" for you

serously, they dun wanna be treated liek equals! i tried!!
atleast, not by potential fuck buddies

Someone else: "men show affection for same sex friends by insulting them and physically tormenting them" - if i'm ever going to have to review jackass2, that's going to be my report­
if you don't mind

Someone (2): hahah
­same goes for men--show contempt for their capabilities then they'll hold women in great respect

Someone else (2): i had a friend, non local who flung herself at an abusive boyfriend
and i told her to leave him cos he's just in it for the sex

she got me into the same conversation window as him
tells me that he's a nice guy
though he keeps saying that girls like to be treated like dirt, roughed up, told what to do

she was in the same conversation window as that guy told me that
and she 'nodded'

and when he dumped her
she was devastated etc. saying how he liked her so much etc.
and i just didnt' have to heart to say i told you so

seriously sometimes girls are just dumb
and bastards get all the luck


There's a saying that people deserve the governments they get. Maybe women deserve the men that they get. It doesn't apply the other way around, since when men get their hearts broken no one cares about them.

Cock: certainly women who live in developed countries and are not handicapped by economic status or physical disability do.

oh yar we should also add "literacy" to the list.

it's the most accurate statement what.
for that reason we can have zero sympathies for singaporean women who choose crappy men.

Someone who's gotten a lot of bad men: it is true
women are masochistic creatures sia

Addendum: It is important to note that there is a distinction between what I say and what I quote people as saying.

For example, just because I quoted the Council of Trent does not mean that I think Divine Genocide is justifiable.
"It is a striking experience in the history of the Church that we have, as canonized saints, more soldiers than from any other profession; and this is reasonable, for the definition of sanctity is bravery supernaturalized."
- Francis Cardinal Spellman

"The soldier is guiltless who, actuated not by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war. Furthermore, there are on record instances of carnage executed by the special command of God. The sons of Levi, who put to death so many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin; when the slaughter had ceased, they were addressed by Moses in these words: 'You have consecrated your hands this day to the Lord'...If a man kill another in self-defence, having used every means consistent with his own safety to avoid the infliction of death, he evidently does not violate this Commandment."
- The Roman Catechism (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Sex, Culture, and the Biology of Rape: Toward Explanation and Prevention

Some light leisure reading (as of this time last year, it was so hard to find an article on sex and rape. Almost everything was the PC mantra of power):

Sex, Culture, and the Biology of Rape: Toward Explanation and Prevention (Owen Jones, 1999)

"Wholesale exclusion of life science perspectives may very well come at the cost of inaccuracy - and the impediments to rape prevention that inaccurate or incomplete theories of causation might occasion. For it is unclear that the costs of believing something to be true, when it is not, necessarily exceed the costs of believing something not to be true, when it is."

"The majority of these [feminist and sociological] perspectives, however, grow from the central idea that rape is the consequence of: (a) social traditions that reflect male power and dominance, on one hand, and female powerlessness and exploitation, on the other; (b) socially stratified and unequal gender roles; and (c) cultural attitudes and assumptions about men, women, and rape. In this view, patriarchal culture socializes males to be potential rapists. And because rape reflects systemic political and power imbalances between men and women, rape is largely reconceptualized from a ''sex'' crime (motivated by sexual desire) to a ''violent'' crime (motivated by misogyny)."

"It is pointless to conceptualize any law-relevant behavior as the product of nature... or of nurture... is like asking whether the area of a field is determined by its length or by its width."

"This contextualized and systemic understanding of human behavior affords law little predictive power about the behavior of a single, identified human individual. (In like fashion, even useful meteorology affords little predictive power about the movement of a single cloud.)"

"While I recognize... the sin of anthropomorphizing nonhuman behavior, I am persuaded that the inverse - what Frans de Waal terms ''anthropodenial'' (the overzealous rejection of likely commonalities in behavioral processes between humans and other animals) - is an equally insidious danger, equally likely to flaw analysis."

"There is considerable evidence for the existence of rape in other species... reviewing studies of insects; birds; fish; frogs, toads, and lizards; a worm species; plants; elephant seals; and several nonhuman primates; and concluding that rape appears to take place in all but the worms and plants"

"Among wild orangutan populations, rape accounts for one-third to one-half or more of all copulations."

"In both nonhuman and human animals, it is extremely rare for raped females to be killed, and quite rare for them to be injured in ways that prevent possible conception and birth. In humans, rape-murders are exceedingly rare (for example, occuring in only 7 rapes out of 1223 in one study, and 1 of 646 in another study). According to a recent report by the National Victim Center, over two-thirds of rape victims report no physical injures, 24% report minor physical injures, and only 4% sustain serious physical injures."

"It may be tempting to attribute the storng sex bias among [rape] perpetrators to anatomical differences alone. However, the same bias is present even in species lacking larger and stronger males. And the bias similarly obtains not only among species such as mammals in which an aroused penis is generally necessary for copulation, but also among species... in which males have no penises."

[On scorpionfly mating] "Large brains are not required for sophisticated, algorithmic predispositions such as: ''If in possession of a dead insect, court; if no insect. spit and court; if no success, attempt rape; repeat.'' That is, within a very tiny, nonsentient brain, contitional mating predispositions can evolve."

"When the female orangutan's ability to flee an approacing male is experimentally manipulated in captivity, the very same male orangutan who will be extremely unaggressive and solicitous of a female who can physically escape him, will generally grab and rape a struggling female if she cannot escape him."

"In a 1983 study by Randy and Nancy Thronhill of 10,315 rape victims, eighty-five percent were less than thirty-six years old, in sharp contrast to the female population at large."

"In one study, the ages of raped females ranged from 1 to 88, with the mode at 14" (!)

"The Thornhills found that ''[r]eproductive-age victims [of sexual assault] were overwhelmingly more often victims of penile-vaginal intercourse than were victims in the other age categories.'' Moreover, the likelihood of penile-vaginal intercourse during sexual assault exceeded 90% when the victim was of potentially reproductive age (twelve to forty-four) [and 46% otherwise]"

"''Reproductive-age victims were significantly more psychologicall traumatized by rape than pre-reproductive-age girls (0-11) or post-reproductive-age women (45+)''... By contrast, when psychological trauma experienced by female victims of robbery is analyzed by victim's age, older victims are more traumatized than younger victims."

"As early as 1979, several researchers noted that penile-vaginal intercourse is associated with adjustment problems in female rape victims more frequently than is any other variable relating to sexual acts [including rectal intercourse]... non-reproductive-aged females are... more equally traumatized by penile-vaginal intercourse and other forms of sexual assault."

"Rapists are disproportionately young, postpubescent males. Studies often show a median age of twenty-five, with only a small percentage of rapists over thirty. Note that this has remained true, over time, even as different male cohorts age."

"In one study of 887 incidents of robbery... the average age of female robbery victims was thirty-five years old, the average age of rape-robbery victims was significantly lower: less than twenty-eight years old."

"These particular objections, common to many works dismissive of biobehavioral reasoning... are likely to cloud accurate assessment, probing critique, and constructive law-relevant interdisciplinary synthesis. I categorize these misunderstandings as:

A. The Error of the False Dichotomy;
B. The Error of the Damning Determinism;
C. The Error of the Causal Correlate;
D. The Error of the Manifest Motive;
E. The Error of the Sponsoring Species;
F. The Error of the Single Society;
G. The Error of the Failed Fornicators;
H. The Argument from Specious Spontaneity;
I. The Argument from Substitute Sex;
J. The Argument from Inconceivable Conception;
K. The Argument from Modern Maladaptiveness;
L. The Argument from Incomplete Explanation; and
M. ''Ought Is'' Errors"

"If rape is significant correlated with attitudes dismissive of female autonomy, for example, an evolutionary perspective suggests why such attitudes are likely to manifest, in part, in forced copulation, rather than in any of a whole host of other nonsexual activities (say, forced tattoos, forced sushi, or forced motorcycle-washing)."

"Genetic determinism, as it is popularly understood and feared, is a social construct, a mythical state of mind attributed to behavioral biologists (typically without citation), and then cathartically demolished."

"Consumers of rape scholarship, such as legal thinkers, should not mistake claims about the meanings of rape to be facts about the causes of rape. Meaning is a construct created by the analyst and offered in hope that its characterization of an act is somehow insightful."

Meaning?! Wth.

Someone: a feminist reading on rape (wahtever it is) - may not really address the rape problem as well as say, socio economic or maybe biuological factors can

i mean it's interesting sure, to hear twhat the feminists say (maybe :P) but how does that help us

it's the reason why i dont really like lietrature
because i see no purpose and meaning in the academic study of it

i mean sure a good novel is didatic and makes u think but why do i need to talk about a feminist, marxist, psycholinguistic, whatever perspective of it

well it makes u a better writer for one. but then again u dont need to be in lit to be a good writer. :P
i'm sure there are science ppl who write well too!

and seriously so what if we find out that gasp, jane austen actually had marxist threads running throughout her novel

"Evidence proffered in support of these [PC] conclusions about motivation typically extrapolates from a small number of individual (and admittedly powerful) rape episodes without convincingly demonstrating, or often even attempting to demonstrate, that the parts are truly representative of the whole - that what was correlated with some rapes is correlated, generally, with most or all rapes."

