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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer." - Charles Caleb Colton

***

"A former colleague of mine, a professor of Finance, prides himself on being a thoroughly rational man. Long ago he adopted a clever strategy to deal with life's misfortunes. At the beginning of each year he establishes a target donation to the local United Way charity. Then, if anything untoward happens to him during the year, for example an undeserved speeding ticket, he simply deducts this loss from the United Way account. He thinks of it as an insurance policy against small annoyances.*

* This strategy need not reduce his annual contribution to the United Way. If he makes his intended contribution too low he risks having `uninsured' losses. So far he has not been `charitable' enough to have this fund cover large losses, such as when a hurricane blew the roof off his beach house...

A friend of mine was once shopping for a quilted bedspread. She went to a department store and was pleased to find a model she liked on sale. The spreads came in three sizes: double, queen and king. The usual prices for these quilts were $200, $250 and $300 respectively, but during the sale they were all priced at only $150. My friend bought the king-size quilt and was quite pleased with her purchase, though the quilt did hang a bit over the sides of her double bed...

The following example illustrates that mental accounting is topical:

Imagine that you are about to purchase a jacket for ($125)[$15] and a calculator for ($15)[$125]. The calculator salesman informs you that the calculator you wish to buy is on sale for ($10)[$120] at the other branch of the store, located 20 minutes drive away.Would you make the trip to the other store? (Tversky and Kahneman, 1981, p. 459)

When two versions of this problem are given (one with the figures in parentheses, the other with the figures in brackets), most people say that they will travel to save the $5 when the item costs $15 but not when it costs $125. If people were using a minimal account frame they would be just asking themselves whether they are willing to drive 20 minutes to save $5, and would give the same answer in either version...

The following example ( from Thaler, 1985) illustrates the role of transaction utility.

You are lying on the beach on a hot day. All you have to drink is ice water. For the last hour you have been thinking about how much you would enjoy a nice cold bottle of your favorite brand of beer. A companion gets up to go make a phone call and offers to bring back a beer from the only nearby place where beer is sold (a fancy resort hotel) [a small, run-down grocery store]. He says that the beer might be expensive and so asks how much you are willing to pay for the beer. He says that he will buy the beer if it costs as much or less than the price you state. But if it costs more than the price you state he will not buy it. You trust your friend, and there is no possibility of bargaining with the (bartender) [store owner]. What price do you tell him?

Two versions of the question were administered, one using the phrases in parentheses, the other the phrases in brackets. The median responses for the two versions were $2.65 (resort) and $1.50 [store] in 1984 dollars. People are willing to pay more for the beer from the resort because the reference price in that context is higher. Note that this effect cannot be accommodated in a standard economic model because the consumption experience is the same in either case; the place of purchase should be irrelevant.

The addition of transaction utility to the purchase calculus leads to two kinds of effects in the marketplace. First, some goods are purchased primarily because they are especially good deals. Most of us have some rarely worn items in our closets that are testimony to this phenomenon. Sellers make use of this penchant by emphasizing the savings relative to the regular retail price (which serves as the suggested reference price). In contrast, some purchases that would seemingly make the consumer better off may be avoided because of substantial negative transaction utility. The thirsty beer drinker who would pay $4 for a beer from a resort but only $2 from a grocery store will miss out on some pleasant drinking when faced with a grocery store charging $2.50...

Although sunk costs influence subsequent decisions, they do not linger indefinitely. A thought experiment illustrates this point nicely. Suppose you buy a pair of shoes. They feel perfectly comfortable in the store, but the first day you wear them they hurt. A few days later you try them again, but they hurt even more than the first time. What happens now? My predictions are:

(1) The more you paid for the shoes, the more times you will try to wear them. (This choice may be rational, especially if they have to be replaced with another expensive pair.)
(2) Eventually you stop wearing the shoes, but you do not throw them away. The more you paid for the shoes, the longer they sit in the back of your closet before you throw them away. (This behavior cannot be rational unless expensive shoes take up less space.)
(3) At some point, you throw the shoes away, regardless of what they cost, the payment having been fully 'depreciated'.

Evidence about the persistence of sunk costs effects is reported by Arkes and Blumer (1985). They ran an experiment in which people who were ready to buy season tickets to a campus theater group were randomly placed into three groups: one group paid full price, one group got a small (13%) discount, and one group received a large (47%) discount. The experimenters then monitored how often the subjects attended plays during the season. In the first half of the season, those who paid full price attended significantly more plays than those who received discounts, but in the second half of the season there was no difference among the groups. People do ignore sunk costs, eventually.

The gradual reduction in the relevance of prior expenditures is dubbed 'payment depreciation' by Gourville and Soman (1998) who have conducted a clever field experiment to illustrate the idea. They obtained usage data from the members of a health club that charges the dues to its members twice a year. Gourville and Soman find that attendance at the health club is highest in the month in which the dues are paid and then declines over the next five months, only to jump again when the next bill comes out.

Similar issues are involved in the mental accounting of wine collectors who often buy wine with the intention of storing it for ten years or more while it matures. When a bottle is later consumed, what happens? Eldar Shafir and I (1998) have investigated this pressing issue by surveying the subscribers to a wine newsletter aimed at serious wine consumers/collectors. We asked the following question:

Suppose you bought a case of a good 1982 Bordeaux in the futures market for $20 a bottle. The wine now sells at auction for about $75 a bottle. You have decided to drink a bottle. Which of the following best captures your feeling of the cost to you of drinking this bottle?

We gave the respondents five answers to choose from: $0, $20, $20 plus interest, $75, and -$55 (`I drink a $75 bottle for which I paid only $20'). The percentages of respondents choosing each answer were 30, 18, 7, 20 and 25. Most of the respondents who selected the economically correct answer ($75) were in fact economists. (The newsletter, Liquid Assets, is published by economist Orley Ashenfelter and has many economist subscribers). More than half the respondents report that drinking the bottle either costs nothing or actually saves them money!

... the typical wine connoisseur thinks of his initial purchase as an investment and later thinks of the wine as free when he drinks it. We have therefore titled our paper 'Invest Now, Drink Later, Spend Never'. Note that this mental accounting transforms a very expensive hobby into one that is 'free'. The same mental accounting applies to time-share vacation properties. The initial purchase of a week every year at some resort feels like an investment, and the subsequent visits feel free...

More generally, consumers don't like the experience of `having the meter running'. This contributes to what has been called the 'flat rate bias' in telecommunications. Most telephone customers elect a flat rate service even though paying by the call would cost them less. [Ed: You can also explain this by risk aversion]

... Perhaps the best decoupling device is the credit card. We know that credit cards facilitate spending simply by the fact that stores are willing to pay 3% or more of their revenues to the card companies... A credit card decouples the purchase from the payment in several ways. First, it postpones the payment by a few weeks... (a) the payment is later than the purchase; (b) the payment is separated from the purchase... the simple separation of purchase and payment appears to make the payment less salient. Along these lines, Soman (1997) finds that students leaving the campus bookstore were much more accurate in remembering the amount of their purchases if they paid by cash rather than by credit card. As he says, `Payment by credit card thus reduces the salience and vividness of the outflows, making them harder to recall than payments by cash or check which leave a stronger memory trace' (p. 9)...

