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More adventurous than the average bear

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

"A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." - Robert Frost


Malaysia’s dog eat dog island - "Villagers in Malaysia drove their local canines to cannibalism when they rounded up more than 300 stray dogs and left them to fend for themselves on a mangrove island."

SecretTweet (secrettweet) on Twitter - "Post your secrets to Twitter anonymously via"

There is no known antidote for panic - "It's sickening. Schools have shut and businesses have gone bust – all thanks to the swine flu doom-merchants... At least when the military/industrial complex threatened the world with nuclear war in the 1950s and 60s people could form a political view of the risk... No medical authority or media organisation has confined its reporting to the facts. Instead, the most alarmist of a range of possibilities is seized and exploited... Any fool can "predict" a disaster and claim vindication when one occurs. On the probabilities bandied about last week, I could demand a halt to all travel to Africa because of malaria, a ban on all foreign doctors because of over-prescription and the underpinning of all schools against a "potentially catastrophic" earthquake like the one in Italy... Speculative scaremongering is not confined to ­medicine. It is meat and drink to the booming ­empires of counter­terrorism and "health and safety"... Exaggerating risk leads to mistakes, expense and a lowering of guards. In 1976 the American government had to pay out $93m in compensation for a flu vaccine that was subsequently found to cause paralysis."
I was surprised this was in Today. After all, we can't afford to be complacent and all that jazz.

Riding Out the Economic Storm in Singapore - "Yet, while [Singapore] routinely is ranked as one of the world's freest economies, it also has a sturdy social safety net... Drawing a comparison with Social Security in the U.S., where one's money is often locked up until retirement, P.K. Basu, Singapore-based Asia economist at Daiwa Institute of Research, says, "Individuals really own their savings in Singapore. You get to use what you put in."... "Now the government is using some of its enormous wealth to mitigate the pain for its citizens," says Daiwa's Basu."
What are they smoking?! This is even more delusional than the claim that Singaporean girls are among the sexiest in the world and that "Singaporean English (Singlish) is at once sophisticated, endearing, cute, and sexy. Somewhere between public school Londoner, New Delhi socialite, and urban Chinese, this is English as it should be spoken"
Keywords: Eton, "i love the singapore accent", "i love the singaporean accent", "with a hint of", "with a trace of"

Stumbling Blocks on the Path of Righteousness - "“The problem with these holier-than-thou assessments is not only that we overestimate how we would have behaved,” Dr. Epley said. “It’s also that we blame every crisis or scandal on failure of character — you know, if we just fire all the immoral Wall Street bankers and replace them with moral ones, we’ll solve the problem.” In experiments as in life, the holier-than-thou effect diminishes quickly when people have actually had the experience they are judging: dubious accounting practices will appear less shady to the person who has had to put a good face on a failing company. And the effect is apparently less pronounced in cultures that emphasize interdependence over individual achievement, like China and Spain... for some people, religion appears to amplify the instinct to feel like a moral beacon... the students in this highly religious group considered themselves, on average, almost twice as likely as their peers to adhere to such biblical commandments as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The study also found that the most strictly fundamentalist of the students were at the highest end of the scale. “It reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers,” said Dr. Epley, of Chicago. “ ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.’”... “Self-enhancers do very well, across the board, on measures of mental health in [critical] situations,” said George Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia. But in the mundane ebb and flow of life, an inflated sense of personal virtue can also be a minefield. “Overconfident stock traders tend to do worse; people buy too many gym memberships,” said Dr. Dunning, of Cornell. “In the economic realm, the outcomes are not so good.”"

The day I failed an examination - "Ming Yang, my late sister- in-law, picked up the phone. I asked her to tell the rest of my family that I had passed. And I asked about her new baby. She told me he was an albino. Hsien Loong was a little disappointed and had told our father the boy would not be able to do national service."
Even his own children are human resources?

Afghanistan's only pig quarantined in flu fear - "Afghanistan's only known pig has been locked in a room, away from visitors to Kabul zoo... The pig is a curiosity in Muslim Afghanistan, where pork and pig products are illegal because they are considered irreligious... Mujahideen fighters then ate the deer and rabbits and shot dead the zoo's sole elephant. Shells shattered the aquarium. One fighter climbed into the lion enclosure but was immediately killed by Marjan, the zoo's most famous inhabitant. The man's brother returned the next day and lobbed a hand grenade at the lion leaving him toothless and blind."

Why Is Business Writing So Bad? - "It also gives me regular exposure to prose that is full of expensive-sounding words: nonfunctional, cadre, tantamount, individual, utilize. Before they are legal to drink, my students are already using these words rather than these: broken, group, this means, person, use.... I suspect that were the Ten Commandments written by a modern corporation, the first would read "Do not kill, murder, or deprive of life, except on conditions wherein it is a requirement of self-defense, appropriate to the service of a military (army, navy, air force, but not paramilitary) organization; see Appendix L for a full listing..."... Can you cut this to just a word or two? 'It is the opinion of the group assembled for the purpose of determining a probability of the likelihood of the meteorological-related results and outcome for the period encompassing the next working day that the odds of precipitation in the near-term are positive and reasonably expected.'"

Liberals are the biggest bigots I've ever come across - "Liberals proudly claim their ideology is one of tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness. Yet they are actually just as bigoted as they claim conservatives are. The hypocrisy lies in liberals' failure to respect arguments and positions contrary to their own... The responses to this column deemed me as a bigot, a hate monger, homophobe or a supporter of the denigration of the separation of church and state. But if liberals actually practiced what they espoused, they wouldn't have to demonize and brush conservatives aside with baseless labels. Instead, if they were really interested in participating in the values they espouse, they would engage civil debate as opposed to wild accusations of bigotry."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Anger is the feeling that makes your mouth work faster than your mind." - Evan Esar


"When the majority of men surrender their freedom, barbarism is near but when the creative minority surrender it, the Dark Age has arrived...

We are one nation but we are also one world. The soul of the slums looks out of the eyes of Wall Street and the fate of a Chinese coolie determines the destiny of America. We cannot suppress our brother's liberty without suppressing our own and we cannot murder our brothers without murdering ourselves. We stand together as men for human freedom and human dignity or we will fall together, as animals, back into the jungle...