"Sex could be a vehicle for aggression, as commonly assumed and asserted, or aggression could be a vehicle for sex... Similarly, it could be that rape is an epiphenomenon of sociocultural messages that devalue women. But it could also be the case that devaluing women is simply a precondition for rape... that does not automatically mean that rape is primarily a vehicle for expressing lack of respect, any more than eating is primarily a vehicle for expressing chewing."

"''The most common and least violent of rapists are usually solitary, socially inadequate men with low self-esteem, whose primary aim is to reassure themselves of their sexual adequacy and masculinity by exercising power over their victim. When interviewed months or years later, they typically report the fantasy that the women they rape will fall in love with them, and their behavior during the rape reflects this fantasy: They tend to kiss and fondle their victims, to compliment them on their beauty, to avoid violence, and to become distressed if the woman becomes too manifestly upset or struggles too much.''"

"The urge to eat can exist quite independently of any conscious motive to acquire nutrition, and the urge to have sex can exist quite independently of any conscious motive to reproduce."

"Despite continued popular belief that Margaret Mead and Peggy Reeves Sanday discovered societies where rape was unknown, it has been demonstrated convincingly that this is untrue... ''In West Sumatra, one of the reputed 'rape-free' societies... 19 per 1 million females''... Samoa, which Margaret Mead reported in the 1930s to be essentially rape free, has since been shown to have an official rape rate twice as high as that for the United States."

[On men with consensual sex partners not raping] "In the white-fronted bee-eater bird... raping males... often have contemporaneously willing and reproductive mates... ''Most patrons of prostitutes, adult bookstores, and adult movie theatres are married men, but this is not considered evidence for lack of sexual motivation.''"

"Critics of the theories of evolutionary influences on patterns of rape quite frequently fault them for failing to explain all incidences... Since the evolutionary theories have never claimed even to explain all instances of penile-vaginal rape (what theory, life science or social science, explains all instances of any human behavior?), it is nonsensical to fault them for not explaining more."

"Allison and Wrightsman, for example, argue that biologically-based theories are unlikely to be true, because they fail to explain many instances of rape... Yet the major theme of the book is that in all likelihood rapists differ from one another, and that different rape scenarios require different explanations."

"This reasoning from counter-examples fails without recourse to frequency distributions. In statistical terms, it emphasizes the range and ignores the median."

"The Moralistic Fallacy, in mirror image [to the Naturalistic Fallacy], is committed whenever one assumes that ''is'' follows from ''ought,'' such that what ought to be is what is."

"Rather surprisingly, the overwhelming bulk of rape literature never articulates, or attempts to test, testable predictions... many of these apparent patterns of data... are seemingly not predicted by popular sociocultural theories of rape alone."

"Hostility, sex-role stereotypes, and exploitative intent cannot explain [why rape is an overwhelmingly male behavior across species], because these are functions of higher cognitive capacities, not exhibited by many species in which males rape."

"The overwhelming absence of major physical damage in humans [rape victims] is particularly odd, given: (a) the possible penalties (rape is one of the three most harshly punished crimes in most societies), (b) the typical use of some force to overcome victim resistance, (c) the supposed hostility underlying the rape; (d) the extent to which close proximity increases the probability that a victim can identify her attacker to authorities; and (e) the extent to which eliminating the witness could minimize the risk of being caught and punished. Men commonly maim or kill each other during hostile encounters. And they often kill witnesses to severely penalized crimes. Why so little of this with rape?"

"Why does the mean age of rapists remain at about twenty-five over time, when most rapists are never caught or punished? If society alone socializes men to rape, it must also be extremely effective at reversing that process as they age. Otherwise, why would former rapists so uniformly stop raping, and all at about the same age? That is, why do young rapists, almost never apprehended, not become middle-aged and old rapists?... Brownmiller & Mehrhof... attempt to explain this away by asserting, without evidence, that ''[t]he forcible rapists... retires from the field when his legs give out.''"

"Why does the age distribution for raped women differ so markedly from the age distribution of murdered women> If rape were primarily a function of hostility toward women, one would expect the distributions in rape and murder contexts to be quite similar."

"This is a big obstacle to a theory rejecting biology - something akin to explaining how one might begin construction of a building with the twentieth floor."

"Forced copulation in patterns quite similar to that in humans is quite common in the animal kingdom, even among species, such as insects, with precious little capacity to ''learn.''"

"Legal issues [regarding chemical castration include] whether there is a First Amendment right to fantasize sexually."

"It has never been quite clear whether the message for today's men is that they should muster more sympathy or empathy for rape victims. Sympathy risks an objectifying paternalism, because its very essence underscores the distinction between the observed and the observing. Empathy risks the potentially absurd - the spectacle of a man claiming to truly understand, to feel, or to know precisely what it feels like to be a raped woman."

Since men are screwed either way, maybe they should just ignore the problem.

"Male legislators, judges, and prosecutors encouraged to discount or disbelieve the existence of male-female differences may mentally substitute themselves for a rape victim when assessing the reasonableness of her fear of rape or her response to it... since they typically will not experience the same fear of or trauma... they may therefore tend to discount the significance of rape to the average female... In Coker v. Georgia, for example, an all male Supreme Court concluded that the death penalty was a constitutionally impermissible punishment for raping an adult woman."

"Evolutionary analysis reveals potential tensions between anti-prostitution policies and anti-rape policies... In a longitudinal study, Barber found that the conviction rate for rape and attempted rape in the seven-year period following the closure of brothels in the territory of Queensland was triple the rate for the seven-year period prior to the closures. The socio-economic and demographic characteristics of those convicted correlated positively with those of the men who had most frequented brothels during more permissive times. Moreover, the increase was three times the rate of increase for convictions of other violent crimes."

"Despite great theoretical potential for cultural variability, forced penile-vaginal intercourse is an inflammatory and serious offense in every known society. This is true, despite the fact that there are many acts of physical violence (say, cutting off a leg) that are, on average, more physically harmful than rape. All over the planet, rape makes women fearful and angry, and it makes nonraping males who are fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and friends of the raped female livid to the point of the most extreme forms of violence and retribution-seeking. There is no research of which I am aware to suggest that it has not always been thus. (Even the Coker Court conceded that “[s]hort of homicide, [rape] is the ‘ultimate violation of self.”) Note too that the widest variety of legal systems, including our own, formally proscribe rape with harsh penalties. Although the complexities of the crime, the difficulties of proving lack of consent, and the vicissitudes of local attitudes have often made rape underreported, underprosecuted, and underpunished, convicted rapists still tend to be subject to unusually harsh penalties, including even death. The severity of these penalties is clear when compared to the physical harm typically inflicted, and to the less severe penalties that typically follow from even more physically severe nonsexual harms.

The extraordinarily widespread proscription against rape, coupled with the unusually harsh sanctions rape invokes, requires explanation. Absent evolutionary analysis, a comparative legal historian would need to posit that these legal systems are commonly descended from a legal system present when all early humans lived together, have arisen in separate cultures coincidentally (like so many heads in consecutive coin tosses), or have mimicked each other through ancient, cross-cultural exposure."

Footnote: "Tedeschi and Felson, supra note 116, at 334 (1994) "A cross-cultural survey of 100 societies from the Human Relations Area Files showed that rape is one of the three most heavily punished crimes"

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"He hasn't an enemy in the world - but all his friends hate him." - Eddie Cantor


The Straight Dope: Is it dangerous to eat magic mushrooms before they have dried out? What mushrooms are safe to eat? - "Psilocybin has a low level of toxicity and overdoses are rare. One 18-year-old male in Hawaii was thought to have died from a psilocybin OD in 1972, but later investigation has cast doubt on that belief. A 2000 study in the Netherlands found that (a) no physical or psychological dependency was associated with mushrooms, (b) adverse short-term effects consisted mainly of panic and anxiety attacks, and (c) long-term effects were limited to mild flashbacks. Even the U.S. Department of Justice admits that 'shrooms aren't physically addictive."

In Eminent Domain Case: Bah, Humbug - "The woman at the center of a national battle over property rights has sent some not-so-joyous tidings to people involved in taking her house to make way for private development. Susette Kelo's holiday cards feature a snowy image of her pink house and a message that reads, in part, "Your houses, your homes, your family, your friends. May they live in misery that never ends. I curse you all. May you rot in hell. To each of you I send this spell.""

Blind man takes over wheel from drunk driver - "A Hamilton man with just five per cent sight took the wheel of a car from a drunk driver and was guided by a drunk passenger."

The Dark Side of Faith (on the study that more religious places have more crime and social problems) - " Murder rates? Six of the seven states with the highest 2003 homicide rates were "red" in the 2004 elections (Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina), while the deep blue Northeastern states had murder rates well below the national average. Infant mortality rates? Highest in the South and Southwest; lowest in New England. Divorce rates? Marriages break up far more in red states than in blue. Teen pregnancy rates? The same... So what if highly religious societies have more murders and disease than less religious societies? Remember the trials of Job? God likes to test the faithful. To the truly nonrational, even evidence that on its face undermines your beliefs can be twisted to support them. [Emphasis mine] Absolutism means never having to say you're sorry. And that, of course, is what makes it so very dangerous."

Bush-Supporting Evangelicals: Are They Abuse Victims? - "I was a counselor in the military some years ago, and found back then that the need for security, boundaries, safety, among right wingers drove their attempts to control everyone else around them. Virtually all were victims of some form of abuse in their lives, and fell to religion in order to give themselves the external support they felt their lives required to be safe and to not pass on the abuse. They do not trust or do not generate internal safeguards, but rather must have someone else police their lives as long as they deem it to be 'safe' in nature for them."