In many situations sellers and fund raisers elect to frame an annual fee as 'pennies-a-day'. Thus a $100 membership for the local public radio station might be described as a `mere 27 cents a day'. Given the convex shape of the loss function, why should this strategy be effective? One possibility is that 27 cents is clearly in the petty cash category, so when the expense is framed this way it tends to be compared to other items that are not booked. In contrast, a $100 membership is large enough that it will surely be booked and posted, possibly running into binding budget constraints in the charitable giving category. The same idea works in the opposite direction. A firm that markets a drug to help people quit smoking urges smokers to aggregate their annual smoking expenditures and think of the vacation they could take with these funds. Again, $2 a day might be ignored but $730 pays for a nice getaway.

Whenever budgets are not fungible their existence can influence consumption in various ways... Heath and Soll (1996) provide several experiments to illustrate this effect. In a typical study two groups of subjects were asked whether they would be willing to buy a ticket to a play. One group was told that they had spent $50 earlier in the week going to a basketball game (same budget); the other group was told that they had received a $50 parking ticket (different budget) earlier in the week. Those who had already gone to the basketball game were significantly less likely to go to the play than those who had gotten the parking ticket.*

* One might think this result could be attributed to satiation (one night out is enough in a week). However, another group was asked their willingness to buy the theater ticket after going to the basketball game for free, and they showed no effect.

... Another violation of fungibility introduced by the budgeting system occurs because some budgets are intentionally set 'too low' in order to help deal with particularly insidious self-control problems... the usual economic advice (which says that a gift in kind can be at best as good as a gift of cash, and then only if it were something that the recipient would have bought anyway). Instead the mental accounting analysis suggests that the best gifts are somewhat more luxurious than the recipient normally buys, consistent with the conventional advice (of non-economists), which is to buy people something they wouldn't buy for themselves.

The idea that luxurious gifts can be better than cash is well known to those who design sales compensation schemes. When sales contests are run, the prize is typically a trip or luxury durable rather than cash. Perhaps the most vivid example of this practice is the experience of the National Football League in getting players to show up at the annual Pro Bowl. This all-star game is held the week after the Super Bowl and for years the league had trouble getting all of the superstar players to come. Monetary incentives were little inducement to players with seven-figure salaries. This problem was largely solved by moving the game to Hawaii and including two first-class tickets (one for the player's wife or girlfriend) and accommodations for all the players.

... For other tempting products, consumers may regulate their consumption in part by buying small quantities at a time, thus keeping inventories low. This practice creates the odd situation wherein consumers may be willing to pay a premium for a smaller quantity... [Wertenbroch's] one-sentence abstract succinctly sums up his paper: 'To control their consumption, consumers pay more for less of what they like too much'...

Another example of income non-fungibility is provided by Kooreman (1997). He studies the spending behavior of families that receive child allowance payments from the Dutch government. He finds that spending on children's clothing is much more sensitive to changes in the designated child allowance than to other income sources...

The choice of how to bracket the gambles influences the attractiveness of the individual bets. An illustration is provided by a famous problem first posed by Paul Samuelson. Samuelson, it seems, was having lunch with an economist colleague and offered his colleague an attractive bet. They would flip a coin, and if the colleague won he would get $200; if he lost he would have to pay only $100. The colleague turned this bet down, but said that if Samuelson would be willing to play the bet 100 times he would be game. Samuelson (1963) declined to offer this parlay, but went home and proved that this pair of choices is irrational. [Ed: ... economists]

The diversification bias is not limited to young people choosing among snacks. Benartzi and I (1998) have found evidence of the same phenomenon by studying how people allocate their retirement funds across various investment vehicles. In particular, we find some evidence for an extreme version of this bias that we call the 1/n heuristic. The idea is that when an employee is offered n funds to choose from in her retirement plan, she divides the money evenly among the funds offered... We find evidence supporting just this behavior. In a sample of pension plans we regress the percentage of the plan assets in stocks on the percentage of the funds that are stock funds and find a very strong relationship...

A question that has not received much attention is whether mental accounting is good for us... It is not possible to say that the system is flawed without knowing how to fix it. Given that optimization is not feasible (too costly) repairing one problem may create another. For example, if we teach people to ignore sunk costs, do they stop abiding by the principle: 'waste not, want not'? If we stop being lured by good deals, do we stop paying attention to price altogether? There are no easy answers."

--- Mental Accounting Matters / Richard H. Thaler, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making (1999)
"Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight." - Phyllis Diller

***

"The problem, in essence, is one of bringing nonmusical, extra-aesthetic considerations to bear on an issue that is generally supposed to be purely aesthetic, namely, the selection of works for a concert program...

To these arguments the supporters would reply that there are many Jewhaters among composers, writers, and artists and that we would impoverish our spiritual life immensely if we would boycott all art created by anti- Semites. They would add that since Wagner died six years before Hitler was born, any attempt to link the two directly falsifies history. They would even question the opponents' claim that Wagner's works were the most frequently played music in concentration camps because, according to reliable reports, melodies by other composers were more often heard than music by Wagner. Finally, they might suggest that the association between Wagner and the camps is perhaps much stronger in the victims' imagination than it was in their persecutors' minds.

A very important point in the supporters' rebuttal is the assertion that banning art for nonaesthetic reasons would reduce us to the level of our worst enemies, for the Nazi ideology "distinguished" itself by boycotting art and burning books for reasons that had nothing to do with the quality and subjects of these works. These supporters would add that having achieved independence and statehood, we should finally be ready to rise above persecution complexes and narrow-mindedness and select the goals for and content of our cultural and spiritual life exclusively on the basis of objective, inherent merit and quality...

We should not allow ourselves to become slaves to symbols. If we did, then tomorrow we might subscribe to the idea that Richard Strauss is also a symbol for cooperation with the Nazis and that his music should therefore not be played. Likewise, Bach's "Matthauspassion" and Leonardo's Last Supper would become liable to being viewed as symbols for anti-Jewish motives in the story of Jesus Christ's suffering and for the persecution of the Jews by the Church for nearly twenty centuries.

The subject of symbols and the avoidance of objectionable symbols is problematic and fraught with dangers. It can lead to absurd situations, like the effort made at one time by religious schools in Israel to introduce a new plus sign, a "half-cross" sign, in arithmetic lessons because the internationally accepted sign (+) reminded the proponents of this change of the cross and persecution.

Perhaps another observation might be added. It is a well-known fact that Wagner's Ring was hardly ever performed during World War 11. On 8 May 1945, the day of Germany's surrender to the Allied Forces, the radio station of the new German government accompanied its news broadcast of the total collapse of Hitler's Reich with music from the Gotterdammerung. It may be suggested that perhaps for the Nazis, but more obviously for their immediate successor, Wagner's music-at least the Ring of the Nibelung-had already become a symbol not of supremacy and triumph but of pessimism, despair, the end of the world, and the "Twilight of the Gods.""

--- Wagner in Israel: A Conflict among Aesthetic, Historical, Psychological, and Social Considerations / Hanan Bruen, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Spring, 1993)
New blog picture:

Photobucket
I'll be a monkey's uncle!

Transmission of gonorrhoea through an inflatable doll

"In Mexico we have a word for sushi: Bait." - Jose Simon

***

An infamous article:

Transmission of gonorrhoea through an inflatable doll
Genitourin Med. 1993 Aug;69(4):322

Nonsexual transmission of gonorrhoea seems to be extremely rare. Only one case of nonsexual transmisaion of genital Neisseria gonorrhoeae is documented in adults, involving two patients in a military hospital who shared a urinal. N gonorrhoeae has been shown to survive in infected secretions on towels and handkerchiefs for 20 and 24 hours, respectively. Cultures from toilet seats in public restrooms and venereal disease clinics have failed to yield N gonorrhoeae.

