When you can't live without bananas

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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Western Disease - The strange syndrome of our guilt and their shame.

The National Review Online, despite being a right-leaning publication, does and has produced thoughtful, balanced pieces. However, whenever I see this particular author's (Victor Davis Hanson) articles, I shudder but read on anyway. The reasons for this are twofold. One, it is good to expose oneself to opinions and ideas diametrically opposed to one's own, for the sake of intellectual rigour, especially since it's unlikely the whole article will fail to make any valid points. And two, his florid writing is stylistically pleasing.

In 24 months the United States defeated two of the most hideous regimes in modern memory. For all the sorrow involved, it has already made progress in the unthinkable: bringing consensual government into the heart of Middle Eastern autocracy, where there has been no political heritage other than tyranny, theocracy, and dictatorship.
Right wingers like to trump the fact that they're bringing freedom, democracy and righteousness to the world. However, this broad generalisation inevitably masks the truth. In this case, the USA has largely forgotten about Afghanistan in its zeal to pump Iraqi oil, and risks the country - or at least the southern part of it - slipping back into the same sort of mess that gave birth to the Taliban. At the same time, we can see US zeal about democracy fading in Iraq in the face of the difficulties they are facing. The strong democracy they seek to build is already being undermined by the impending US withdrawal. If humanitarianism and freeing suffering hordes is really the driving force of US foreign policy, let's see them free North Koreans from having to eat tree bark soup.

Thus by any comparative standard of military history, the last two difficult years, despite setbacks and disappointments, represent a remarkable military achievement .Yet no one would ever gather even the slightest acknowledgment of such success from our Democratic grandees. Al Gore dubbed the Iraqi liberation a quagmire and, absurdly, the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Howard Dean, more absurdly, suggested that the president of the United States might have had foreknowledge of September 11. Most Americans now shudder at the thought that the former might have been president in this time of crisis - and that the latter still could be.
I suppose alienating the whole world in his single-minded obsession with deposing Saddam, bogging half (?) the US Armed Forces down in Iraq unnecessarily, with a guerrila war being fought more than 7 months after "major fighting" was declared over and fueling the rage of Islamists is not a grave mistake for foreign policy?

Often American and European writers echo the fury of Gore and Dean... He [Paul Kurgman] exclaimed, "In the end the Bush doctrine - based on delusions of grandeur about America’s ability to dominate the world through force - will collapse. What we’ve just learned is how hard and dirty the doctrine’s proponents will fight against the inevitable." Krugman was apparently furious that American taxpayer dollars were going to be used to hire exclusively American and Coalition companies to rebuild Iraq rather than be paid out to foreign entities whose governments opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Bush cannot ensure continuity of policy and political will in the executive for long enough to fulfill the dreams of his doctrine, or at least the ideals of democratic imperialism. And witholding the issuing of contracts to "foreign entities whose governments opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein" is petty, wasteful and misses the point - the companies do not dictate foreign policy.

Bob Herbert assured his foreign audience that "The Republicans are hijacking elections and redistricting the country and looting the Treasury and ignoring the Constitution and embittering our allies." That outside entities and media have confirmed the vote counts of the Florida election, that Congress must approve federal spending and pass laws, that an independent judiciary audits our legislation, and that 60 countries are now engaged in Iraq meant nothing.
Granted - gerrymandering is a an affair cheerfully engaged in by both sides, but at this moment the Republicans are the ones who are more guilty of this crime. But what is converting a generous budget surplus into red ink as far as the eye can see in a matter of years for the sake of reckless tax cuts and an unnecessary war called then, if not "looting the Treasury"? And just because 60 countries are involved in some small ways in Iraq does not mean the rifts are healed. It's called repairing the damage.

A rather refined-looking French self-described expert in jurisprudence was lecturing his audience about the proper legal framework that was "acceptable" to the international community. From his dandified look he appeared a rather different sort from the Americans who crawled into Saddam’s spider hole to yank him out. Soft power I suppose is the glib pontification from the salon; hard power is dragging out mass murderers at night in Tikrit.
This advocacy of vigilante, Texas-style justice is disturbing. I suppose we should cheer if a hitman were to sneak into the White House and take out Dubya, then? International Law is fragile enough already as it is. We do not need rogue nations inflicting their whims on the rest.

Another worried-looking European analyst was raising the specter of a potential oppressed prisoner suffering at "Guantanamo" - in voicing concern for the rights of Saddam Hussein! French trading with a mass murderer, profiting from selling him arms to butcher his own people is one thing; worrying that the same monster fully understands the nuances of Western jurisprudence while in the docket is quite another. Of course, our European humanist never noted that his own country’s pusillanimity over the last decade was responsible for abetting Saddam’s reign of terror even as someone else's audacity was for ending it.
Like the USA had no dealings with Saddam itself in the 80s, after it had used chemical weapons in Iran. Further, to treat your enemy badly just demeans yourself and brings you down to the same level as he. What moral superiority would they be able to claim, then?

There is something terribly wrong, something terribly amoral with the Western intelligentsia, most prominently in academia, the media, and politics... thousands of the richest, most leisured people in the history of civilization have become self-absorbed, ungracious, and completely divorced from the natural world - the age-old horrific realities of dearth, plague, hunger, rapine, or conquest.
I'd counter that some people are too intoxicated with the thought of their inerrancy and righteousness.

Indeed, it is even worse than that: a Paul Krugman or French barrister neither knows anything of how life is lived beyond his artificial cocoon nor of the rather different men and women whose unacknowledged work in the shadows ensures his own bounty in such a pampered landscape.. Neither knows what it is like to be in a village gassed by Saddam Hussein or how hard it is to go across the world to Tikrit and chain such a monster.
Like this writer knows what it's like being such? Or even a prisoner, possibly innocent even, in Guantanamo Bay, devoid of almost all rights, including that to a fair trial with a recourse to appeals and access to a lawyer

Both Western pontificators and the mob in the Middle East feed off each other. Paul Krugman would rarely write a column about how abjectly immoral it was that thousands mourned the death of a mass murderer when one can say worse things about an American president who chose not to use American dollars to hire French companies to rebuild Iraq. Bob Herbert can falsely rant about a Florida election "rigged," but seldom about an election never occurring in the Arab world.
Granted, but the writer is guilty of the same crime, albeit in another way.

It was the genius of bin Laden, after all, that he suspected after he had incinerated 3,000 Westerners an elite would be more likely to blame itself for the calamity - searching for "root causes" than marshalling its legions to defeat a tribe that embraced theocracy, autocracy, gender apartheid, polygamy, anti-Semitism, and religious intolerance. And why not after Lebanon, the first World Trade Center bombing, the embassies in Africa, murder in Saudi Arabia, and the USS Cole? It was the folly of bin Laden only that he assumed the United States was as far gone as Europe and that a minority of its ashamed elites had completely assumed control of American political, cultural, and spiritual life.
Perhaps the willingness of the "elite" to examine the reasons for events is more prudent than running into a fight, gun barrels spinning - to invade a country at the slightest provocation, as the writer suggests, and attacking symptoms, not causes. Be that as it may, I seem to recall the very same people who shrilly denounce Clinton for not taking action against Al-Qaeda earlier equally shrilly denouncing him a few years back when he bombed Iraq in 1998 and sent cruise missiles into Sudan. Besides which, the Taliban were able to arise thanks to the very same people who later spearheaded the drive to invade Afghanistan, a fact the writer conveniently leaves out.

Hatred of Israel is the most striking symptom of the Western disease. On the face of it the dilemma there is a no-brainer for any classic liberal: A consensual government is besieged by fanatical suicide killers who are subsidized and cheered on by many dictators in the Arab world. The bombers share the same barbaric methods as Chechens, the 9/11 murderers, al Qaedists in Turkey, and what we now see in Iraq.
And irrational unmitigated support for it, motivated by the Jewish and Evangelistic Christian lobby, is the most striking symptom of the Right-Wing Republican disease. The "consensual government" so beloved of the writer regularly engages in policies designed to persecute and exterminate the Palestinians as a people, just as the Jews themselves were persecuted for so many centuries.

When Europe frets over the "Right of Return" do they mean the over half-million Jews who were sent running for their lives from Egypt, Syria, and Iraq? Or do they ever ask why a million Arabs live freely in Israel and another 100,000 illegally have entered the "Zionist entity"? Does a European ever ask what would happen should thousands of Jews demand "A Right of Return" to Cairo?
What's past is past, and two wrongs do not make a right, unlike what the writer seems to think. Perhaps so many Arabs live in Israel precisely because they have despaired of the intransigence of the Israeli government every being softened. It's called desperation, not gleeful acquiescence.

Instead, the elite Westerner talks about "occupied lands" from which Israel has been attacked four times in the last 60 years
One could make a similar argument about the USSR and its satellite states.