As a slogan, however, it [Freedom] has become so popular that it is rendered unwilling lip-service by all the major states and yet it is still so distasteful to persons in authority that it is nowhere embodied as a fundamental law and is continually violated in letter and in spirit by every trick of bigotry and reaction. Further, absolutist and totalitarian groups of the most vicious nature use liberalism as a cloak under which they move to re-establish tyrannies and to extinguish the liberty of all who oppose them.

Thus religious groups seek to abrogate freedom of art, speech and the press; reactionaries move to suppress labor, communists to establish dictatorships -- and all in the name of 'freedom'. Because of the peculiar definitions of freedom used by some of these camouflaged tyrants, it seems necessary to redefine Freedom in the terms understood by Voltaire, Paine, Washington, Jefferson and Emerson...

As I write, allegedly liberal groups are agitating for the denial of public forums to those they call fascist. Americanism societies are striving for the suppression of communist or "red" literature and speech. Religious groups, backed by a publicity conscious press, are constantly campaigning for the prohibition of art and literature which, as if by divine prerogative, they term "indecent", immoral or dangerous.

It would seem that all these organizations are devoted to one common purpose, the suppression of freedom. Their sincerity is no excuse. History is a bloody testament that sincerity can achieve atrocities which cynicism could hardly conceive of. Each of these groups is engaged in a frantic struggle to sell out, betray or destroy the freedom which was their birthright and which alone assured their present existence.

Freedom is a two-edged sword. He who believes that the absolute rightness of his belief is an authority to suppress the rights and opinions of his fellows cannot be a liberal...

Woman was insulted and affronted with the calumny of immaculate conception -- then, by this mystery mongering, a premium was placed on moral and spiritual sterility. This sublimation of the sex-urge has been the basis of the power of the church and is the source of much of the psychosis rampant in the modern world.

It has been asserted that the church has been a champion of progress and freedom; nothing could be more fallacious. Organized Christianity has been inevitably allied with tyranny, reaction and persecution. No organized dogma can contribute to progress except by occasional accident. The church's main contribution has been to unintentionally foment revolt against its bigotry. It could hardly be otherwise with an organization founded on a double fallacy: the sin of sex and the infallibility of man. No religion can hope to benefit humanity while it preaches love and reviles the root of love. Anyone hoping to understand and cope with human relations must understand both the importance and over-emphasis of sex in society.

Sexual concepts and symbolism underlie all the world's religions. As I mentioned above, sublimated sex has been the source of power for the Christian church. Sex and sex neurosis are fundamental factors in the attitude of modern men. These three facts give sex a place of prime importance in our liberal examination of society.

Our sex attitudes are largely characterized by pretense. The majority of people under fifty today have, at one time or another, engaged in what is termed illicit intercourse -- and yet we pretend, publicly, that we have not done so. Some of us go so far as to state that we don't do it, never would do it and disapprove of the criminal types who do. Policemen arrest and judges convict persons discovered in a pursuit which they themselves indulge in. The enjoyment of a natural urge is defined as a crime. Young persons thus enjoying the urge in the wonder of the beginning are burdened with a sense of guilt and shame. They are classed with common criminals -- why?

The shameful answer is that back in the Middle Ages, under conditions of squalor, ignorance, superstition and oppression, the sex taboo became a prime instrument of power in the arsenal of a band of brigands known as the Christian church. This is the reason that young people in love are classified as criminals. Venereal disease thrives and abortionists prosper as an inevitable result. The superstition which fostered this shameful condition is no longer absolutely dominant but the institution that promoted the belief that the human body was obscene, that love was indecent and that woman was forever made foul by original sin remains to mold our thoughts and shape our laws. It is most significant that the spiritual and physical inheritors of that church, both catholic and protestant, vigorously and effectively oppose birth control, venereal disease education, divorce law reform; i.e., anything which would limit the power of their weapon...

The fact that one type of totalitarianism persecutes another -- or appears to do so -- is hardly a palliative...

Let there be an end to inhibition and an end to pretense. Let us discover what we are and be what we are, honestly and unashamedly. The rabbit has speed to recompense his fear, the panther strength to assuage his hunger. There is room for both even though the rabbit would probably prefer a world of rabbits (dull and overpopulated). All traits are useful wrath, fear, lust and even laziness -- if they are balanced by strength and intelligence. If we lie about things we call our weaknesses and sins, if we say that his is "evil" and that is "wrong", denying that such faults could be part of us, they will grow crooked in the dark. But when we have them out in the open; admitting them, facing them and accepting them, then we will be ashamed to leave any vestige of them secret to turn crippled and twisted. Fear can sharpen our wits against adversity. Anger and strength can be welded into a sword against tyrants both within and without. Lust can be trained to be the strong and subtle servant of love and art...

There is no evidence to show that man was created and accoutred to serve as God's vice-regent upon the earth. There is no reason to believe that he is naturally good and kind, brave and wise -- or that he ever was. On the contrary, there is much to show that he was a beast who took a strange turning in the jungle and blundered rather aimlessly into a mental world in which he was certainly not at home.

There is much evidence that man is by nature cruel, cowardly, lustful, avaricious and treacherous. He holds dominion over these terrible internal enemies and defends against the other predators (his fellow men) by virtue of his ferocity, his cunning and his indomitable will. This is his beauty and his significance: that out of the blind primordial forces of sex and the survival urge, he has forged reason and science and spun the splendorous web of art and love. If there is no other reason and no other significance, man himself has on occasion created reason and significance, standing as the maker of his gods in a garden made fruitful by his own creative power...

And man, self-castrated and self-frustrated, flees down the corridors of nightmare, pursued by monstrous machines, overwhelmed by satanic powers, haunted by vague guilts and terrors --all created out of his own imagination. He escapes into absurdity, drowns his spirit in pretense, worships brass gods of power and tin gods of success. Then, shamed by his pretenses and frustrated by his self-denial, he projects his horror on imagined enemies, seeks release in scapegoats and false issues, thereby propitiating those bestial gods who have arisen from the shattered edolons of his spirit with sacrifices of blood.