HD disk format wars are over - "The next generation disk format has been settled once and for all. Thanks to the due diligence, hard work and unprecedented cooperation between the media companies, the hardware vendors and the OS vendor, we finally have a solution. It is quite easy, Piracy, the better choice(TM)."

Warner Music CEO Admits His Kids "Stole" Music, Didn't Get Sued - "So, the children of major label CEOs get a verbal explanation for infringing Warner's sacred copyrights, while everyone else has to worry about getting sued. I totally get it. It's like how if you're a Bush niece who has a rock of crack cocaine fall out of her shoe while in court-ordered rehab for faking a prescription for anxiety medication, you only have to spend a few days in jail."

Condoms 'too big' for Indian men - "A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men."

Sword-swallowers find that work can be a bit of a pain - "It might seem like a statement of the obvious, but sword-swallowers are prone to suffering from sore throats."

Poor maths 'fails' sale shoppers - "Millions of shoppers will fail to bag winter sale bargains as they lack basic maths skills, the government says."
Maybe this will motivate the girls.

Who's the daddy? - "And this is the reason most give for coming to the convention - for one day a year, they get to relax, eat doughnuts and chat to other men about Baby Einstein. Because there's really no one else who understands - especially not women. 'It's bizarre,' says David Hallowes from Massachusetts. 'But the one group who are least accepting of stay-at-home dads are stay-at-home moms. They don't even bother to talk to you.' Chris Ford from Las Vegas nods, 'I've been at playgroups where women literally talk over me as if I'm not there. You start to think, who has the issues here?'... Women are going out to work and men are sharing the childcare, but social attitudes have failed to keep up. 'People still think we're all bumbling idiots who are feeding the kids beer with breakfast,' smiles Dayv. 'They're amazed when we turn out happy, healthy kids.'... In the 21st century fathers might actually be better suited to childcare... 'One example is that men rarely do baby talk,' says Dave. 'We talk to our kids normally and, as a result, they are more likely to talk correctly earlier. So in some respects, dads might actually be better for the kids.' 'Damn…' says a passing dad, 'I wouldn't want to be the one to have to tell my wife that.'"

Out of the shadows, the Big Love women who want the right to share a husband - "Many polygamist women argue that their plural marriage was a choice that has brought them fulfilment. Christine, a third wife, argues that her lifestyle gives her far more freedom than a conventional marriage. “Have a husband around all the time?” she jokes. “I like men but not that much! When he’s sick I can send him to someone else, when he needs his ironing done I can send him to someone else.” Others talk of the benefits of female companionship. “My sisterwife is my best friend, she colours my hair,” says Mary, a second wife."
How come no one talks about polyamory?

Project Alpha - "Project Alpha was a famous hoax orchestrated by famous magician and skeptic James Randi. It involved the "planting" of two fake psychics, Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards, into a paranormal research project who became convinced the pair's psychic powers were real. The hoax was later revealed publicly, leading to a backlash against the entire paranormal field... The two were so successful at spoon bending that several other tests were invented. In one they were given pictures in sealed envelopes and then asked to try to identify them from a list shown to them later. Astoundingly the two were left alone in a room with the envelopes, and although there was a possibility that they would peek, this was "controlled" by examining the envelopes later. The envelopes were held closed with four staples, which they simply pried open with their fingernails, looked at the picture, and then resealed by inserting the staples back into the same holes and forcing them closed against the table."
Mats Söderlund - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Günther's first performance in the US was on 3 February 2006, at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; he performed "Tutti Frutti Summer Love" and "Ding Dong Song" as encores after enthusiastic shouting of "Gunther, Gunther" and "Ding Dong Song, Ding Dong Song" by Yale undergraduates. Günther closed out the performance saying, "I love Yale. Always remember: sex, love, champagne, and respect."

On 7 May he performed at the Tower Club, a Princeton University eating club. He performed a set of 5 songs from his Pleasureman album, two of which were encores ("Teeny Weeny String Bikini" and "Ding Dong Song"), to an enthusiastic crowd of Princeton undergraduates. Throughout the performance, security personnel had to forcibly remove a number of students from the stage to prevent their repeated attempts to interact with Günther and the Sunshine Girls."

I think the Yale thing is wrong. Everyone knows it's "glamour", and not "love".


The Internet video cult - The Stanford Daily Online

"But everyone knows that the pinnacle of Internet video-dom is “Ding Dong Song” by Swedish pop sensation Gunther. It’s a sublime combination of ridiculosity — the inspired lyrics, Eurotrash techno beat, skimpily clad backup dancers and gratuitously sexy imagery. And above the din of the soft-core music video rises the man himself: the charismatic Pleasureman, Gunther in all his mulleted, mustachioed, open-shirted glory. So what is so appealing?

Every fan knows that — according to his Web site ( — the four most important things in the Pleasureman’s life are “Champagne, Glamour, Sex and Respect!” Understand this and you’re halfway there. Even if you only enjoy Gunther’s throaty deadpans ironically, you have to admit that “Ding Dong Song” is catchy. Play Gunther at any Stanford party and people are sure to dance and sing along.

For a while I liked to imagine that Stanford alone had tapped into the glory of Gunther, and I took joy in this discovery. But this is not the case: in February, students at Yale organized an effort to bring Gunther to the campus, marking the Pleasureman’s first-ever U.S. concert. Total cost, according to The Yale Daily News: Around $16,000, funded by a student activities fee that was instituted last year and by a special request to the Yale College Council. Oh, and the annual budget of the committee that sponsored the visit: $25,800. Gunther must have been the event of the year."


The Yale Herald - February 3, 2006 - Ding dong! Get the door, Günther’s just cum

"Yale was not immune to the Europop addiction:Agroup of Saybrook freshmen, led by Mike Lehmann, SY ’08, was inspired by Günther’s music to throw Günther-palooza, a party held on Jan. 28, 2005 that spanned three entryways and eight suites in Lanman-Wright Hall. The party’s centerpiece was a seven-foot-tall fountain with a photo of Günther on it, designed by architecture major Peter Maxwell, SY ’08, which supplied 30 gallons of punch throughout the night to the biggest Old Campus party of the school year. “We got the idea to have the party because I kept annoying my roommate with the ‘Ding Dong Song’ ringtone,” Lehmann said. “And then we realized that it would be a great idea to throw a party in Günther’s honor.”

Nine months later, as sophomores, the Saybrook 12-packproved they had kept Günther near to their hearts. “I wondered, ‘What would it take to get him to visit us at Yale?’” Lehmann said. “So I started sending e-mails to his managers through the website.”...

Lehmann’s hopes were answered with the creation of the CCA in November. The CCA funds, totaling near $25,000,make up a share of total disbursement of revenues that the controversial optional student-activities fee generated. “Any undergrad could apply for CCA funds to host an event at Yale,” YCC and CCA representative Bill Fishel, CC ’08, said. “The only requirement is that the event is open to all undergrads.”

When Lehmann learned of this available pool of money, the 12-pack hastily prepared a budget to bring Günther to Yale for a concert. Their application was approved by the CCA, the YCC, and the Yale College Dean’s Office within a week. “We were lucky that Günther was planning his first U.S. tour for the spring of 2006,” Lehmann said. “And we were able to convince Günther to come to Yale not only because of the CCA allotment, but also because, among various concert requests from colleges across the U.S., we impressed Günther’s managers the most with our photos from Günther-palooza 2005.”
The Making of an Economist (1987)

"Robert Kuttner (1985), summarizing the views of critical economists such as Wassily Leontief and John Kenneth Galbraith, writes: ''Departments of economics are graduating a generation of idiots savants, brilliant at esoteric mathematics yet innocent of actual economic life.''...

The typical graduate student in economics at these selected institutions [Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Yale] is a 26-year-old, middle class, nonreligious white male who is involved in a long-term relationship... As to the things they liked least, the majority of comments focused on the heavy load of mathematics and theory and a lack of relevance of the material they were learning...

Jacob Viner once said that ''men are not narrow in their intellectual interests by nature; it takes special and rigorous training to accomplish that end.'' Based on our survey we can conclude that graduate economics education is succeeding in narrowing students' interests... Even though most graduate students believed that reading in areas such as history and political science, and to a lesser extent, sociology and philosophy, was important from their development as economists, [most] lacked the time...

Knowledge of the economy and knowledge of economic literature do not make an economist successful, according to graduate students. Forty-three percent believed that a knowledge of economic literature was unimportant... Sixty-eight percent believed that a thorough knowledge of the economy was unimportant... Clearly these results raise significant questions about the nature of graduate school, what is being taught, and the socialization process that occurs...

The scientific status of economics is clearly in doubt among students. A majority deny two key elements of any objective science: the distinction between positive and normative economics and agreement on fundamental issues... It seems to be a creed at Chicago that inflation is primarily a monetary phenomenon, with 100 percent agreeing with the proposition. At Harvard, 46 percent disagree. Likewise, it seems a creed at MIT that fiscal policy can be an effective tool for stabilization with no student disagreeing. At Chicago, 44 percent disagree... Harvard shows... a significant number of the students skeptical of the market...