Perhaps the most pathetic example of this strange nexus between first- and third-world Western bashing was seen in mid-December on television. Just as the United States government declared a high alert, one could watch a replay of the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy trashing America to a captivated, near-gleeful audience in New York. Her dog-and-pony show was followed by pathetic pleading from her nervous interrogator, Howard Zinn, not to transfer her unabashed hatred of the Bush administration to the United States in general. Mimicking the theatrics of American intellectuals - Roy’s hands frequently gestured scare quotes - she went from one smug denunciation to another to the applause of her crowd. Little was said about the crater a few blocks away, the social pathologies back home in India that send tens of thousands of its brightest to American shores, or Roy’s own aristocratic dress, ample jewelry, and studied accent. All the latter accoutrements and affectations illustrated the well-known game she plays of trashing globalization and corporatization as she jets around the Western world precisely through its largess - all the while cashing in by serving up an elegant third-world victimization to guilt-ridden Westerners.
And now he makes absolutely no sense, at least about Arundhati Roy and America.

Such invective only reveals the writer's xenophobic, US-centric view of the world. Thankfully, not all Americans are similarly delusional. The National Review should really get more balanced writers. Or maybe they keep him for the same reason the New York Times keeps William Safire - shock value and cheap populism.

Oh, yes. And Happy New Year too. If you've made it this far :)
Debating homosexuality in schools: Censorship doesn't work - Inside the First Amendment

This may be about a specific topic, but I believe the same principles hold true in almost all situations.

... Too many school officials try to duck the controversy through censorship. But these efforts to stifle the debate over homosexuality are based on the false hope that harmony and tolerance will prevail if no one is allowed to say anything that might offend anyone.

This was the failed strategy administrators employed against Elliott Chambers... who insisted on wearing a sweatshirt with the words "Straight Pride." After the principal ordered him to stop wearing the shirt, Chambers sued for the right to express his views. The court ruled... that genuine tolerance in an educational setting includes tolerance for a diversity of views – even views that others may find offensive...

Sweeping polices strictly limiting student speech (for or against homosexuality) are not only wrongheaded, but also are likely to be struck down as unconstitutional. A few years ago, two high school students in Pennsylvania challenged an anti-harassment policy that prohibited a wide range of potentially "offensive" speech, including speech directed at another’s "values." The students claimed that the policy would ban them from stating their religious beliefs about homosexuality and other topics. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, holding that such a broadly worded policy violates the First Amendment.

Of course, protecting the free speech of students doesn’t mean "anything goes" in a public school. Schools can (and should) ban name-calling and other forms of harassment. And if there is clear evidence that student speech has caused substantial disruption of the school, then it shouldn’t be allowed. But schools should refrain from censoring student viewpoints – for or against homosexuality – merely because such views may offend someone or make some students uncomfortable.

If censorship and strict speech codes aren’t the answer, what is? Let students speak, but simultaneously teach them how to express their views with civility and respect. By linking First Amendment rights to civic responsibility, schools create a learning environment that is safe for all students – but also free.
The Sunday Times - Britain

December 28, 2003
TV chiefs favour Muslims, says watchdog
Nicholas Hellen

MUSLIMS are being given preferential treatment by Britain's comedians and dramatists on television and radio, according to broadcasting watchdogs. Satirists who routinely mock Christians are said to have become "timid", "cautious" and "self-censoring" at the prospect of offending the Islamic faith.

Lord Dubs, chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC), said: "In portraying Muslims they have held back, they have censored themselves, they are timid.

"I have seen them pour scorn on Christianity more than on other religions. Christianity is an easier and more acceptable target — followed, to a lesser extent, by Jews and Hindus."

Dubs made his comments in a valedictory interview for the BSC, whose functions will be taken over tomorrow by Ofcom, a new quango.

He admitted that the BSC had also shown bias in favour of Muslims: "We have tried to treat the religions equally. I doubt we have succeeded. I think we have shaded a bit on the side of Islam."

The BSC recently upheld a complaint about the use of the phrase "Jesus f****** Christ" by Jamie Oliver, the chef, on Channel 4. The Right Rev Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh and a member of the BSC board, said this would not have been aired had it been about the prophet Muhammad. "There is much more sensitivity to disturbing Islam," he said.

"It is partly because the Muslim community does not have a tradition of humour about religion, although Christian leaders will stand up for things which are fundamentally important."

Truth about high school - Unpopular boy makes valedictory speech: 'A lot of you were jerks' Finally - a valedictory speech that isn't hackneyed, cliche-ridden and white-washed!

U.S. court rules nude Barbie photos are free speech - A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a Utah artist's right to make nude photos of Barbie dolls being menaced by kitchen appliances.

"He'll need the help of someone who is incapable of sympathy. Someone so cynical that the suffering of others is nothing but a source of cheap entertainment." - The Garbage Man on what Dilbert will need on his trip to Elbonia (Dilbert Season 1 - Elbonian Trip). The sad thing is that some people would actually *want* themselves to be so described.

Note from the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, who is currently MIA:

"studies show that going on a low-cholestrol diet means lower risk of heart diseases, but higher risks of death from
suicide, accidents and fights (cholestrol/fat's effects on mood)

saddam hussein was found with Mars bars, insect repellent, and a pair of lanvin socks"

(Re: The feel good factor, maybe that's why fat people tend to be jollier)

Welcome to Handsome Boy, Steven Lim's Hompage!! - SUPER ACTION HERO IN SINGAPORE!!!!! Steven Lim is a hunk - Luo Jia Liang & Daniel Chan Xiao Dong Lookalike

Steven Lim - The Street Eyebrow Plucker

Sometimes, I also feel that i look like Hong Kong Actor Edison Chen from a certain angle. Also dun know why? Do you think so? I believe u share my sentiments. Thank you. This pic is taken on 22th December 2003 in my father's house when I was rather furious. The evil villians took my Superhero's belongings away and force me to a corner, I have no choice but to fight back with my hand gun. P.S. Please support and purchase my book. See the link above!! It really works!

1999 pic when I was only 60kg. I used to be very very skinny during my studies in Nanyang polytechnic. I hate it! Last time I dun have superpower and cannot protect innocent civilians from getting hurted. I looked weak and feeble. With my self created formulas and exercises which I have mentioned in my book, I gained 18kg of mass and muscles within half a year. Sometimes when I take a peek of the old photos, I will ask myself, "is that really you?" With strong and sturdy physique, i acquired ego and confidence. I finally become a superhero.

Is this a joke??? Maybe he wants to be our Asian Prince! You *must* check out the photos...

Monday, December 29, 2003

Speedy Gonzales: Banned in the USA - Cartoon Network officials have banished Speedy Gonzales from their day and prime time lineups for fear of offending Mexican Americans, but fans of the Mexican mouse hero are fighting back

Claim: Donald Duck was once banned in Finland because the character doesn't wear pants. - Status: False.


Dr Bob's Skeptical Quiz. Some interesting archived questions:

Why was the Linux computer operating system given its dual-boot facility?

Answer which NOBODY GOT - well, not exactly -

* Because when Linus Torvalds was developing Linux, he also wanted to play the DOS game Prince of Persia and he had only one computer

Of dead bodies of persons found drowned in the ocean, 100% are dead but 70% of them have something else in common - what is it?


* Their flies are undone.

Scandinavian food: Why are cloudberries more expensive than lingonberries?

One of these is right:

* Because cloudberries cannot be farmed and have to be picked wild.
* Cloudberries obviously grow on clouds and getting to them is not so easy. Berry pickers are forever falling to their deaths from balloons, and off the wings of gliders and small aircraft. Needless to say, they tend to drop their baskets of berries on the way down. Extra money must be charged for cloudberries to cover funerals and ongoing labor recruitment and this makes them very expensive indeed. Sometimes cloudberry pickers land on lingonberry pickers, which ruins the lingonberries too, but more often they fall into bodies of freezing water.

If you fall from a ship in Arctic waters, what should you do?

Answer: (from some people, probably consultants, who have obviously never done it)

* Since death by freezing is believed to be worse than drowning, swim like mad for the bottom.

What unusual effect would you observe if you mixed 500ml of water with 500ml of vodka?


* There would be markedly less than 1000ml of fluid - 941ml has been claimed. I tried this but I cannot remember the result, or anything else for that matter, including how I came to wake up in the arms of a tattooed sailor on a steamer bound for Vladivostok.

I wish I were as witty.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

The Crown of Roses (aka "Legend" (When Jesus Christ was but a child), 16 Children's Songs Op.54/5)

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

When Jesus Christ was yet a child
He had a garden small and wild,
Where in he cherished roses fair,
And wove them in to garlands there.
Now once, as summertime drew nigh,
There came a troop of children by,
And seeing roses on the tree,
With shouts they plucked them merrily.
'Do you bind roses in your hair?'
They cried, in scorn, to Jesus there.
The boy said humbly: 'Take, I pray,
All but the naked thorns away.'
Then of the thorns they made a crown,
And with rough fingers pressed it down,
Till on his fore head fair and young
Red drops of blood like roses sprung

Much of the work expresses passionate sorrow; its "motto theme" is taken from a Russian Orthodox funeral chant

I first heard this song performed by a Singapore Secondary School Choir (Dunman High?) at one of Nelson's Choral Workshops in 1999. I used to have the King's Singers version of this song on my playlist, but I lost it in my catastrophic hard disk crash. Tim has it, and will send it to me one day, but in the meantime I have one version by Aled Jones and another by the Choir Of Clare College, Cambridge.

I finally find out what "Gregorian, Masters of Chant" is about.

