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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Economic Growth in Africa

"Africa is the world's poorest continent. It has had an uncertain transition from colonialism, with the Cold War and increases in corruption being major contributing factors to its poor economic situation. While rapid growth in China and India, has lifted millions beyond subsistence living, Africa has stagnated, even going backwards in terms of foreign trade, investment, and per capita income. This poverty has widespread effects, including low life expectancy, violence, and instability.

The central challenge facing African economies is to reduce poverty through higher levels of economic growth. Long term, broad-based economic growth is essential for Africa to increase incomes and reach its potential to become a significant trade and investment partner in the world economy.

Sub-Saharan Africa experienced strong economic growth rates in the latter half of the 1990s and in the past five years, reflecting the implementation of better economic policies and structural reforms. Sub-Saharan African countries therefore face major challenges, to raise growth and reduce poverty, and to integrate themselves into the world economy. Economic growth rates are still not high enough to make a real dent in the pervasive poverty and enable these countries to catch up with other developing nations. What is needed is a sustained and substantial increase in real per capita GDP growth rates in these countries, coupled with significant improvements in social conditions...

In this paper we will try to explain economic growth in Africa by using the Solow model of growth."

Wherein I actually used what I learned in Econometrics. The dataset used (adapted from David Weil) is also available.
I've posted something about this before, but this is funny:

Lightning and Enlightenment - Ben Franklin and the Lightning Rod

"Christians used to believe that thunder storms and lightning bolts were directed by God to "discipline his servants and teach us important lessons," or they were directed by Satan ("the Prince of the Power of the Air") and his demons, or they were called forth by "witches" to "try and destroy God's holy sanctuaries and ministers...

Numerous pious authors also testified how well the old "sacred" remedies succeeded in protecting churches and cathedrals from the ravages of lightning strikes and storms. Such "sacred" remedies included ringing church-bells and reciting special prayers. Hence, when Benjamin Franklin invented his "lightning rod" in 1752, most Christians were far from eager to place a "rod of iron" designed by an "arch-heretic" at the top of their churches near the holy cross of Christ. Neither did they desire to abandon the ancient Christian game of praising God (or blaming the devil), for lightning strikes and storms.

In America the earthquake of 1755 was widely ascribed, especially in Massachusetts, to Franklin's rod. The Rev. Thomas Prince, pastor of the Old South Church, published a sermon on the subject, and in the appendix expressed the opinion that the frequency of earthquakes may be due to the erection of "iron points invented by the sagacious Mr. Franklin." He goes on to argue that "in Boston are more erected than anywhere else in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! There is no getting out of the mighty hand of God."... As late as 1770 many religious Americans still felt that, since thunder and lightning were tokens of the divine displeasure, it was impiety to prevent their doing their full work.

Churches in Germany shunned Franklin's new invention for three decades, during which time some 400 church towers were damaged by lightning and 120 bell ringers killed. In one church a bolt of lightning struck the tower and melted the bell, electrocuted the priest, deprived a parishioner of her sensibilities and destroyed a painting of the Savior. Church towers, being the highest structures in a village, are commonly struck by lightning, while brothels and saloons next door escape untouched.
- William Deitz, Creation/Evolution Satiricon

It was long before the churches consented to be protected by the heretical tool. The tower of St. Mark's in Venice had at the time of Franklin's invention been struck again and again by lightning, sometimes with such disastrous effects that it had been almost destroyed. The Almighty, or alternatively the Powers of Darkness, seemed to have singled it out for special punishment, in spite of the angel that adorned its summit, the consecrated bells which were repeatedly rung to drive away the thunder, the holy relics in the cathedral nearby and the processions of the Virgin and the patron saint...

The case which did the most to convert the Italian theologians to the scientific view of lightning and the use of the lightning rod was that of the church of San Nazaro, at Brescia. The Republic of Venice had stored in the vaults of this church over two hundred thousand pounds of gunpowder. In 1767, seventeen years after Franklin's discovery, no rod having been placed upon it, it was struck by lightning, the powder in the vaults was exploded, one sixth of the entire city destroyed, and over three thousand lives were lost.

Ben Franklin's life-saving invention, the lightning rod, was condemned by many Christians as an insult to Almighty God, or at least, to his aim. Because the Bible says God "sends forth lightnings...He covers His hands with the lightning. And commands it to strike the mark. Its noise declares His presence?Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, And His lightning to the ends of the earth... Whether for correction, or for His world, Or for loving kindness, He causes it to happen." [Job 36:27-33 & 37:1-13 & 38:35]


Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.

Original sin is as ridiculous as imputed righteousness.

As to Jesus, I have some doubt as to his divinity.

- Benjamin Franklin, quoted in Benjamin Franklin: His Wit, Wisdom, and Women by Seymour Stanton Block"

Incidentally, I saw that last book in a bookshop here.
The reader for one of my modules is a stunning €18. For something we'll use just once, that's ridiculous. I wonder why they don't just provide the articles online.

I saw a white coated pigeon with a long tail and furry feat. I thought this sort of pigeon only existed in pigeon breeders' broods. Maybe it escaped from one.

I ordered a Kiwi milkshake and got a Vanilla one. Gah.

The book I chose for my book review (Kate Fleet. European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman Empire: The Merchants of Genoa and Turkey), despite being short, is described by another reviewer as being "not for the faint of heart". Shit.

One PRC asked whether the red hair tie I had around my wrist was a lucky piece of string. Wth?!

