"The happiest place on earth"

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Saturday, January 03, 2004

Tonight I have the high honour and distinct privilege of hosting He Who Must Not Be Named at my humble abode.
Just got back from late night drinks with JN, Gumballs, my cousin, and Des. We were slumming it in a hotel bar, all of us incongrously wearing khakis and polo shirts (one of the weirder instances of spontaneous coincidence - talk about yuppie aspirations). Thankfully none of us wore golf caps.

Gumballs is doing his thesis - which has been overdue for a year. Apparently this extension is like his fourth extension, and his uni is still letting him drag it out. Talk about slack scholastic standards - he's come back to apply for a PR in Australia from offshore, but he can't start until he graduates, and he hasn't graduated until he gets his degree. He was supposed to spend the whole of last year doing his degree - but I guess when you're living overseas, it just.. drags itself out.

I wish I had the balls (and the slack lecturers) who would let me spend a *year* doing nothing but working on one assignment.

Although he was kind enough to buy me a bottle '99 De Bortoli Noble One - a full 750ml size! Was totally touched by the sudden gesture, and the nicety of awareness that I really like dessert wines. It's not a Sauternes, but what the hell, I figure. Either way, this is the first non-family, non-birthday present I've received in... a year. Yeah, since - well. Since. Little victories; often the best are the ones you don't plan for.

Good to get together with my fellow geeks. Spent the whole night raving about Exalted, MTG, various computer games and George R.R Martin books. Just what I need, a social revert to my ethnic type.

Absent thought of the day: Traffic dictates culture. When Gilbert visited last week, he noted that no one seems to honk or care if you ride the shoulder on the highway. The traffic - and the way people drive/park/bribe the police here tells you everything you need to know about Malaysian culture - that going on the straight, prescribed, rule-driven approach gets you nowhere. The only way to get anywhere is to cut corners, bend rules, make illegal U-turns, bribe traffic police.

Off down to Singapore tomorrow morning for reunion party at ym's place - a bunch of the old crowd are gathering from ye parts distant. Pot luck - damn it, what am I going to bring during the bus ride? And I don't think the sheer radiance of my presence is going to make up for appearing empty handed.

On top of that, I'm down to my last 100 dollars for the next two weeks until payday, which I'm going to use up faster than a Jalan Petaling transvestite uses mascara. Funny how that I'm earning more money than ever, I seem to have less to spend at any given time.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Today's burst of self-pitying whimsy:

"Jesus walked with lepers. I do not pretend that it makes me blessed, but it is something to consider. Perhaps it means nothing - but let me have my hopes."

Skipped capoeira classes today, because I was too zoned out from work. How the hell do you price an illiquid bond when no one on this planet, not even Bloomberg, has any quotes, and the last price you had was like six months ago when corporate yields hadn't gone through the roof? While I appreciate my boss' confidence in going on leave so that I could tackle it alone, I fear on Monday he will be inundated by my panicked requests for support and supervision. So much for wanting to hire "candidates who have initiative, drive and can work independently"

There is a pleasing irony in knowing that what I am doing is, in many ways, collusion tantamount to illegal misrepresentation. Without going into details, I had to create several million dollars out of nothing. And all in a totally legal fashion, of course. And it may not even be an illusion; by saying it is so, getting the auditors to sign off on it (although the imprimatur of auditors has been seriously debased of late), poof - it becomes reality; a number conjured by the interplay of some legal sophistry, pure guesswork, and "market feel" (aka. The Force lah) - and next thing you know, whoosh, we're reporting increased earnings, the share price rises, I hopefully get a marginally higher bonus, and all's hunky dory and my three nights of panicked work are rewarded by the warm glow of bamboozling the shareholders and analysts.

Only two things separate what I do from the Enrons and the Worldcoms - scale (everyone does it. Just that some get more greedy, and thus get caught) and sophistication (with auditors who don't even know price-yield relationships, how hard can they be to smoke?).