The skipper from a trawler, who had been 3 months at sea, sought advice for urethral discharge. His symptoms had lasted for two weeks. A urethral smear showed typical intracellular gram-negative diplococci, and a culture was positive for N gonorrhoeae. There had been no woman onboard the trawler; he denied homosexual contacts; and there was no doubt that the onset of the symptoms was more than two months after leaving the port.

With some hesitation, he told the story. A few days brfore onset of his symptoms, he had roused the engineer in his cabin during the night because of engine trouble. After the engineer had left his cabin, the skipper found an inflatable doll with artificial vagina in his bed, and he was tempted to have ‘intercourse” with the doll. His complaints started a few days after this episode.

The engineer was examined, and was found to have gonorrhoea. He had observed a mild urethral discharge since they left port, but he had not been treated with antibiotics. He admitted to having ejaculated into the “vagina” of the doll just before the skipper called him, without washing the doll afterwards. He also admitted intercourse with a girl in another town some days before going to sea. This girl was traced, but the result of her examination is not known. To the best of our knowledge, no case of gonococcal transmission through an inflatable doll has been reported before.

E KLEIST, H MOI
(Some hospitals), Greenland

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"roses are vile,
violets are rude.
flowers are sinful,
so are you (chocolate)."

- Friend's nick

***

Some lesser-known events from The GP Tutor: Info-pack on Censorship, which has been greatly updated since I last saw it (rearranged in chronological order):

1959: Shortly after PAP takeover, pinball machines and jukeboxes are banned in the crackdown on "yellow culture", the decadent culture of Western imperialists. Jukeboxes are only officially legalised again in 1991. See here.

1968: The Equator Art Society opens an exhibition of paintings portraying Americans as morally degraded figures; this is interpreted as being a socialist protest against Singapore's endorsement of America in the Vietnam War. The exhibition is closed within a day of opening and the President of the Society is detained; members do not submit their names of board members to the Registrar of Societies in the following years, and the Society is forced to dissolve in 1974.

1973: Despite the dwindling of the Singapore film industry following separation from Malaysia, Tony Yeow and James Sebastian direct Ring of Fury, a gripping kung fu action tale set in Singapore. The film is banned locally for its depiction of a gangsterism in Singapore, but gets screenings in Australia, Hong Kong and even Africa. Its first public screening in Singapore is in 2005. See here.
No wonder our film scene went to hell

1976: Theatre director Kuo Pao Kun is stripped of his citizenship and detained without trial for alleged Communist activities in a sweeping anti-leftist purge. Over his 4 1/2 years of incarceration, Kuo studies Malay and reads Shakespeare. He is released in 1980 and re-emerges as a powerful force in Singapore drama, winning the Cultural Medallion in 1990.

1984: Japanese New Age musician Kitaro is barred from entry to Changi Airport because of his long hair; officials insist that in order to perform, he must first cut his hair (in keeping with a Singapore campaign from the 70s against long hair in men). Kitaro refuses and cancels his concert in Singapore.

1986: Authorities close the Rainbow Lounge at Ming Arcade, Singapore’s first disco and live music venue, on the grounds that a member of the house band, Speedway, had made a risqué remark in Hokkien while onstage. The founder, Dr Goh Poh Seng, goes into self-exile in Canada, “disillusioned and hounded by authorities” for his efforts to push the boundaries of culture in conservative society. He does not visit Singapore again until Writers Festival 2007, where he is lauded for his legacy as the creator of Singapore’s first English-language novel. (See The Sunday Times, December 16, 2007, L6.)

1992: Four plays for Theatreworks's Theatre Carnival On The Hill are censored: Desmond Sim's Blood and Snow has 14 pages cut; Theresa [last name not given]'s Bra Sizes has all references to "breasts" cut; Robin Loon's Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder has its few "fucks" cut. Gung Ho Theatre's "Too Glam One", a commentary on the 1992 survey on morals, is banned for "crude and vulgar language". The Censorship Review Committee publishes a report on 18 October stating that plays need not be vetted if they are by "established" theatre groups. R(A) ratings for plays are also instituted, allowing for greater freedom of drama in front of a mature audience. During this period, Tan Tarn How's political satire The Lady of Soul and the Ultimate S-Machine is a subject of contention between Theatreworks and MITA/PELU - these government bodies object to the reference to Asian dragons in the prologue, the notion that Singapore is a nation without a soul, the apparent promotion of sex and Communism, the mockery of past committees as inefficient, the unfavourable portrayal of ministers and civil servants and their overseas trips, and the idea that politicians are more interested in winning votes than delivering on their promises. Approximately 1/20th of the plays is scheduled to be cut. However, on review by the Censorship Appeals Committee, the play is ultimately passed in its entirety.

1993: Shortly before staging, the Ministry of Health withdraws its funding from Off Centre, a play by The Necessary Stage on mental illness. MOH claims that the play misrepresents the insane. TNS stages the play with its own funding, to critical acclaim. The play is now recognised as a landmark play in Singapore theatre and will be an O-level literature text from 2007 onwards.

1998: Hong Kong artist Zunzi Wang's artwork, a political cartoon featuring caricatures of then-SM Lee and PM Goh, is removed by officials from the Singapore Art Museum and destroyed just prior to the opening of ARX5. The artist is not informed until the opening.
"I am certain there is too much certainty in the world." - Michael Crichton

***

In JC we had the Angel-Mortal game. Now, we have "Buaya-Buayee", for everyone to "live out your perverse stalker fantasies".

Photos of the better acts will be up eventually, but in the meantime, the following is worth losing some sleep over:


"Title: Oh My Love, Ruhan
Artist: Air Supply
Album: Unreleased tracks
Genre: Meditative
Comment: Buaya Loves you"

"As I think of you day and night - and it is only proper that I should do so - my anxieties are concentrated upon the risks of mortal life, the uncertainties of health, the failness of mankind. Our country should be immortal; and I am so unhappy that its future should depend on the breath of a single man.

It is for you and only you, Ruhan, to revive all you see lying in ruins around you, inevitably shattered and overthrown by your rejection.

The next song will be dedicated to: Ruhan"

(after Cicero: in support of Marcus Claudius Marcellus, to which I was unable to find the original Latin)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give a fish a man, and he'll eat for weeks!" - Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005

***

Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat - "Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded... These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development... Industry groups, like the Renewable Fuels Association, immediately attacked the new studies as “simplistic,” failing “to put the issue into context.” “While it is important to analyze the climate change consequences of differing energy strategies, we must all remember where we are today, how world demand for liquid fuels is growing, and what the realistic alternatives are to meet those growing demands”"
Translation: If we throw irrelevant nonsense at you long enough, you'll believe us when we say they're 'simplistic'

Birth defects warning sparks row - "A minister who warned about birth defects among children of first cousin marriages in Britain's Asian community has sparked anger among critics... The claims infuriated the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) which called on the prime minister to "sack him". MPAC spokesman Asghar Bukhari said Mr Woolas' comments "verged on Islamophobia"... The former race relations minister told the Sunday Times: "If you have a child with your cousin the likelihood is there'll be a genetic problem. "The issue we need to debate is first cousin marriages, whereby a lot of arranged marriages are with first cousins, and that produces lots of genetic problems in terms of disability [in children]."... Research for BBC2's Newsnight in November 2005 showed British Pakistanis accounted for 3.4% of all births but have 30% of all British children with "recessive disorders"."
Indeed. Denouncing honour killings is also Islamophobia, since women who have brought disgrace to their family must have their sins cleansed to clear the family name. [Person who sent me the article: "I can imagine though, that if they don't do something about this first marriage issue, 50 years from now, there will be a class action lawsuit against the government for not protecting them from inbreeding"]

Chumble Spuzz! - "A colleague of ours found this set of building blocks to help children learn English... Now, I don’t mind the fact that the peacock is a turkey, and the rooster/hen confusion happens to plenty of people. King of Beasts is an honorific, a darning needle is a beautiful description of a dragonfly, and a mouse looking for a hand-out for his family could just as easily be considered in the plural. From what I’ve read “bear-cat” is the literal translation of panda in Chinese, so, while I think it is absurd that the kids aren’t taught the English word in an English block set, I can understand. BUT, crustacea?!? For a ladybug?!?"