Gregorian is comprised solely of artists who are steeped deeply in Christian church and choral music: Philip Conway, Thomas Barnard, Jeremy Birchall, Andrew Busher, Michael Dore, Mark Bradbury, Timothy Holmes, Roger Langford, John Langly, Gregory Moore, David Porter Thomas, Christopher Tickner, and Alex Mack. They are among the most sought-after performers in England`s major cathedrals (London, Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham) and hail from the most classic of classical institutions, such as the Academy of St. Martin, the Royal College of Music, King`s College Cambridge, Royal Northern School of Music, and Trinity College of Music.


"Why don’t you write books people can read?" - Nora Joyce, to her husband James
Eat Me. Just Eat Me. is back.

My brother in law pointed out to me that in anime, people are always shouting. I agree, this being one of the reasons why I dislike it. However, I notice that on the rare occasions when they are *not* shouting, they are talking in hushed, graven tones, usually while looking at the floor with clenched fists.

My right eye seems to have become slightly astigmatic, requiring 25 degrees of correction. Oh well, not bad after 8 years without any deterioration.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

In its desperation, 42 has resorted to threatening us with perhaps the vilest threat it is possible to threaten Full-Time Slaves (NSF) with - tinkering with our ORD and extending their grubby grip from beyond the grave to grasp and glom us. We have been told that it is official policy that if we do not pass our IPPT by the time we ORD, they will not give our Pink ICs back to us, and that they'll issue SAF 100As to get us to come back for Remedial Training every Sunday until we pass. Whether they are able to follow through on these threats is another thing, but the fact that for the sake of their promotions and bonuses, they are capable of ominously warning of the impending visitation of said threats, and doubtless wishing that they could do so, to fellow human beings speaks volumes. Pity they have from me, and contempt, I wager, from many more.

Now my company is going to charge people who bring contraband in, instead of merely eating 5 days off. In other news, someone was charged and slapped with 14 days Stoppage Of Leave for waking up late (6:45am). The principle of proportionality of the punishment to the crime, already lamentably absent in military justice, is being perverted further. If one gets 2 weeks SOL for sleeping late, I suppose going AWOL can net you the Death Penalty. 42SAR is getting from stupidly sadistic to ridiculously vicious.

The tiring and useless 5BX is gone. Whee. An extra 45 mins - 1 hour of uninterrupted sleep, here we come. But we are promised mysteriously that those caught not "putting in effort" during the Unit Fitness Program will be singled out for "special training", and both these phrases are extremely vague. But why do I have the feeling that this is just the calm before the storm, the deadly silence before the swoosh of the guillotine's blade, or the last meal of a convict on death row, if you like?

We're being forced to clear a day of leave/off on 31st December even though we'll only gain half a day off. Bah, I suspect it's part of the Evil Masterplan to deprive us of our leave.

My unit held Christmas Celebrations and invited some "less privileged children" over. We had games stalls, vehicle and weapons displays, a Christmas tree, made using camouflage netting (...), and even our own Santa Claus, in his rover (...), and a gazillion people came up to me to comment that I should have been Santa. The Mess's celebrations the next day looked suspiciously familiar though, with the same balloon sculptor and games stalls. "Santa's Rover" even made an appearance again. Later, what was billed as the NTU Choir performed at our Christmas celebrations, and throughout I was puzzled at their lack of standard, which was not helped by our lack of condenser mics, which led to an unbalanced sound. Later I found out they were actually hall residents, so I suppose I can forgive them :)

Water sports at Jurong East was invigorating, though the complex was swarmed with Primary School kids. I should be grateful at least that nary a soul aged older than 13 and younger than 25 was to be seen, since the Sec 2-5s probably thought it un-hip to visit such a place and the JC and Poly students were sleeping off hangovers from the previous night's parties. With the closure of Fantasy Island some years back, Jurong East Swimming Complex is probably now the best place in Singapore to partake in Water Sports, with many contraptions that I am at a loss for words to describe, and ridiculously cheap too.

I was leery of the tube-slides - those big tubes placed above the ground and lubricated with flowing water, down which users slide in joyful terror - at first, but decided to try one just once. It wasn't as bad as I thought, and the whoops, squawks and shrieks I emitted on my way down entertained the whole pool, or so I am told. Unfortunately, my fourth experience, on the highest tube-slide of all, was not as enjoyable. Somewhere after the halfway point, my float flipped over, turning me onto my stomach and landing on my bag. Stunned, I has not the sense to flip myself back over, or to mount my float again, and my whoops changed to cries of consternation as my nipples were given a good rubbing by the floor of the tube, until I plopped into the pool unceremoniously, to hoots of laughter.

A fact that puzzled me was the abundance of Malay women in tudungs. They looked so forlorn sitting by the pools and looking at their children frolicking, the females in uncomfortable swinsuits with overly long sleeves and pant legs, I felt sorry for them.

We were going for a Sakae Sushi buffet but many of us hadn't eaten breakfast and couldn't stand the hunger, so we had a quick bite at the KFC there, at which I realised that KFC's wedges were actually very lousy, many being so big as to be mostly tasteless due to the seasoning not permeating the potato, and watched as some girls stole floats which another group had unwisely left outside the restaurant, costing them $3 a float.


[On the CRO] Anything interesting? [Me: No. Oh, no more 5BX!] You know who to thank? [Me: You ah?] Us officers. We're too lazy to come down and conduct 5BX.

[On my high pitched yawns] What is that supposed to be? Your mating call?

Warren Officers (Warrant)

Hey, look, it's Santa Claus! He's gonna come and give gifts to you so go make fun of him.

Today he was talking to someone who commited suicide also. [Me: He's a necromancer? Can talk with the dead?] (attempted)

I'm thinking of including some new original section on my homepage when it comes up again, but I'm bereft of ideas. Homepages are all the same nowadays - most of them are blogs or glorified photo albums.

I always love the Economist's year end Christmas (not-quite-)double issue. I wish they had interesting special reports on such an eclectic range of esoteric topics the whole year round, like Congolese Music and Human Hair. I particularly like both one writer's swan song which, though overall approving of her former employer, is surprisingly frank and talks about some of the inevitable parts she doesn't like about it and the uber rare piece on Singapore - "A kinder, gentler BG", about our future Prime Minister (requires a subscription to view). A pity, really, that they do stories on Singapore so rarely (note how under Singapore's Country Briefing section, there are so few articles about this nation). I await the publication, in next year's first issue, of the inevitable letter from the authorities which will doubtless be published with nary a sentence cut, for fear of being gazetted again.

I am wroth. It turns out that, all along, independent girls' schools ($100 for all 4 of them) have been charging their students as little as half that independent boys' schools charge theirs ($150 for SJI and $200 for the rest). Why is this the case? Could it be that boys break more things than girls?

5621 Halal certificates were issued by MUIS last year, up from 3460 and 2780 in 2001 and 2000 respectively. This does not include the pseudo-Halal outlets which serve Halal food but not alcohol. I am happy for them, for to be restricted to eating Fast Food and Malay Food while you are outside (albeit of your own will) is dreadful, but at the same time I wonder when we will no longer see pork on restaurant menus island-wide.

Mobile Armored Strike Kommand -- MASK - I recall I used to like this show, but not why, especially since I can't remember what it was about.

I feel weary, as if some vampiric organism has been feeding on my life energies. Sometimes I have the feeling that, come what may, it will not make any difference to me, but I know that in the distant future, it will begin to matter again.
IDIOT SON OF AN ASSHOLE-AND HE'S OUR PRESIDENT!!! - People really hate Dubya. If someone were to do this about Singaporean leaders, I wonder what would happen to him.

Jangle bells makes them crazy - 'An Austrian trade union has claimed the repetitive playing of Christmas Carols in department stores is nothing short of "psycho-terrorism" for salespeople. From morning to night, for weeks before Christmas, there was the same Christmas music in department stores over and over again, said Gottfried Rieser of the Union of Private Employees. "Many staff in the retail sector suffer psychologically from it. They get aggressions and aversions against Christmas music. On Christmas Eve with their families, they can't stand Silent Night or Jingle Bells any more," he said.'

Man burns life savings but fails in suicide bid

Bad Santa tries to rob bank - Police say a man dressed as Santa Claus tried to rob the Alberta Treasury Branch in Westlock on Friday, then drove off in a dark pickup truck or SUV.

Santa's knee off-limits - A small town in New Zealand has banned children from sitting on Santa's knee because organisers fear liability if anything goes wrong, organisers said.

University jeered for anti-Santa web warning - News that affirmative action officers at the University of Central Michigan had tried to 'ban' the use of Father Christmas and reindeer images for fear of offending people of other non-Christian faiths, drew nationwide attention this month. The anti-Political Correctness brigade was especially incensed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Pavarotti on Elephants

Queen's corgi killed by daughter's terrier
- LONDON (Reuters) - The Queen is mourning the death of one of her beloved corgis after it was savaged by her daughter's bull terrier, newspapers report.

A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.

The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human

because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.

The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.

The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah".

The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"

The little girl replied, "Then you ask him".


A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. She would occasionally walk around to see each child's work.

As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.

The girl replied, "I'm drawing God."

The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like."

Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, "They will in a minute."