Chicago students... demonstrate the greatest commitment to neoclassical economics... As one third-year MIT student noted: ''There are no Lucas types [at MIT].'' It is particularly striking that not a single MIT student thinks the rational expectations assumption is very important...

'A guy... on the faculty here, is very concerned with [policy] and I get the impression that he's almost sneered at for caring about practical problems that come along with implementing theoretical results. And there really are very few people on the faculty whose work I've seen really take that sort of thing into consideration...

The graduates are well-trained in problem-solving, but it is technical problem-solving which has more to do with formal modeling techniques than with real world problems. To do the problems little real world knowledge of institutions is needed, and in many cases such knowledge would actually be a hindrance since the simplifying assumptions would be harder to accept.

Students come into graduate school wanting economics to be relevant... but they quickly come around; they perceive the incentives in the system. They ar convinced that formal modeling is important to success, but are not convinced that the formal models provide deep insight into or reflect a solid understanding of the economic institutions being modeled... students who believe they are not being taught the most complicated theory feel deprived and unhappy...

''The first year seems to shape the rest of our career as an economist. It is really disturbing. We are moving into something but nobodey really knows what that is, except that they were socialized in this way of thinking by people who got their PH.D.s five years ago. It's like being brainwashed. You are deprived of sleep. You are subjected to extreme stress, bombarded with contradictory notions, and you end up accepting anything."

Multiculturalism in Singapore: an instrument of social control - on Multiracialism and Malays in Singapore

Multiculturalism in Singapore: an instrument of social control (2003), by "Da Man" (Chua Beng Huat)

"In Singapore, the local Malay population is overwhelmingly descended from migrants from the region itself rather than indigenous to the small island that is Singapore; hence, the constitutional recognition of the Singapore Malay population as indigenous is more a regional reference than specific to the location of Singapore...

If one is Chinese, one is supposed to be a Confucianist; never mind that few, if any, Singapore-born Chinese under 35 or younger have ever read a Confucian text, and their knowledge of Confucianism is almost non-existent... By the logic of this racialisation, there is, ironically, no culturally defined 'Singaporean' way of life in Singapore. Hence, to claim a 'Singaporean' identity without racial boundaries, as liberal Singaporeans often do, is immediately to take a political position against the state...

The ideological success of this strategy is reflected in the ease with which Singaporeans readily describe the nation as multiracial... from the outside, the term multiracialism sits comfortably - disconcerting so - with both the Singaporean government and the people. There is an apparent absence of anxiety about being multiracial, about differences and potential conflicts that are presumed to be well policed and kept in check by legislation and by government agencies. On the other hand, there are constant worries about the 'disappearance' of these racially defined 'cultures' by the respective groups, not at each other's hands but through 'westernisation'. This sentiment is encouraged by the state itself...

Since independence, education for Malays, from primary to tertiary levels, was free... In the early 1990s, segments of the Chinese population complained that, given the visible emergence of a Malay middle class, it was inequitable that the latter's children got free tertiary education while students from poor Chinese families continued to pay fees. The government agreed, in principle... however, it pays the fees on behalf of the students... tertiary education [still] remains, in substance, free for the community as a whole. [Ed: I didn't know this]...

On every public housing estate, a location is reserved for construction of a mosque... Not so for the other major religions on the island... Indeed, many neighborhood ethnic Chinese Taoist temples have been demolished, their land compulsorily acquired by the state, with financial compensation that is insufficient to lease state land for rebuilding. Often, such temples had to merge in order to rebuild; in doing so, all sense of their previous existence as 'local' temples in specific locations, from whence their respective devotees were drawn, has been erased...

The accumulation of such issues does not, of course, sit well with the Malay population and has led to questioning whether the Malay MPs in the PAP government are the best representatives of the Malay community's interests. At its 2001 national conference, the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) proposed the establishment of a 'collective leadership' of non-partisan Malay-Muslim organisations, an idea summarily dismissed by the government as potentially racially divisive. The AMP was further charged with 'straying' into politics...

These civilisational resources enable the government to claim that Singaporeans are the embodiment of 'Asian values', seen both as significant ingredients in the country's successful capitalist development and, as well, important 'cultural ballast' against the 'corruption' of western liberal individualism...

Racialisation strategically blocks out the everyday practices that are part and parcel of modern capitalism as not integral to the cultures of racialised Singaporeans. Capitalist cultural practices are viewed as 'necessities'... this is a government that ideologically denies the significance of capitalism as culture and its manifest material effects, while aggressively encouraging it substantively in education and production...

Many employers of domestic workers would rather transfer the monthly head tax, in whole or in part, to the guest workers themselves, as the government bears no responsibility at all for the welfare of guest workers. However, such suggestions, among other calls by liberal Singaporeans for legislation to regularise the conditions of guest workers, have fallen on deaf ears, including those of the National Trades Union Congress...

Significantly, with the exception of the Thais, the national origins and ethnicites of guest workers are the same as those if the Singaporeans... Both the state and, often, their Singaporean racial counterparts treat them as 'outsider' - as 'others', as 'essentially' different... An exception for ethnic Chinese should be noted. Given geopolitical conditions, the government has made a fetish out of changing demographics and has decided that the Chinese population should constitute approximately three-quarters of the total population at all times...

That English is a 'neutral' language is, of course, an ideological illusion. Since Singapore was a British colony for 150 years, English was already a common language among the privileged local population who worked for the colonial administration... the ideological promotion of English as a 'neutral' language to all ethnic Asian children has suppressed this class dimension...

If the adoption of English minoritises non-English speaking Chinese, it has also simultaneously eliminated the privileges of Indians prevalent during colonial days... In the top ranks of the civil service and the professions... after independence, Indians were over-represented... However, once English-language education was available to all through the national education system, the over-representation of Indians in the civil service and professions disappeared...

One can examine any sphere of cultural endeavour, from theatre to television drama to everyday handling of items like food and clothes, and discover the encoding of the CMIO scheme...

'Harmony' is a public good that few can deny... the illiberality of a single-party-dominant state shows its administrative, repressive hand. In a relatively democratic space, harmony is, in principle, to be achieved by unhindered and undistorted public debates, discussions and negotiations of the differences and different perspectives among the different races. Along the way, the risks that these differences may lead to conflicts and disruptions have to be assumed and, hopefully, avoided by encouraging public confidence in the reasonableness of the negotiating parties...

The 'paternalistic/authoritarian' mode of governance is define by, amongst other features, a tendency to foreclose public discussion as a pre-emptive move against the possible disruption of public order... As the 'risk' of disrupting racial harmony inheres logically within every discussion of race relations and as no one can guarantee that disruption will not occur, the entire domain of 'race' is considered 'sensitive' and best not raised publicly. Public voicing of grievances within a discourse of race is quickly suppressed and the parties voicing the grievances publicly chastised - if not criminalised - on grounds of being 'racial chauvinists' disrupting racial harmony.

That there has been an absence of racial violence in Singapore since 1969 suggests that the 'danger' of riots might have been exaggerated by mythologising the past... The logic of deterrence continues to govern discourse on race in Singapore. 'Harmony' is used as the repressive device for pre-empting public debate and negotiation of issues that face all multiracial societies - racial discrimination in the job market, structural inequalities inherited from the past and the sentiments felt towards each other by the different groups - all issues that concretise multi-culturalism in practice in most places. The result is a 'racial harmony' that is minimalist, never going beyond visual familiarity and overtly recognisiable differences, one maintained by tolerance of difference without any substantive cultural exchange, deep understanding and even less cultural crossing of boundaries...

Singaporeans, both in government and [the poplation], are 'too confortable', even self-congratulatory, about Singapore as a multiracial and multicultural society. It is a comfort derived from an absence of knowledge and understanding... which are, at best, mutually tolerated. In contrast, the liberal democratic political space of Canada and Australia prevents the term 'multiculturalism' from settling into a fixed ideological space once and for all; instead, it continuously agitates old issues and throws up new ones for continous discussion and negotiation...

In Singapore, multiculturalism was adopted constitutionally at its founding... the result is a series of ad hoc decisions that discriminate against different racial groups at different social structural and political junctures and historical times, that lack ethical/political consistency and that are rationalised under a substantively empty notion of 'racial harmony'."

Just 2 points, since I'm tired after transcribing (the stupid PDF was scanned but not OCRed):

- Just because there are different racial outcomes does not mean there is racial discrimination. After all, the economy discriminates against the stupid, the lazy and the untalented.
- A shallow understanding and conception of multiculturalism does not necessarily imply that Singaporeans lack "substantive cultural exchange, deep understanding [and] cultural crossing of boundaries". They do, but that point has to be proved separately, eg The vocabulary and terms of the discourse of multiracialism being dictated by the Powers That Be
The Straight Dope Mailbag: What's the meaning of Jesus' teaching about the camel going through the eye of a needle?

"The notion your Baptist friend has picked up apparently comes from a single ninth-century commentary which asserts that in first-century Jerusalem there was a gate called the Needle's Eye which a camel could only get through on its knees. (Sort of like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "only the penitent man will pass...") A cute allegory, but there's no archaeological or historical evidence for the existence of such a gate.

There's a good brief discussion in the article on "kamelos" in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, pp. 592-594 (one of the standard works on New Testament language.) TDNT, and other commentators with an interest in history, point out that there are several parallels in later rabbinic language about the impossibility of getting an elephant through the eye of a needle: it's a way of describing something which is so impossible that it's grotesque.