I had a class at 3:15pm, and I was pissed off to find out that no bus brought me directly there (one bus goes by there normally, but not at that time - after 13:48 or so it's replaced by an Express bus, the next bus stopping at that stop only comes by my place at about 4pm or so). So I took the Express bus and walked from the Centraal Station. I arrived just at 3:15pm, only to find that the door to the place was locked. A girl outside told me they location had been changed (I'd forgotten to check the new location on WebCT, Utrecht's IVLE equivalent, being unfamiliar with the system, and there hadn't been an announcement at the previous lecture).

She was preparing to zoom off on her bicycle and I briefly considered asking to hitch a ride. I quickly dismissed the thought though, with 3 post-hoc reasons: I didn't know her, I didn't know how to hitch a ride on the back of a bike and I would destabilise the bicycle.

Grilled Chicken Chop with Balsamic Caramelized Pears (made according to this recipe)
I know the recipe says Pork Chops, but I took the wrong thing out of the fridge. I essentially followed it this time except for the rosemary. Recipes don't scale down well - reducing 40ml of vinegar in a saucepan is damn hard, and I had too little of it in the end despite adding a bit more than supposedly necessary, resulting in the end product being a bit dry (especially since the pear wedges absorbed all the sauce). Also, I think Vidalia onions are quite big, so my onion wedges went to pieces despite careful treatment on my part.

Instant mashed potato is much nicer when you mixed in fried vegetables, and even better with ham bits inside. It also becomes nice and creamy when you add mayonnaise.

Instead of placing my eggs in the egg tray in the fridge, I tried leaving them in the tray (incidentally, one nice thing about buying eggs from Aldi, besides the price, is that inside the carton they place 2 feathers) and marking it with my initials. It worked for a while but one time 2 got stolen, so I moved them to my room. Meanwhile, milk was stolen from 2 of my cartons (and definitely more than 2 occasions), so after the second time I transferred it to a 500ml soft drink bottle and placed it at the back of the fridge, which seemed to work. It's not so much the price (Full cream UHT milk is €0,45 for 1L, and half-skim UHT €0,36 or so only [it was on offer today - only €0,27]) as the principle of it. If it gets stolen again I'm definitely going to enquire about the price of laxatives.

I saw fried pork skin labelled as "bacon chips".

Fried vegetables smell much better than they taste.

I paid €1,35 for a can of sugar cane (A Thai brand, not Yeo's). It tasted like boiled sugar cane. I wonder why they don't sell the crushed variety in cans.

I was disturbed to find Kordial in a Surinamese supermarket, some of it labelled as being Surinamese (in flavour? country of origin?) What was worse, though, was finding Apollo Kek Lapis. Ahh!!!!!! In the same shop I also found banana, mango and cinammon flavoured incense sticks. Uhh.

I got a scoop of gelato for €0,50 (I assume that's what "Italiaans Ijs" translates as). It was quite small (maybe half the size of the Nuremberg one) and came in a lousy sugar cone, but still - €0,50 gelato!

Almost vegetarian fried rice
Onion, carrot, courgette, garlic and egg and fried with soy sauce and rice wine. And I remembered the pepper this time (though it didn't seem to make much difference, maybe I should do a controlled experiment). The only meat comes from the chicken stock powder I added to the vegetable mix in aqueous form and whatever meat was in the oil in the saucepan leftover from the previous user (I'm quite mortified, really). I added too much soy sauce, but I remembered to beat the egg this time before throwing it in.

Stroopwafel bits
Stroopwafels are Dutch syrup waffles. They cut the waffle into 2, smear some butter syrup on it and then smack it back together. The bits are the leftovers after the whole bits are sold. I saw a huge pack being sold for €1 and bought it. I liked it even better than the stroopwafels themselves - it's basically a less oily version of sak khair mah (sp?), this Chinese confectionary consisting of fried flour bits glued together with syrup.

Fried pork strips topped with Hawaii sauce and served with mashed potato with vegetables
I bought 340g of pork strips/bands (reepjes) because it was going for half price, expiring on the same day. I was wondering what to do with them, and my Favourite Test Tube Washer gave me this suggestion. So I marinated them in sunflower oil, garlic and Italian herbs and under her guidance I starched and egged them ("if you don't dry the meat the egg won't stick to it. the starch will absorb water on the meat surface so that your breading doesn't fall right off the moment you stick it into the oil. then you'd have fried meat and fried flour").
At first I coated each strip individually but after a while I got fedup and mixed the pork as a batch. Since there was too much egg (eggs don't scale down in recipes either), I had this weird yellow goo on my hands and on the plate. There was also a bit too much starch, so my deep fry oil became very cloudy by the end.
The taste was good, except that I hadn't put enough herbs or any salt (I expected the Hawaii sauce to compensate, but it didn't). Also, I forgot to heat the Hawaii sauce so it was too cold.


I think of making furniture in my future business, so trade and financial integration are important to pay attention [to]. (I'm thinking)

two sowden and one (thousand)

fathering order (following)

financial quizzes (crises)

economic integration of the word (world)

unexpectively (unexpectedly)

dee vair loping countries (developing)

sig nee fee sernt (significant)

be lee tr'earl trade (bilateral)

[On the pandocheion and prostitution] Social services such as drinking and engaging in other after-hours activities.

[On not dropping a discussion] There's ***'s point, and he's not going to get away with it...