One day a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. She suddenly noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her brunette head.

She looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, "Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?"

Her mother replied, "Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white."

The little girl thought about this revelation for a while and then said, "Momma, how come ALL of grandma's hairs are white?"


The children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture.

"Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, 'There's Jennifer, she's a lawyer,' or 'That's Michael, He's a doctor.'

A small voice at the back of the room rang out, "And there's the teacher, She's dead."


A teacher was giving a lesson on the circulation of the blood. Trying to make the matter clearer, she said, "Now, class, if I stood on my head, the blood, as you know, would run into it, and I would turn red in the face.."Yes," the class said.

"Then why is it that while I am standing upright in the ordinary position the blood doesn't run into my feet?"

A little fellow shouted, "Cause your feet ain't empty."


The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples.

The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray:

"Take only ONE. God is watching."

Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chipcookies.

A child had written a note, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."

Monday, December 22, 2003

These two letters largely sum up my views about learning Chinese.

Why coerce young into learning?

I REFER to the letter, 'Speak the language or lose out' (ST, Dec 5), by Dr Chang Kai Cheh and those of some previous writers to The Straits Times Forum on the subject of learning Chinese.

The arguments that Chinese will be important in the future because of China's increasing share of the world economy, miss the point raised by the letters that started this thread of discussion.

Nobody seriously disputes that Chinese will be important for this reason. The question raised by anguished parents is why the system here has to be so coercive about the subject.

The issue here is not about the merits of Chinese, but about the failings of the school system in Singapore. Is this a society that allows people to follow their aptitudes and passions - and to ignore what does not interest them - or a society that insists on extruding everybody from the same grinder?

I also note with concern the ethnocentricity of some assumptions. Just because a person is Chinese by ancestry does not mean he must be Chinese by culture nor does it mean he has any obligation to be fluent in Chinese. To insist on this is a form of racism - pigeonholing people by the colour of their skin.

The demand to learn Chinese is placed on children of Chinese ancestry, regardless of their home language. Yet if the most pressing reasons for learning Chinese are economic, why not make the same demand of all Singaporeans?

By the same token, since economists generally think that India, too, will be a rising economic power, shouldn't these proponents of Chinese do-or-die insist that all our children learn Hindi or forfeit a place in universities here?

The issue is not about language but about our frame of mind.


Problem lies in way language is taught

I REFER to the letter "It all boils down to attitude (ST, Dec 3) by Mr Chee Yew Chung. He said that the difficulty Chinese Singaporeans face in learning Chinese "all boils down to the attitude... and the will to do so".

I am a secondary school student, and as much as I agree with his point of view, I feel that the way in which the language is taught in school is also a cause of the widespread difficulty in learning Chinese.

Under the current Chinese language syllabus, the subject is taught in such a way that students must memorise countless combinations of characters, words and phrases, many of which are cliches.

As a result, student essays suffer from a severe lack of creativity and style, while the vocal aspect of Chinese is almost entirely neglected.

In short, Chinese is taught only as far as content and structure are concerned, whereas cultivation of a better appreciation for the language is sadly missing from the picture.

The use of the language as a written form of communication is also neglected.

Hence, for many, China's rich culture, illustrious history and elaborate literature remain inaccessible, uncharted territory.

Secondly, as with other academic subjects, the teaching of Chinese in schools here is plagued with an over-emphasis on results at the expense of the actual process of learning.

Teachers often use exam results as benchmarks. Thus, each academic year becomes nothing more than an exam-oriented crash course.

While most agree that exam results are an accurate representation of a student's competence in a subject, this does not apply to the Chinese language.

In this case, results are but a reflection of the student's skills in exam techniques such as memorising vocabulary - hence enabling the student to answer "fill in the blank" questions - and understanding the tested letter structure in order to answer functional writing questions.

As a result, a student with a relatively good grasp of the language need not necessarily score well, and vice versa.

In this situation, students are encouraged to put in effort to score well rather than to actually be proficient in the language.

This contributes to the feeling of pointlessness that many students experience when learning Chinese.

As my friends put it, "Studying so hard just to fill in a couple of blanks - is it worth it?"

In such an environment, will students feel interested in learning Chinese?

Will students' grasp of the language show some noticeable improvement?

A language cannot be learnt through intensive drilling; it must be cultivated through years of use and experience.

Perhaps it is time for the Government to review the system, to prepare youths for a future in which bilingualism will become ever more important.


Screwed Up Girl gets screwed by the NKF:

"Someone should seriously go SUE the NKF!
I am bloody pissed off now
Received a message saying "Merry Xmas from someone who treasures ur friendship. U have created miracles for those you care about. Reply "hi" via SMS to find out who's thinking about you".
It sounded like a greeting card/SMS thing a friend sent right?
So I replied "hi" and suddenly I received a call, and STUPID Sharon Au's cheena voice came blasting out of the phone saying THANK YOU FOR THE DONATION.
I did not bloody donate to the NKF! They keep cheating people's money, this is NOT THE FIRST TIME I HEARD OF SUCH THINGS HAPPENING, and the kidney patients complain about not receiving the funds too!
SHEESH, I am super pissed off now... may kick up a fuss when my bill comes... Why can such organizations be so unorthodox sometimes?! They make me want to lose all faith in Singapore charitable organizations sometimes."

I think someone should go napalm their building.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Empress Cinema in Clementi may start their shows on time (or even earlier, causing you to miss the first minutes, as I did for Return of the King), shine bright lights into your eyes at the end of the movie and have no escalators to whiz you up in comfort, but it *was* gloriously empty just now, considering it was a Sunday afternoon, so we chose seats with generous legroom and the tickets cost $7 each - $1.50 cheaper than elsewhere. Not "small, musty and none-too-clean", no.

Return of the King was possibly the most emotionally evocative experience I've had in front of the silver screen.

I hate my VCR. Among its numerous quirks, if you forget to turn it off, pre-programmed recording will not take place, which is how I missed today's episode of Power Rangers Time Force.

In other news, the "3" key on my funky handphone cover came out and could not be popped back, and some others seemed loose. Luckily, a spare though not-so-funky cover was where I remembered. That's what you get for $5 at a Pasar Malam stall run by Ah Bengs.
NICE TITS - Pictures of Tits - Never have I seen nicer ones. Hell, I rarely get to see tits in the first place. Those who get to see them often must be very fortunate :)

Disturbing Search Requests - For those who like checking their referrer logs

The following summarises what I think of almost all modern art, and much modern music.

"Rodin's successors noted the amazing things he had done with light and shadow and mass and composition - whether you see it or not - and they copied that much. Oh, how they copied it! And extended it. What they failed to see was that every major work of the master told a story and laid bare the human heart. Instead, they got involved with 'design' and became contemptuous of any painting or sculpture that told a story - sneeing, they dubbed such work 'literary' - a dirty word. They went all out for abstractions, not deigning to paint or carve anything that resembled the human world."

Jubal shrugged. "Abstract design is all right - for wall paper or linoleum. But /art/ is the process of evoking pity and terror, which is not abstract at all but very human. What the self-styled modern artists are doing is a sort of unemotional pseudo-intellectual masturbation... whereas creative art is more like intercourse, in which the artist must seduce - render emotional - his audience, each time. These laddies who won't deign to do that - and perhaps can't - of course lost the public. If they hadn't lobbied for endless subsidies, they would have starved or been forced to go to work long ago. Because the ordinary bloke will not voluntarily pay for 'art' that leaves him unmoved - if he does pay for it, the money has to be conned out of him, by taxes or such."

"You know, Jubal, I've always wondered why I didn't give a hoot for paintings or statues - but I thought it was something missing in /me/, like color blindless."

"Mmm, one does have to learn to look at art, just as you must know French to read a story printed in French. But in general it's up to the artist to use language that can be understood, not hide it in some private code like Pepys and his diary. Most of these jokers don't even /want/ to use language you and I know or can learn... they would rather sneer at us and be smug, because we 'fail' to see what they are driving at. If indeed they are driving at anything - obscurity is usually the refuge of incompetence. Ben, would you call /me/ an artist?"

"Huh? Well I've never thought about it. You write a pretty good stick."

"Thank you. 'Artist' is a word I avoid for the same reasons I hate to be called 'Doctor'. But I /am/ an artist, albeit a minor one. Admittedly most of my stuff is fit to read only once... and not even once for a busy person who already knows the little I have to say. But I am an /honest/ artist, because what I write is consciously intended to reach the customer... reach him and affect him, if possible with pity and terror... or, if not, at least to divert the tedium of hours with a chuckle or an odd idea. But I am /never/ trying to hide it from him in a private language, nor am I seeking the praise of other writers for 'technique' or other balderdash. I want the praise of the cash customer, given in cash because I've reached him - or I don't want anything. Support for the arts - /merde/! A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore! Damn it, you punched one of my buttons. Let me fill your glass and you tell me what is on your mind."