Nothing is of its nature, evil -- and nothing is of its nature, good. Evil is only excess; good is simply balance. All things are subject to abuse and likewise susceptible to beneficial use. Balance does not consist in denial or excess in indulgence. Balance can only be obtained by exceeding. The elemental forces in man's natureare so tremendous that they can only be balanced by an ultimate self-expression. To place limitations and restrictions on this nature is to build a wall of plaster around a sun. If we clip an eagles' wings or feed carrots to a lion we will not uplift or improve either species...

The contenders are fascism and communism. Each is a doctrine alien and hostile to the ideal of freedom. Each says that we must choose between one or the other and each is, in reality, identical. Each demands the absolute enslavement of the individual, the abnegation of the intellect and the subjugation of the will. The authoritarian is right, absolutely right, so right that every extreme of falsehood, suppression and tyranny is justified in the accomplishment of his 'divine' ends. Behind his benevolent paternalism lurks the star chamber and the concentration camp; behind his morality looms the stake and the inquisition of the "Old Time Religion" so many profess to long for. All these systems are old; older than human history. Freedom and democracy are the only new things under the sun and they offend alike the slaves and the slave masters...

Men desire three things of a woman: a mother greater than themselves, a wife less than themselves and a lover equal with themselves. Against the mother they are in revolt, the wife they hold in contempt and the lover ever eludes them...

The woman is the Priestess of the Irrational World! Irrational - but how enormously important, and how dangerous because it is unadmitted or denied, we do not want to be drunken, murderous, frustrated, poverty-stricken and miserable without cause. These conditions are not reasonable or 'scientific' and yet they do exist. We say we do not want war but war seems a psychological necessity. Wars will continue until that need is otherwise fulfilled. We do not love or hate a person because it is "reasonable". We are moved willy-nilly, despite our reason and our will, by forces from the unconscious, irrational world. These forces speak to us in dreams, in symbols and in our own incomprehensible actions. These passions can only be redeemed by intuitive understanding in the feminine province. Only after such understanding can will and intelligence be truly effective for otherwise they are blind and powerless against the tides of emotion."

--- Freedom is a Two-edged Sword / Jack Parsons

Unfortunately much of the rest is mystical bullshit.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"That is the saving grace of humor, if you fail no one is laughing at you." - A. Whitney Brown


The Dark Side of Optimism: Why looking on the bright side keeps us from thinking critically

"“Negativity,” an awkward coinage, has widely come to be used pejoratively. Magical thinking, too, has become increasingly popular as a way to gain the illusion of control in an uncertain world. Rhonda Byrne’s motivational best-seller The Secret, for example, basically says that you get what you wish for. If you don’t have the things you want, it means you don’t have enough faith. In this construct, neither insufficient effort nor bad luck plays a role.

In the business world, we’ve moved from hardheaded to feel-good management... "An illogical love of Yes is the basis for all modern management thought. The ideal modern manager is meant to be enabling, empowering, encouraging and nurturing, which means that his default position must be Yes. By contrast, No is considered demotivating, uncreative and a thoroughly bad thing.”

To illustrate, Tom Peters’ Leadership offers an impossible, irreconcilable list of exhortations... Not only are his executives reluctant to say no—they don’t develop any of the guts of what managing is really about: making decisions under uncertainty, creating routines, developing (not merely exhorting) direct reports, responding to crises, building in enough slack to deal with low-probability but high-consequence opportunities and risks...

What archetypes do we have for the anodyne analyst? In mythology, Hermes and Loki were clever but also troublemakers and tricksters. Science fiction, too, has long depicted alien beings as detached, logic-driven Cassandras whose warnings are invariably brushed off by upbeat, forward-thinking Earthlings (whose impetuosity, more often than not, saves the day)...

We’re always told to look on the bright side of things, to stay positive. After all, individuals and companies need a positive outlook to succeed, right? Isn’t positive thinking essential for progress? Not necessarily. No one is encouraging pessimism; rather, evidence from top-performing companies suggests that success lies in a realistic outlook...

Jim Collins, in Good to Great, found that his top-performing companies confronted the brutal facts"

One box: "For centuries—at least since the Greeks coined the word hubris—critics have warned of the dangers of overweening optimism. Take Croesus, who thrust into Persia on the Delphic oracle’s vague prediction that if he crossed the Halys River, “a great empire would be destroyed.” That empire turned out to be his own.

Executives, of course, often look to warfare for models, and military history is rife with other examples of leaders who overestimated their odds of success, with disastrous results: Hitler attacked Russia, ignoring his generals and the cautionary examples of Napoleon’s and Charles XII of Sweden’s failed invasions. Robert E. Lee came to believe in his troops’ invincibility and chose to storm well-positioned Union forces at Gettysburg against the advice of Gen. James Longstreet. The World War I battle of Gallipoli was the product of so much misguided Allied thinking that one wonders how it could possibly have gone ahead. And in the Iraq misadventure, the United States ignored postwar planning out of a belief that Iraqis would welcome American forces—even though it is well-nigh impossible to come up with an example of an occupying army ever being well-received."

The article claims that optimism works for individuals, but that seems like special pleading.

Scott: "What do you mean what eyes? Right there? The front of our zords"
Dr K: "They are not 'eyes'. They're optical field scanning sensors for your cockpits' ATD display."
Scott: "Well, they look like. Well, they look like-"
Dillon: "They look like eyes"
Ziggy: "Big, googly, anime eyes"
Dr K: "Next."

Ziggy: "Sometimes when I morph, I can't help but notice this gigantic explosion right behind me, for no apparent reason-"
Dr K: "I assume you're referring to the residual energy runoff that is sometimes necessary to clear the suits' biofuel channels during m-"
Ziggy: "I'm referring to the six-storey-high fireballs, like that one. Right there"

Flynn: "When we morph, is it absolutely a 100% necessary that we scream 'RPM, Get in Gear' at the top of our voice?"
Ziggy: "Ah, that's a very good point. Err, some of us out there are trying to impress chicks. This's definitely not helping"
Dr K: "The vocal callout is a voice recognition safety and security measure"
Flynn: "Well, maybe we can have a bit of a change-"
Dr K: "A change?"
Flynn: "Ah, like, erm, 'Rangers to the Rescue' or 'Ranger Justice Unleashed'?"
Dr K: "Justice is an abstract ideological concept. We deal with tangible realities, not Justice. You want Justice, read a comic book."