The Republican Reformation - "The failure of conservative voters to fall in line behind Mr. Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, among others, reflects a deeper problem for the movement’s leadership. With their inflexibility, grudge-holding and eagerness to evict heretics rather than seek converts, too many of conservatism’s leaders sound like the custodians of a dwindling religious denomination or a politically correct English department at a fading liberal-arts college. Or like yesterday’s Democratic Party. The tribunes of the American right have fallen into the same bad habits that doomed their liberal rivals to years of political failure. In spite of his record as a maverick, John McCain has become the presumptive nominee by running a classic Republican campaign, emphasizing strength abroad and limited government at home, with nods to his pro-life record. His opponents in the conservative movement, by contrast, have behaved like caricatures of liberals, emphasizing a host of small-bore litmus tests that matter more to Beltway insiders than to the right-winger on the street... in their zeal to read both candidates out of the conservative movement, often on the flimsiest of pretexts, the movement’s leaders raised a standard of ideological purity that not even Ronald Reagan could have lived up to."
I don't think it's just fading liberal-arts colleges...

On Cooling the Mark Out: Some Aspects of Adaptation to Failure, Erving Goffman - "A con man is someone who accepts a social role in the underworld community; he is part of a brotherhood whose members make no pretense to one another of being "legit." A white‑collar criminal, on the other hand, has no colleagues, al­though he may have an associate with whom he plans his crime and a wife to whom he confesses it. The con is said to be a good racket in the United States only because most Americans are willing, nay eager, to make easy money, and will engage in action that is less than legal in order to do so... After the blowoff has occurred, one of the operators stays with the mark and makes an effort to keep the anger of the mark within manageable and sensible proportions. The operator stays behind his team‑mates in the capacity of what might be called a cooler and exercises upon the mark the art of consolation. An attempt is made to define the situation for the mark in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home. The mark is given instruction in the philosophy of taking a loss... Cooling the mark out is one theme in a very basic social story."

Human rights watchdog: Islamophobia on the rise in Holland, Muslims stigmatized, attacked - "In a harshly worded report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said even Dutch politicians have resorted to derogatory remarks about Muslims in recent years, and that racist discourse has remained “as a rule” unchallenged by mainstream political parties... Along with concerns about Islamophobia, the commission’s report on the Netherlands said anti-Semitic insults and Holocaust denial are growing more widespread. “As an illustration, the word “Jew” is reported to be increasingly used as an insult and different aspects of the Holocaust are reportedly questioned in everyday situations, such as in schools,” the commission said... 'The report fails to point out the corrolation between the growing presence of Muslims (both by immigration and via a high birth-rate) and the growth of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials.'"

'Jesus' cosmetic row in Singapore - "A leading retailer in Singapore has withdrawn a cosmetics range with a Jesus theme after complaints from local Roman Catholics, local media report. The range, named Lookin' Good for Jesus, was on sale at three Topshop outlets in the Asian city state. Catholics complained the cosmetics' marketing was disrespectful, full of sexual innuendo and trivialised Christianity."
Ridiculous as this is, it would unfortunately happen in more well-adjusted democracies. At least no one made a police report (at least that we know of).
u r wt u wr:

- 'Miss you'
- 'Your lips look so [something]. Would you like to [something] *picture of lips*' (I didn't see the whole thing)
- 'Prague. Czech me out'
- 'Sweet baby'
- 'Style secretor' (This sounds like some alien lifeform)
- 'Come sit on Santa's lap. Mmm.'
- 'Everyone makes mistakes'
- 'Do I make you look fat?' (It should've read, 'Do I make you look pretty?')
- 'Protect me from what I want. By Gutsy'
- 'Visit Kazakhstan. Why not? It's good... I like!'
- 'Two of a kind' (above breasts) (Contributed)
- 'Fruits of summer' (above breasts) (Contributed)
- 'Da daddy's little girl ain't so little no more'
- 'Finding somebody'
- 'Sun shine'
- 'Lips like sugar'
- 'Born with style'
- 'Ceu love this pet' (The words were in a strawberry)
- 'I'll be your future, you'll be my past'
"Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"No matter what side of the argument you are on, you always find people on your side that you wish were on the other." - Jascha Heifetz

***

THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2008 — WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?

"TIMOTHY TAYLOR
Archaeologist, University of Bradford; Author, The Buried Soul

Relativism

Where once I would have striven to see Incan child sacrifice in their terms', I am increasingly committed to seeing it in ours. Where once I would have directed attention to understanding a past cosmology of equal validity to my own, I now feel the urgency to go beyond a culturally-attuned explanation and reveal cold sadism, deployed as a means of social control by a burgeoning imperial power.

In Cambridge at the end of the 70s, I began to be inculcated with the idea that understanding the internal logic and value system of a past culture was the best way to do archaeology and anthropology. The challenge was to achieve this through sensitivity to context, classification and symbolism. A pot was no longer just a pot, but a polyvalent signifier, with a range of case-sensitive meanings. A rubbish pit was no longer an unproblematic heap of trash, but a semiotic entity embodying concepts of contagion and purity, sacred and profane. A ritual killing was not to be judged bad, but as having validity within a different worldview.

Using such 'contextual' thinking, a lump of slag found in a 5000 BC female grave in Serbia was no longer seen as chance contaminant — bi-product garbage from making copper jewelry. Rather it was a kind of poetic statement bearing on the relationship between biological and cultural reproduction. Just as births in the Vinca culture were attended by midwives who also delivered the warm but useless slab of afterbirth, so Vinca culture ore was heated in a clay furnace that gave birth to metal. From the furnace — known from many ethnographies to have projecting clay breasts and a graphically vulvic stoking opening — the smelters delivered technology's baby. With it came a warm but useless lump of slag. Thus the slag in a Vinca woman's grave, far from being accidental trash, hinted at a complex symbolism of gender, death and rebirth.

So far, so good: relativism worked as a way towards understanding that our industrial waste was not theirs, and their idea of how a woman should be appropriately buried not ours. But what happens when relativism says that our concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, kindness and cruelty, are inherently inapplicable? Relativism self-consciously divests itself of a series of anthropocentric and anachronistic skins — modern, white, western, male-focused, individualist, scientific (or 'scientistic') — to say that the recognition of such value-concepts is radically unstable, the 'objective' outsider opinion a worthless myth.

My colleague Andy Wilson and our team have recently examined the hair of sacrificed children found on some of the high peaks of the Andes. Contrary to historic chronicles that claim that being ritually killed to join the mountain gods was an honour that the Incan rulers accorded only to their own privileged offspring, diachronic isotopic analyses along the scalp hairs of victims indicate that it was peasant children, who, twelve months before death, were given the outward trappings of high status and a much improved diet to make them acceptable offerings. Thus we see past the self-serving accounts of those of the indigenous elite who survived on into Spanish rule. We now understand that the central command in Cuzco engineered the high-visibility sacrifice of children drawn from newly subject populations. And we can guess that this was a means to social control during the massive, 'shock & awe' style imperial expansion southwards into what became Argentina.

