When you can't live without bananas

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Friday, November 14, 2003

Send Your Name to a Comet - Certificate for Gabriel Seah

First Look Inside a Comet

Participation Certificate

Presented to

Gabriel Seah

On November 14, 2003

Thank you for your participation in the Deep Impact Discovery Mission to Comet Tempel 1. A compact disc bearing your name will be mounted on the impactor spacecraft that will collide with Tempel 1 making this the first mission ever to look deep inside a comet.

You are now part of the future discovery of clues about the beginning of our solar system as your name makes a Deep Impact!

Dr. Edward J. Weiler
Associate Administrator
NASA Office of Space Science

Michael F. A'Hearn
Principal Investigator
Deep Impact Mission
University of Maryland

Certificate No. 387442

Send your name too!

Deep Impact: Send Your Name to a Comet!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

In response to a comment,

Things I have faith in: Human goodness, the progress of technology, open source software, the power of love, secular humanism, doggies, Blue Bear

Things I have no faith in: Realpolitik, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Gods, magic stone salesmen, pussies, spammers

I never imagined that when I posted the CrushCalculator (a most wonderful and accurate program, that) link, there would be 49 tries in 7 days.


Sunday, November 09, 2003

We are currently converting to the SAR 21, ending reliance on the half a century old technology that is the M16. It has a few nifty features, such as being able to stand on its butt, but is damn heavy. I shudder to think of doing SOC with it :(

During physical activities, they always ask if anybody isn't feeling well. This is but a formality, for more often than not, those who fall out get scolded and are suspected of trying to "keng" (Ed: skive). In a peripherally related point, falling out of physical activities when one is on the verge of collapse or has sustained serious injury, is just like downgrading someone after he's been injured during training, or sending wreaths to the funeral of someone who has died in "service" to the SAF - pretty gestures, but ultimately pointless, since the damage has already been done. The root causes of the problem are not addressed, only the symptoms.

The SAF's forcing us to eat breakfast at unearthly times, like at 6+am, has many disadvantages. Needless to say, no one cares to wake up at an unearthly time just to consume the unpalatable slop they spoon onto your plate. The SAF thus wastes its own money, especially if people refuse to go to breakfast, but for regimentation and appearance's sake, breakfast is indented for them anyway. In addition, many people get hungry by around 10am, and then go for a canteen break. If they do not resist the temptation to eat lunch then, they will then be unable to eat the cookhouse's lunch, and eat again at about 3pm. Their appetite for dinner will then be spoilt, and they will eat instant noodles in bunk at night. Thus, we can see that an unearthly early breakfast can screw up your whole day! Whee.

I find the obsession with encouraging your weaker comrades-in-arms puzzling. Personally, when I am struggling to accomplish whatever physical feat has been assigned me, I find hollered encouragement to be more of an annoyance than a help, as it distracts me. Of course though, it beats getting screwed.

Why do some people prize suffering so much? Whether they view is as something to be desired for oneself, or to be inflicted on other people, it is equally perverse. For example, during company PT, I was "encouraged" by the people around me doing 2 pushups for every 1 that I did. How was their suffering more supposed to strengthen or encourage me? I am not a sadist, nor do I gain unholy energy through the torment of bound souls.

Why are orders and instructions always phrased in such a way as to try to scare people? "Non-compliance will be severely dealt with" and lines of its kind are always found in each day's routine orders, and on signs everywhere. The creation of a climate of fear cannot be good for morale. Also, army people have a fetish for the word "personnel", using it even when it is inappropriate - when referring to one person, for example. "Personnel" is an awkward word to use, and hard to fit in many sentences, but people don'tcare and just jam it in any-ole-how.

I always thought that the baton and wicker shield used during guard duty turnouts was useless. After witnessing one turnout, however, a moment of revelation came to me, and I've realised the purpose of the baton and shield - to defend the guardhouse against the likelihood that a gang of stray dogs (cats in the old SMM) charges it. Just like everything in the army, this seemingly useless practice has a purpose (*cough*).

The War On Me Continues

I have been shoved into the Unit Fitness Program, conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays by the PTIs. They are all pleasant, unlike in BMT, but speak in a certain way - perhaps the speech patterns are taught to them in PTI school. Their training can be quite xiong [Ed: tough] at times, but they are much friendlier than most of the 42SAR trainers and their sessions thus less intolerable. On other fronts, the pressure has been stepped up. However, the conduct of company runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays means that I will be exercising daily, and it is only a matter of time before I get injured. I, together with all obese people in 42SAR, have been banned from the canteen on pain of us signing extras (together with our Platoon Sergeants) who needless to say will make everyone else sign too. So if lunch or dinner is hot, lousy or both, I will go hungry, since sometimes the cookhouse food is so bad I'd rather starve than eat it.

