"The happiest place on earth"

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

"After marriage, husband and wife become two sides of a coin; they just can't face each other, but still they stay together." - Hemant Joshi



A B pulls down your CAP bad. [Me: That depends on what your CAP is. If your CAP is 2.5, a B pulls it up]

My computer is so fast. I can't bear to install anything. That includes Outlook and Word.

[On 'Pam'] One mouthful. Whole thing can put in your mouth... 1 and a half A size. Or A/B.

[On statistics vs econometrics] Planets do not lie about where they fly. People lie all the time in surveys.

I was in the World Bank... measure savings in former Soviet countries... at the time GDP data was not being measured but negotiated.

[On ending early] This is a good time to stop. It gives you 5 more minutes to run around and get your life in order, and I'll do the same.

Some people may drop out of this course after the lecture, if I scare them enough.

To show that I'm catching up with technology, instead of a letter of introduction, as a substitute, if you have a Friendster or a Facebook account, you can send me the URL... I see a lot of scared faces.

How many of you have read 武侠小说 [Wu3 Xia2 Xiao3 Shuo1 - Chinese martial arts stories]?... How many of you have read 射雕英雄传 [She4 Diao1 Ying1 Xiong2 Zhuan4 - Legend of the Condor Heroes] and 倚天屠龙记 [Yi3 Tian1 Tu2 Long2 Ji4 - Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre]? There's 九阴真经 [Jiu3 Yin1 Zhen1 Jing1 - Nine Yin True Classic] and 九阳真经 [Jiu3 Yang2 Zhen1 Jing1 - Nine Yang True Classic]. Adam Smith wrote 'The Wealth of Nations' which is 九阴真经, [and 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments', which is] 九阳真经.

Irving Fisher. This is the great American Economist who also proclaimed just before the stock market crashed that 'The stock market has reached a permanently high plateau'.

[On skipping slides] Forget about this part. I was just trying to be cute. I will delete it in my next version [of the lecture notes]. That was [written] when Lord of the Rings came out.

[On applying lab results from surveys to real life instead of actual decisions] People don't like survey, because talk is cheap... the external validity of it could be low. (surveys)

[On the Income and Substitution effects and Labour Supply] In [EC]2102 we wave our hand and say that one dominates, so we have an upward sloping supply curve.

I'm not going to talk so much about theory, because I'm not a theorist - it's not my competitive advantage.

[On experiments] They either behave according to what you want to study, or they try to sabotage you.

[On a psychological experiment] This preacher was going to go give a sermon. On his way to his sermon, they put someone there in need of help. [He didn't.]... Typically people don't [help]

[On economics] Is your theory just cute math?

Experimental economists typically design experiments to support standard economics, and it generally finds evidence to support it. Behavioral economists typically design experiments to disprove standard economics, and it generally finds deviations from standard economics.

[On the rationale of finding good things to say about papers] If you [only] see the problems with the paper you will only see the problems of the paper. You canot do research.

Time New Roman (Times)

In research, if you just see problems, you cannot proceed. But if you don't see problems, you also cannot proceed.

[On skulduggery] If you try to cheat by changing the margins or all that, you will be penalized.

I understand that this is very hard, and I don't want people knocking on my door all the time, because this is the critical time when I should be thinking of my tenure.

I don't want it to take the following form: people don't have any idea what to do, so they come to me for ideas. So in the end I'm grading my own work.

All you're allowed to do is talk about the paper in works. Without any maths, without any formula, without any table. (words, formulas)

In our standard curriculum, people are so used to the math that they don't know how to explain the idea without the maths... You walk into an elevator, your potential employer is there. You have to explain your research... You can't pull out your laptop... You can't use any math. You must explain your idea in an intuitive way.

In general I don't read anything in 'Econometrica' and 'Journal of Economic Theory'.

There's [a] grade distribution... If you read something you don't understand, if your classmate also doesn't understand [it], you're okay... There're multiple equilibria... High effort equilibrium... That may be a bad outcome for your perspective.

Auditing is a very dangerous thing to do... On the surface the marginal cost is 0, but there're a lot of costs later. (allow)

[Instructor: Can you say something so that people can remember you?] I just had a bad haircut[, so don't remember me like this]... My hair will look better if you see me later.

Everyone is in this course for a reason. Either they have run out of choices or they are interested. I can't think of a third reason.