Tenaya 7: "Red is the perfect one, Black is the brooding one bad boy, Green is the clown and Yellow, well, she's the girl. So what are you supposed to be?"
Flynn: "I'm Scottish!"
"In archaeology you uncover the unknown. In diplomacy you cover the known." - Thomas Pickering


A comment on another book deriding Richard Dawkins (among other things, for the familiar sin of being a "pseudo-intellectual" - seeing this term is a good indicator that nonsense is coming up):

Same ol' Lame 'ol

"I wish Salon would think twice about joining with the other liberal attacks on Dawkins, Hitchens, and the "New Atheists." At the least, wait for a champion who makes a minimal amount of sense and is not coy about his position. When O'Hehir admits that Eagleton is "cagey" about his own beliefs, he glances lightly over a major difficulty: Eagleton affirms Christianity without ever affirming a single concrete proposition connected with it.

I'm not in the Dawkins camp and yes, the case against theism was made eloquently by a number of great writers of the past. But since the latest surge of yahoo religion has occurred in spite of the best that Nietzsche and Shaw could do, you can't say that the job is finished.

It is a cheap shot by O'Hehir to call Dawkins and Hitchens "self-appointed." Who was supposed to appoint them? Their pastors? They wrote books that expressed their opinions and those books became best-sellers.

It is true that they did not take on the authors of sophisticated medieval theological tracts. It is another cheap shot, by Eagleton this time, to suggest they do not or would not understand those tracts. Be that as it may, they set themselves a different task, for which debating Thomas Aquinas would be irrelevant: they went after the popular forms of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity that today have swept aside liberal Protestantism, "mainstream Christianity," and sophisticated medieval theologians and become the unofficial social doctrine of the Republican Party. The leaders of mega-churches don't know Thomas Aquinas any better than Dawkins does. It may seem to Eagleton that Dawkins makes it easy on himself by attacking the "stupidest and most literal-minded form" of theistic belief, but that is the form that dominated our politics for eight years. And you can't call that form a straw man or a caricature: today the belief in biblical inerrancy is the true mainstream.

Eagleton's Christianity, about which he is by turns reticent, inarticulate, and evasive, but which we gather is VERY sophisticated, is, by any objective yardstick, NOT mainstream. So Dawkins and Hitchens have every right to ignore it. Yes, Eagleton is right that "There is a long Judeo-Christian theological tradition that bears no resemblance to the caricature of religious faith found in Ditchkins, and atheists tend to take the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion as representative." So what? In point of sober fact, the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion ARE representative, at least today in America. Eagleton looks down his nose at these degraded and superstitious forms, disapproves of them, and then writes an attack on . . . OTHER CRITICS of these forms.

O'Hehir poses Eagleton's challenge this way: "How is Western capitalism, agnostic and relativistic down to its roots, to confront a 'full-blooded "metaphysical" foe' (Islamic fundamentalism) that has no problem believing in absolute truth?" Speaking for myself alone, I'll just say that, of all the ways I can think of to answer that question, last on my list is the attempt to confront that foe with a rival monotheism also claiming to possess absolute truth.

Finally, Stephen Jay Gould and his misbegotten attempt to make peace by means of the two non-overlapping Magisteria: he was wrong in both directions. He was reckless and short-sighted to propose that scientists leave the moralizing to the theologians, because human morality has to fall into line with human possibility, and the churchmen – setting aside for the moment their record of susceptibility to every human evil – have shown themselves to be resolutely ignorant of what sort of creature they and their parishioners are. We need our social scientists to continue the scientific investigation into human nature and to try to acquaint moralists with their findings. But Gould was even more pie-eyed when he imagined that religionists would or could reciprocate and keep their hands off science. Revealed religion by definition establishes not only eternal truth but a limit to truth (since the revelation contains all of it) and imposes a duty on its adherents to resist, as forcefully as circumstances require, any incursion into its precincts – and its precincts extend to the edge of the visible and invisible universe.

The big lie of all these purveyors of Soft Christianity, like Eagleton, is the claim that serious believers are not hung up on the propositional truths of the creed. Serious believers take it all symbolically, don't you know. Such people there may be. But the fundamentalists who believe in the physical and historical reality of the Incarnation and the Resurrection have by far the greater right to say what Christianity is and has been. Any reader of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, can discover for himself exactly what orthodox Christians do and pretty much must believe in order to get their ticket punched at the door. My guess is that Eagleton would choke on the words of the Nicene Creed taken literally. If so, he is manifestly unqualified to say what Christianity is for anyone other than himself; and he has no right to complain when writers like Dawkins get THEIR idea of Christianity from those who ARE qualified to say."

In fact, I don't think this person goes far enough in rejecting the politically-correct version of religion and pointing out that the version that many people currently, and most people have historically, believe(d) is closer to what "Ditchkins" deride than the God(s) of the philosophers.

The god of classical theism is nothing at all like what Eagleton portrays it to be.

Other comments (the damn thread is 86 pages long, so I barely skimmed it):

"The book is nothing but a long-winded God of the Gaps argument, which does nothing but try to morph "god" and "religion" into whatever form will make them immune from criticism or factual inquiry, even if that form bears no resemblance to the way many people actually think about them."

"If you claim that God has or had any real affect on the physical world, then that is a scientific hypothesis, potentially subject to scientific scrutiny and comparison with accepted scientific theories. If God is just a "state of mind/consciousness" or whatever, then it is just an exercise in mental masturbation.

Eagleton goes even further, and claims that it is silly of atheists to imagine that Christianity takes it as important that you must believe that God actually exists. If it is not a necessary part of Eagleton's religion to believe that God exists, then that leads to the apparently absurd conclusion that one can be
simultaneously an athesit and a Christian."