You can be ker'nay'zhern [Pronunciation: "zhern" pronounced like the "sian" in "asian"] (Keynesian)

[On Central Bank credibility] You must say, 'I won't do anything. You can all die unemployed.'

Ver'rye'ence in inflation (variance)

People may have more information than the Central Bank. This is quite implausible. If you are employed by Goldman Sachs and you're being paid ten times those economists in the Central Bank, if the pay [shows how good you are,] then maybe.

[On expectations] I always say... If you go to the train 5 minutes early, you can start running, even though you have 5 minutes left. Other people will also start running. It's quite funny.

[On accidentally skipping to a page with many equations] Don't be scared.

[On the Barro-Gordon model] Don't be disappointed with this simple model. It will be very complicated next week.

[On output shocks] If I ask you, 'Will there be a shock next year', you will say no. If you know, it's not a shock.
I unwisely got a 500ml bottle of Coke for lunch one day at a school cafeteria. Apart from my being overcharged for the meal itself (since I neglected to check the total), I was pissed off to find that ml for ml, the 500ml bottle cost 19.6% more than the 330ml can from the vending machine. This is ridiculous. Only people like me who didn't know about this iniquity beforehand would buy the 500ml bottles.

Screwed Up Girl was saying that the exchange students in Oregon are more friendly than the locals, since the latter have known each other for a long time (since before college) and are cliquish. This is probably why the PRCs here seem so friendly, especially given the language barrier.

Sign at the information/security desk at the Arts library: "Your host will be back shortly". I love these translational artifacts.

There's a module here called "Shop till you drop". Wah.

One of my modules is run by 4 TAs. Maybe that's why they need to call them "Drs" here, so it looks more respectable.

Photocopying here is damn expensive, at €0,05 a page (even on school grounds). This is more than 3 times as expensive as in NUS (S$0.03 per page). I bet this is to stop people from zapping books instead of buying them, since books are less than 3 times as expensive here. Perversely also, the photocopying machines near the collegeplank (reserve shelf), at least in the Arts library, do not have automatic feeders (I have a feeling this is to stop book zapping syndicates).

Since printing is only €0,03 per page, I should find modules with many students and do some scanning, with the final price per page lying between €0,03 and €0,05 depending on our relative bargaining power. To stop resale of the electronic versions I could only sell printed copies. But then, I'd rather just stay home and sleep than incur such high labour costs, so.

Me: us students are poor

Someone: exactly. why are textbook prices so high? :P

Me: because of the greedy authors =D
so the market solution comes in - piracy!

Someone: actually no, the money for some reason (esp for textbooks, anecdotally from teachers) dont go to them

Me: wth
it's like the RIAA!

I bought a bottle of vile juice and drank it to boost my vitamin intake. I feel unclean. In my defence, I must add that it was 90% from concentrate and 10% fresh orange juice, and it had vruchtvlees (pulp) in it.

Penne tossed with balsamic vinegar (with onions, carrots, ham pieces, courgette)
I already had white vinegar, but I craved the unique richness and sweetness that only Balsamic vinegar could provide (at more than 5 times the price, no less). This was a bit bitter, probably due to the skin of the courgette bits.

Strawberries go much better with Vla than with cream. And bak kwa goes surprisingly well with melon (I had a picture, but it's been lost for eternity due to Jiekai's cockitude).


No one was willing to borrow money to Bolivia in those days (lend)

I don't have time to finish Chapter 4, as you might have guessed by now, but I will blame this on a previous chapter.

[On Robert Lucas] He came up with the theory of perfect knowledge... He [the economic agent] never makes mistakes... He won the Nobel Prize in 1995. The only mistake he made was regarding mrs Lucas... [He thought that] nobody under the age of 60 gets the Nobel Prize, so... 'If I get the Nobel Prize before I'm 60, you get the money'. He got the Nobel Prize when he was 59... It was on CNN. It wasn't very good for his theory... He got it [the important part] wrong.

[On ways to improve Central Bank credibility] Making central banks independent. [Dressing] Them in suits, looking serious.

Could you show us how to do it? [Student: I don't know how to do it.] Aww, come on. [Student: It's embarrassing, but I don't know how to do it.]

product icks (x)

Rybczynski clear? Samuelson theorem clear? Then let's have coffee [a break].

Friday, May 19, 2006

American History X's Disturbing Message / Singapore's Funky Criminal Code

American History X was a good movie, but I'm wondering if I'm the only one who got the vibe that denouncing affirmative action, expecting people to take personal responsibility for their actions instead of blaming it on poverty and bringing up the fact that Rodney King attacked the police officers first (ie Going against the PC Squad's consensus) are blithely equated to racism.

I searched for "commercial sex" (sans apostrophes) in the Singapore Statutes and got the Geneva Convention. Wth.

I think next time for NUS module feedback I'm going to leave everything blank, since everyone knows it's not anonymous. If I really have something to say, I'll send it via anonymous email. They would really improve the credibility of the "anonymous" feedback system if it was only operated *after* exam results were released.

The Dutch government asked us to fill in a survey about our perceptions of the country. Among other things it asked if we thought the country was too crowded, if we disagreed with the drugs policy, whether the country was a significant player on the world stage (and if we agreed with its foreign policy), if we'd recommend that people come here to live/study/set up a business and if the weather was bad. I said the worst thing about the place was the food.


Our criminal code is so funky:


"Criminal force and assault.
Criminal force.