--- Robert Heinlein, Stranger In A Strange Land (Part Four - "His Scandalous Career", Chapter XXX)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Fan made Sentai with people Cosplaying - Except that this one looks like an AV. The things people come up with (Melvin, once again, unearthed this gem)

Smart soldiers decided to flee the Rings battle - Digital warriors thought for themselves - and their first thought was to run away Seems computers are smarter than humans. This is probably what will happen if the SAF goes to war ;0

Working with Fat Children - "It is amazing that so many fat children survive adolescence, given the hatred and meanness directed at them. Indeed, some do not make it, as evidenced by the fifteen-year-old high school student in Alabama who shot and killed himself in the classroom in 1997 because he could no longer take the torment." Someone should make all the people in 42SAR who are tormenting me read this. Interesting article, but it sounds just a bit too neat about how obesity is irreversible

Saudi Arabia Bans Dolls, Stuffed Animals - The latest madness from the Land Where Apostasy Gets You Beheaded With A Sword

F*** The Matrix - "Why do people have to see meanings in everything? What next? The analysis of Lara Croft's digital boobies in order to understand why the world is the way it is?! Wacky as it sounds, some wannabe writer, just to create a sensation has probably started working on it and trust me, there would be millions of people who will actually claim to have attained nirvana after reading that book." Heh heh

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Christian Fundamentalism in Singapore

Military Christian Fellowship, Singapore - Seems they've a semi-official presence in the SAF. Hell, their latest newsletter is edited by an LTC and the chairman of their council is a COL.

Bible Prophecies Indicating Napoleon was the Messiah - "This page is intended as a not-so-subtle parody of Over 300 Fulfilled Messianic Prophecies!, which retroactively shoehorns myriad out-of-context Old Testament verses to awkwardly fit Jesus, an ancient practice known as typology. As I attempt to demonstrate below, using this technique and a little work, anyone can be retrofitted into the Old Testament - making the method fairly useless prophetically. It exploits human psychology using quirks like shoehorning, wishful thinking and confirmation bias and is in no way indicative of paranormal extratemporal perception."

In the same vein, we also have: How Tiger Woods fulfills Biblical prophecies
A post before I join Nigel, Daniel and Melvin for watersports.

Word of the Day: "oubliette"

This year, we actually have to do work for our WITS (Work Improvement Team Scheme) project, unless last year when we managed to stay under the radar. Thus, we have been introduced to the horror of yet another product of the New Age Management rubbish that pervades and hinders modern organisations in the name of productivity.

The concept of WITS is actually a laudable one - to improve the way things are done by getting staff to examine how processes can be enhanced and overcome organisation inertia. However, much of the process of WITS itself is redundant - they expect us to document everything (just like ISO in fact), including thinking processes, something which is normally difficult to do, since everyone thinks differently. To solve this problem, they force everyone document their thinking extensively in the form of thinking tools like the fishbone diagram. Now, thinking tools are good for people who aren't good at thinking, but for those who have mastered this skill, trying to force themselves to think in a specific way actually hobbles their thinking, especially when the thinking tools are not applicable or otherwise unsuitable for the situation. Charts and graphs have to be included for their own sake, together with meaningless text, resulting in a flood of meaningless, useless and plain false information. WITS is also jargon filled, perhaps to make it and the people in charge of it seem important and arcane. In all, what the judges want is for us to squeeze our project to fit in their mould, probably for easier judging and comparison. But if that is the case, we should all just fill in MCQ answer sheets for our WITS project.

I am inspired, nonetheless, and if I ever have to do a WITS project again, I shall suggest "An overhaul of WITS" as my team's project and plan a trimming of the fat, redundancy and general stupidity. Perhaps then WITS will be able to live up to its original aims more truly, rather than stall due to people doing it for its own sake. But I cannot forsee it succeeding in the SAF, for it calls for a dynamic culture and change in a place where change is abhorred.

A few weeks back, we finally called in the pest exterminators, after being plagued by our resident horde of rats for far too long. Traps were judged too expensive, so instead poison was used, with the result that for the past few weeks, our pantry has reeked of the smell of decomposing rat carcasses. However, it now appears that the extermination was not total for, due to among other things, the refusal of many sickbay duty medics to throw unconsumed packets of dinner away, the rats have returned. Seeing three baby rats in the pantry dustbin on Saturday was really upsetting, for I thought we'd been rid of the menace. May the remaining rats all enter that dustbin in search of food, only to die when I pour in my toxic cocktail of Sudol and Marinpol!

TVs are now banned in my company, thanks to my CSM. I bet all of them will come out again when she leaves, though. At any rate, it makes no difference to me, since I do not watch TV, especially not Chinese TV and especially not Taiwanese variety shows with sweet young things parading around, being ogled and groped, or having their breast sizes guessed by slavering hordes of males.

I was in a Chinese restaurant, and the staff were all relatively young, and very few of them were PRCs. One waitress looked like she was around my age, had multiple earrings and piercings, one of those irritating strings tied around one ankle (which looked ghastly under stockings and which, despite enquiries, I have never found out the name of) and spoke to us in English. There were even the ultra-rare young male waiters - 2 of them in fact, also around my age (one with a spiky fringe, probably due to the fact that the restaurant disallowed a totally spiky head). One manager even spoke to us in non-cheena accented English. What a change from most Chinese restaurants these days, where the staff are 90% PRC, or the few, rare old skool ones which are staffed by geriatrics.


Some more, now is the school holidays. [Me: Go and pick up shrill, anorexic, chinese-speaking ah lians] Someone else is already doing that

Monday, December 15, 2003

Odd thought of the night to strike me.

Have been spending last few nights actually doing work (*modestly* I was working on the fringes of a billion dollar deal. Really. And I'm saying that because of the pitiful, but definitely tangible satisfaction in being able say things like that even if your role in such a deal is to provide two pages of Powerpoint slides). That, and talking to people online, in fact, I realise that more and more of my PC time these days is spent interacting with humanity, whether through sporadic bursts of blogging or posting on bulletin boards or tagboards or forums, or through long, breeze-shooting conversations online with the few friends I have.

But why does it all tempt me? Why can't i just be content to stay offline, and finish watching my first season DVDs of Alias, and Ali G, play Deus Ex: Invisible War and Lords of Everquest, while waiting for Legacy of Kain: Defiance (PC version) and Thief 3, finish reading my Robin Hobb and Dumas novels, all of this interspersed with gratuitoius masturbation and the occasional swim? God knows these days time is a valuable commodity I fight for every second; even the non-work portion of it seems increasingly devoured by picayune errands and paterfamilial obligations.

All of the sensory and intellectual stimulation I need I can obtain on my own terms sans the friction of dealing with other people. So why do I still feel this insane need for human interaction? Why am I still whingng on this blog entry, if I *know* it arises from the usual stereotypical need for people to emotionally preen, whine and posture online, to open one's self up to being judged by those reading who think the fragments of text give them some clue as to what's really going on with the person writing it? How many times have I myself just as blithely laid down the simple aphorisms to people, "if you have a problem with people reading, don't blog it; just as if you have a problem with what people are writing, don't read it." I feel like one of those apotemnophilliacs (another the word to look up, people, it's a *good* one) I was watching in a documentary a while back; the sheer compulsivness of their behaviour is bizarrely juxtaposed against the bewilderment they feel in the wake of their own personal awareness as to how insane their own desires are.

Isn't genuine catharsis what a real diary which no one reads is for?

coda for the night: "Cigarettes. Pornography. Bitching to strangers. Hollow grave, wt."

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Leaving singapore for Thailand tomorrow morning; returning on 5 January 2004. If you're interested visit
to know what i'm up to.
Putting up hopefully daily updates in the three weeks.
Survey on people's Internet usage habits for someone's Masters dissertation.

The survey creator is, in particular, looking for respondents who are blog owners and would like it forwarded to people with their own websites.

Ongoing debate on a mailing list I'm on. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, as the case might be).

A: In case anyone here continues to insist that our national service is purely to keep Singaporeans in line, here is a counter-example of how a 100% propaganda exercise national service really looks like. Malaysia's so-called national service isn't. The whole harebrained scheme ( which must have been cooked up by Dr Mahathir) was to instill in Malaysians a sense of loyalty and love for the country.

What's the difference between their national service and ours, apart from the length? Yes, there is inevitably the "love of country" theme being trotted out every now and then....but a country doesn't need to spend 4 billion dollars a year just to do that. For Singapore guys, whatever their feelings about the gahmen or the system, as long as you happen to hold a pink I/C you have to do it one way or another, which is in contrast to the shameful random selectivity of Malaysia's national service. Najib then tries to chide Malaysians for complaining about NS, whereas "Singaporeans don't complain." Ahem.

No I don't like my job, and most other NSFs aren't particularly wild about theirs either. But if we aren't its greatest enthusiasts, i observe that people at least do the bare minimum to make sure the stuff works- and in fact, many people go beyond that, and i think most people around here would agree. But why, apart from the carrot of perhaps a meagre number of days off and the stick of extra duties and punishments?

In contrast to what is indeed, essentially a momentous waste of time across the causeway, it's a little different in Singapore because what each person does boils down to a matter of life and death. Take what the technicians do, for instance. If a gun can't fire when you need to use it, some rifleman will die. Ditto for the grenade launcher which explodes in your hand instead of away from you. Or the tracks breaking away from your vehicle many miles away from safety leaving you quite stuck. (The last situation is something I don't want to happen at all ). And so on and so forth. It's all quite serious. Who's going to repair the multi million dollar gadgetry were there no technicians? Or take away injured people without any medics? Or "fight the front" without any riflemen? And so on.