"To me this is like climing that people can't reasonably say "I don't believe that Zeuss exists" without delving into a level of scholarship about the mythology he sprang from equal to those who have studied such things for their whole lives."

"Eagleton is free to pat himself on the back over his subtle and refined form of Christianity, but what he's describing is not religion at all, it's literature. If, as the article states, "He freely admits that what Christian doctrine teaches about the universe and the fate of man may not be true, or even plausible," then he might as well be getting his life lessons and warm fuzzies from Shakespeare or Tolstoy or any other teller of tales."

"There were so many insulting yet unsupported claims against anti-theists/atheists/elitists/scientists (are we speaking of Dawkins and Hitchens together? specifically? or all atheists? I couldn't be sure) I expected somewhere in this two-pager to find some examples of how these miscreants were "ill-informed"... O'Hehir just cheered and jeered while Eagleton threw spitballs at the back of Dawkins head and called it "philosophy." A lot of invective and defensive mush but no meat. Can't any defenders of the faith do better than this?"

Eagleton also got slammed by A. C. Grayling and James Wood, hah.
"It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English -- up to fifty words used in correct context -- no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese." - Carl Sagan


I don't know why these articles aren't reported by local papers but are picked up by Malaysian ones. Okay, maybe they're in Wanbao.

Secretary accidentally bites off boss' penis
The Star/Asia News Network

"A SECRETARY accidentally bit off the penis of her employer while giving him oral sex in a car.

Sin Chew Daily and China Press reported yesterday that while the 30-year-old woman was performing oral sex on the man, the car was hit by a reversing van.

The impact of the crash, China Press reported, caused the woman to bite off her lover's organ.

The daily reported that the incident occurred in a Singapore park where the couple met after work.

To make matters worse for the woman, her husband had sent a private investigator to spy on her after suspecting that she was being unfaithful.

The investigator said he had followed the woman and her boss to the park.

'On reaching the park, they did not alight from the car. Not long after, the car started to shake violently.

After the car was hit by the van, there was a loud scream from the woman whose mouth was covered with blood,' he said.

The woman later followed her lover to the hospital with part of the sexual organ.

The investigator, who called an ambulance to send the man to hospital, said that this was the first time he had encountered such an incident."

Addendum: Anyone who saw her after the... incident might run away screaming thinking she was a penis-eating zombie.

"I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts." - Mark Twain


Did Civil Society really win?
Letter from Cheong Hui Hui

"I ATTENDED the Aware EGM on Saturday. I am not anti-gay but as a parent, I am concerned about what is being taught to our children in school. I had hoped to hear both sides to obtain a more balanced view of the situation.

However, what I witnessed disturbed me. I was saddened by the behaviour of the Old Guard and their supporters. The new exco were not able to give answers. Supporters of the Old Guard made sure of that by continually jeering and booing every time they attempted to answer a question. I suspect this was the main reason why the new exco and their supporters were hardly able to make their views known or heard throughout the proceedings.

The Old Guard have indeed taken back the society through winning of the vote of no confidence but they did not achieve it in the civilised manner I was expecting. I left the EGM more confused and disturbed, experiencing "emotions" from one fraction and suppressed silence from the other. I could not connect to Aware's claim to be a friend to the needy and poor, or the voice of the women."

Those who would defend the rabble would probably have in mind Barry Goldwater's rallying call "that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice", and "that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue", but no matter how noble or righteous your cause, it is a good rule that the moment you become too extreme in anything, you go bonkers (this will be dealt with in a forthcoming post - "Why being a Progressive does not necessarily mean that you are for Progress")

Caedite eos! Novit enim dominus qui sunt eius
(Kill them all! The Lord will recognize His own)

I am curious to know (having been in the air at the time) how the clamour at this overwhelmingly female event compared to the crowd behavior at predominantly male events. Pictures such as this don't help, but knowing the nature of humanity I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't much difference.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn't like it." - Samuel Goldwyn


For fresh grads, a Catch-22 situation
Tan Ying Ding
Straits Times, 4 May 2009

"IT HAS been nine months and 10 days since I graduated - for me, a transitional period that I call bittersweet.

Now, with a recent letter from the Central Provident Fund Board requesting I repay in cash the amount withdrawn for my university education, I'm reminded that I am among the statistics of fresh graduates struggling to land a job in the current global economic downturn.

Since I graduated in July, I have sent a total of 32 resumes to statutory boards, government ministries, private financial institutions, etc.

Six companies replied - five to offer me an interview, one to reject me.

Though my peers might have sent out more cover letters and resumes, I believe there is a growing sentiment of depression felt equally by us all - we might have consigned ourselves to the waiting room of Limbo, considering the need to seek a psychiatrist.

More companies have frozen their headcounts, others have retracted job offers - as has happened with a few of my friends. Still others are cutting back on hiring fresh graduates with little or no working experience.

Indeed, after seven months of trying, I even allowed myself to be coaxed by a licensed representative of a leading life insurance company in Singapore into taking the Capital Markets & Financial Advisory Services Module 5 examination (requisite for all representatives of licensed and exempted financial advisers).

This, even though the social stigma currently attached to the job of a financial adviser clashes with my introverted personality.

In the meantime, it seems I'm caught in a perennial waiting game.

I send resumes and cover letters, then wait to hear from the human resource personnel. I take screening and personality tests, then wait for the actual job interview, where I wait again for the inevitable but dreaded question: 'What is the reason for your unemployment gap?'

Call it a Catch-22 for fresh graduates: we don't have the experience needed for the job, but how can we prove ourselves if we cannot get anyone to hire us in the first place?

The market, having shifted from a seller's market to a buyer's market in the months before I graduated, does not look set to improve - quite the contrary, in fact.

Come this July, the graduating class of undergraduates from the three local universities will be unleashed into the job market, and competition might well intensify.

This influx is one more concern, especially for those like me.

I read sociology, considered a general degree, which I had thought would offer me considerable options in the working world.

After all, my peers who opted out of the honours track and hence graduated a year earlier than I did are all working in very different professions: sales, teaching, banking, communications and even airspace management, to name but a few.

But it seems my repeated tries are telling me otherwise.