(b) Z is riding in a chariot. A lashes Z’s horses, and thereby causes them to quicken their pace. Here A has caused change of motion to Z by inducing the animals to change their motion. A has therefore used force to Z; and if A has done this without Z’s consent, intending or knowing it to be likely that he may thereby injure, frighten or annoy Z, A has committed criminal force to Z.

(c) Z is riding in a carriage. A, intending to rob Z, seizes the horse and stops the carriage. Here A has caused cessation of motion to Z, and he has done this by his own bodily power. A has therefore used force to Z; and as A has acted thus intentionally without Z’s consent, in order to cause the commission of an offence, A has used criminal force to Z.

(f) A intentionally pulls up a woman’s veil. Here A intentionally uses force to her; and if he does so without her consent, intending or knowing it to be likely that he may thereby injure, frighten or annoy her, he has used criminal force to her. [Ed: Damn.]

(i) A, a schoolmaster, in the reasonable exercise of his discretion as master, flogs Z, one of his scholars. A does not use criminal force to Z because, although A intends to cause fear and annoyance, he does not use force illegally.


"Offences against the President’s person.
121A. Whoever compasses, imagines, invents, devises, or intends the death of or hurt to or imprisonment or restraint of the President, shall be punished with death, and shall also be liable to fine."

Someone: there's one in there about thinking a bad thought about the president
i wonder how they'll ever catch you
"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me. The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous. Having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided. Now this danger is not in fact so very great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a few falls. But an example of this kind is intimidating, and usually frightens them off from further attempts.

Thus it is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt. Dogmas and formulas, those mechanical instruments for rational use (or rather misuse) of his natural endowments, are the ball and chain of his permanent immaturity. And if anyone did throw them off, he would still be uncertain about jumping over even the narrowest of trenches, for he would be unaccustomed to free movement of this kind. Thus only a few, by cultivating their own minds, have succeeded in freeing themselves from immaturity and in continuing boldly on their way."

- Immanuel Kant, An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?"
A PRC student was telling me that they pay the same school fees as EU students (€1500 per year). This is because they got a grant from the Dutch government for students from developing countries. However, this scheme is not going to be opened to new batches of PRCs, both because the Dutch government has run out of money and the GDP/capita in the PRC has risen above the threshold level.

I had this class where the introductory email was sent to 19 students. I only showed up at the second lesson since I was in Crete and there were 8 students, 3 of them new (including me).

I went to the library to zap some readings on the collegeplank (reserved books/readings shelf), and found them nicely photocopied and slotted in plastic folders. It occured to me that people can just sabotage other students by defacing and/or removing the readings in there, and no one will ever know, since the readings don't need to be loaned out. Presumably this is not a problem over here, so there's no need for the RBR system as in NUS (where you can loan one folder/book at a time for 2 hours).

There's a woman who looks to be between 40 and 50 in one of my classes. Ah, lifetime learning!

I was in a Surinamese food shop and I saw not only pork instant noodles, but Kenyan and Singaporean Milo. I recall that some cock went to bring a lot to Chicago, but it turns out it's parallel imported there, so (maybe too many Singaporean students).

The Canta LX (showing here) is what happens when you combine the Cock Car with a Perdoa. Also, I saw a Smart forfour one day - it actually looked alright.

I saw that at the electronic train ticket terminal. there was a (new?) option to buy a "dog" ticket. At first I thought it was a mistranslation ("dagkaart" = day pass), then it hit me.

You know it's spring when ants appear and flying creatures perch on your walls. Luckily either has only happened to me once.

Maybe if I ate a whole box of Tictac spearment sweets (with chlorophyll! I never figured that bit out) I can live off light.

Giving Dutch students free public transport (train and bus) on weekdays is not as much of a waste of money as it might sound. Students are poor and risk loving (young people think they're immortal) and thus they're more likely to cheat on bus and train fares. So the loss to the public transport companies (or the government) is not as much as one would assume.


We er'shy'you'm that the production of food is relatively land intensive (assume)

Production possibility frahn shear (frontier)

The Polish economist Rybczynski was the first to describe the Rybczynski theorem.

Some factors of production are nut completely mobile (not)

Both countries can produce manufactures (manufactured goods)

We've taken out 2 assignments, which is good news for those of you who want to work less. We've also added a new assignment, which is good news for those of you who want to work more.

Is it supposed to be a discussion between the two presentators? (presenters)

[On refuting the teacher's point] I protest a bit, because you had inspired me in another course... I went to look up a newspaper article.

There can never be a totally endo genius process. (endogenous)

[On the 'Revolution' board game] Board games are really popular these days, and this is the way the often German makers of board games portray the Dutch revolt - a bunch of nicely dressed regents (?). It doesn't look like a revolt, but it is.

Archie'pear'lergo (Archipelago)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A post on sg_ljers:

"I hear some Singaporeans complain about how the country is too restricted; it doesn't allow for freedom of speech or action (or human rights). I've also heard complaints that the government doesn't help its people by giving them money, etc. I thought so too, when I living back home, but my views have changed after having been in Australia for a few months now.

Many repercussions come with freedom (Australians see it as human rights; the right citizens have to do what they want), taking Australia as an example.