So there is a purpose to what NSFs do, really. Ultimately, we are the first line of defense should anything bad happen, so erm, maybe it is a good idea to be at least halfway competent! Does this in any way imply that we are ready to follow a hypothetical mad dictator's orders blindly to attack another country? I don't think so. We are here for the country's defence, not for some foreign policy whim. And for that reason, there should have been tougher scrutiny over the decision to send our soldiers to Iraq. A sound decision based on national security interests or another attempt to suck up to our great benefactor, the USA?

To anyone who insists that National Service in Singapore is not so much for defence purposes than propaganda, please give a good case for the following points. If you can show that Singapore is unlikely to ever face external security threats, or would probably be much better of as either a state of Malaysia, province of Indonesia or colony of the USA, I'd be quite happy to drop my support for National Service.

Don't be softies, Najib tells first NS conscripts

85,000 Malaysians have been chosen for the first national service draft, and minister tells them not to complain

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has drafted 85,000 teenagers for a new mandatory national service scheme and has told reluctant recruits not to be 'softies'.

Young people will find out from today whether they have been chosen at random by a computer search that used quotas based on gender, ethnicity and location.


The draftees will have to take part in three months of basic military training as well as community service, and will take lessons in leadership and responsibility starting next February, Defence Minister Najib Razak said yesterday.

'There is no escape. The scheme will not only benefit the nation, but it will benefit participants personally,' he told a press conference.

Officials said the plan will help to stem religious extremism and instil patriotism in mostly Muslim Malaysia's young people.

But critics fear it will be used to indoctrinate participants with pro- government rhetoric and steer them away from the fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

Recruits - who were drawn from a pool of 480,000 people born in 1986 - will be placed in 42 camps nationwide, Datuk Seri Najib said.

He said teenagers would be able to call a hotline as of today to discover whether they had been selected.

Responding to doubts by some parents and teenagers over whether the scheme was necessary, he said officials had planned a 'productive' programme that would not be a waste of time.

It would be shorter and less physically demanding compared with national service training in many other countries. Datuk Seri Najib cited the example of neighbouring Singapore, where every able-bodied male must do at least two years of full-time military duty. Afterwards, they undergo annual training for 13 years.

'Singaporeans don't complain,' he said.

'Don't tell me Malaysians are such softies to be complaining.'

Most of those chosen have just graduated from high school and those who plan to further their studies will have the next several months free.

But many resent the national service scheme because it will prevent them from taking up temporary jobs or travelling on vacations.

The scheme is timed so as not to conflict with the tertiary academic year in Malaysia, which starts around June.

Recruits enrolled in foreign universities where studies begin earlier may be able to appeal.

One teenager, Tee Ann Jie, said the scheme should be voluntary. 'National service is not going to accomplish anything but cause frustration and intense displeasure,' he wrote in a letter published at the weekend by The Star newspaper.

'Forcing us to do something is not the way to endear our country to us.' -- AP

Me: Nobody suggests that Slavery here is *purely* to keep Singaporeans in line, but can anyone deny that that is a large part of it?

I don't see why A finds the randomness of Ma-laysia's selection system "shameful". We surely do not require so many Slave Soldiers to keep the PAP in power here, so why make more people suffer than they have to? Such is a gross waste. Of course, some argue that if only some were selected, they'd feel resentful towards those remaining free, but if this is sufficient logic to deprive everyone of their freedoms, then we might as well move to a communist state, since otherwise the proletariat would resent the bourgeois. Sure, you might say that the bourgeois got to their place by means of luck and skill, but the same is true for those who, by luck and skill, get downgraded or otherwise escape the clutches of the Powers That Be in Singapore.

NSFs doing the bare minimum? Agreed, for most anyway, but I think the fear of getting charged and going to DB is great, and doing your bare minimum is not so hard anyway.

> To anyone who insists that National Service in Singapore is not so
> much for defence purposes than propaganda, please give a good case
> for the following points. If you can show that Singapore is unlikely
> to ever face external security threats, or would probably be much
> better of as either a state of Malaysia, province of Indonesia or
> colony of the USA, I'd be quite happy to drop my support for National
> Service.
You fall into the trap, then, of claiming, as the Powers That Be do, that *any* alternative to our current system would result in catastrophe. Thus cowed, the masses timidly accept the current system without contemplating anything more than cosmetic changes.

And about Ma-laysia's "NS": At least they are not emphasising the military aspect so much. Does anyone really think the SAF could fight a war effectively? What with incompetent NSFs filled with hatred against the system, Regulars whose job scope involves making NSFs suffer and who only want money and Reservists who cannot remember anything?

To quote Tee Ann Jie, 'Forcing us to do something is not the way to endear our country to us.'

Some myriad related thoughts:

I remember reading an article about how the American Right Wing has managed to mould public thought in America by its clever manipulation of language to its advantage. This puts me in mind of the SAF. Take the word "National Service" for example. It implies that it is a way of serving one's country, and has the connotation of duty. I refuse to accept the paradigm that the apparatchiks are trying to implant in me subliminally, which is why I call it "National Slavery". For, if not similar then related reasons, Chinx calls it "Neverending Slavery".

Take, then, what the SAF, with its collective wapred mind, considers "privileges". E-mart "breaks" are a "privilege". Canteen breaks are a "privilege". Booking out is a "privilege". By defining basic rights as "privileges" and using the term copiously, they get most slaves to accept implicitly that they are fortunate to be given these "privileges". I reckon that if they had their way, they would proclaim that it was a "privilege" that us slaves do not spend 2 1/2 years imprisoned at the bottom of a pit, wallowing in our filth and excrement, with naught but unleavened bread and brackish water to survive on, and "Property of the SAF" tattooed all over our bodies.

All this just goes to show once again that for all their glowing talk of "duty", "honour" and "sacrifice", and the gold medals Lee Kuan Yew gave the first batch of Slaves, it is all a sham to deceive pre-enlistees and the fortunate members of the public who have not had the chance to "serve" their country. Once you're in, the facade is dropped and you are treated like the inhuman scum that you are, not deserving of humane treatment, to be stripped of human dignity in the name of "discipline" and "regimentation", all because you have little or no rank (a concept that, in the end, is empty and worthless for a surefire way to get it is either through good A level results or signing on)

Meanwhile, in an insidious if ingenious ploy, the best and brightest, the natural leaders of any rebellion from among the ranks, are co-opted into the system as Officers and given a few more "privileges" than the rest to placate them. Some others are elevated to the posts of Specialists - junior commanders and given similar "privileges", albeit to a lesser degree. They are then turned on each other - BMT Sergeants against their Recruits, jailers in DB against the inmates and indeed, Local Third Sergeants against their Men. The fellow slaves who should stand united instead fall to the strategy of Divide and Conquer, and the slavemasters are satisfied.

More and more, I tend to agree with parts of He Who Must Not Be Named's theory - "i admit NS has become more about social engineering and mind control than it has about actual military defense." Why else do they enslave everyone when not everyone is needed? Why can't conscientious objectors choose to do non-military "service", as is the norm in other countries with conscription? And why else is the philosophy behind NS "make them suffer" rather than "make them defend Singapore"?

Caleb: Bravo Gabriel for your informed, cogent, and sane reply. I whole-heartedly agree with most of what you have to say, with the possible exception of your comments on the co-opting of 'brightest and best' to become officers and the granting of extra privileges as a divide and conquer tactic. That, I think, goes too far and begins to sound suspiciously like some pseudo-Marxist/anarchist bullshit.

The government doesn't need tactics to force through Natiional Slavery, it already has a monopoly of arms and an impressive repressive machinery. If you go AWOL etc etc, you go to DB. If you don't want, on principle, to assist in the imprisonment of someone who was merely exercising his right to freedom of labour and movement, you too will be banished to that place of outer darkness.

From what my friends in OCS tell me, most of them do it for the extra money; most of them don't enjoy it (well the intelligent ones anyway). And in any case they don't get such a good deal. Certainly not in OCS -- a friend of mine described OCS as a 'you get paid to get tortured' scheme. Once they are commissioned they do enjoy greater freedom, but this is largely because sycophantic and stupid (aren't these two qualities always linked?) WOs kowtow before their rank. Furthermore, in my unit at least they have to do more work than non-officers. The situation is even worse for sergeants. Many would love to get a better (i.e. less regimental/less neanderthal) posting.

And so, some try to get downgraded. I agree with Gabriel that those who force through a downgrade to ensure a more humane/human existence are merely exercising their will and their skill. As they say, when there is a will, there is a way.

As for DB gaolers, BMT sergreants and the like, actually they themselves endure quite unpleasant working conditions. However, as I am sure many of you have personally experienced, many of them also tend to act like mini Gestapo/SS officers. One's attitude towards such ppl should not be one of pity, or anger, or even hatred. One should merely accord them the contempt they so richly deserve. You see, such ppl display a classic case of what sociologists call 'empowerment through institutions'. In no other situation would they enjoy such power. Granted, this power is in fact extremely petty ('sing louder!' 'March properly!' 'Never greet!' et al ad nauseum). But that is not their concern. They merely take this as a chance to make themselves feel important. They are 'instructors' -- a kind of priesthood which imparts the well-guarded knowledge of how to kill other ppl in vicious and violent ways to the benighted recruits. They are 'responsible' for their recruits' 'welfare'. This illusion that their pathetic lives are actually of value and importance gives them an incredible kick. And hence, sadly, they delight in their Auschwitz-like manipulations.