Was talking to an old friend today; am meeting up with them for a reunion in Singapore this weekend. To show Fate's twisted sense of humour, my recent travails have been punctuated by tidings of good news for my friends; better jobs, promotions, opportunities, etc. Although this tide of good fortune while I'm stuck in my dead-end job pisses me off (again, the ugly side of human nature rears itself), it seems to be confined only to the material aspect of life - like an idiot I knew in uni who made a million dollars buying and selling a refurbished piece of industrial land (when I say idiot I mean idiot - he once saw me running 3dMark benchmarks on my PC and commented on the wonderful "graphs")

However, I have also heard of quite a few break-ups this December. Hallmark must have poured some mood depressant in their Christmas card ink this year; at least four people I know broke up with their significant others.

Am in the midst of playing Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Perhaps I shouldn't have downloaded the entire Dark Chronicle storyline from gamefaqs.com; knowing the exact story kind of detracts from the effort from playing it. And while the graphics are impressive (Raziel's transition from spiritual to material is particularly cool), the third person camera seems to be located at the worst possible location and it changes perspective in the middle of leaps! While a person with an analogue controller (well, LoK is a primarily PS2 title) may be able to live with it, us poor mouse-and-keyboard enthusiasts are left in the cold.

Was having a conversation with a friend last night, on the nature of temperance. (sort of) A cute chick had actually called him out for a date; brazenly saying that she wanted to see more of him because she had glimpsed him at camp and thought he was cute. (Women these days are so degenerate. Society is going to perdition. Gone are the days of chastity and moral rectitude. Yes, I'm jealous)

Anyway, they went out for a movie, and she actually invited him over to his house (reading between the lines, I gather he wasn't being invited home to play Scrabble). Now, my friend possesses a pretty hedonistic mindset, but yet is in straitened circumstances as well.

So faced with such a prospect what did he do? He said he was busy.

Now, I find this intriguing, because I don't think he refrained out of physical infirmity, moral inhibition, or some other genuinely pressing circumstance. So I asked him, why?

In his words: "i don't like girls who are bad on the surface. i want those rgs types whom i can make bad. although i've not done it yet, but i want to try."

I'm still mulling over that one.

Someone also pointed out to me on the topic of picking up strange women: "Paradoxically, when this kind of thing means absolutely nothing to you it's easier."

"the problem with above average women in clubs is that they've been hit on too many times and are jaded. you need to be something different

according to this player. he suggests the "negative hit" theory. meaning you hit them with some negativity and get them to wonder "hey this guy is more special he isn't kissing my ass like the rest of them losers""

Me: "but what if the girls who go to clubs WANT to be hit on in the normal way? I mean, isn't that why they're there?"

And, after some thought: "I think the empty, sleazy, brutally honest feeling you get from a hooker is in some ways preferable to conning some girl with your "hard-to-get" pretensions of superiority."

Friend: "That's your problem lah. Dogs can smell fear, girls can smell desperation. Oh well. the type of girls we want need to be initially attracted to us, but if they are going to be attracted to us the way we really are they would have to be fucking dysfunctional to begin with."

Me: "What would be the point otherwise?"

Quote on Eat Me. Just Eat Me.

Vivian: "Hey, Shawn, you know Gabriel, right?"
Me: "Let me think. You mean Gabriel from NJ?"
Vivian: "No, Gabriel, the weird guy who links to your site."
Me: "Oh yeah, Gabriel Seah. Haha, yeah. What about?"
Vivian: "He was my primary school classmate."
Me: "Oh, so you heard him take the BCG jab. Did you hear him scream?
It was like, stuck pig in an abbatoir. Did you hear that scream? That
was some scream. It was maybe 40 seconds long. All the girls in my class
burst out crying. It was so long, it had three parts. Pre-scream, real
scream, post-scream."