1) They do not have a protect your property act as Singapore does. This means that because there is freedom for everyone, anyone is allowed to be at any place at any given time. It also means, however, that if a burglar breaks into your house and you try to defend your property and self by beating the fellow up, you can be sued in the court of law. (Imagine that, being sued for trying to protect your family)

2) Drug addicts roam the streets because of the absence of the death penalty. People aren't afraid to do drugs, because even if they get caught, the police give them simply a slap on their wrist and they're allowed out again. Even worse, if, for example, I'm carrying drugs with me, and a police officer realises it. If I eat the drug, then I cannot be charged. A lot of people on drugs get desperate to have more, and they turn to crime. Which is why you can get mugged on the street at 10pm.

3) The tax system works as such here. Working citizens are charged a maximum of 48% off their salary, and this tax goes into helping the people who need money. If you are a single parent, you get money from the government every month. Basically, you get money from the government your entire life. The amount you make if you work (minus the tax the government takes) would equivalent to the amount the government would give you. So, most mindsets are: If the government is going to pay me, why should I work? So of course, with many people not working, taxes just get higher.

4) Strikes happen here very often, because the people have freedom to do what they want. So if they are unhappy with anything (it could be the fact that the company has not provided construction workers shelter from the rain), they can refuse to work. Because of this, trams don't come, etc. Everything gets delayed.

5) It's certain death to walk the streets on your own late in the night.

Singapore is safe, because of the harsh laws. We can afford to still be out at 3am. You don't have large taxes off your salary, and you get it back through CPF, which is a supply of money for old age. The list goes on.

If there was freedom in the media, if journalists, columnists, anyone, was allowed to write about everything they wanted, including racial and religious slurs, what would happen? People would get offended, and there'll be a repeat of the racial riots. We haven't been through that, our younger generation, and we wouldn't understand the horror. But my grandfather would tell you that he wouldn't want to go through that again. Blood on the streets isn't worth any form of free speech.

Because we live in a society such as ours, where there have to be drawn boundaries, the government has no choice but to control the media. Because Singapore is so small, if fighting erupts, a lot of people will get hurt. As what would happen if the media goes against the government? I mean, as a journalist once said, the media doesn't tell us what to think, but it is very successful in telling us what to think about. People would be stirred, they would rise up, go on strike even. Could a little dot we call home survive a breakdown? Surely not, I know our economy wouldn't survive it.

(As to why the media didn't do a fair coverage of the elections, I cannot argue against)

I'm not saying Singapore is perfect, because we all know that we're not even there, but I'm saying that our system works. The government has tried to strike a balance between freedom and chaos. So maybe what Lee Kuan Yew said was correct – travel the world and you'll begin to appreciate Singapore. So, freedom, but at what cost?"


The comments thread is full of indignant responses, but an eerily appropriate tidbit I found somewhere:

"The bird noticed the open window. But although the bird would occasionally sit on its windowsill or even venture out for a short spin in the fresh air while THE OWNER was at work, she would not leave. Because she hadn't lived without THE OWNER in over seven years, she was afraid to fly away. And because the bird had lived in a pet store before living with THE OWNER, she was afraid to fly away. And because THE OWNER had shouted and yelled at her so much, and called her stupid so much, the bird was convinced that he was right, and she was afraid to fly away. And because she had been so isolated from other birds and felt so alone, especially when living with THE OWNER, she was afraid to fly away. And even though the bird did not live in a metal birdcage, she did live in a huge house that was very different than the world outside the window. The bird lived in a cage of fear. The bird never allowed THE OWNER to find out that she knew of the open window and THE OWNER continued to scream and shout at the bird."
"Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine." - Fran Lebowitz


Beyond Belief Media launches preemptive strike on Easter - "Copies Of Controversial Documentary Are Hidden In Churches Throughout U.S."
I wonder how this went.

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory - "Penny Arcade often says neatly what otherwise cannot be said. In general, this link is handed out to people whose behavior is obviously based on the idea that they can say whatever they want to someone because said someone won't come find them and beat the piss out of them."

God Loves Sailors - "God LOVES you as a sailor and offers a wonderful PLAN for your life as an individual. "

Ronald McDonald, the secret Hermaphrodite

Trends in loneliness - "The Irish, enjoying new-found wealth and a flood of immigration following more than a century of economic decline, are followed in the misery stakes by residents of Singapore and New Zealand"

Satanism in Pokemon - "Obviously, Ash didn't understand the supernatural powers he had confronted. Neither do most young Pokeman fans today... Strange as it may sound to American ears, demonic possession is no longer confined to distant lands. Today, government schools from coast to coast are teaching students the skills once reserved for the tribal witchdoctor or shaman in distant lands. Children everywhere are learning the pagan formulas for invoking "angelic" or demonic spirits through multicultural education, popular books, movies, and television. It's not surprising that deadly explosions of untamed violence suddenly erupt from "normal" teens across our land... "Another nine-year-boy had stolen money from his mother's purse ($7.00) to buy more cards. When questioned, he confessed and said he had heard the devil urging him to do it. The family quickly gathered in prayer, then saw God's answer. Both the boy and his little sister burned their cards [and] warned their friends."
Damn, I want to send Pikachu to go and zap the guy who wrote this! And the last part sounds like what happened when a girl got pregnant and, when questioned, confessed that she had been impregnated by God. Oh wait...

Chocolates are the latest measure of satisfaction with the NHS - "Bemused staff have been instructed to complete a “chocolate audit” of gifts that they have received from grateful patients — from boxes of Milk Tray and bottles of wine to cards and flowers. Every time a nurse receives a present — a “gesture of gratitude” — they are now required to fill out a form stating what it is, who it is from, and how much it is worth."