So the "Gate of the Needle's Eye" notion has no firm historical basis. It looks like a way of getting around the plain (but inconvenient) meaning of the text.

Setting the text in the whole New Testament context, wealth is consistently presented as a *problem*."

Stupid apologists.
"Humans are not naturally critical. Indeed, like ballet, critical thinking is a highly contrived activity. Running is natural; nightclub dancing is less so; but ballet is something people can only do well with many years of painful, expensive, dedicated training...

Many people enjoy beer, but very few know much about beer itself. Even people who consume lots of beer typically do not know that much about it. They are, in this sense, unsophisticated beer drinkers.

Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. There is no obligation to know the difference between hops, barley, and wort. However, if you do choose to investigate beer, you usually will find that you can appreciate your beer more. Furthermore, knowing about beer will allow you to do things you cannot otherwise do—for example, match beer with food, produce your own beer, or even run your own microbrewery.

Getting into beer is, in part, learning what in an academic vein we might call the theory of beer. You have to learn a new vocabulary, that is, new words and the corresponding concepts, and understanding the concepts means mastering a body of knowledge, including the relevant parts of chemistry and biology. Much the same is true of critical thinking: beyond a certain point, improvement demands acquiring some theory. The serious critical thinker understands the theory of critical thinking. This means, in part, acquiring the specialist vocabulary. Instead of saying, “That argument sucks,” the critical thinker can say that she does not accept the conclusion, even though she grants the premises, because the inference is an example of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc...

I suggested earlier that college instructors often make the mistake of thinking that they can teach critical-thinking skills by teaching the theory of critical thinking, but the real mistake is not teaching theory as such. The mistake, rather, is to only teach theory or to overemphasize theory relative to practice...

If you like, a bit of theory is like the yeast that makes bread rise. You only need a small amount relative to the other ingredients, but that small amount is crucial for a good loaf. Note also that if you have nothing but yeast, you have no loaf at all.

Is this just stating the obvious? No, because in actual practice, we do not provide students with any, or nearly enough, theory. Most students never undergo any dedicated instruction in critical thinking and stumble through their entire school and college educations without ever learning much about what they are trying to do (Graff 2003). The way we generally go about cultivating critical thinking is to expect that students somehow will pick it all up through some mysterious process of intellectual osmosis."

- Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts, Peter A. Facione

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I finally got these from the Cock last Saturday, after more than 8 months:


Beer Hall Band

Cigar Woman

Haxe (Pork Knuckle)


Sacher torte, Strudel
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index (2005)

"Another criticism is that life-satisfaction responses refl ect the dominant view on life, rather than actual quality of life in a country. Life satisfaction is seen as a judgment that depends on social and culturally specifi c frames of reference. But this relativism is disproved by the fact that people in different countries report similar criteria as being important for life satisfaction, and by the fact that most differences in life satisfaction across countries can be explained by differences in objective circumstances. In addition, it has been found that the responses of immigrants in a country are much closer to the level of the local population than to responses in their motherland. Answers to questions on satisfaction in bilingual countries do not reveal any linguistic bias arising from possibly differing meanings and connotations of the words “happiness” and “satisfaction”. Selfreports of overall life satisfaction can be meaningfully compared across nations.

When one understands the interplay of modernity and tradition in determining life satisfaction, it is then easy to see why Ireland ranks a convincing fi rst in the international quality-of-life league table. It successfully combines the most desirable elements of the new—material wellbeing, low unemployment rates, political liberties—with the preservation of certain life satisfaction- enhancing, or modernity-cushioning, elements of the old, such as stable family life and the avoidance of the breakdown of community. Its score on all of these factors are above the eu-15 average, easily offsetting its slightly lower scores on health, climate and gender equality.

... The United States ranks lower on quality of life than on income but it is above the eu-15 average. Italy performs well, but Germany and France do not—belying the notion that the big eurozone nations compensate for their productivity lag with a better quality of life than in America."

Wah, so funky, regressing life satisfaction against various variables.

The coefficient for gender equality is very insignificant and the one for political freedom quite so, but how do they interact with the other terms?


Twenty-Two Short Stories About Port Blacksand

"No matter how often he looked upon the city of Port Blacksand, Vulpine marvelled at how little it seemed to change over the years. Pirate and slaving ships flying the skull and crossbones still sat in the harbour, rotting tubs filled with scum gathered from the twelve seas of Titan. A grey, gloomy fog still hung over the city, concealing hidden plots and crimes committed in its shadow. The air was filled with a disgusting stench that somehow combined blood, excrement, sea salt, raw fish, and bad ale all at once. The ramshackle buildings and homes were crudely built and ugly to look at, making the viewer feel oppressed and trapped as he walked through the filthy, winding streets. The city wall that ringed the city was badly crumbling and stained with blood and bile from the convicted criminals and felons that hung from cages and nooses on its ramparts, and the trolls and orcs that stood guard at the gates looked hardly better.

Ah, what a joy it was to be home!"


Dignity and the Burden of the Welfare State

"Something of a historical irony may be involved in such as development. Well-meaning politicians who solely intended to promote a good society may in the end come to favour and patronize various more selfish special interests. It should also be noted that this process is largely self-enforcing. The bigger the state becomes and the more politics comes to dominate society, the greater the reasons for different actors and interests to try to use the state for their own narrow and myopic special interests. The larger and more complex the role of the state, the harder and more costly it also becomes for the voters to inform themselves about the totality of the political decisions, the programs of political parties and the activities of the politicians and bureaucrats. These will therefore gain an increasing independence from the actual wishes of the voters...

To be able to support oneself and one’s kin is essential to dignity. Without an income it is very hard to actively form a life project. Productive work is thus a prerequisite for dignity. Consequently a dynamic market economy with an extensive division of labour and specialisation is of primary importance for dignity, since only such a system can create long-term prosperity and employment. Moreover, the market process itself can be described as a learning process where the individual actors constantly use their freedom and take responsibility for their decisions, the bad as well as the good ones. The market also creates the resources that are essential to dignity. We cannot choose any type of economic system and still believe that we can promote liberty, responsibility and dignity. The same is true for civil society. To a large extent it is within the communities, families and voluntary associations of the civil society that our views on personal responsibility is formed. Consequently, a vital civil society is fundamental to dignity...

My conclusion is therefore that human dignity unequivocally will decrease when the size of the state and the level of taxes reaches a certain level. Figure 4 below illustrates the general relationship between taxes and dignity"

Dignity?! Wth.

He's just pulling rabbits from hats with no evidence at all.

"I have long been of the opinion that if work were such a splendid thing the rich would have kept more of it for themselves." - Bruce Grocott

Towards a Unity of the Human Behavioral Sciences / Growth Is Good for the Poor

Towards a Unity of the Human Behavioral Sciences

"For example, consider the discount rate—the rate at which individuals are willing to sacrifice present for future gains. In economics, “rationality” in the form of consistency of preferences across time implies that individuals use exponential discounting, in which the discount rate is constant across all periods. Assuming this consistency, the discount rate can be estimated empirically at about 3% per year (Huang and Litzenberger 1988, Rogers 1994). Animal studies find that non-human species have discount rates that are several orders of magnitude higher than this (Stephens, McLinn and Stevens 2002). Humans and other animals exhibit hyperbolic discounting, according to which discount rates for present versus near-future are much are much higher than discount rates for similar time periods starting in the more distant future (Herrnstein 1961, Ainslie 1975, Ainslie and Haslam 1992, Laibson 1997). This finding corresponds to the everyday notion that we are subject to “temptation” and “failure of will,” leading us to accept high long term penalties for small short-term pleasures (smoking, overeating, procrastinating). Formally, this means that preferences are not transitive across time, and most observers of this phenomenon (including the agents who are subject to this inconsistency) agree that the ‘distant future’ discount rates more closely conform to the agent’s welfare. Consonant with these findings, sociological theory stresses that impulse control—learning to favor long-term over short-term gains—is a major component in the socialization of youth (Strotz 1955, Ainslie 1975, Power and Chapieski 1986, Grusec and Kuczynski 1997). Time inconsistency does not imply that the rational actor model be rejected, but we must include parameters to deal analytically with preferences across time (Laibson 1997)...

To expand the diversity of cultural and economic circumstances of experimental subjects, Joseph Henrich, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, and Richard McElreath (2001) undertook a large cross-cultural study of behavior in various games including the ultimatum game. Twelve experienced field researchers, working in twelve countries on four continents, recruited subjects from fifteen small-scale societies exhibiting a wide variety of economic and cultural conditions. These societies consisted of three foraging groups (the Hadza of East Africa, the Au and Gnau of Papua New Guinea, and the Lamalera of Indonesia), six slash-and-burn horticulturists (the Aché, Machiguenga, Quichua, and Achuar of South America, and the Tsimané and Orma of East Africa), four nomadic herding groups (the Turguud, Mongols, and Kazakhs of Central Asia, and the Sangu of East Africa) and two sedentary, small-scale agricultural societies (the Mapuche of South America and Zimbabwe farmers in Africa)... The canonical model of self-interested behavior is not supported in any society studied. In the ultimatum game, for example, in all societies either respondents, or proposers, or both, behaved in a reciprocal manner...