While I do not disparage the discipline for which I have much respect, I do in hindsight wonder if it was prudent for me to have chosen my major out of interest rather than practical reasons.

Now, I am dejected, and at times worried that the woes of my unemployed status will spill over into other areas of my life.

Wallowing in self-misery, however, is not a solution.

In the meantime, I have chosen to give tuition, which has been a really rewarding experience.

As my students grow and improve, I find myself with more assignments coming my way. Even more, I am determined to keep my chin up, though I still long for the day when I can be truly proud of that graduation portrait of mine silently residing in the living room.

The writer, 25, graduated from NUS last year with a degree in sociology. He is currently giving tuition while applying feverishly for a job."

While it sucks to still be unemployed, if he only sent out 32 resumes in 9 months, deems this "feverish" and is surprised he's still unemployed, he needs to wake up his idea.
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." - Bill Cosby


Atheists target UK schools - "Backed by professors Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling, the initiative aims to establish a network of atheist societies in schools to counter the role of Christianity. It will coincide with the first atheist summer camp for children that will teach that religious belief and doctrines can prevent ethical and moral behaviour... Leeds Atheist Society claims to have experienced discrimination, vandalism, theft and death threats from religious groups on campus, who oppose the open expression of an atheist viewpoint and blasphemy... Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: "Atheists are becoming increasingly militant in their desperate attempts to stamp out faith. It is deeply worrying that they now want to use children to attack the Christian ethos of their schools. "Many parents will also be anxious at the thought of militant atheists targeting their children.""
The quote from Calvert is priceless. Somehow evangelism by Christians is not militant or a desperate attempt to stamp out other faiths, and evangelists targeting children is nothing to worry about.

The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society - "Schlesinger analyzes what he sees as ominous consequences of identity politics: the magnification of differences, ethnic cheerleading, Afrocentric curricula, bilingualism, speech codes, censorship. Attacks on the First Amendment, he contends, threaten the vitality of intellectual freedom and, ultimately, the future of the very groups the censors ostensibly seek to protect."

Confessions of a Naked Sushi Model - "There is more than raw fish at stake. I owe it to Hirosaki Koko, the caterer who invited me here tonight, to remain completely still. I owe it to the customers who have paid good money for a dining experience spiked with a dose of sexual fetishism. And I owe it to the spirit of the Japanese practice of Nyotaimori."

Explaining political Islam to the west | What to think? - "When describing Iran’s Islamic revolution or its protégés in Hizbullah and Hamas, he forsakes his critical faculties, reserving all his scepticism for the secular values of the West... The final straw for this reviewer was a passage in which Mr Crooke quotes approvingly the head of Hizbullah’s television station prating about the need for “resistance media” to show “objectivity” and “respect for its audience”. Incredibly, Mr Crooke fails to mention that this hate-mongering station routinely pumps out vicious anti-Semitic propaganda, including a drama series that portrays hook-nosed orthodox Jews murdering gentile children in order to use their blood for Passover bread."

Ann Bauer on autism, violence - "I dismissed it as an aberration until a couple weeks later when Andrew decked his elderly tutor... Secretly, as if committing a sacrilege, I searched online using keywords such as "autism" and "violence" and "murder." What I found was confusing. There were roughly a dozen recent articles about heinous acts committed by people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, but each was followed by editorials and letters written by autism advocates vigorously denying a link. There were a few studies from the '80s and '90s, but the results -- when they showed a higher rate of violent crime among people with autism -- appeared to have been quieted or dismissed. On the other hand there were, literally, thousands of heartwarming stories about autism. A couple of the most widely read were written by me. For years I had been telling my son's story, insisting that autism is beautiful, mysterious, perhaps even evolutionarily necessary. Denying that it can also be a wild, ravaging madness, a disease of the mind and soul. It was my trademark as an essayist, but also my profound belief... The chairman of Trudy Steuernagel's department rose at her memorial service to proclaim, "Autism doesn't equal violence." And this probably is mathematically correct: Autism does not always equal violence. But I do believe there may be a tragic, blameless relationship."
Clearly written by a bigot opposed to Neurodiversity

Islamic Group Forces Site To Remove Satirical Religious Video Game "Faith Fighter" - "As a result of the OIC's demands, "Faith Fighter" has now indeed been removed. Molleindustria is issuing the following statement: "Faith Fighter was meant to be a game against intolerance that used over the top irony and a cartoonish style to express the instrumental use of religions. Faith Fighter depicted in a mildly politically incorrect way all the major religions as a response to the one-way islamophobic satire of the Danish Mohammad cartoons. If a established organization didn't understand the irony and the message of the game and is claiming it is inciting intolerance, we simply failed... We knew that this was a risky operation and we acknowledge our failure as communicators."
Their new game: Faith Fighter 2 - "We regretted the use of irony and violence and this time we want to offer you a positive, nonviolent educational game that teaches the universal values of tolerance and respect. This is a very simple game that can be played by children of all ages, religious leaders and even journalists!"

What's up with Chinese people having English names? - "What really struck me was how commonly people used them when addressing one another, even when the rest of the conversation was in Chinese... Increasingly, these bosses are Chinese, yet the English names persist, in part because English tends to be the lingua franca for business technology, and even native Chinese often find it more efficient to type, write, or sign documents in English. Using English names also creates a more egalitarian atmosphere. Most forms of address in China reinforce pecking orders, such as "Third Uncle" and "Second Daughter" at home or "Old Wang" or "Little Hu" in the village square. Your given name—customarily said in full, surname first—is reserved for use by those with equal or higher social standing, and the default honorific for an elder or superior is "Teacher"—no surprise in a country that reveres education. But an English name, other than separating those with and without such names, frees users from these cultural hierarchies... Taking English names also fits with various traditional Chinese naming practices. In the past, children were given "milk names" when they were born, and then public names once they started school... In the United States, people tend to view names and identities as absolute things—which explains why I agonized over deciding on an English name—but in China, identities are more amorphous"

THE AGE OF COMMODIFIED INTELLIGENCE - "This is an Age of Commodified Intelligence, a time of conspicuously consumed high culture in which intellectual life is meticulously measured and branded... The alchemist arranges lists in search of gold: Shostakovich, Dresden Dolls, Justin Timberlake, Miles. "Mrs Dalloway" is popular, perched between "Harry Potter" and, simply, “The Russians”. Status updates remind you that a friend has just returned from an “HD Mozart Opera” while another is “getting into Herzog films”. This is an achievement panopticon; the participants are its prisoners... Degrees are also more readily pursued as status symbols. We are not growing more intelligent, only more obsessed with its outward markers... Grand statements about the dawn of mass intelligence are belied by everyone's obsession with making their erudition public. No quicker is a book read than it appears in a personal profile online or is wedged inartfully into dinner party conversation ... The “intelligent” masses will work hard mining the store of culture artefacts, but will they read the texts and learn from them, or only use them as objects for trade?"