But the relativists demur from this understanding, and have painted us as culturally insensitive, ignorant scientists (the last label a clear pejorative). For them, our isotope work is informative only as it reveals 'the inner fantasy life of, mostly, Euro-American archaeologists, who can't possibly access the inner cognitive/cultural life of those Others.' The capital 'O' is significant. Here we have what the journalist Julie Burchill mordantly unpacked as 'the ever-estimable Other' — the albatross that post-Enlightenment and, more importantly, post-colonial scholarship must wear round its neck as a sign of penance.

We need relativism as an aid to understanding past cultural logic, but it does not free us from a duty to discriminate morally and to understand that there are regularities in the negatives of human behaviour as well as in its positives. In this case, it seeks to ignore what Victor Nell has described as 'the historical and cross-cultural stability of the uses of cruelty for punishment, amusement, and social control.' By denying the basis for a consistent underlying algebra of positive and negative, yet consistently claiming the necessary rightness of the internal cultural conduct of 'the Other', relativism steps away from logic into incoherence."
"A fellow who is always declaring he's no fool usually has his suspicions." - Wilson Mizner

***

"Popular culture texts that discuss rape in the context of feminism claim there is a “murkiness” surrounding rape, and they blame that murkiness (at least in part) on feminism. For example, while Ellen Goodman(1991) and Naomi Wolf(1991a, 1991b) both take feminist perspectives in their articles, each depicts contemporary US. culture as confused about rape, in part as a result of feminism. Drawing on two conflicting versions of feminism—one that encourages women to be free to express their sexuality and another that warns women to protect themselves from sexual violence—Goodman writes that as a result of social changes surrounding sexuality, “cultural cues are no longer universal and the likelihood that two people who meet will share the same assumptions isn’t as high as it once was.” Furthermore, she suggests that supposedly new definitions of sexual assault and consent, again implicitly available because of feminist activism, “lead to enormous confusion around the words that infiltrate [women’s] single lives with less terror than the word rape: words like sexuality, sexiness and the nature of ’consensual sex.’ It is as if a huge gray spot has covered these topics too, making it hard to see clearly.”... Goodman uses the gray spot as a metaphor for what feminist activism against rape has done to all (hetero)sexuality: made it hard to see clearly. While Goodman, unlike Barbara Amid (1994), holds men (not women) responsible for sexual assault throughout her article, she nonetheless implicitly suggests that the way feminism has been incorporated into women’s lives (she reports on several interviews with “young women” in the article) has led to the blurry “postfeminist images” of both rape and sexuality... While Wolf articulates the feminist position that “consenting to sex with one or more men in the past does not indicate consent for all future time to anyone who demands it” (274), she also suggests that the confusion around sexuality and rape is caused by the contradiction between a pro-sex feminism and news coverage and court practices that depend on women’s asexuality to ensure credibility. Thus, (her version of) feminism, which introduces women’s active sexuality into the mix, is at least partially responsible for that confusion.

For antifeminist feminist postfeminist Katie Roiphe (1993, 1994), the confusion around rape is produced entirely by that all-powerful postfemmist-defined feminism that supposedly controls college campuses and makes women’s lives miserable. Drawing heavily on Neil Gilbert in her book The Morning After, Roiphe argues that the “rape epidemic” is an exaggeration, produced simply by a change in perspective, “a way of interpreting” (53) that feminists use to “sequester feminism in the teary province of trauma and crisis” (56). Furthermore, like Wolf, she aims to reclaim sexuality for women, holding feminists’ “interpretation” of rape responsible for a “denial of female sexual agency that threatens to propel us backwards” (84)... both Wolf and Roiphe argue against a “victim feminism” and for a pro-sex feminism. Roiphe makes this typical postfeminist argument by rejecting women’s claims of rape1 and Wolf makes this same argument by criticizing rape culture and legal practices. Despite their differences, however, both Wolf and Roiphe say that rape is confusing and that feminism (at least in part) produces that confusion...

With this brief discussion of the representation of rape in the popular press, I hope to begin to illustrate the way these representations intersect with postfeminism, particularly antifeminist feminist postfeminism, backlash postfeminism, and pro-sex postfeminisrn. In the process, particular versions of feminism emerge in relation to rape. For antifeminist postfeminists such as Roiphe and Amid, feminism sees women as victims; paradoxically, feminism is also powerful enough to confuse people about what rape is. For profeminist postfeminists such as Goodman and Wolf, feminism demands women’s “equal” access to sexual expression and behavior, as well as their right to “choose” to say no, no matter how many times they may have said yes in the past. From both perspectives, however, it is the changes feminism has wrought that lead to confusion around rape and sexuality...

I argue that some aspects of feminism have been absorbed into popular culture so fully that they have become truisms that help redefine rape in particularly narrow ways. Furthermore. I argue that rape narratives depend on a postfeminist assumption that feminism has been successful. Paradoxically, such narratives hold women responsible for using the (now improved) law to end rape and view men, who know more about the new laws, as better feminists than women. Overall, this chapter argues that many post- 1980 rape narratives in film and television draw on and contribute to a cultural concept of post-feminism in a multitude of ways that collectively suggest there is no need for continued feminist activism, even against rape...

Paradoxically, even texts that explicitly articulate an antirape perspective can also inadvertently contribute to these backlash representations. For example, perhaps the most well-known self-defined antirape mainstream film, The Accused, includes a graphic rape scene (through a witness’s flashback) at the end of the film. The culmination of courtroom testimony, this scene emphasizes the horror of rape and illustrates the idea that even if a woman dresses and dances provocatively in a public bar, she is not responsible if a gang rape follows. But, the graphic representation is also explicit in its visual and aural depiction of sexual violence toward women, thus increasing the amount of violence against women that exists in popular culture representations. Thus, in this film the graphic rape scene functions, paradoxically, both to challenge rape myths from a feminist perspective and to contribute to the existence of violence against women in media

This paradox of discursively increasing (and potentially eliciting pleasure in) the very thing a text is working against is not unique to the representation of rape. The same argument can be made about representations of graphic war scenes in antiwar films, or of explicit racism in antiracist films, for example. [Ed: Once again, talking about the problem is a problem, even if not the problem.]

... Despite the potential backlash against women and feminism in any representation of rape, most 1980s and 1990s rape narratives intersect with aspects of postfeminism that seek to absorb and transform (rather than violently expel) feminism. As I discuss in chapter 1, rape narratives historically often linked rape to women’s independence, depicting a two-way causality in which rape illustrated that women needed to be more independent and less vulnerable, or in which independent behavior led to rape. Not surprisingly—given that women’s relationship to independence is a central concern of postfeminism—these narrative structures continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In the context of a postfeminist tension between independence and family, these narratives often use rape to help bring these two aspects of women’s lives together, linking women’s independent behavior to rape in the service of protecting the family. In these texts, experiencing rape helps women “have it all” (independence and family).

For example, thrillers or horror films that incorporate rape or the threat of rape specifically in order to produce spectatorial anxiety often resolve that anxiety through an independent woman character who triumphs in the end. Furthermore, these texts define this postfeminist New Woman’s independence through her capacity to overcome victimization in order to protect herself and her family... In the film Trial by Jury (1994)... At the trial, she stares blankly ahead, twisting her hair and looking incapable of making an argument (let alone a decision) for either guilt or innocence... he goes to her apartment and rapes her, making good his verbal threats through a physical assault. This rape transforms Valerie from a frightened and confused woman into one who is powerful and in control, a role naturalized by the initial portrayal of her character as independent.