There is some flurry about my weight, and sometimes I feel like I'm a pig being fattened up for the slaughter - except in reverse. What does one make of a unit where, during the CO Conference, half an hour is devoted to one's esteemed self? So much for "The Cutting Edge Family". Also, I get bad vibes from them, and the unfriendly energies emanating towards me unnerve me, as if it's becoming personal - after all they even took the trouble of pulling me back from my attachment just so they could whack me harder and better.

I have always been urged to accept the situation I'm in since I cannot change it, and to adapt. My reply has always been that, if everyone had this sort of defeatist attitude, women would still not have the vote, and slaves would still be slaves. If such issues are not close to your heart, how about this - if Lee Kuan Yew and his team had had this mindset, Singapore would still be a British Colony. Lim Bo Seng and Force 136 were ultimately useless in the resistance against the Japanese during World War II, but they are still acclaimed as heroes. In an attempt to make me buckle, I am also told by them this is all "for my own good". Soviet political dissidents were put in asylums and subjected to electro-shock therapy "for their own good" too since they were judged mentally ill. In all, I realised recently that the reason why I persist is to draw strength and purpose from my resistance.

I'd like to think that, though by common reckoning, I'm judged mentally weak, this is but a screen, a protective layer in front of my true mental bulwark - despite attempts at psyching me, I am not brainwashed, and continue steering my course resolutely. I am not sure how it's appropriate, but somehow I recall this boy, less than 12 years old, who read about the plight of child workers working in carpet factories in Pakistan and started to campaign for the children's rights. In an interview, he was asked why he did what he did, and his response was: "If not me, then who? If not now, then when?" Of course, he *did* get killed later, so.


In our last minute preparations for IQA, our audit, we put up standing orders everywhere - even in the dining room. This led me to wonder if there were standing orders for the toilets:

- Male personnel are to pee into the urinal/toilet bowl, and not outside
- Non-muslims are to use toilet paper after defecation
- All personnel are to flush the toilet bowl/urinal after use
- Non-compliance will be severely dealt with

Anyhow now our audit is over, and we did slightly better than last year and rose slightly in ranking. Who, though, but the commanders and regulars care about this empty, petty competition between them? Sorry, but whatever modicum of pride I may have in being in a "good" medical centre is far outweighed by my shame at being in the SAF. Why is ranking so important anyway? Even if everyone is good, there will always be someone at the bottom, but it doesn't mean they are lousy. Those who rank higher are better at creating the illusion of a perfect world, one that even the auditors know is a mirage.

I wonder how those in the consistently highest ranking medical centre feel. Perhaps their thoughts are as follow: "I feel so happy and proud of being in the best medical centre in the entire SAF! The sole purpose of my life has been accomplished and I can now die in peace! Finally, I can walk erect down the street, my head lifted up high and a spring in my step, knowing that we are NUMBER ONE. My family name has been burnished. Now I can boast to everyone I know that I am one of the best, one of an elite cadre. People will now look at me with awe, respect and reverence."

Explained, many ISO requirements do make sense, but the benefit or boost to service complying to them brings is dwarved by the cost of conforming to them. But then, it's poor suffering NSFs who do all the work. The cost is not borne by those who push the drones, so they push on regardless of the cost-benefit ratio. Where staff have no pride or incentive to give of their best, there is a resort to ominous statements. If we had unlimited time, manpower and motivation, I'm sure we would all get full marks, but all 3 are in short supply, especially for those of us in combat units which sap all 3 with their petty, spiteful and inane antics and tomfoolery.

Our Emart now sells Cleo and other women's magazines apart from Seventeen. I never knew such magazines were so popular among the largely male population of my camp. Perhaps it's the barber who buys the magazine - or maybe it's an evil plot by the Emart woman: she pays a retailer's price for the magazines and reads them herself, getting a discount on the normal price. Ooh, cunning.

Colonel Bernard Toh (Director, Public Affairs, Mindef) has spoken - if both your superiors and the SAF Hotline/MINDEF Feedback Unit (didn't know we could write to the latter) do not address your grievances satisfactorily, you are allowed to write to your MP. So much for the talk they scare you with, of getting charged for writing to your MP.