Since fining costs the individual who uses it, but the benefits of increased compliance accrue to the group as a whole, the only Nash equilibrium in this game that does not depend on incredible threats is for no player to pay the fee, so no player is ever punished for defecting, and all players defect by contributing nothing to the common pool. However the authors found a significant level of punishing behavior...

The sociologist’s notion of internalization of norms is generally rejected by the other behavioral disciplines because the ease with which diverse values can be internalized depends on human nature (Cosmides and Tooby 1992, Pinker 2002), and the rate at which values are acquired and abandoned depends on their contribution to fitness and well-being (Gintis 2003b, Gintis 2003a). Finally, there are often swift society-wide value changes that cannot be accounted for by socialization theory (Wrong 1961, Gintis 1975). When properly qualified, however, and appropriately related to the general theory of cultural evolution and strategic learning, the socialization theory is considerably strengthened."


Growth Is Good for the Poor (2000 version)

"Income of the poor rises one-for-one with overall growth. This general relationship between income of the bottom fifth of the population and per capita GDP holds in a sample of 80 countries covering four decades. Although there is a fair amount of variation around this general relationship, a number of popular views about the poverty-growth relationship are not true. The effect of growth on income of the poor is no different in poor countries than in rich ones. Incomes of the poor do not fall more than proportionately during economic crises. The poverty-growth relationship has not changed in recent years. We also show that policy-induced growth is as good for the poor as it is for the overall economy. Openness to foreign trade benefits the poor to the same extent that it benefits the whole economy. Good rule of law and fiscal discipline are other factors that benefit the poor to the same extent as the whole economy. Avoidance of high inflation in fact is “super-pro-poor”: that is, high inflation is more harmful to the income of the poor than to GDP overall. In contrast we find no evidence that formal democratic institutions or public spending on health and education have systematic effects on incomes of the poor."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Forum on “The World Religions and the Search for Peaceful Co-Existence”

At first I wasn't expecting to attend this forum due to my internship, but then I realised that 2nd January was a public holiday, which meant I would be free to attend. Though more importantly, it meant one less working day.

There was a representative each from Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. As usual, secular humanism was unrepresented.

Opening remarks by Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas, National University of Singapore

Opening addresses are usually not very informative and are just a de rigueur way to set the tone of the event, but I did learn than more than 80% of those polled in Britain thought religion a divisive force that did more harm than good.

Naturally, there was the oft-repeated PC (Politically Correct) view that the greatest murders in the 20th century were committed by secular states: Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. To which my response is:

I'd characterise the lesson of Hitler [, Pol Pot] and Stalin as being that when there is an unthinking adherence to ideology, convenient rationalisation of heinous deeds, the creation of an us vs them mentality and the unquestioning acceptance of what infallible, omnibenevolent authority/father figures dictate, evil can reign unchecked. Not coincidentally, this is what you find in Fundamentalist Christianity with, for example, its justification of the Midanite Holocaust (the logic for which can similarly justify the Jewish one).

He followed by saying that the real problem was not religion or secularism but evil and immorality. This characterisation disappointed me, for besides being simplistic and very subjective (what is evil and immoral to one person can be good and moral to another), it was also wrong (good, moral people are capable of causing harm - the road to hell is paved with good intentions).

He related 2 examples of inter-faith cooperation. One was St Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt during the 5th Crusade, and another was Jews and Muslims in Bosnia banding together to fight a common enemy. Abrahamic religions co-existing is one thing, but a more value-added example, due to their peculiar nature, would have been 2 non-Abrahamic religions or better yet, one Abrahamic and one non-Abrahamic religion. This is because Abrahamic religions, by their nature, are exclusive, and to portray them as inclusive necessitates drawing upon apologetic skills.

Opening address by Guest-of-Honour

This was Wong Kan Seng, so I was prepared for a torrent of platitudes about how Singapore's corporatist management of religion has been successful. Of course, I was amply rewarded.

The spectre of Sunni/Shiite and LTTE/Buddhist conflict was raised, but no mention was made of the politico-socio-economic forces driving them. Naturally, there was also a call for a frank and open dialogue. Naturally, no mention of the Sedition Act or defamation suits was made.

The claim that religions were not mutually exclusive was raised, but while academics and politicians repeat this fiction, increasing religiosity means that the common believer is less and less willing to swallow it, or even its lesser cousin in the form of syncretism.

Though there was the usual recounting of Singapore's corporatist management of religion through religious leaders - when they "steer the responses of ethnic and religious organisations", have a National Steering Community and guided dialogue you know that we only have the coerced appearance of inter-religious understanding rather than it existing on its own right - and the symbolic measures that have been undertaken, the talk about the move to ground-up efforts was welcome.

Christian speaker - The Role of Religions in Building Peace, Fr. Thomas Michel, Secretary of the Jesuit Secretariat for Inter-Religious Dialogue

The speaker started by giving 2 examples of how religions have helped build peace.

The first was in Sierra Leone, where religious institutions were the only ones not involved in the problems the war brought, which was why they were the only institutions with the respect and credibility to facilitate the peace agreement. The second was in Mindanao, where the root of the problem is that Christians migrated into a Muslim area. The 1996 peace accord was not popular there, but religious leaders on both sides got together in the form of the Bishops-Ulema forum to try to convince the people.

He concluded that religious agencies can be agents of peace since they were close to the grassroots and therefore sensitive to them and able to react to and convince them; respected, trusted, uncorrupt and possessed of credibility; presumed to have no personal agenda and having the people's interests at heart; and religious leaders also had to know each other. Of course, he admitted that in many examples religious leaders are part of the problem, not the solution.

I do not deny that religious institutions can be an agency for peace, as in the above examples, but this is not an exclusive role for religion. Depending on the context of the problem, relying on religious institutions may or may not be a good instrument to pursue peace. For example, faith may result in altruism to work for the common good, but this depends on the spin you give faith, and anyhow faith can make one go either way.

The speaker then talked about where hereditary mistrust resulted in simmering tensions hidden beneath daily proprieties. I wondered if he was talking about Singapore.

He then talked about harnessing the feeling of universal consciousness and fraternity to battle stereotypes, prejudices and hatred, comparing preventive education to preventive health policies. It seemed to me that he was calling for secular humanism. E pluribus unum may sound great in theory, but accentuating people's religious consciousness and sense of the Other (which is what religiously-based education does) is going to have the opposite effect. What we need is less divisiveness, not more. Heightening religious consciousness is only helpful if you are sure that you can mastermind a grand plan to use religion to manipulate guide people to peace.

Outlining the reasons why he called for preventive education as a strategy to combat sectarian strife, he said that "unless the civil authorities want to have a restrictive police state they are limited in what they can decree". Again, it seemed he was talking about Singapore.

He called for various sectors of society and NGOs to work together to get religious communities to cooperate to support peace. That might work fine in other parts of the world, but over here they're skeptical of special interest groups and nefarious foreign influences, so I guess we are conveniently reduced to relying on the Government again.

The speaker outlined the role religious institutions can play in fostering peace: rehabilitation; reconstruction, eg for schools and hospitals; return and reintegration (he skipped this for lack of time); and reconciliation. I disagree with the second point. I am not in favour of schools and especially hospitals being religiously-based, for they will just increase separation, and as Brown vs Board of Education ruled, "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal". There is also the problem of evangelism, as in the case of ACS and friends in Singapore.

More broadly, whether or not religious institutions should be used to build peace depends on the context, but I would think that they would be suitable if all other institutions were broken or discredited, and the conflict had no religious aspect. However, since religion tends to become conflated in conflicts, finding a religiously-neutral conflict is hard.

The first question was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bashing the American Right, and was more or less irrelevant. I don't know why people like to use Q&A sessions to pursue their pet causes. The second asked about the role of the press in quelling or exacerbating conflict and wasn't very interesting either.

The third question was about the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq and if a secular or religious approach should be used to solved it. The answer was that Iraq was a good example of an identity conflict, since affiliation led to identity and an Us vs Them mentality. However, such things tended not to be about religion or doctrine. For example in Lebanon people defended their religious group, but the teachings of that particular religious group was not so important, so people needed to move beyond affiliation. He said it was superficial to see it as a Sunni-Shiite conflict and proclaimed that the USA needed to leave the Iraq to reduce the divisions.

The fourth question was about identity conflicts in South East Asia and the role international organisations played in exacerbating them (presumably referring to international terrorist syndicates), and if governments could solve cross-border problems. The answer was that the government had a role by doing things like adjusting the education system, but religious groups and NGOs were also important since they were not aligned with any group and would thus be honest (so much for "You can criticize us and we would treat you as though you had entered the political arena. If you do not wish to do so; you want to hide in sanctuaries, we'd say even
though you don't want to join a party, we would treat you as though you had entered the political arena. I think that is fair because you can't just criticise without
expecting us to reply to you in the same manner which you have attacked us. If you land a blow on our jaw, you must expect a counter-blow on your solar-plexus"). He was also skeptical about the extent of these international linkups, and wanted to see more evidence.

I wanted to ask a question but there was no time.

Buddhist speaker - Uniting Religions and Propagating Moral Education. Reconciling Conflict and Promoting World Harmony and Stability, Venerable Master Chin Kung, Pure Land Learning College of Australia

This speaker could only speak in Chinese, so he had someone translate his paragraphs for him. There was also a handout of his speech, but the Chinese portion was in Traditional Chinese, so I was even less able to read it than I would normally be.