After the rape Valerie takes over the narrative in an effort to save her son and prevent further assaults on herself. No longer twirling her hair in the jury box and waiting to see what Rusty will do, she persuades three other members of the jury that Rusty’s constitutional rights have been violated. leading to the hung jury that Rusty demanded of her as prevention against further assaults. Furthermore, she begins to stand up to the jury foreman in a way that emphasizes her independence as a woman, telling him, for example, that her name is not “Mrs. Alsion.” Thus, the film explicitly links her newfound post-rape persona to feminism."

--- Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture / Sarah Projansky


God. 'Antifeminist feminist postfeminist' is such an awful term.

"The teary province of trauma and crisis" is a good characterisation of the "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" mentality; the Revolution(s) will never be over, safe or finished, nor will the Nation ever be complete or safe.
A Feminist Overview of Pornography, Ending In a Defense Thereof

""Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically." This sentence opens my book XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, and it constitutes a more extreme defense of pornography than most feminists are comfortable with. I arrive at this position after years of interviewing hundreds of sex workers...

Gender feminism looks at history and sees an uninterrupted oppression of women by men than spans cultural barriers. To them, the only feasible explanation is that men and women are separate and antagonistic classes, whose interests necessarily conflict. Male interests are expressed through and maintained by a capitalistic structure known as 'patriarchy'.

The root of the antagonism is so deep that it lies in male biology itself. For example, in the watershed book Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller traces the inevitability of rape back to Neanderthal times when men began to use their penises as weapons. Brownmiller writes: "From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." [Emphasis in original.] How she acquired this knowledge of prehistoric sex is not known...

The assumed degradation is often linked to the 'objectification' of women: that is, porn converts them into sexual objects. What does this mean? If taken literally, it means nothing because objects don't have sexuality; only beings do. But to say that porn portrays women as 'sexual beings' makes for poor rhetoric. Usually, the term 'sex objects' means showing women as 'body parts', reducing them to physical objects. What is wrong with this? Women are as much their bodies as they are their minds or souls. No one gets upset if you present women as 'brains' or as 'spiritual beings'. If I concentrated on a woman's sense of humor to the exclusion of her other characteristics, is this degrading? Why is it degrading to focus on her sexuality?...

Other studies, such as the one prepared by feminist Thelma McCormick (1983) for the Metropolitan Toronto Task Force on Violence Against Women, find no pattern to connect porn and sex crimes. Incredibly, the Task Force suppressed the study and reassigned the project to a pro-censorship male, who returned the 'correct' results. His study was published.

What of real world feedback? In Japan, where pornography depicting graphic and brutal violence is widely available, rape is much lower per capita than in the United States, where violence in porn is severely restricted...

Pornography strips away the emotional confusion that so often surrounds real world sex. Pornography allows women to enjoy scenes and situations that would be anathema to them in real life. Take, for example, one of the most common fantasies reported by women -- the fantasy of 'being taken', of being raped.The first thing to understand is that a rape fantasy does not represent a desire for the real thing. It is a fantasy. The woman is in control of the smallest detail of every act.

Why would a healthy woman daydream about being raped?

There are dozens of reasons. Perhaps by losing control, she also sheds all sense of responsibility for and guilt over sex. Perhaps it is the exact opposite of the polite, gentle sex she has now. Perhaps it is flattering to imagine a particular man being so overwhelmed by her that he must have her. Perhaps she is curious. Perhaps she has some masochistic feelings that are vented through the fantasy. Is it better to bottle them up?"

***

Feminism and Free speech: Pornography

"3. MEN WATCH PORNOGRAPHY AND COPY IT OR FORCE WOMEN TO DO WHAT THEY SEE

· Violence and intimidation existed for thousands of years before commercial pornography, and countries today with no pornography, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, do not boast strong women's rights records. Men have forced women to do things -- sexual and nonsexual -- for centuries. The problem is not sex, it's force.

· People do not mimic what they read or view in knee-jerk fashion. If they did, the feminist books of the last 25 years would have transformed this into a perfect feminist world. If they did, advertisers could run an ad and consumers would obey. Instead, businesses spend millions of dollars and still, the strongest motive for purchases is price. People juggle words and images -- good and bad -- with all the others that they have seen or heard, and with all their real life experiences. It is experience that is the strongest teacher.

· Men do not learn coercion from pictures of sex. They learn it from the violence and contempt for women in their families and communities where each generation passes down what sorts of force are acceptable, even "manly."

· Copycat theories are "porn made me do it" excuses for rapists and batterers. They relieve criminals of responsibility for their acts...

5. PORNOGRAPHY IS ONLY FOR MEN

· Half the adult videos in the U.S. are bought or rented by women alone or women in couples.

· Sexual health professionals recommend pornography as entertainment and information for women and men. It may enhance failing marriages and help couples talk about and experiment with sex. "

Monday, February 11, 2008

"It is only the great men who are truly obscene. If they had not dared to be obscene, they could never have dared to be great." - Havelock Ellis

***

The base rate fallacy (in evaluating an individual, ignoring the distribution of the underlying population and relying overly on information about the individual in particular) is interesting, because it would seem to be what PC people advocate doing (judging people purely upon their individual qualities and ignoring the categories they belong to). Of course, anyone pointing this out is liable to be labelled as a hate-monger.

Another contradiction in feminism is the claim that women dress up for themselves. This taking of sartorial choice at face value is most curious, given that the ideology sees hidden (or not-so-hidden) structures and motives everywhere else.


One reason why I am not so hot about most opera is that drama and showiness are emphasised, sometimes at the expense of the music. Incidentally, this applies to many Romantic pieces as well. Another reason includes the almost continuous vibrato that the singers use, which intensifies the ugliness of the chicken-stuffed-down-throat phenomenon.

With all the complaints by Upper-Middle/Upper Class people about how the cost of living in Singapore is so high, it is sobering to know (even if it does not put a stop to the bitching) that in a Golden Village (GV) ad I saw, they were hiring people to clean the cinemas for $750/month (excluding OT) and projectionists for $950/month (also excluding OT).

Hurr Hurr was asking me to explain why men like used female underwear (in relation to 'Pam'). I first explained that it was due to proximity to objects of desire - the gonads, but she invoked the 5 second rule (fresh is good, stale is disgusting). In the end I gave up and extended the rule of understanding feminine irrationality to male kinkyness - don't try to understand it, since even the people involved don't, and just accept it (this lets us make sense of 2girls1cup as well).

There's a business selling 'C-cup' cupcakes. Uhh.

MFM says from personal experience (both firsthand and thirdhand) that Macs are bad at picking up wireless networks.

During Prohibition, did they cook with alcohol?

'Coffeeshop' was the name of a porn magazine in Hong Kong in the 60s.
[Addendum: Someone: 'interestingly enough, my lecturer explained that in the 17th to around the 19th century, coffeeshops (in addition to taverns, bars, etc) were places were men conducted sexual liaisons
so maybe the 60s porn magazine's title wasn't too strange']
"Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate." - Thomas Jones

***

"Misconceptions of chance are not limited to naive subjects. A study of the statistical intuitions of experienced research psychologists (5) revealed a lingering belief in what may be called the ‘law of small numbers,’ according to which even small samples are highly representative of the populations from which they are drawn. The responses of these investigators reflected the expectation that a valid hypothesis about a population will be represented by a statistically significant result in a sample---with little regard for its size. As a consequence, the researchers put too much faith in the results of small samples and grossly overestimated the replicability of such results...