I found instant noodles and other unidentified particles in the water cooler sink again, but this time I didn't clean it up, to prevent the danger of a moral hazard (which is the same reason why I refuse to donate to the Straits Times' Pocket Money Fund)

Current Affairs and the Parlous State of the World

The President of the Cat Welfare Society wrote that if 10% of HDB dwellers take 1 cat home, there would be no more strays on Singapore's streets. Gee. That little statistical nugget is about as enlightening as the fact that if everyone in Singapore gives me $1 each, I'll be rich. Besides which, Ken pointed out that if 2 cats remained, they'd quickly cause a population explosion, especially without competition from other strays. She also advocated sterilisation, and said culling was not the solution. Even if culling cannot succeed in eliminating the stray cat population, how is sterilisation any better? Both reduce the birth rate of stray cats, but at least the former also reduces the stray cat population, and is almost certainly cheaper too.

I recognise the geopolitical reasons why Singapore accepts China's preposterous and immoral claims over Tibet and Taiwan, but I can't help but observe that there are potentially serious implications for Singapore. If, on the basis of loose historical precedent, China can claim Taiwan and Tibet as part of its sovereign territory against the will of their people's and the principle of self-determination, what's to stop Malaysia or Indonesia from claiming Singapore as part of their lands?

The 2 year sentence meted out to the policeman for having consensual oral sex with a 16 year old is ridiculous. Why don't they charge the girl for abetting a crime then? This is yet more evidence that our legal system is weighted against males where sex crimes are concerned. And I thought they'd stopped charging people with sex crimes, unlike good ole Ma-laysia. Looks like I'm wrong, but at least the unanimous (afaik) public outcry is heartening.

It is ridiculous how people describe the put-your-hand-on-a-car contest as a test of the human spirit which strenghtens you mentally. It seems these days that motivational speakers and writers have elevated any moderately difficult task, regardless of its nature or reasons for it, into a test of the individual's inner strenght, and a way for one to emerge stronger. It is a case of the means justifying the ends. In the case of the put-your-hand-on-a-car contest, I see it more as the sad triumph of materialism and stupidity over common sense - c'mon, you even have people crying when they get disqualified.

There's this guy who has 20 EZ-link cards and says he keeps them as souvenirs. He must be really bored, since there's only one design available.

The New Paper proudly proclaims that "We're Singapore's No 1 Tabloid!". I'm glad they realise.

In the past few weeks, Channel Newsasia has been screening a so-called 'International Varsity Debate', where the teams consist of people of Chinese ethnicity and who speak in Chinese. What's so "international" about a debate involving the chinese diaspora, I don't know, and it is a very misleading name. If they'd called it the "International Chinese Varsity Debate", I wouldn't be so miffed, but to call it an "international" debate is sheer arrogance and misleading in the extreme and reflects the sino-centric view of the world, where China and Greater China *are* the world, that many chinese still possess today.

Singaporeans are too apathetic, always refusing to help others even when to do so does not require much effort on their part. People can be beaten up on the streets in broad daylight, and the crowd around them can just stand and gawk, refusing to help the victim because they don't want trouble or bother themselves, or to "interfere" in others' affairs. We are also too compliant, always ready to do what we are told, and to take the easiest path of least resistance. The American Dream is of someone starting from humble roots, starting a business and then striking it rich. The Singaporean Dream is to get a PSC OMS scholarship and become an apparatchik. I suspect that, if Singapore is invaded and occupied, especially if there are no atrocities or gross mistreatment, Singaporeans will not form a resistance movement, and will instead adapt to life under their new masters, since it is the easiest thing to do, at least cost to themselves, and they are used to complying. Therein lies the failure of the past few decades of social engineering - you get economic growth, at the expense of a compliant (not to mention uncreative) population, as materialism is the focus for all of one's energies instead of socio-political avenues. Happily, the Powers That Be have realised that this cannot last, not least because it threatens economic growth and are taking steps to loosen up.

Other thoughts

A scorched earth strategy is sometimes adopted by states in desperate times. Yet, no one ever accuses such states of cutting off their noses to spite their faces, even though this strategy fits the idiom well.

One thing that has always puzzled me is the weird way the Chinese choose their heroes. For example, take Qu Yuan, the former official who fell into disfavor with the king after "bad" officials bad-mouthed him, and then commited suicide by jumping into a river when he found out that his country had fallen, is lauded as a hero by many, despite the fact that he had been unable to face up to reality and had taken the easy way out by commiting suicide. By modern reckoning, he was cowardly and didn't think of all the poor common folk who adulated and loved him, so would be severely distressed by his death. Yet, we still commemorate his death by making dumplings.