The other breed, slighty sadder and slightly more worthy of pity, are those who think that by slaving away for their nation, they are doing their masculine duty and not shirking their responsibilities like pansies. For them, National Slavery is a phallic romp. This is not helped by the propaganda images of tanned, toned and gun-wielding combatants which now adorn buses, billboards, and other public places. In a way, I suppose it's a way for jocks to extend their jockhood past school.

As for A's I've-imbibed-so-much-propaganda-that-even-though-I-have-benefitted-from-an-RJ-ed\ ucation-I-still-buy-that-shit comments, allow me to add a few more derisive points:

1. Gabriel is absolutely right. While it is true that most countries require some sort of national defence to survive AND to exercise a reasonable amount of clout in int'l dealings (the second point is de-emphasised by the govt since it implies that NSFs are pawns to foreign policy considerations which in fact we are), this does not mean that conscripting every bloody person born with male genitalia for 2/2.5 years is the best way to go about meeting this requirement.

It is true that far too many ppl are conscripted (including, for those of you who don't know, post-op transexuals). It is also ridiculous and morally repugnant that no non-military alternative exists. That JWs are imprisoned for their objection to NS is testament to the fact that religious freedom in Singapore is a farce. Furthermore, conscientious objection is a perfectly sound moral stance which the state has a duty to accommodate. In fact, as I shall explain later, conscientious objection in Singapore's case is perhaps the ONLY morally acceptable stance. The argument that if such an alternative existed, everyone would opt for it is rubbish. This has not been the case in Sweden etc simply because many men think it is exciting/macho/whatever to be a soldier for a year.

Which brings me to my other point. 2/2.5 years is surely too long. This is not the 1960s where the world moved slowly and 2 or even 3 years was not such a long time. This is 2003 where 2.5 years can almost get you a degree. And believe me, Singapore and its increasingly lamentable economy SORELY need a better educated and better trained workforce. Plus, from what I observe, the SAF is not exactly the place to cultivate a good work ethic...

So you see, National Slavery is badly in need of reform. But it remains the most sacred of cows in Singapore because stupid ppl do not realise Gabriel's point: that there is no strict dichotomy between NS as it exists now and catastrophe. A good place to start reform would be to shorten the length of slavery. Conscription in all other civilised countries exists either to ensure the military remains a 'ppl's army' i.e. to inject a civilian and civilising element into the armed forces, or to ensure that when total mobilisation is needed, the size of the competent force will be large enough. Hence, the point of military service is to teach the conscripts how to carry out their specific wartime roles. NOT to provide cheap labour to beef up the manpower base of the military. The length of service with this goal in mind should thus not exceed 18 months at most.

Furthermore, disruption to continue with further studies should be granted to all, not just a select group of PSC scholars. The benefit to students (not to mention the economy) will be immense (for reasons which are too complex to elab here but should be obvious really).

2. Singapore is under no military threat. You see, the govt's problem is that it thinks we are Israel. You know the story: surrounded by hostile Muslim countries blah blah blah. Well that doesn't cut it for me. Let me explain:

a. Singapore will never be engaged in a trade/economic war. The key reason for the (now defunct) economic attractiveness of S'pore and SEA as a whole is its relatively well-educated workforce, low labour costs, good infrastructure and political stability. This would vanish with the advent of a war. Infrastructure tends to get bombed, stability will vaporise. Plus, war is VERY expensive.

So, for all the propaganda (which I am sad to say many imbeciles in the SAF have deluded themselves into believing), no, Malaysia doesn't want to 'steal' our airport. It's just not worth it, baby.

b. Singapore will not be attacked for strategic reasons, unless the war is not localised and has spread to the whole region. This is for the same reasons as those cited above. No govt wakes up in the morning and decides to take over some other country to improve its strategic position. The effect would certainly be counter-productive. Besides, no superpower at the moment considers S'pore of particular strategic importance. The only country to qualify among our immediate neighbours is Indonesia, and we aren't a gateway or anything to it. The only time S'pore might be involved in a strategically motivated attack is if a regional/world war has erupted, since in that case, economic considerations would take a back seat. However, in such a case, Singapore is unlikely to survive anyway (see next point).

c. Should Singapore be caught up in a regional/world war or an ideologically motivated war, it would surely lose. The cases I have examined above (trade war, strategic war, etc) are cases of limited war. Now in a total war, as Clausewitz has pointed out, sheer numbers are the most important factor. Given S'pore's small population and strategic handicaps, it is extremely likely to lose. The only way a loss might be averted is if it possessed an absolute technological superiority. But that would mean investing a very large percentage of GDP. Which is not exactly the best thing for its economy.

For me, Singapore's existence has always been predicated on its economic survival. It exists to make money and only for that reason. Thus its greatest threat is not military but economic.

Plus, according to just war theory, embarking a war which one is extremely unlikely to win is immoral, considering that war usually results in massive loss of life. So.

4. So, as we have seen, any armed forces which Singapore should posses should only have a deterrent function. This deterrent function should serve to discourage invasion by making the cost of attack high (i.e. destruction of enemy property by aerial raids etc). This deterrent function would obviously not be well played by ground troups like infantrymen, etc. Such ground troops should be kept to a minimum.

Singapore should rely on a largely regular corps to fulfil its manpower needs, which should be kept to a minimum. It should invest in a credible airforce, with suitably frightening bombing capability. This should be enough to deter a casual attack.

Certainly, it should NOT conscript every little boy and turn him into an unthinking pawn.

So, A, pls save your nationalistic hoorahs for the NDP. They will appreciate it there.

C: no need to be so scathing, caleb; it's enough to show A the failure of his logic - ad hominem isn't required. i assume, of course, that you're right and he's not, because your response is extremely long. if my logic appears suspect then do excuse me, i can't really be bothered to properly evaluate the debate so far.

anyway, you're as rabid an antiestablishmentarian as A is a nationalist ('papist' wouldn't be correct) propaganda-puppy, so slamming A that way is rather unfair.

the justification for maintaining a system of conscription seems to me to be rooted in the 1960s in the time when the possibility of invasion was very real. by now we've become so entrenched in the artificial culture of conscription that we can't shake off the feeling that we need a civilian army to protect us from the barbarians at the gates. we're paying through the nose for teeth and claws to scare off our neighbours just as Israel does. no one high up in government is bold enough to speak up and say that the entire juggernaut of NS isn't in concord with the defence requirements of this nation - that it should be revamped, reshaped and streamlined radically. i sure wouldn't have the balls.

of course, i don't know about the true political/strategic situation we're facing at the moment, or will be in the coming decades. if there IS a significant risk of war hidden somewhere beneath the veneer of diplomatic relations, if some hidden, volatile tension simmers, then there'll be grounds for a big ol' civilian army. and we're a pretty kiasee bunch.

D: i'm not taking any sides. i just want to make a few points about the ideas and arguments that have been exchanged so far.

first. A argued that because the SAF is primarily formed to play a defensive role, there should have been more debate before sending soldiers to iraq. i would completely agree with him if the soldiers who went were made to go en masse as part of their unit duties. that, fortunately, is not the case. as far as i am aware, when soldiers are needed for dangerous overseas missions (like in iraq and before iraq there was east timor), the units from which the relevant soldiers will come from will appeal for volunteers from their ranks. selection is strictly voluntary and no one who does not want to go will, in any way, be pressured to go. this explains why people who go are all regulars. they stand to benefit from promotions and lump sum bonanzas upon return. because these people, knowing the risks they would be facing, made personal decisions to take up the challenge, i am completely supportive of the sending of soldiers to iraq. after all, the move benefits singapore's international standing (which could in turn rake in many economic payoffs). if people were forced to go or "volunteered" en masse, however, it would be a different story but that is not the case.

second. gabriel and caleb both seem to be for the idea of having a non-military option for people who, perhaps due to ideological reasons, refuse to serve in the military. in theory, i am very much in support of this idea. but it seems to me a practical impossibility. if such an option existed (say people were given the choice to teach, do community work or serve in the civil defence forces), i'm pretty sure more than half the people would suddenly claim to be pacifists because of the significantly less hardship they would go through in non-military service. i'm not saying that pacifism is bullshit. it isn't. there are people who are strongly pacifist-leaning in this world (caleb would probably be one of them), and they should be entitled to their views. but it is impossible for us to distinguish between the real ones and the ones who just want to have an easier time. if 10% of the population opts to do military service (the crazy 10%, that is), will we still have a credible military to speak about? if there is some way of finding out for sure who the real pacifists are, i am in favour of excusing them from military service. but there isn't.