The failure to recognize the import of regression can have pernicious consequences, as illustrated by the following obsercation (1). In a discussion of flight training, experienced instructors noted that praise for an exceptionally smooth landing is typically followed by a poorer landing on the next try, while harsh criticism after a rough landing is usually followed by an improvement on the next try. The instructors concluded that verbal rewards are detrimental to learning, while verbal punishments are beneficial, contrary to accepted psychological doctrine. This conclusion is unwarranted because of the presence of regression toward the mean. As in other cases of repeated examination, an improvement will usually follow a poor performance and a deterioration will usually follow an outstanding performance, even if the instructor does not respond to the trainee’s achievement on the first attempt. Because the instructors had praised their trainees after good landings and admonished them after poor ones, they reached the erroneous and potentially harmful conclusion that punishment is more effective than reward.

Thus, the failure to understand the effect of regression leads one to overestimate the effectiveness of punishment and to underestimate the effectiveness of reward. In social interaction, as well as in training, rewards are typically adniinistered when performance is good, and punishmenis are typically ad ministered when performance is poor. By regression alone, therefore, behavior is most likely to improve after punishment and most likely to deteriorate after reward. Consequently, the human condition is such that, by chance alone, one is most often rewarded for punishing others and most often punished for rewarding them. People are generally not aware of this contingency. In fact, the elusive role of regression in determining the apparent consequences of reward and punishment seems to have escaped the notice of students of this area...

In addition to familiarity, there are other factors, such as salience, which affect the retrievability of instances. For example, the impact of seeing a house burning on the subjective probability of such accidents is probably greater than the impact of reading about a fire in the local paper. Furthermore, recent occurrences are likely to be relatively more available than earlier occurrences. It is a common experience that the subjective probability of traffic accidents rises temporarily when one sees a car overturned by the side of the road...

Illusory correlation. Chapman and Chapman (8) have described an interesting bias in the judgment of the freq iency with which two events co-occur. They presented naive judges with information concerning several hypothetical mental patients. The data for each patient consisted of a clinical diagnosis and a drawing of a person made by the patient. Later the judges estimated the frequency with which each diagnosis (such as paranoia or suspiciousness) had been accompanied by various features of the drawing (such as peculiar eyes). The subjects markedly overestimated the frequency of co-occurrence of natural associates, such as suspiciousness and peculiar eyes. This effect was labeled illusory correlation. In their erroneous judgments of the data to which they had been exposed, naive subjects “rediscovered” much of the common, but unfounded, clinical lore concerning the interpretation of the draw-a-person test. The ilusory correlation effect was extremely resistant to contradictory data. It persisted even when the correlation between symptom and diagnosis was actually negative, and it prevented the judges from detecting relationships that were in fact present."

(emphasis mine)


I am amused that they used the phrase: 'the human condition'.

I should start my 'Misery of the Human Condition' series but - oh well.
One of the rare good Garfield strips:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Jon: Guess what? Liz is coming over on Valentine's Day! She's renting a chick flick on the way over...

Jon: I'll make hot cocoa, and we'll watch it here on the couch...

Jon: And share a tub of ice cream and a box of tissues together. *beams*

Garfield: *waves*

Jon: What are you doing?

Garfield: Waving bye-bye to your manhood.


Of course, though, if you laugh at this, you must be a misogynist.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion." - C. P. Snow

***

Most of the stuff I made while home alone over CNY:



Raw Fried Dough. This was actually my second batch, made with baking powder. My first batch was made with yeast, and since the milk was cold, I thought: why not help my yeast do the job, and popped the dough into the microwave on full power, promptly nuking them.


I see the advantages of using a wok instead of a flat-bottomed pot to deep-fry.


Unfortunately my camera sucks at close range, but in short turned out alright.

The clincher:


REAL maple syrup. I hadn't had real maple syrup for more than 2.5 years (basically since the maple syrup from Vermont ran out). Real maple syrup is light, delicate and not overly sweet, unlike the maple-flavoured crap you always get in Singapore (even when they proclaim 'maple syrup'), but then again I don't blame them - it was $10.40 for 250ml at NTUC.


Fried Dough with maple syrup. I ended up consuming maybe $0.50 worth. I should make pancakes for the remaining 2.


Crumb



Miso-stewed pork, based on this, but with chicken stock powder, onions, carrot, courgette, shitake mushrooms and a dash of sesame oil thrown in. The last time I didn't realise the recipe didn't scale down properly, and ended up with a dry pot and cremated pork, half of which had to be thrown away, but I was more circumspect this time round.


Currywurst, with fresh bratwurst from Giant and curry-ketchup from the German Supermarket at Bukit Timah. They didn't have the right taste and texture, but oh well. I also didn't bother parboiling them, so they're quite dark on the outside.


Something I whipped up when MFM came over. Unfortunately it was below my standards. Perhaps the MSG in chicken stock powder goes well with Chinese food, but not Western food. And that salad doesn't need that much dressing.


Fresh garlic and herb and BBQ cocktail sausages from Giant that I bothered to parboil before grilling. They look much nicer.
"Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity." - Albert Camus

***

The Straight Dope: Do mice fear the scent of a cat? Do mice really love cheese? Why isn't there mouse flavor cat food? - "Another exception that proves the rule is the case of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, discussed here a couple years back when the topic was a possible link between cat poop and schizophrenia. A quick recap: T. gondii infects a variety of mammals, including rats, but can reproduce only when the host animal is a cat; one of its evolutionary tricks is to make infected rats act weird, improving their odds of being caught by cats and thereby allowing the parasite to spread. A key form of said weird behavior: T. gondii-infected rats not only fear cat odor less, they're actually drawn to it... Which isn't to say there aren't plenty of people who can tell us what mouse tastes like. In his Never Cry Wolf (1963), Canadian naturalist Farley Mowat writes of eating mice, calling the flavor "pleasing, if rather bland." Vermont biology professor Bernd Heinrich, who apparently acquired a taste for mouse as a child in postwar Germany, has described treating his students to breaded mice braised in olive oil"

Lack of findings for the association between obesity risk and usual sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in adults - "The relationship between obesity risk and sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption was examined together with multiple lifestyle factors... Analytical results indicate that obesity risk was significantly and positively associated with gender, age, daily TV/screen watching hours and dietary fat content, and negatively associated with smoking habit, education and physical activity; obesity risk was not significantly associated with SSB consumption pattern, dietary saturated fat content and total calorie intake. No elevated BMI values or increased obesity rates were observed in populations frequently consuming SSB compared to populations infrequently consuming SSB... Conclusion: multiple lifestyle factors and higher dietary fat intake were significantly associated with obesity risk. Populations who frequently consumed SSB, primarily HFCS sweetened beverages, did not have a higher obesity rate or increased obesity risk than that of populations which consumed SSB infrequently. "

High heels 'may improve sex life' - "An Italian urologist and self-professed lover of the sexy shoe set out to prove that high heels were not as bad for women's health as some suggest... She said her study of 66 women under 50 found that those who held their foot at a 15 degree angle to the ground - the equivalent of a two inch heel - had as good posture as those who wore flat shoes, and crucially showed less electrical activity in their pelvic muscles."