This speaker lectures on the internet and satellite TV. Wah, so high tech.

This lecture was high on rhetoric about learning from the sages, imparting morals and teaching values. Unfortunately there were almost no examples of what we were supposed to learn from the sages, only traditional Chinese platitudes about teaching people to be good (ie Chinese Philosophical Fundamentalism). Bland assertion does not an argument make. It was like being in Nanyang Primary School again for 20 minutes.

Simplistically, 'evil', 'morality' and 'ethics' were bandied about. All evils were blamed on 'immorality' and 'evil', and education was lauded as the answer. The idea propounded was that educating people with the right values would lead to peace and harmony. This was very naive, for a multitude of reasons. How do you know what is 'right', with the multiple conceptions of the good? (What the sages say is good. Why? Because they're sages. And because practising their idea of the good gave China peace and harmony [haha - more on this later) How do you get people to be receptive to you? Even if you solve these problems, knowing what is 'right', being convinced that what is 'right' is right and doing what is 'right' are very different.

Once again, the PC view that religions have many things in common was propounded. The Mona Lisa and Picasso's Le picador may be the same in that both are oil on wood and include a depiction of a female, but their differences are more important, namely that the former is a great work of art and the latter is a piece of shit. I may have eyes, nose, ears and a mouth, but that does not mean that I am the same as the Great Leader (or even the Dear Leader). Even if all religions include some formulation of the Golden Rule, grasping for commonalities between them all is tedious and difficult (for example, the Golden Rule may not be meant to apply to unbelievers, and apologetic aerobics is needed for the PC ends to be fulfilled), so relying on secular humanism to propound a religiously-neutral middle ground that all can (potentially) accept is a more sensible way to go about things; some may argue that increasing religious fervor means that secular humanism is unacceptable to various adherents, but at least adopting elements of it would be more palatable than interfacing with another religion.

Since I have the benefit of the transcript, I will transcribe select parts and annotate them with my comments:

"In my view, reconciling all conflicts and contradictions in today's world should start with uniting religions, which in turn will enhance the harmony and cooperation among countries, political parties, and ethnic groups and reconcile conflict. These country leaders and scholars all agreed to my humble view"
This assumes that there is one Truth to work to. Even if one pretends that this is true, people are not going to accept it in view of their own vested interests.

"In November, 2005, we started a Cultural Education Centre in the township of Tangchi in Lujiang, Anhui Province, China, to train teachers and to promote moral education to local residents. We had hoped to see positive results in three years. However, within half a year of teaching, the centre achieved the result of awakening people's conscience and innate goodness. The results were beyond our expectations as good social values were restored significantly. This experiment was so surprisingly successful that it exceeded our hopes and strenghtened our confidence."
??? What values? How do we know that they were indeed restored? Did the women start binding their feet? Was an altar set up to the last Emperor of China? Did people enter into arranged marriages at their parents' behest and endure a lifetime of misery as a result? Did men take multiple wives as was their divine right? Did some disillusioned Communist Party official lie on his bed and lick a snake's gall bladder, and then jump into a river in dismay at how the Party has betrayed the founding principles laid down by Mao Zedong? Did anyone tattoo "精忠報國" [Ed: 精忠报国 in Simplified Chinese - jing4 zhong1 bao4 guo2; 'Serve the country loyally', a Yue Fei reference] on his back?

"I deeply felt that, although today European scholars are enthusiastic about Chinese studies, they only get as far as academic discussion and have not received true benefit. Thus, I emphasises in my lecture that the concept of ''studies of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism'' and the concept of ''learning from Confucious, the Buddha, and Tao'' are completely different. Only when we learn from Confucius, the Buddha, and Tao in daily life are we able to alleviate afflictions, gain wisdom, and attain the ultimate happiness of life - Dharma bliss."
He's asking them to become Buddhist? There's a reason there's a distinction between study and practice.

"Looking around the world today, we see that many religious followers are not truly studying and practising their religious tenets. Instead, they are instigated and used by people with evil purposes to cause conflicts and confrontations as well as social turmoil. This is quite sad. People generally not only have misunderstandings about religions, but they also disdain ethics and morality. As a consequence, the whole world is in disorder, with accelerating rates of crimes and suicides committed by younger and younger people. These phenomena have caused deep concerns and distress."
I don't even know where to start. Who decides what's 'true' or what 'ideal' to follow? What about the many other causes of suicide? etc etc etc. Is he saying that people with no religion are less evil? And the moral panic about young people commiting crimes is a nice touch. It's been done so many times before.

"When we look at the leaders in every country throughout time, we discover that if a leader skilfully uses religious teaching and the teaching of morality to purify people's minds and improve social moral standards, then the country will enjoy an honest government, a harmonious society, and ever-lasting peace and stability."
When? Who? Where? Wth.

The more the speaker went on, the more I was convinced that Chinese philosophy is just a way to justify and perpetuate the pre-existing oppressive Chinese social order (since I don't usually use such language, you can be sure that it applies this time). Happiness and social harmony is achieved through being oppressed and playing your pre-determined role in society, and efforts to overturn the existing social order are labelled evil and immoral.

This is apparent from the best bit (confirm plus guarantee plus chop):

"Take China, a country with five thousand years of history, as an example. The three teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism have melded together and are deeply ingrained in people. At a very young age, children learned to do housework and interact with people, which is education in life. This laid the foundation for their moral integrity. The classics they studied in school and the art performances they attended after they entered society all taught the intrinsic values of filial piety, fraternal love, loyalty, trustworthiness, courtesy, justice, honesty, honour, kindess, love, harmony, and fairness. This way, people would be pure in mind and honourable. This is the reason why China has enjoyed ever-lasting peace and stability for five thousand years."
HAHAHAHAHA. War, rebellion, the Emperor profiting off peasants' hard labour - all are trivial. Chauvinism and oppression of women - not significant. China has had no crime, social problems, peasant uprisings, corruption, oppression, palace intrigue in 5000 years. The Opium War embodied peace and stability. Tiannamen was just a technical problem. Really, China is like an ant colony. It appears harmonious but is just a framework for oppression, and anyhow a secret war goes on behind the scenes. Oh, and the earliest of the 3 philosophers, Lao zi, appeared in either the 4th or 6th century BC, so it's hardly 5000 years.

Someone: errr... no. this is why confucian officials have been one of the consistent factors implicated in the fall of EVERY dynasty in chinese history because they are the Palace Bureaucracy Party. they'd never really admit that things are going on a downturn, and afaik, no confucian official managed to push for reforms in any of the waning periods of the dynasties. they were almost always pushed out of the establishment first

buddhism didn't come in until the northern and southern dynasties period, and it was imported by the turkish/hunnish kingdom of Northern Wei

there's no such thing as traditional chinese moral values. most of the time, "traditional values" is always a recent invention or amalgamation in modern political discourse. regardless of whatever happened in the past, it is those who live in the present who take unconnected details, link them together in a web of morality/tradition/the good old days, and call it "Tradition"

The first question was by a PRC who asked him a question in Chinese, translating for our benefit. She quoted the sages: 'One needs self-cultivation before managing the family. Managing the family, one can lead the country and people properly'. She asked how this related to harmony in a family with different religions. The answer was that a family might have different religions but the commonality was love, and this was something different religions shared [Ed: This is why I think religious marital apartheid in Christianity and Islam is stupid. People marry others of different dispositions, characters and political views.]. He then quoted 'Love is God. Love is Buddha'.

The second question was also delivered in Chinese and was how to study and understand religious texts, which interpretations to follow and how to know what you followed was correct and not manipulated. The answer was that this was a very good question. All religions believed in one true god (Rubbish. Monotheism may be fashionable but this doesn't change the fact that not all religions are monotheistic). God manifested itself in different forms. He had a discussion with other religious leaders and all of them agreed to the PC view that because technology was not advanced last time, God manifested itself in different forms depending on different areas' ethnic groups or races, and that religions all had the same aim - to teach one to be good. I snorted at this view, morally, intellectually and religiously bankrupt as it was. Maybe I should set up my own religion, which will be a True one too.

The third question was asked by the same person who'd brought up the point about the press with the previous speaker. The press was not truthful and complete in reporting the truth. The response was that he was in Hongkong and talked to the Chairman of Phoenix TV. He said there were 2 types of people who could save or destroy this world of pure chaos [Ed: ...] - world leaders and people in broadcasting/mass communications. If the mass media reported about violence and sex, it would destroy the world. The Singapore government was efficient, and Singapore was small so it was easy to manage. He recommended that Singapore take the lead in broadcasting moral education so fortune and bliss would reign in the country. Err, if I understood it correctly, he was promoting censorship, self or otherwise. Goodness. We're lucky the Chinese weren't the ones taking over the world last millennium.

Muslim speaker - Interfaith Dialogue in a Highly Globalized World, Prof. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi‘, Hartford Seminary

Much of this lecture was talking about Islam which, while very interesting and informative, was not relevant to the topic at hand.

The speaker started by talking about the idea of authenticity. Authenticity harkened back to an envisioned (and presumably imagined) past, and had several criteria.

The major criterion for authenticity was sacred texts, which were essential to understand in order to understand religion. The texts were the basis of authenticity and religious behavior. However, he did not talk about the differing interpretations, differing formulations or even authenticity of the sacred texts, but I suppose this is because in Islam if you question the authenticity of the Koran you're automatically a heretic.