third. about gabriel and caleb's point that we don't need so many people in the military and that the remaining people should not be made to waste their time. i cannot agree more that the SAF is overstaffed. many people are doing nothing. many jobs can be made more efficient and many posts and be compressed into fewer. but the solution is, i feel, definitely not found in balloting. democracy is not just about maximising the society's welfare (presumably, if you do a ballot and spare some people from ns, you're freeing up productive labour and maximising society's welfare). it's also about equality of opportunity. now, this is not a communist/marxist idea. the communists want equality but democrats dream of equality of opportunity. the equality of opportunity epitomised in the words "all men are created equal" and the famous sentence, "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood." That's what democracy is about. that people will be given the same opportunities and a level playing field. it's not happening everywhere of course. but that's where we should be headed. and balloting is one big step backwards. i am more agreeable to the suggestion that we cut the length of ns equally for everyone.

finally. about caleb's point that we will lose a war anyway if a regional/world war breaks out. he's probably quite right. in a regional war, we will probably be overpowered eventually by numbers. the question, however, might well be how quickly we fall. if we fall in a week like we did against the japanese then the consequences will be catastrophic for the nation. but if we build up an armed forces strong enough to hold up long enough, our allies, or other world developments, might just be able to come to our rescue in time. britain barely hung on in the second world war and might have fallen eventually had the US not decided to step in. what we want potential aggressors to know (and fear) is that we have an armed forces strong enough to give a heck of a fight and to hold on until somebody somewhere decides to do something that saves us (perhaps our sending troops to iraq might be reciprocated then by uncle sam. we are, after all, the most important economy in south-east asia).

for those who know me by now, you probably know that i'm not a patriotic, pro-establishment yes-man. i have plenty of grievances and ns is certainly one of them (i'm for cutting the length, remember). but some points you guys made, i feel, need a little more perspective.

E: Hi there,

I'm not a 'propaganda puppy,' but I would like to contribute some views about why I believe NS is still necessary. A common perception is that the Singapore military exists to repel invaders in case of a war, and this is a pretty valid interpretation, since militaries are obviously used to fight in wars. And this argument extends that since the prospect of war is increasingly unlikely in an inter-connected world, the necessity for NS consequently decreases, and there's no need to maintain a strong army anymore.

However, I believe that a strong Singaporean army is still necessary even at such a time, for two reasons. First, while it may not seem immediately evident at first glance, I would suggest that a capable military provides the necessary preconditions for strong investor confidence in Singapore, particularly when we are nestled in an area surrounded by Muslim states, and particularly when we have frequent diplomatic squabbles with our neighbours. MNCs would be deterred from investing in a country that they perceive as being 'unstable,' or 'insecure,' especially if they are going to sink in millions or even billions of dollars into building factories/other infrastructure here. They'd rather go to Hong Kong or some other place that is free from such uncertainty. So in a sense, the lynchpin for our phenomenal economic success is our stability, and the lynchpin for that stability is the existence of a strong defence. Of course, this argument can be mocked by people when they say "oh are you therefore implying that if we don't have a strong army then all the investors will immediately pull out?" And to that I'd reply that it's always dangerous to pigeon-hole arguments into extremes. Rather, it's a kind of a spectrum, where the weaker our army is, the lesser confidence investors will have in our economy, the lesser jobs will be created, and so on.

And like what C said, if we were to make NS optional, while there would certainly be some people who would want to be 'macho' and continue in the army, the majority of people would just take the 'path of least resistance' and opt out of it, and since a perfectly legitimate alternative exists, and one's social status would not be diminished by choosing the non-military option, thereby increasing its appeal.

The second reason why I think a strong military is important is because it gives us a vastly increased diplomatic leverage. This is particularly important when a small country (ie Singapore) is involved in perennial negotiations and disputes with a big country (ie Malaysia). A strong military by the smaller country would tell the bigger country that you had better not bullshit around with us, you had better not boss us around, because we have the military might to back us up. Why do you think Malaysia balks at the idea of cutting off our water supply? It's not because they don't want to lose the three sens per gallon that they charge us for the water if they cut off our supply. It's because our civilian leaders (esp LKY) and military leaders have publicly declared in the past that if such a scenario occurs, Singapore will not hesitate to launch a pre-emptive attack on the southern part of peninsula Malaysia to secure our water supplies again, and I believe that Malaysia is taking our threat seriously.

So while the possibility of a full-fledged, regional war might not be as pervasive as it was three or four decades ago, I think a strong military exists for two other important reasons, namely as a lynchpin for economic growth in a volatile region and for increased diplomatic leverage. While the causal links are not immediately evident, and the successes in these spheres can easily be attributed to other mitigating reasons, I think the necessity of a strong military is inescapable. Of course, ideas such shortening the conscript duration can be examined, but to suggest that the necessity for a strong army is anachronistic nowadays would not be entirely accurate.

Caleb: Hello again

Yes i must admit the ad hominem vitriol was somewhat excessive, but i find 'if we had no conscription we would be putty in the hands of (name country of your choice)' arguments truly annoying. I am not suggesting that we do not need any defence capability, what I saying is that we are not best served by the current system of maintaining a large conscript army (with large infantry and armour regiments). To serve as a deterrent, our military only needs the capacity to inflict significant harm on the potential aggressor such that, when they do the cost-benefit analysis, it's not worth the money, loss of int'l credibility, etc etc that aggression would entail. You must remember that in today's world, a reputation for military adventurism would be absolutely disastrous to a country's FDI prospects. Even Singapore has been trying to spruce up its int'l image, what with the open arms for gay civil servants and all. And it was doing quite well (that is until Headmaster Lee ratted on about how he 'made a few phonecalls' to get preferential treatment in an NHS hospital and threatened to 'break heads' if the union boys at SIA got naughty). Sigh.

As for the M'sia and the water supply issue, let me offer a few thoughts:

1. The endless scuffles between S'pore and M'sia should merely be seen as the result of puerile attempts by the M'sian govt to shore up domestic support for UMNO. This is a favourite tactic of Mahathir, as Paul Krugman likes to point out in his NY Times Op-Ed. It is inconceivable that M'sia would actually cut the water supply *until the agreements run out*. This is because Msia and S'pore are too closely linked economically to for this to bring any benefit to M'sia. But, then again, even if it did cut the water supply after the agreements run out, there isn't much S'pore can do about it. Launching a 'pre-emptive strike' on M'sia would certainly not be a good idea, since it would then be illegal under int'l law.

2. S'pore fails to see that security is regional. Consider the EU. It is not inconceivable that France and Germany should ever go to war. Yet 60 years ago they devastated each other. Why this sea-change? Because their far-sighted leaders took pains to achieve 'ever closer union'. In contrast, ASEAN is a farce where leaders congratulate each other constantly and basically get nothing done. If S'pore had been more persistent from the start in integrating the region closer together, our security and economic situation would have been far better today than it is presently.

Well, just a few thoughts ya

Caleb: Oops I meant 'it is inconceivable that France and Germany...' not 'it is not inconceivable...' Sorry guys.

To address C's point about non-military alternatives, one would have to ask why the exodus he predicts from military NS has not occured in Sweden and other countries which have conscription. Furthermore, I would like to point out that non-military alternatives need not be cushy. My French teacher, who was one of the last batches of French citizens to serve NS before it was phased out in the early 1990s, opted for a civilian alternative and was duly sent to teach French at a Ugandan university. He once contracted malaria there and almost died. So, civilian service can actually be equally if not more risky/unpleasant.

Btw, since D mentioned the need for reform, why don't we discuss reforming the SAF? I mean for an organisation which has such a pervasive influence, it has very very little accountability. The Hu Enhuai thing was probably only saw the light of day in the media because the advent of the internet meant that such a atrocious lapse was already known by quite a large number of ppl. I believe there was a similar case in the ninties where a guy was killed (combat engineers) due to the negligence and stupidity of his superior officers. But, this case was not at all publicised. Why is this so? The govt likes to cite 'national security' as a blanket excuse, but I think that as citizens of an (ostensibly) democratic country, we have to right to know. Plus, there is almost no way for ordinary citizens or even MPs to have a say in how the SAF is run. In other countries which practice conscription, the military is expected to be fully accountable to the public. (This is with the exception of places like China and Russia, but well, let's not go there).

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Gabriel's Homepage's third incarnation is in the process of being put up. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, the pictures are going up at PhotoBucket.

In the meantime, you can pray that He Who Must Not Be Named or Andrew post more often.

Has The Opium Myth Gone Up In Smoke?

Was pleasantly surprised that the ST published this strike for sense in the misguided war against drugs, which induces almost religious feelings in many. So much for all the propaganda about opium. Too bad he didn't talk about pot, but I understand it is similarly harmless.
The Evolutionary Tales - "With apologies to Chaucer and Darwin". The Evolutionary Tales deals engagingly with the overwhelming evidence for evolution and the pseudoscientific nature of "creation science."

Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ - "a reference for answering the "there aren't any transitional fossils" statement"

Transition between apes and humans - Can you decide conclusively which ones are apes and which humans?

Forum with list of SAF training "incidents" - Some sound quite gruesome. Eg:

"Heard from fellow engineers, 93-95.

Exercise cut, bulldozers cover anti-tank trenches. THEN roll call, 1 man missing. Excavators used to dig, uncovered body parts of missing man, chopped up by excavators. The man was napping in the trench.

Mother spat at CO.

CO escaped punishment, even got sponsorship to study overseas."
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