Fortune-telling judge couldn't see it coming - "A Philippine judge who claimed he could see into the future and admitted consulting imaginary mystic dwarfs has asked for his job back after being fired by the country's Supreme Court. "They should not have dismissed me for what I believed," Florentino Floro, a trial judge in the capital's Malabon northern suburb, told reporters after filing his appeal."

Let's Subbing Sentai - "That sound is a baby monkey. [Oh] no! Ninjas are here! Hey Hey let's Go! Let's fight. Important things protect my balls... This song is a bit stupid. It doesn't make any sense."

3rd Annual INTSS Sci-Fi Spelling Bee - "Recently I held the 3rd Annual INTSS Sci-fi Spelling Bee at the Beverly Garland Hotel in Studio City, California. I can't believe Darth Vader showed up?!?!"
Mac user: you're taking awhile to reply
what's the matter, pop-ups? viruses? blue screen?

Me: unlike mac users, I actually do things with my computer besides posing with it and exulting in how good it is :P

Mac user: aiyah we don't pose lah it's your complex kicking in cos your laptops are so ugly

Me: non-sequitur :P

Mac user: besides....... on the flipside, i see less mac users exulting the goodness of mac than pc users slamming it
you slam it alot more than i exult it, that's for sure
we spend more time being productive than trying to defend the indefensible

Me: not all mac users are created equal
ditto for PC users

got a lot of PC users slamming meh
I find more mac whores gushing

Mac user: and see i love how you use derogatory terms like mac whores
you're alot more of a pc whore than you realize

Me: you're not one. yet.
but some of them gush until...

I don't whore the PC
I just get pissed off when mac users gush

Mac user: there's a difference between gushing and stating facts right

Me: there's a difference between stating facts
stating opinions
and shoving them in people's faces

Mac user: dude what are you talking about..... you shove your mac opinions in everyone's face
you're the ultimate grandmaster lord pc-whore
you're everything you hate

Me: MSN status message/blog /= shoving in people's faces
look, the principle is the same as with fundies
if they weren't so annoying people wouldn't hate them so much

Mac user: hahahaha eh msn msg and blog =/ shoving... subjective can :P
i mean if i had a blog that kept plugging my mac and i changed my nick to i love mac nicks i BET you'll say i'm a mac whore
so quit your double standards shuqi ;)

Me: mac sucks /= pc whore mah
I didn't say PC is very good
I'm an anti-mac person. I didn't quite deny that!
get your terms straight lah

Mac user: whatever lah how about anti-mac whiner
i still lub choo gab
but sometimes you really are everything you hate

Me: err.
if you can't understand the difference between action and reaction
and between promoting something and debunking faux promotion...


Mac user: well from my perspective you're the one propagating everything... all the action and promotion stems from you
because i don't know any "mac-whores"

Someone else on the above: that is living proof that mac whores = fundies
it's a match made in heaven!

i don't see how anyone can be a M$whore
slaves maybe, but not whores

i've never actually heard anyone drool over downloading the latest IE updates or SP2
but the minute Apple updates their OS...it's like WOOOO ROXXXXX WE ARE SO KOOOL

Me: yeah I notice a lot of parallels with them haha
same logic
same twisted world view
same claim that others are persecuting them when it's vice versa

Someone else: bet the Pope has a kickass 17" powerbook
i mean just look at the new ads
PC vs mac
if that's not mac gushing/PC bashing, i don't know what is

Me: haha how bad are they now

Someone else: just plain....dumb really
one of them claimed that "macs just work with everything"

Me: haha
like fundies, words mean what they want them to mean
"everything" = "everything that matters"

Someone: my cousin speaks swedish!
he di done year immersion in sweden
i can't see it being very useful in the grand scheme of things.

Me: has learning german helped your Grand Scheme?

Someone: nope
i mainly use it to annoy friends by sending entire emails in German

Someone else on the climate of fear: I'm doing a part time job calling up people for a post-election survey.. (funded by the Institute of Policy Studies no less), and everyone has been smart enough to clamp up. C'est la Vie, tis the Singapore way.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crete trip - Part 13
28/4 - Athens Airport, 29/4 - Brussels, Queen's Day in Utrecht

At the Athens Airport, the PA system kept playing self-congratulatory messages about their 5th anniversary: "it's good to celebrate but better to know that you're happy and safe", or something like that. At the rate they were playing it (every few minutes), I was neither happy nor safe, being tempted to end my misery by running onto the runway. When they weren't playing the announcement, they piped in annoying music at an overly loud volume or tried to con us into visiting the airport shopping centre. All this would've been tolerable, but the chairs in the departure hall all had handrests between them, and weren't inclined at a suitable angle like those in KLIA's transit area, making it impossible for me to catch a few hours' sleep (the real sleeping area, with seats without handrests, was in an area no one would wander into unless he had already checked in).

The sign for the female toilet in Athens airport was interesting - a male figure wearing a hoop skirt (as opposed to a dress) trimmed at a length 1/4 down its thigh.

For some reason, the woman at the checkin counter at first claimed I needed a visa for Brussels, making me panic unnecessarily (!@#$). She then, after tagging my backpacks, made me send them in at the "out of gauge" counter. I suspect the straps would've choked their baggage system. So much for having a 5 year old airport.

On the flight to Brussels, the announcer spoke Dutch using English pronunciation and with a French accent. Best.