Everyone loves Gabriel

Ahh, the glory days. And to think I'm a medic now.
2nd day of the year, and I think I have carpal tunnel syndrome. Unfortunately my company's sterling health plan doesn't cover it (however, they did let me take sick leave when I went for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis so they're not *that* bad). My forearm feels like cold needles are running down the inside of my blood vessels whenever I move my mouse, and half a bottle of medicated linoleum doesn't seem to make squat difference.

To take my mind off the discomfort, I shall answer some more of Gabriel's posts

(Someone was asking: "Why do all your posts seem to be snipes at Gabriel or debates with him? A third person watching would think he's having a dissociative personality disorder argument with himself." I replied: "My life is too surreally banal to make good writing, and Gabriel's the only person I know of who would let a co-blogger incessantly abuse him. It keeps him honest, anyway.")

Firstly, *you're* the one over-generalizing shamelessly with regards to lotteries and life. When I say a national lottery for NS won't work because of the ugliness of human nature, I mean it in the context of a Singaporean society with institutional inertia of an existing, and arguably functional (albeit not at Pareto efficiency) conscription. And studies have shown that people would accept a lower income if it was at an average level, as opposed to an higher income that was below average, everything else ceteris paribus.

That doesn't mean lotteries *can't* work in other societies with other factors at play, simply that this above factor, alongside all others, would be the primary reason why it's not politically viable in Singapore today.

Secondly, the Scouring of the Shire is a seminal part of Tolkien's book. I think it makes a great allegorical point (Tolkien's distaste for allegory granted) that not all the battles against evil involve grandiose epics and saga-level conflicts. Sometimes it can be evil in a small, mean way, in your backyard, corrupting the people around you. Of course, Lord of the Rings as a movie is meant to focus more on the bigger picture, so I can see why for theatrical release such a part would slow down the pacing and add an unncessary denouement in the conclusion - but that doesn't detract from the chapter's role and message in the original text.

The US dollar has been falling vis-a-vis the European/Japanese/Australian currencies, but the ASEAN pairs are being kept low by a combination of aggressive Treasury purchasing, hard currency buffering and mondo loose monetary policy. ASEAN is a primarily mercantilist mentality; they don't want to see their currencies over-appreciate esp with China's flood of cheapo exports around the corner. These factors make us a ready market for the US' deficit spending for a while to come.

I have nothing against racist jokes; hell, once I was driving an Indian colleague & a Malay colleague to lunch. The Malay guy was sitting in the backseat. He suddenly said: "Now this is rare - a Chinese driving a Malay around." It is a sign of true multi-cultural integration when all of us can tell racist jokes in front of each other.

However, when I got your email, I confess I totally did not get any humour value out of it.

i don't really get it but i'll laugh because it has malays

(I'm a Malaysian. Racism is part of my national heritage. Most people I know here, when it comes down to it, like individuals and despise races. Too bad if you can't see the distinction.)

You see there's this joint in Spore called "Canadian 2 for 1 Pizza". I call it "Malay 2 for 1 Pizza" because everyone who works there is Malay.

So I gather the humour comes because something called a "Canadian" pizza joint is run entirely by Malays. While I'm not entirely rolling on the floor with levity here, I can see why some individuals with a low common denominator of humour might find it laugh-worthy.

The question is, if the picture had been of entirely Chinese or Indian or even Iraqi people, would you have sent out an email to all and sundry calling it "Chinese 2 for 1 Pizza" or "Iraqi 2 for 1 Pizza"?
To clarify my position on Canadian 2 for 1 Pizza:

Fie, it seems to be the case that whenever I talk about that company, I am accused of racism.

Perhaps it is because we, in Singapore, have been over-sensitised to the point that any mention of race is automatically suspect, and any mention of it beyond a socially/governmentally approved context - meaning in an unambiguously positive way - gets one labelled as racist. This is especially the case with minorities which are traditionally discriminated against by the majority.