Muslim doctors refuse to 'scrub up' in U.K hospitals - "Muslim women training in several hospitals in England, have objected to removing their arm coverings in theatre and to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands, because it is regarded as immodest in Islam... According to a report in The Telegraph, the measure has been deemed necessary to stop the spread of infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile, which have killed hundreds... the Islamic Medical Association insisted that covering all the body in public, except the face and hands, was a basic tenet of Islam. Dr Majid Katme, the association spokesman, said exposed arms could also pick up germs. He said there was evidence to suggest skin is safer to the patient if covered."
I'm sure the Jehovah's Witnesses Medical Association has a lot of information on the peril of receiving blood infusions.

Catholic nuns and monks decline - "Newly published statistics showed that the number of men and women belonging to religious orders fell by 10% to just under a million between 2005 and 2006... Of the total, 753,400 members were women, while 191,810 were men, including 136,171 priests and 532 permanent deacons."
The gender imbalance is no surprise, given the female gender defects.

John Conroy, Excerpt from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000) - "Psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latane wondered if Genovese might have fared better had there been fewer onlookers. The two psychologists then designed a series of experiments to test the hypothesis that the greater the number of people who witness an emergency, the less likely it is that anyone will do anything about it... Darley and Latane's theory about bystanders proved to be correct... Surprisingly, Darley and Latane did not find that the subjects who stayed in their seats were apathetic or unconcerned; in fact, those who did not respond to the emergency seemed more upset than those who did, often asking the experimenter who entered their rooms if the victim was all right... Darley and Latane concluded by saying that individuals are not "non-interveners" because of some flaw in their personality, but rather because responsibility is diffused. As in the murder of Kitty Genovese, isolated individuals, knowing that others were also aware of the emergency but not knowing how those others were responding, did not attempt to intervene because they did not feel personally responsible."
I remember someone criticised the Kitty Genovese example, but this study seems to show that the 'bystander effect' holds.

Wikipedia Islam Entry Is Criticized - "An article about the Prophet Muhammad in the English-language Wikipedia has become the subject of an online protest in the last few weeks because of its representations of Muhammad, taken from medieval manuscripts... Paul M. Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at Notre Dame, said, “Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammad, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent.” He added, “Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic art are manuscript images of Muhammad.” The idea of imposing a ban on all depictions of people, particularly Muhammad, dates to the 20th century, he said. With the Wikipedia entry, he added, “what you are dealing with is not medieval illustrations, you are dealing with modern media and getting a modern response.”"

YouTube - Hawaii Chair Infomercial

A Penis-shortening Device Described by the 13th Century Poet Rumi - "With great interest, I read Kompanje’s (2006) clinical case report about a remarkable penis-shortening device invented in 1593 by the surgeon Hildanus. With this letter, I want to point your readers to an even older description of a similar device—not by a medical scholar, but by the great Persian humanist, philosopher, and poet Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207–1273). In his poem, “The Importance of Gourdcrafting,” Rumi vividly describes the sexual interactions between a women and a donkey."

The Nazis Invented the Sex Doll - "Hitler's war machine created the world's first sex doll: Borghild. The "field-hygienic project" was an initiative of Himmler, who regarded the doll as a "counterbalance" to the sexual drive of his storm troopers. In one of his letters, he mentions the "unnecessary losses" the Wehrmacht had suffered in France, inflicted by street prostitutes. "The greatest danger in Paris are the wide-spread and uncontrolled whores, picking up clients in bars, dance halls and other places. It is our duty to prevent soldiers from risking their health, just for the sake of a quick adventure". One assumes Himmler also wanted to stop any racial dilution of the great German army."

My Life as a Real Doll - "Chicago artist Amber Hawk Swanson explores the relationship of marriage and gender inequality through video and photographic performance with a life-size Real Doll made in her own image."
'She's doing something that if a guy did, would be seen as kinda skeezy, but because she's a woman, she's taking charge of it, and just kinda owning it for herself'... 'She may continue to be more popular than me'

Wanton women cry that men jerk their shot and miss the real target - "Japan is in dire straits. The population is declining, people are marrying later, having fewer children, if any at all. And Spa! (1/29) says one of the major reasons for the dilemma is that as many as 70 percent of younger men are unable to achieve vaginal ejaculation... a soapland brothel worker the magazine gives as its source says over her many years of servicing male clients, it would have to be around 70 percent. "Young guys in particular. I'd say for every 10 guys, only about three come inside," the woman says. "There has definitely been an increase in the number of guys who'll finish themselves by hand, guys who leave without coming and guys who only want to talk."... Pshrink Katsumi Harima agrees with Nagao that mental issues are involved with the onset of vaginal ejaculation disorder. "Sex is too accessible for young people nowadays, what with adult movies and Internet porn," Harima tells Spa! "They're too used to the virtual world, which means when they find things like a woman who doesn't have porn star looks, is sweaty, or doesn't moan as loud as they're expecting, they become unable to ejaculate.""
'have you seen the culture and society section in mainchi news? just about every article is about some form of sex or the other'
"Late to bed and late to wake will keep you long on money and short on mistakes." - Aaron McGruder

***

Some of you may be familiar with the "Where the Hell is Matt?" around-the-world dancing videos:



Well, today (Saturday) he did some filming in Singapore, and invited everyone on his mailing list to join in. In his words:

The last video was about places. This one is about people. LOTS of people.


I forwarded the email to a bunch of people, but only 2 turned up (Enming and My No 1 Fan). 2 more asked who Matt was (I should've mentioned YouTube; I was at Asian Dog aka California Girl's house and when I mentioned YouTube a few knew who I was talking about, and also attached a URL - oh well), one of whom (Law Girl) asked "I dunno how to dance BADLY, so unless Matt is cute, no. :p"

I was half-expecting the ISD to show up and haul us all away for illegal assembly (they were probably posing as PRC tourists with their video cameras), but it all went well:


He got 20-25 RSVPs, and just under 20 showed up, which was a very good turnout (even taking into account non-RSVP-ed arrivals).


I thought half would be expats. About a third were. There was one guy who did the same thing with him in Sydney 2 weeks back.


Matt


Reviewing the footage


People cramming around to view it


If you can't see anything, it's okay - neither could we (pretty much)


Me and My No 1 Fan with my (I don't know about her) first internet celebrity in the flesh!

[Addendum:


Off-camera dancing]




My No 1 Fan


The turnout was much better in other countries - 60 in South Korea, ~100 in Vancouver and more than 60 in Tokyo. In Hong Kong he went to the Peak, which was a bad idea since it was foggy, as usual.

Matt's comments on Singapore:

"The distinction between Singapore and its airport is a minor one. The entire country feels like one very large departure lounge; spotlessly clean, no distinct smells, climate-controlled, no one is poor, lots of shopping, no real culture, pleasant enough for the moment, but not a place you want to stay very long.

This makes sense. The city was founded to be a gateway. It is between places, and somehow immune to the realities of true placehood."

And more:

"The designers of this city knew exactly what they were doing. It's freakishly safe and efficient. It's what Guliani would've done with New York if he could've gotten rid of all the New Yorkers... it all works. The only other place I've seen that vaguely resembles this is the Microsoft campus...

I went into a country music bar where all the men were white and all the women were either Thai or Vietnamese. After about the fifth girl telling me I was handsome and asking me where I was staying, I finally caught on that they were all hookers."

Lastly (and randomly), a Jap told him: "We are a strange people". Good to know a native thinks so.


More pictures (albeit small tiny) and commentary from My No 1 Fan.
"Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good." - Alice May Brock

***

What I've been doing instead of blogging:













And most importantly:

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