Other criteria were: revelation, especially in the Abrahamic religions; sacred geography, eg the Haj and Christian pilgrimage; and specific historical events.

He said that in Islam understanding intellectual history and tradition are important, especially with modernity. I think this applies to all religions.

The Koran was the heart of Islamic tradition, but there was also exegesis, a sub-tradition of Islam, and the Hadith - the prophet was just human, but he was a perfect man. The problems of having an infallible prophet who could do no wrong and the complications of the Koran being infallible and literally true were, unfortunately, not expounded upon.

Mohammad and the Koran were the final but not the only prophets of god, and the validity of previous religions were thus not nullified. What the implications of this had for the validity of religions post-dating Islam were not explored.

The major ideas/concepts of Islam were then expounded upon. They were Oneness - the unity of divine; Oneness of revelation, ie Previous prophets not being false [Ed: The historical reason for this was that Muhammad was trying to entice as many people to convert as possible, especially Jews and Christians, since Islam had been crafted in their image. Unfortunately they weren't interested]; Oneness of prophecy; and Oneness of humanity, since humanity worshipped the divine [Ed: I'm not sure whether it's meant to be universal brotherhood or universal Muslim brotherhood. And where does this leave non-theists or non-religious people, eg Deists?!]

Once again the PC view was propounded, with lots of examples of tolerance shown to Jews and Christians talked about. But then the traditional Islamic intolerance of idolatory and false gods was largely ignored.

The Muslim world was not homogeneous but divided into several cultural zones. The first was the Arabs, the founders of Islam. But then not all Arabs were Muslim - many were Jewish and Christian. I noted he didn't talk about the pagans and idolators who'd been wiped out after Mohammad's return to Mecca in 630. Really, you can't produce a picture of Jews, Christiand and Muslims living in harmony, have them hold hands and sing and then say yay - there are more than 3 religions in the world.

The second cultural zone was the Persians, with a different set of religious and cultural ideas. For example, Zoroastrianism was embraced and appropriated by Islam, not destroyed. The third was Africa, with North Africa versus Black Africa, with Sufi Islam. There, Islam had been influenced by animistic traditions, eg in South Sudan, but it together with Christianity was seen as foreign to Africa (what happened to Prester John?!).

The fourth cultural zone was South Asia, and not just due to the Mughal Empire. There was influence from Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. The fifth was the Melayu-Javanese one which was always forgotten, especially by academics (hahahaha). Lastly, the sixth was the Turkic (as opposed to Turkish, including Central Asia, West China and the Balkans).

Islam could not be envisioned theologically in one plane, but its multiplicity had to be taken account of. For the first 500 years, Islamic civilization had to be built up, specifically in Islamic religious science. For example Sharia, which he said was not only a manifestation of political Islam. For some reason though, he didn't talk about the 4 schools of Sunni Islam.

He also talked about Islamic philosophy, and how Kalaam had 3 schools: Islamic, Jewish and Christian. Non-Abrahamic religions were conspicuous by their absence. In any event, he said Kalaam was similar to systematic theology. At this point I realised that Kalaam was aka apologetics (hoho), and he described it as "using human reason to defend Koranic / Biblical truths" (heh heh).

Until 400 years ago most Jews lived in the Muslim world, not in Europe, so to understand Jews before the 17th century one needed to understand the Islamic context.

He then talked about himself. He was a Palestinian born in Nazareth in a British hospital established by Scottish missionaries in Ottoman Palestine in 1833. In the 19th century there were Protestant proselytization attempts in the Ottoman Empire directed at Jews and Muslims. However they were a 'hard nut to crack' so they focused on the Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

He then asked why a conservative Muslim woman (his mother) would go to a Christian hospital. He said her doctor spoke fluent Arabic which was 'music to her ear (sic)'. I'm not sure what that was supposed to mean. He said his mother said she'd whispered the thing in his ear about 'There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet' so even though the doctor later talked about the Messiah, he ignored it, because she'd already indoctrinated him.

Since this review/report is already 4452 words long at this point I'll try to leave out some of the less important bits about the speaker's childhood and how god suffocating in a bottle illuminated some theological point.

He accused the political elite of preferring war to healing (specifically a Jewish word referring to fixing a wounded world), and he said some religious leaders lacked this conviction also to follow in the prophets' footsteps. He ended by reading a prayer and praying for blessings. Wah lao.

This time, I managed to get in one question, about Islamic intolerance to peoples not of the Book. He said it was a good question and brought up some historical examples of Islamic syncretism in cultural zones. He said when he went to Kashmir he was told Buddhism was founded there 500 years ago. He also brought up Indonesian syncretism. I objected that swallowing and assimilation was not what was meant by co-existence - although Islam had been influenced by other religions, peaceful co-existence was not about swallowing up other religions like the Borg, even if you did borrow some of their ideas, and he brought up the example of Indonesia, which has the largest Hindu community outside India.

The moderator added on that for political reasons, Muslims had invaded other areas but they usually allowed them to remain as they were, for example Armenian Catholics and Christians. Of course, this was precisely my point - non-Peoples of the Book (Jews and Christians) were not permitted to be idolatrous. And it's oh-so-convenient to blame wars of conquest on politico-military factors.

The second guy said he was born in a French hospital and his mother was unconcious when he was born and didn't get to him first. However he was 'lucky' (presumably in still being Muslim). He asked if peaceful co-existence was possibly. The reply was that religion cannot be separated from socio-economic factors, eg in the Middle East, Palestine-Israel and Cyrpus. He said in essence these were not religious conflicts. I agree, but then the good that religions are said to do are not caused in essence by religion either; it is logically inconsistent to let religion take all the credit for good results but blame humans and politico-socio-economic factors when religion results in evil, harm and misery, especially when there are religious bases for these eventualities.

The third person asked about intra-faith dialogue. He said there was a need for this and talked about some efforts in this arena. A lot of Brits and Americans associated Islam with Saudi Arabia and Arabs only.

A fourth complained that the Koran promoted peace and religious harmony but this was not mentioned in the press. He then quoted from it. I disagree. The press talks a lot about how Islam is a peaceful religion and even quotes from it sometimes, but never cites the contrary verses. Maybe he's been reading Jewish newspapers (hurr hurr). In any event, the mass media is not a vehicle for proselytization - it presents (or should present, at any rate) the world as it is, not as it should be. The answer was that Edward Said complained about press coverage of Islam and the Iranian Revolution. Most journalists covering the Arab world and Islam did not speak Arabic, and neither did most experts on Islam and terrorisim in the US, and they could not read Arabic works of theology and philosophy. He claimed the US media was ignorant about the Muslim world though it reported about it everyday. I wonder what would count as non-ignorance to him, and if the Muslim world was not similarly ignorant of the US.

The fifth person said it was important to read religious texts. Although he was Presbyterian, the speaker might've read more of the Bible than him. He then quoted from the Bible [Ed: Wah lao. Why was everyone quoting today?] and asked how he could read religious [presumably Christian] texts without the help of the Holy Spirit, since Christ said you needed the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible. So how did he understanding the teachings if he didn't accept Christ and the Holy Spirit? The speaker was obviously stumped, at first giving a short and witty answer and then adding that his Catholic teacher said no one could understand it and that it had to be felt.

My objection was more simple. It takes a true follower of Chairman Mao to understand why the death of tens of millions of Chinese peasants during the Great Leap Forward was Necessary, Justified and adhered to the principles of filial piety, fraternal love, loyalty, trustworthiness, courtesy, justice, honesty, honour, kindess, love, harmony, and fairness. Only someone who truly loves Germany will understand why the Jews had to be exterminated like the scum that they were (are). And only someone who has neutralized the Body Thetans in his body will know why he has to donate all his money to the Church of Scientology.

The sixth asked something about Indonesia, but basically the response was that Indonesia was not known internationally. Someone's (or his) grandmother had been on the Haj 6 times and met Indonesians but only knew they smiled all the time. Some Middle Eastern scholars accused Indonesian cultural/religious tolerance as being evidence of shallow Islam, but he thought authentic Islam was not only found in the Arab world, and that religion could be authentic anywhere. I agree, but then the condemnation of idolatry and false religions is a very basic tenet (Shahadah).

Closing remarks

We were urged to go beyond tolerance and develop interest and understanding, even if we had theological disagreements. We should be able to totally disagree and not have to compromise our religious beliefs, but understand the genuineness, sincerity and honesty of each other's beliefs to lead harmonious lives. He said many common people live like this (presumably they don't start rioting once someone says something controversial), and we should learn from them. I totally agreed, which is why PC BS and the Sedition Act both piss me off.

He said the Ottomans, after conquering Constantinople, actively preserved Christian monuments and still do so today (well, tourism money is very valuable). But then the Turks drink Raki, so. He also said he was hosted by 3 Baptist families when he was a student in the US, and never felt pressure to convert (oh, how times have changed!) On the contrary they were very interested in Islam and he was very comfortable with them.

He also related an anecdote: after an Islamic study tour, he had a closing event with live Arabian music which was a form of worship. People of other religions came in and started taking part. He thought that was good and asked why religious leaders could not do likewise. On this I disagree: taking part in a form of worship of another religion blasphemes both your religion (if you are religious) and theirs. And this coming from a non-religious person.

(5631 words)
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