It was 3 degrees when I landed at ~6:30 in Brussels. Later, as I was leaving Brussels at ~9:40 it was 6 degrees. Considering that it was April 29th - wth.

The customs exemptions for people coming from outside the EU or special tax territories is interesting. These people can bring in 50g of perfume, 250ml of "toilet water" (wth. I had to check the French translation to find that they meant "eaux de toilette", of course. I don't know why perfume and eaux de toilette were considered separately) and limited amounts of coffee and tea (?1). What was even more interesting than that was that those under the age of 15 were not allowed to bring in coffee/tea. Forget marijuana - caffeine is the new dangerous "soft" drug!

At Brussels Central railway station, I discovered that left luggage cost €3,30 per piece per day, so especially since I had 2 pieces of luggage in addition to my small backpack, I was reinforced in my desire to leave the city once viewing the Manneken Pis.

Town hall

Buildings in the Grand Place, according to Hugo, "La plus belle place du monde"

In the Grand Place, there was a guy with a tripod and SLR who set the timer and took a picture of himself with the statue. I thought those into photography would consider themselves past such shots.

Flower seller in the Grand Place who was blocking my view and shots of the town hall (gah).

The art museum was set to open at 10am, but I didn't care to wait for more than an hour.

Manneken Pis's Costumes. Nelson Mandela?!

Manneken Pis pissing

Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis fountain

There were 2 chocolate shops near the Manneken Pis with signs in Chinese. One was open and was manned (though not owned) by Chinese salesgirls, and its Chinese signs claimed that it offered the best prices and had free samples. One salesgirl asked if I could speak Chinese. I demurred with a "not very well" and she graciously continued speaking in English.

At 9am, I was looking for breakfast, only to find that few places were opened. One shop recommended by my guidebook was closed (I could see waffles inside but the door was locked) and I couldn't find another. The rest were too far to go to with ~20kg on my body, so I went to another place which said they opened at 11. Finally I did find a place and had a small Belgian waffle. Forgetting my Golden Rule of Chocolate (never order it outside since it likely won't be sweet enough) I had a waffle with chocolate sauce. Luckily, it wasn't too bitter, and the icing sugar on top was great. It was both chewy and crispy at the same time - most places do waffles too crispy, too dry and hard. Even the waffle itself was flavourful - I could taste the butter in it.

Bartok. I have no idea why he is there.

Brussels Cathedral. Can anyone say "Notre Dame envy" (I'm not the only one to think so, too)?

An information panel outside Brussels Central train station lauded the art deco design of the station, then ended by saying it was simple and functional. Translation: the architecture of the station sucks.

As my train was coming out of Brussels Noord, I noticed a structure consisting of 4 huge metal balls connected with poles in what seemed to be a tetrahedronal shape (and there was some more stuff below which I couldn't see). Furthermore, the structure was as tall as the cathedral. Uhh.

On the train, I didn't notice as much orange as I'd been led to expect - not even peaking out from below jackets. A few people wore silly orange hats, and there were funky orange feather boas, but otherwise it was quite subdued; maybe 1 in 10 train passengers had something orange on them. Maybe the funkiest people weren't travelling by train. I did notice flags flying as the train steamed through the country, though.

Orange boat. I was very amused by this - people in a boat cruising down an Utrecht canal with orange balloons and flaglets.

Some roads were closed, so my bus was diverted down what I called the scenic route. On the normal route I saw a horse pulling a trolley car - something you don't normally see.

Flag. I find the orange strip (which isn't normally there) interesting.

Even the buses got into the act.


Revelry. More than half the songs were in English though.

All through the city, people were selling their junk on the street.

Unwisely, I tried to press my way through a crowd choking one street instead of bypassing it by going down another. When one song came on, everyone started waving their arms (with beer in their hands) and jumping around:

More revelry in the place where I squeezed through. I like the bit at the end.

Some people were dressed in cow outfits. Uhh.

Half drunk middle aged women garbed in orange outside the Hemingway cafe playing and singing

Maybe 1/7 people throughout the city were garbed in orange.

Even the dog was celebrating

I saw one of those free urinals in the square in Neude. Damn, I wonder if I can persuade the Dutch government to scatter them throughout the country and finance them with taxes.

Orange 'Crown'
Oddly enough, apart from crowns like this (or those made of paper) I couldn't see any reference to the Queen. Oh well. At least the window prostitutes in Utrecht, respecting the sanctity of the occasion, were all on vacation, unlike the ones in Brussels on Easter sunday. Tsk.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Being buried in sand is so passe. I want to be buried in snow next, like this person:

Crete trip - Part 12
28/4 - Athens

View of the Acropolis from the Pnyx

Orator's Bema on the Pnyx, from which Themistocles, Pericles and Demosthenes addessed the Athenians

St Paul's hill from Pnyx


Around this time, it started drizzling again. Gah.

Kimoneia, tomb once thought to be associated with Kimon

I then sat down for a crepe - I'd skipped lunch and hasn't eaten since breakfast (which was an excellent green onion pastry at a place recommended by my brother-in-law). While sitting I saw a female police officer who had not tied up her shoulder length hair, and who was wearing medium height black high heels (which appeared to be part of her uniform); it wasn't the standard uniform - I saw another in low cut boots later. I wonder how she'd go about her duties if the occasion warranted quick action.

I then headed for the Keramikos. I was very pissed off to find that they'd moved the entrance from 2 years back, and I ended up going in one big round to get in. But then I think most of the place (including the museum) was closed during Exercise Minotaur.