Gentlemen Cows in Prime Time - "LAST Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s crackdown on the use of dirty words on the airwaves... As much as one sympathizes with language prescriptivism in general (please, let us all resist “c u l8r”), censorship is necessarily a descriptivist endeavor. Indecency laws are tied to evolving community standards. In 1623, the English Parliament passed legislation to prohibit “profane swearing and cursing.” Under that law, people could be fined for uttering oaths like “upon my life” or “on my troth.” In the Victorian era, the word “bull” was considered too strong for mixed company; instead, one referred to “gentlemen cows.” Times change, notwithstanding the fervent wishes of prescriptivists to keep dirty words dirty."
کس خورل

When the only hits for a word or phrase are from a Wikimedia site, you get suspicious.



bloody hell.

i was referring to the tweet
BEFORE i googled the stupid arabic phrase
I love this photo:

"Members of the old guard reacting to the S$90,000 expenditure."

Source: AWARE old guard makes new blood a priority

Someone: They must have mistakenly used a photo of punters at the Turf Club.

This Twitter account (verified to be from HPB - though it isn't linked from their homepage, which is a bit counter-intuitive) was started on 1st May, which is reasonably quick.

Dismissing Twitter as just checking what people are having for breakfast is like dismissing the Internet as just being for porn.
"Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim that may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, atheists don’t seem so bad lately." - Scott Adams


Jogjakarta trip
Day 1 - 28th April - Walking around Malioboro

AirAsia seems to customize their planes - the one I took to Jogjakarta (henceforth usually shortened as "Jogja") specified what I surmised was the fine for misuse of lifejackets (there was no English translation - perhaps they trust non-Indonesian passengers) in Rupiah. The merchandise was also priced in Rupiah.

On our arrival, there were lots of people take pictures of and filming us. Perhaps it was for a "tourism is going strong despite Swine Flu" or AirAsia promo.

At the airport, I got hit by the airport taxi cartel. I could've taken a bus into town, but this being a Third World country, there were also no maps or tourist information at the airport (or if there was, the counter was unmanned).

Valiantly trying to avoid the taxi cartel, I ignored the taxi driver touts and went up to a guy at one of the airport counters and asked how much a taxi to the city would cost. He deliberated for quite a bit, walked out a bit, was swarmed by taxi drivers and then quoted me 60,000 Rupiah (~S$8). I knew this was a ripoff price, but the heat was delibitating (and the combined wonders of airplane safety and AirAsia meant I hadn't drunk anything since Singapore), so I subjected myself to the indignities of the Third World.

On the way to the hotel, I saw an ad for some place called Hugo's which said they gave free cocktails for ladies in miniskirts.

When I reached the hotel, confused by my dehydration and the number of zeros on the Rupiah notes, I accidentally gave the taxi driver 600,000 Rupiah (~S$80) instead of 60,000. The bastard didn't say anything and drove off, and I only realised my mistake half an hour later when counting my money in the hotel room. Although this was my most serious screwing in the cesspool of corruption that was Indonesia, it was far from my last (it wasn't my first either, that being the initial ripoff by the taxi cartel). In any case, this unearned monetary transfer to a poorer recipient has wiped out my Third World charity budget for some time to come (the definition of charity being the same, at any rate).

Painting in the hotel. Haram (over the days, I lost track of how many times I said this)!

There're fewer tudung-ed women in Indonesia than Malaysia. This considering that about 88% of Indonesia is Muslim, versus 60% of Malaysia.

There're a lot of KFCs in Jogjakarta. Considering how popular Ayam Goreng is, that is telling (either of how much they love it, or how good KFC in Indonesia is [I didn't try any]).

Hotel tucked into an alley (there were a few corners to turn when walking in from the road)

Road outside the hotel. It reminded me of the road outside my Siem Reap hotel than Bolehland. I think it's because both places screamed "tourist trap" and had lots of transport touts (the de rigueur local experience in Jogja is a "becak" - a reverse trishaw).

Malioboro. What passes for a main road in the centre of Jogjakarta. Notice the large parallel road for motorsikal parking.

Raised bus platform - how they prevent impromptu stops (at least by buses from this company)? The transJogja bus is one of the few institutionalised things in Jogja - you pay 3000 Rupiah and enter a tiny holding area. You then enter the bus across a raised platform (there's no "mind the gap" warning, though). When there's too many people they sit on the steps (which kind of defeats the point of building such a tiny shelter anyway).

Lunch - Mie Bakso (beefball noodles - they were out of Mie Ayam). This was spectacularly unspectacular, with the soup tasting worse than what you get from an instant noodle packet, which may explain why getting noodles from a packet is so common in Indonesian food outlets.

Motorsikal attendant

Side alley off Malioboro, which was like a Third World slum. Wait, it *was* a Third World slum.

Near a market in a building, there were a lot of 'beli emas' - small stalls with scales inside a glass box. I assumed they were pawn shops. Given that most people probably didn't have bank accounts, their family heirlooms were probably their means of getting credit.

Vredeburg, restored Dutch fort. It was almost 3 by the time I arrived, and in this cesspool the museums only opened in the morning at 8 and closed at 1:30pm (and still closed on Mondays), probably because the attendants spent the afternoons relaxing, making batik or pedalling becaks.