Please note that in the picture attached, *all* of the staff are Malay. This I have not altered. In all transactions I've had with this company, further, all but two of the people I've interacted with - the people answering the phone, delivering the goods and even manning the outlets - are Malay, and even then one of the two was what I took to be the owner of a particular branch, since he came in his private car to deliver the pizza.

Thus, "Malay" is a purely descriptive term, and any negative connotations are purely in the mind of the offended. I'm sure if there was a joint I termed "Long Haired Blondes 2 for 1 Pizza", or advertised a place as having food cooked by my "Italian chef, flown in from Italy", no one would be offended. Perhaps the outbursts this matter always triggers is but a manifestation of Freudian Projection (Ed: "A defense mechanism in which the individual attributes to other people impulses and traits that he himself has but cannot accept. It is especially likely to occur when the person lacks insight into his own impulses and traits.") on the part of the naysayers.

In conclusion, I leave you with these words of wisdom from King Edward the Third (1312-1377), who adopted them as the Motto of the order of the Garter: Honi Soit Qui Mal Pense (Evil to him who evil thinks).

Thursday, January 01, 2004

It's very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it. - Salman Rushdie

The Charity of King Wenceslas - If you think about it, really, both the poor man and the "Good" King's behaviors are very suspicious. I totally agree with the writer.

Minas Morgul - Ignore the title. It's an interesting page with little gems on a wide variety of topics. Most rare these days.

Brothers 'United' after unusual pact - A Manchester United soccer fan donated cells so his brother could have a life-saving transplant -- on condition his sibling switched his support from arch rivals Manchester City.

Ben told me the last time that to get film-quality 4R prints with digital images, you need them about 1MB in size. Bah. The 1024 x 768 on fine (medium) quality images that my mother took in Vietnam came out indistinguishable from those printed from analog film.

A certain aspect of American politics puzzles me - namely the thing about the South shifting its allegiance from the Democrats to the Republicans about a half century ago. In fact, I'm led to believe that the two parties swapped characters and agenda around that time.

Some people accuse me of being racist when I call it "Malay 2 for 1 Pizza". I beg to differ, for the term is purely descriptive. Look closely and you will see that -all- of the people in this picture are Malay.

For those of you celebrating your year-end bonuses:

The mystery of the 13th month bonus

When the British were in Singapore, they were being paid weekly & they argued that Singaporeans were actually being cheated into believing that the 13th month pay is a bonus.

Singaporeans are being paid monthly which is equivalent to 4 weeks pay coz there are 4 weeks in a month.

As the British were paid weekly, it worked out to the same. You see, there are 7 days in a week. 4 weeks in a month. 12 months in a year. Then 12 months should work out to 48 weeks only. But 1 year worked out to 52 weeks!!! Hence the 13th month is your own pay (not bonus??!!).

So, the British argued that there is in fact no bonus at all??? It is a very simple calculation that stunned many!!!! BONUS??? What bonus??? . #$%*@!!!
Does anyone need more proof that the world is going straight to Hell?

Plastic Faith

ESHER, England -- The world's first inflatable church opened its Gothic arches to worshipers to reveal a blow-up organ, a polyvinyl pulpit, an air-filled altar and fake stained glass windows.

Out With a Bang

STOCKHOLM -- A Swedish church newspaper reported a growing number of explosions during cremations caused by overheated silicone breast implants in female corpses.

Bad Day

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- A man who thought his boss's bicycle had been stolen while in his care killed himself in despair by diving into a cesspit. A friend returned the bike a little later.

Family Hour

BEIJING -- China banned commercials for feminine hygiene products and hemorrhoid ointments during mealtimes, declaring them unappetizing.

Ancient Art

LONDON -- A leading British museum has paid $387,000 for a 16th-century Italian Renaissance dinner plate showing a male head made entirely of phalluses.

Athletic Endeavor?

TORONTO -- A quick-fisted man bested 320 competitors to win $3,825 and the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship at a local nightclub.