[On a female who gave a talk] Aiyoh, the face is just like Ban Xiong like that. (Ban Xiong's)

Next time you go to Orchard Road, don't say 'look at her butt'. Say 'look at her glubs'. No one will know what you're talking about (gluts)

Which part of the body is your favourite? [Someone: Lan Jiao {Ed: Penis}] Zha bor {Ed: Females} lah.

kelvar plate (kevlar)

sastisfaction forms (satisfaction)

IQA all wayang - you guys also know lah. Even the top management also know lah (know that, knows)

You know what he does all day? He sits in his office thinking, [folds hands] 'Hmm, how should I torment Gabriel?'

You look sick. [Me: I'm sick of 42.]

[On getting 2 years' jail for having oral sex performed on oneself] Life imprisonment? Might as well deal with drugs and get hanged. (in)

Have you ever seen a bicycle travelling faster than a tonner?... That's the greatest insult

I love to see you eat. All the deft touches - so fast, so furious. It's almost an art.

Link of the fortnight: By invitation: Harold Hongju Koh - Rights to remember

"Freedom from fear has become the obsessive watchword of America's human-rights policy... Witness five faces of a human-rights policy fixated on freedom from fear. First, closed government and invasions of privacy. Second, scapegoating immigrants and refugees. Third, creating extra-legal zones, most prominently at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Fourth, creating extra-legal persons, particularly the detainees of American citizenship labelled 'enemy combatants'. Fifth, a reduced American human-rights presence through the rest of the globe."

Quote of the fortnight:

"Because I hate war. And I hate young, reckless madmen such as yourself who want to achieve glory by spilling blood all over the world. I will make you eat dust, Alexander. I will force you to return to Macedon, to die with a dagger in your back just like your father" - Memnon of Rhodes (c.380-333)

Extract from Alexander - The Sands of Ammon, Page 211
My brother in law forgot to send in the cheque for renewal of our Economist subscription, despite my reminding him (my sister will find this familiar), so I can't read it this week. Bah. Worse, it takes up to 28 days to get the first issue of the new subscription. Bah x3. At least I can catch up on my reading - "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." - Thomas Jefferson

He wanted to look at pussies at the SPCA today, so I humoured him. Many of the dogs looked gaunt. Of all of them, I particularly liked this Prince Charles:

After that, he humoured me by going to watch the Nam Wai Pai Qigong Demo, which I'd been wanting to go for quite a long time, ever since seeing the ad in the papers.

The audience was rather large, included many English speaking people - surprise and even one guy from Sri Lanka. Needless to say, at least 5 of us had cameras or videocams.

It was really amusing, for to promote their Qigong, they demonstrated many fantastic moves. For example, what is described in the ad as "See the Master using his 'Qi' to repel 8 strong men charging at him". A series of frames from some of the videos I took follows.

And then was the part where some demonstrators absorbed "Qi" from the ground (considering this was on the 5th storey, I assume if they'd done it on ground level, they would have been so powerful, they'd have been able to fly ala Chinese Gongfu Movies). It looked quite freaky, like they were in a trance.

After charging themselves with "Qi", they invited "young, strong" audience members to hit them. Naturally I was chosen. I hit his back 3 times with each forearm, and after that my arm felt a bit warm and tingled (probably from the increased blood flow). If it'd been up to me, I would have kicked him in the stomach to test his "Qi" but, oh well.

And the penultimate demonstration was the Master using his Qi to repel 8 strong men lined up in front of him.

It was all very melodramatic, but easily faked.

Through the session, Qigong was touted as having lots of therapeutic properties - from lowering blood pressure, to getting rid of asthma, to destroying lumps in one's breast. I'm not sure what to believe, but the power of the mind is great indeed, and there is much about the human body that modern medicine does not yet know.

[Update: I'm told NUS has a Nam Wah Pai Qigong club too. wth?!]
My brother in law's cheek is galling.

He is fond of coming up from out of nowhere and flipping my earlobes repeatedly - again and again, like some deprived pervert. Taking advantage of me relentlessly without mercy, sating himself on my body parts and violating me, he fulfils some perverse need inside of him.

It didn't use to be so bad - when he first discovered this secret, forbidden need, he would content in but one jerk of his finger. Nowadays, his addiction has grown on him, like some insatiable parasite, and every time the irresistable urge comes over him, he descends on me, his eyes clouded by the lobe-lust, and immediately starts flipping away as if his very life depended on it.

Maybe it's because he has no one to practise his fingering skills on, but each episode leaves me feeling increasingly soiled and used, and tempted to elbow him vigorously, as I did today.
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