While I was considering my next move, one guy came up to me and started talking to me, dispensing a whole load of advice, among them:

- to avoid the Borobodur and Prambanan "mafias" (I assume he meant monopolies) which had 10x markup
- that most "batik" sold in Jogja was printed
- to smile, laugh and talk more for a longer life
- museum opening times
- the Water Castle was "no water, no castle"
- a recommendation to visit the Jogja Arts Centre (in reality a school, only open to the public 2 days a week) to see Batik-making. I was in luck since this was one of those 2 days

He didn't seem to be trying to get any commission from the last piece of advice, since he didn't lead me there (he said he was waiting for his wife); he was from Kalimantan, and his wife from Sulawesi, so maybe it was only Jogja natives who were so corrupt. Then again, a friend got charged S$18 in Batam for the equivalent of Ang Mo Kio to Orchard.

While walking there, one guy walking in the same direction as me started chatting to me and guided me there (it was neat his house). He said people from the villages were even nicer, but people in Jakarta weren't, as they were obsessed with money. Sadly, these two people were the only nice Indonesias I met in Jogja, so I shall not let two good apples warp my perception of the place.

Batik held up to the light

They were quite insistent that real batik could be washed and ironed without running (and demonstrated the former).

Batik workbench. It takes weeks or months to make, with etching, repeated wax coats and dye jobs - it can only survive where labour is cheap.

Tools and wax

"Batik Art Centre Jogjakarta"

Ayam Goreng vendor: "Malioboro Chicken" (strangely, not along Malioboro but on a street parallel to it). My knowledge of chicken parts started and ended with "ayam", so I pointed to the drumstick ("paha"). Strangely, the price list is facing the vendor, not the customer.

The chicken was good and beat KFC. Perhaps KFC is big in Jogja (and, I assume, Indonesia) for the same reason why Zara, Gap and BMW are seen as high class in Singapore.

Village midden heap

Travelling band on Malioboro

Squad of women sweeping the streets with the crude pseudo-brooms. Elsewhere there were other people doing the same, but these ladies were in uniform and organised like a squad ("Pi2KM").

You can eat anything you want, as long as it's Mie Ayam or Mie Bakso. This was hardly the only scene of identical foodstalls I came across. Sadly, gains from specialisation were not always present.

Southeast Asia according to the Indonesians. Indochina is practically gone, the shapes and proportions are all screwy and Singapore is huge (they must be happy we let them launder money through us).

Durian Chendol analogue. Except that it was tepid (not enough es), and the durian seed was huge.

At 4+ many of the hawkers were closing. I thought they were going home to relak, but it turned out they were making way for the night shift (where the food was slightly different).

Luckily, there were *some* stores with fixed prices, which was refreshing after the many ripoff attempts:

"Frisian Flag". I thought perhaps they hated the Dutch *that* much (Friesche Vlag ["Frisian Flag"] is what Dutch Lady is called in the Netherlands).

More suspicious Indon maps: the "Hindia Ocean"

After I linked up with my travel companion CWN, a "friendly" local cajoled us into visiting a Batik art exhibition, which he said was ending that day. Once we went in, the man in the gallery said it was ending on Saturday (after we told him we were leaving then). In the end, CWN bought one batik piece she liked (I didn't like any, and had bought a small square earlier anyway).

The gallery man was sympathetic over my being cheated by the taxi driver, and said I wasn't the only foreigner to be confused by the zeros. He also said the old 10,000 and new 100,000 notes looked similar, which was a great cockup.

We then went down to a theatre near the Kraton (palace) to watch wayang kulit. The show wasn't scheduled to start yet, so we were (of course) ushered aside to look at wayang kulit puppets (and, naturally, invited to buy them - we demurred).

"Civilizations fall when they spend too much time decorating the surface of their stuff"

The puppet master said in Bali the noses are flatter. Here they're longer.

"Populair Martabak", ironically had almost no customers.

"Internasional Martabak" had more, so we bought from there. The martabak is different from our murtabak, being more like an omelette. Both places also sold "Terang Bulan" ("crescent moon").

Making Martabak by shallow frying it

While sitting on the denuded grass field in front of the Kraton, CWN observed that the traditional Indon instrument someone was playing sounded like a handphone ringtone

After we finished up our martabak, we were a bit late for the wayang kulit (but as I pointed out, it didn't matter since we wouldn't know what was going on anyway).

I made the startling discovery that wayang kulit was less boring from the wrong side, since you could see the colours and details.

From behind

Wayang Kulit: surtitles would have helped a lot. But at least there was aircon and it was only 20k Rupiah (~S$3) for the performance and 30 cents for a pictures pass - an acceptable price to pay for making observations about why it is a dying artform.

For some reason, diversifying beyond the Ramayana has not occured to Indonesians.

I noted that Wayang Kulit was a very limited art form, with spartan sets, dramatic possibilities largely limited to talking and very limited use of the third dimension. CWN said this performer was lousy as he couldn't exploit the third dimension well.

We then walked around the night food stalls.

Indon racism

Menu of one sit-down place. Virtually all had only these things (one or two had satay also). Notice the disgusting-sounding "es tape" - more about that in a future post.

Fanta cough syrup (I think it was supposed to be strawberry). Totally unlike the Fanta tradition of strong and burning drinks at all. No kwalitas (the Indonesian version of "kualit" we saw - apparently "kualitas" is a more common spelling).
Also, it was served at room temperature, like most soft drinks in Indonesia. I don't know - maybe they like their Es.

Nasi Gudeg Komplit - rice with jackfruit (the brown thing behind the egg). The dark red thing was, I think, seng gueh (CWN thought it was liquorice).

The most worn-out pair of shoes I'd ever seen

One of the fly-by-night food stalls just setup in the five foot way. They all sell the same food, so I don't know how people choose which one to go to.


[On wayang kulit puppets] Civilizations fall when they spend too much time decorating the surface of their stuff

[Me on Annabel Chong: Be the best in everything.] It's a very Raffles Guy sort of logic.

I can't travel with girls. [Me: Because they are useless] I can't travel with most guys... [Me: They're less useless than the girls, but that's not saying much]

Silkair only flies to places with despotic regimes.

[Me: You want to take bets on who will get food poisoning first?] What's the prize? [Me: Satisfaction]
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