Dog Breath?

LONDON -- A survey by a toothpaste manufacturer indicated more than half of all Britons have breath that smells worse than their pet's.

Word of the day (year, I hope): "agathism"

Well, it's a new year, and as cliched as the concept of "new year = renewal, turn of the cycle, rotation of the Wheel, etc" is, I find myself, like the rest of the human population, seduced by an arbitrarily chosen point in the Earth's rotation around the Sun. Still, I suppose it's human psychology to fix points in time by which we can milestone our personal, temporal progress through this mortal coil.

Okay, grandiosely pontificating preamble over (for now).

In keeping with the Adrian Mole tradition, here are my New Year's Resolutions for 2004:

a) Lift myself up from credit card penury and repaying all outstanding debts.

b) Break self out of current stoner come-home-play-computer-games-watch-DVDs-and-download-pornography drift and concentrate on the following remaining PULGs (Post-University Lifestyle Goals): get a better job, get my CFA, move out of house.

c) Reduce alcohol consumption to twice a month. (Wine doesn't count) (Neither does beer) (Or perry) (Ditto vodka) (And house pours) (Also cocktails)

d) Reduce cigarette consumpt... ah fuck it, who am I kidding.

e) Buy only computer games I plan to complete.

f) Ditto for VCDs, DVDs, books.

g) Moratorium on new online friendships, trysts, liaisons, etc. (Occasional interaction via mailing lists, forums, tagboards, newsgroups permissible but to be more stringently QC-ed)

h) Convert existing online acquaintances into meatspace acquaintances (only two to go)

i) Resume blogging as a means of psychological catharsis, verbal "gorilla-thumping-on-chest" egotism, tediously self-pitying bitching about daily events, and vocabulary-honing.

j) Stick with capoeira classes.

k) Make perfunctory gestures towards charity and altruism and goodwill towards fellow man (ie. putting more change in beggars' bowls, not abusing idiot students with cans and stickers, joining in squatters' protests, refraining from lengthy diatribes about the need for voluntary human extinction)

l) Research cryonics potential more thoroughly as part of renewed zest for life (albeit life in some other epoch where I can hopefully own an orbital space station with rail guns, a berthed Dreadnought-class starship, and a harem of vat-grown nano-constructed concubines)

m) Expect less from friends, family and people around me as part of disappointment-avoidance strategem.

n) Make efforts to go to some of the weird cultural events they occasionally advertise on the Hitz.fm Community Infoline.

I'm currently languishing at work, and am somewhat frustrated due to the failure on the part of another party to deliver the information I need to complete a report which absolutely *must* be completed by tomorrow morning. Although I have a legitimate excuse for tarrying, it still rankles that my progress is being held back by the incompetence of others. But thinking back on this sensation, I find myself surprised to discover something that I've developed resembling work ethic - a concept previously inimical to me other than as a necessary evil required to earn money to keep myself in a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.

As a result, I'm waiting at the office, by myself, staring out the window, and suddenly, *bing*, a flash of volition and here I am, typing furiously into the blog, despite my vow a year ago to stay off blogging. Gabriel has half-heartedly prodded me into making entries now and again, but here are a few better reasons why I've started again.

a) Friendster.com has lost what little appeal it initially had

b) No good games out on the horizon (except, arguably, Thief 3)

c) No money to upgrade computer to effectively play any new good games that might emerge anyway, so why not resort to an alternative low-tech hobby

d) Initially stopped blogging because of embarrassment at lack of anything to say beyond archetypical, cliched personal whining, and because I felt I should be better occupying my rare crumbs of leisure time by either looking for another job or playing more computer games or downloading more Ai Ijima clips, but recent personal events have stripped me of any vestige of motivation or dignity I might have had left.

e) Self-righteous need to critique Gabriel's moralizing for the hollow sham that it is.

f) I like lists a lot. Blogging lets me create lists ad infinitum. BWAHAHAHAHAHA.