Grave relief of Eupheros, 420 BC

Grave relief of Demetria and Pamphile, 325-310 BC. This is a late work, which explains their apathetic looks as they've already passed on.

Grave stele of Zosimos and Blaste of Phaleon, 1st c. AD

Cup with confronted Sphinxes, 650-580 BC

Bull from grave of Dionysios of Kollytos, 345-340 BC

Miniature Gaming table and dice with figurines of mourners, 580 BC

Lekythos with depiction of the preparation of a warrior, Lekythos with depiction of men

Hydria with 4 horse chariot, charioteer and hoplite. Battle scene on shoulder, 530-520 BC

Askos, 440 BC

Ostraka - ostracism shards, early 5th c. BC

Kylix with flirtation scene, 430-200 BC. On the left: Enkainlon consisting of small skyphoi.

Street of tombs

Sacred Way

One side of the Dipylon, supposedly the largest gateway in the ancient world.

Fountain house. Travelers would refresh themselves here.

Pompeion. Pompeion of Hadrian in the background.

Pompeion of Hadrian

Theseion - the best preserved ancient Greek temple. The only one with a roof.

Ancient Agora from Theseion

Back view of the Theseion
The Theseion was at the top of a hill with much vegetation and there wasn't much space around it on 3/4 sides (the 4th was a lawn you were not supposed to walk on), so it was hard to take an all-encompassing shot except by zooming in from below.



I then entered the museum of the Stoa of Attalos. I think it was closed during Exercise Minotaur (stupid Olympics). In the information panel, the capitalised the word "Democracy", and called Ancient Athens the truest direct democracy that ever existed. Guess they still don't care for slaves and women.

Jury Duty machine

Jury Duty machine explanation

Huge bronze spartan shield - loot from Battle of Pylos, 425 BC

Oinochoe by the Eucharides Painter. Illustrating Nike at an altar. 490-480 BC.

Terracotta figurine of Eros leaning on an inverted torch. 3rd c. AC (sic)

The disabled toilet in the Stoa was labelled as being "Only for people with disabilities" (emphasis original).

At 7pm I called it a day, being tired and with only half an

Malaysian mannikins in a shop near Monastiraki. I counted at least 3 more in the shop. And the shop down the street had 2 old ones in faded colours and 2 in vibrant colours.

Wth mannikin - even Malaysia, AFAIK, does not have this.

I decided to finish off with something special, and ate at the 24hr taverna in the market which my brother in law had pointed out to me. The daily soup was €4,20, and I asked what it was. It turned out that it was fish soup - without fish (basically the normal €8,20 fish soup sans fish). Uhh. In the end I had €8 goat soup. It was good but very oily - my mother would definitely disapprove. Instead of olive oil and vinegar at the table, the taverna has vinegar and vinegar with garlic cloves inside. I also saw 3-4 other sad people eating alone in the taverna - it was a good place to do this since it was inside the market, so no one could see how sad you were.

Pig's trotter on the market floor

By the time I'd finished dinner, it was too late for me to take the train to the airport (due to repair works, the last one was at 7:20), so I had to take the airport bus from Syntagma Square. It was only one stop from Monastiraki (the station closest to my hostel) but I was carrying 3 bags, so I took the metro one stop. When I got off the metro, the Greeks did an MRT on me, but with my big backpack on my back, my schoolbag in front of me, a small bag slung over my left shoulder and my umbrella hanging in my left hand, I was perfectly equipped to bash my way through. I was tempted to shout "All..." but I knew I'd cause a riot and be prosecuted for sedition, causing a riot and forcing someone to blow up the Singaporean embassy in Greece just for my utterances, so I controlled myself.

The airport bus turned out to cost €3,20 - almost half of the €6 train fare. But then it took maybe twice as long (1 hr) and was less comfortable.

The billboards on the way to the airport promoted Greece as a holiday destination and read: "You never say goodbye to a myth." They're also advertising this on CNN. Presumably this means that the image of Greece that overseas advertisements has constructed in people's minds is a myth bearing no relation to reality, so since it exists purely in people's minds, one can never say goodbye to it.

Planning my day in Brussels I realised that Queen's Day was on the 29th, not the 30th it was normally on, since the latter date was a Sunday. Coupled with my great number of bags and projected tiredness from insufficient sleep (the disadvantages of cheap flights), I decided not to tarry in Brussels for any longer than necessary than to see the Manneken Pis, since I would be arriving very early. The art museum was the other thing that sounded nice, but I'd been to the Louvre recently, so.

If it's so dry, how do plants grow in Greece?

The Athens/Attica promotional booklet had the number of the blood donation centre at the back. Wah.

I'd always wondered why people bothered designating self-contained toilet cubicles as male or female. After all, only one person could use them at a time so they were perfectly cross-substitutable between the sexes (the minor issue of sanitary bins notwithstanding). And then I realised it was to stop the women hogging all the cubicles.

I saw a poster for "The Promise". It looked a lot like "The Myth".

I'm told that besides Greeks bearing gifts, one has to be wary of gypsies holding maps. Apparently they distract you by opening it up and/or dropping it and then pickpocket you.

At almost all Greek kiosks, both on Crete and the Mainland, a 500ml bottle of soft drink cost €1. I call this SGKP - Standardised Greek Kiosk Price.

Greek restaurants all state their cover charge. Unlike the stupid Ghoulash Goulash Museum in Vienna.
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