As a matter of fact, Gabriel is presently sore wroth at me for telling him that, in Order of the Phoenix, Severus Snape is Harry Potter's real father, that Dudley has magical powers, and that McGonagall dies. He's in the midst of reading it at the moment.

(it's the little pleasures that keep one sane)

Gabriel and I have also had a recent, very long discussion on the institution of National Service, and various alternatives. He went on a long and lengthy rant about how he, as a pacifist, vociferously opposed NS on principle, and that there should be alternatives for conscientous objectors.

I pointed out that the Jehovah's Witnesses are consicentous objectors for whom an "alternative" is provided. Granted, DB for years may be excessive, but what the hell, if you want to provide an easy alternative, everyone's going to suddenly discover their inner hippie and argue for peace and love. At least under the current system, you have to put in some effort (and luck) to get that lobo job you want.

Then I told him that I felt his current objections to NS were driven more by his own self-interest and desire to avoid the discomfiture it causes him, as opposed to any genuinely heartfelt moral principle.

He denied it vehemently of course. And cited all his other various noble causes: feminism, freedom of speech, secular humanism.

So I asked him: "If right now, they gave you a 12-3pm job, 4 days a week, but you had to go to secondary schools and give lectures on how great NS is, would you?"

Of course, he fudged. And accused me of being so morally degenerate that I assume everyone has the same base motivations as I do.

I replied: "At least I have no illusions about what I am, and what I do - well, sometimes anyway"

We then considered a few alternatives to NS; such as having a lottery, "reform vs abolition", hiring mercenaries.

"Reform vs abolition" revolves around the principle that national conscription is a necessary evil, but that the current organizational structure, implementation and use of resources is inefficient, combat-ineffective (debatable), and causes unnecessary suffering. IMHO this is broadly true; but national conscription as it currently stands is the most cost-effective way of achieving the twin military and political goals of government hegemony. No doubt there are other methods, but I really can't think of any that so effectively serve to domesticate the male population AND provide a pool of cheap bodies for the use of military defenses.

A lot of people will say that army doesn't really domesticate males; it makes them more angry and pissed off at the government, but it seems to me that what it does is that it makes them complain more in private, and figure out how to work the system; but ultimately bend their heads and just slog it out within the rules instead of upsetting the apple cart. Gabriel's recent long diatribes and emails being a case in point. It ironically makes him more complaining, more whiny, and more verbally disaffected - but disempowers him from taking any radical action towards upsetting a reinforced power/political structure - (as can be seen from the occasional court-martial-fear-driven-self-censorship in this blog).

Perhaps a more effective use of resources would be to change the incentive structure of National service; not just in terms of allowances, but in terms of servitude alternatives. For instance, a longer stint in the civil service vs 2.5 years of military service? (this would have the pleasant side-effect of devaluing PSC scholars). Or other useful forms of national-related employment? If you structure the incentives and trade-offs correctly, you can still induce/coerce enough people to fill the defensive needs of the nation, while denying Mindef an endless supply of warm bodies to perform hole-filling tasks might make it rethink the way it does things (the surfeit of zombies every year, I think, has subtly impaired its organizational thinking in some ways). This is just a hypothethical, of course, and it would require a lot of thought and fine-tuning before it becomes a workable idee fixe.

Having a lottery seems great on the surface, but the sad truth of human nature is that we'd rather see everyone suffer, even if the aggregate suffering goes up, compared to a comparative few suffering. In other words, if the government could get past the institutional inertia and actually set up a lottery system, the ones who draw the short straw are going to bitch so much that it may potentially update a (currently relatively) stable social situation. What politician would want to risk it?

(NB: Malaysia is a pretty good example of this in action - thankfully the corruption here is so endemic that a lot of people who got in have managed to weasel their way out through judicious application of resources and contacts. As a matter of fact, the M'sian government has called on Chinese and Indian volunteers to fill in the blanks caused by all these "deferments" and "disruptions" to create the ideal "racial composition". Ironic.)

Mercenaries: the only argument I like in favour of this is that none of the parties likely to come into military confrontation with Singapore can pay more so that mitigates the treachery factor to some extent.

Tangential shift to a few thoughts occupying my head.

Watched Return of the King last weekend. While watching it, I had to keep reminding myself to appreciate it as a movie on its own merits, and not address it in terms of the book. That said, however, some of the scenes were so spot on with the way I've always pictured them from Tolkien's text that it was a joy to watch. These included the death of the Witch-King, the battle at Pelennor Fields, the final confrontation at Orodruin, Smeagol's murder of Deagol, Shelob's depiction, and the wondrous cityscapes of both Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who, when watching the charge of the Mumakil, thought: "Fuck! AT-AT Walkers!" (Empire Strikes Back) I kept wondering when the snowspeeders and winch cables would show up:)

I do wish that they had kept some of the more seminal scenes from the book; for instance, bringing in some of the Gondor liege lords like Imrahil and using the actual text from the Last Debate chapter, the much-discussed scouring of Saruman from the final movie, and making Denethor a little more dignified and a little less like a tyrannical glutton. Maybe the extended version DVD will help allay these complaints.

Having played the Return of the King hack'n'slash though, I have to say that it and Two Towers are the best computer-game-movie tie-ins - in terms of visual look, storyline, concept, and of course, all those cool interviews and extras.

Elijah Wood (on playing the PS2 games): "At one point, I swear, I concentrated so hard the (PS2) controller was floating in the air. Serious."

Sometimes I can relate to people who want to kill all Westerners. They come to our countries, earn obscene US-denominated salaries (often tax-included), are given luxury apartments, have our women fling themselves at them, and are reportedly more well-endowed (having lost women to the Caucasian race more than once, penis envy is something I have no qualms in admitting:). I remember once when, sitting in a bus, I was listening to a bunch of American exchange students go on and on about how hard it was to find Mexican food in the town center. Contemplated going all al-Qaeda on their heathen asses, but then I reached my stop.

But it's hard to hate them for long, given that virtually all of the technological and cultural influences that make my life enjoyable originates from them. I'm told that the Philippines feels pretty much the same kind of hate-love ambivalence towards the Yanqui.

But speaking to Gabriel's lambasting of US foreign policy, the sad truth of the matter is that despite being driven more by self-interest and personal vendetta, the whole Iraqi debacle hasn't turned out to be a total nightmare - yet. For one thing, despite everything, no one can deny life in Iraq is currently better without Saddam at the top (until everything degenerates into sectarian chaos, the odds of which are slim but not impossible at present). Ignoring the motivation behind this, and the sheer administrative stupidity that's going on in the aftermath occupation, one has to be pragmatic about the results. I would definitely be irritated by those who cast the US' recent successes as part of the vanguard of righteousness bringing harmony and peace and goodwill, but the fact of the matter is that the US has done some good on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, however cynical the real political motives, and however economically damaging it could be to all of us in the long run.

The US' deficit-fuelled economy may be good for now as a pump-primer for global growth contagion, but when it inevitably collapses? Our Asian central banks can't keep buying Treasuries forever.

Ultimately, what irks me most about the US is not so much about whether or not their actions and largesse have had good for the rest of the world (by and large, it has, despite some sore spots - its unflagging support of Israel being one example), but by their current fashion of dressing it up behind an agenda of democratisation, universal rights, and doctrinal rectitude. Why can't they just happily stick to exporting the best parts of their complicated Weltanschuung; unfettered technological innovation, sophisticated financial markets, capitalistic shenanigans, glittery hedonism, Oreos, massive flows of FDI and overwhelming military intervention in the interests of securing global oil supplies? While reining in the moral banners, the pretensions to humanitarianism, the right-wing evangelism, and reality TV?

Hm. Back to work.

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.
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