[Student: I spent 11 days in Tokyo. I realised it's quite a cheap place to shop.] Where did you go?... What are the Chinese characters? What is the subway station?... How did you end up in this particular place? I don't think it appears in the guidebook... 'Cheap' is not a word I'll associate with Tokyo.

Pray that you don't graduate in a year of recession, because there's research showing if you graduate in a year of recession your lifetime income will be lower than if you graduate in a year of boom. Sorry.

In my free time... I spend my time at Kumon, a Japanese enrichment centre, because I like torturing little kids... [Instructor: Is it a paid job?] It's a low pay job.

You all can remember me because I'm the only person in [a] tudung.

[PRC on why he learnt foreign languages] Aside from Chinese and ENglish, Japanese, French, German and Russian... the powerful countries.

I went to Macau during the holidays, to gamble. *laughs from audience*... [Instructor: You went to Las Vegas twice. Is that because you have a relative there?] I went there to gamble.

I did some modules in Economics there, in Chinese. [Instructor: What's 'diminishing marginal utility' in Chinese?] I don't know.

[On NOC with Fudan] I worked with 3 companies. 2 of them closed down while I was there.

I'm working on 2 initiatives that will affect all of us... A tax on plastic bags... 10 cents per bag [given out on campus]. [Instructor: So blame him.]

[Student: I'm working at Settler's... I get to learn a lot of games and teach a lot of games.] You must be very good at game theory.

[Introducing himself] Hi. I, err, went to the zoo last year. *uproarious laughter from audience*... It's quite nice, it's like a rainforest. The army guys will know. There're fire and movement places everywhere.

[Instructor: XXX {incomplete part of a long name}] It's okay, it's okay, it's okay.

[On relief teaching] The kids are evil. They're getting eviler by the day. They're doing things I wouldn't have dreamed of doing in my time.

I've 2 contrasting hobbies: one is eating. The other is going to the gym. I'm trying to strike a balance between the 2.

[Doing an introduction] I'm XXX. I'm a person of few words. *laughs* *Next person speaks*

I got an A... I smoked him for one whole semester... You put in so much effort. [Me: I got a B+]... He likes smoke.

We decided if there was a Gabriel Pokemon there'd be 3 powers - Taupok, Hair Flip and Snide Remarks

Women are fucking crazy. When I tell my girlfriend she's not fat, she says 'stop lying'. When I say she's fat, she goes 'Can you please respect me?'.

I got a B- for Finance. This is the first time I studied hard... [Me: Maybe it's not your forte. What are you good at?] I'm not good at anything except eating chips and gossiping. [Me: And drinking Bubble Tea.]

[On 2girls1cup] I feel like having ice cream now. Chocolate ice cream... That cup looked like ice cream.

[Me: Basically the darker your lettuce the more expensive it is.] That's why cabbage is so cheap.

[On a girl clique] All of us are attached except XXX. Let's find her a boyfriend, then we'll all be attached.

[On my matriculation card] Your short hair looks okay... [Me: You think I looked horrible with short hair so I grew long hair?] Yeah.

[On AvP 2] I thought there was going to be a love scene between the Alien and the woman [Ed: Perhaps the person meant 'Predalien and the woman']

[On 2girls1cup] 2 guys were talking about it on the last day of school. Now today is the first day of school. [Student 2: You're fated to watch it.]

[Me to guy: Why are you wearing a sweater?] Hello Gabriel. Can I hug you for warmth? [Me: Okay.] No thanks. [Me: Be careful what you wish for.]

[On a lit class] He was reading to us the opening lines of The English Patient. [Student 2: The movie?] No, the novel... That was a dumb question.

My sister wants to see you. I think all sisters want to see you. Like Ruohui's sister.

[Me: 'Why did the Khmer Rouge build Angkor Wat?'] Why?... You have another story [to tell]

[On 'Pam'] Let's ask Jeanne. What do guys do with used panties? [Jeanne: They throw them away.]

[On who stole my Good Sex Bible] You know what would be really funny? If it was one of the Profs.

That's what the Engineers do. They spend 4 years learning how to tie musking tape around frayed wires.

[Indian:] But why does Thaipusam affect you? You're not Tamil... I've never met any other North Indian who celebrates Thaipusam.

[Me on a name: 'Daughter of S S G'] Staff sergeant.

[21 year old:] I liked Growing Up [the TV show]. Very authentic. [Me: How would you know?]

[On a bag] Is that underwear? [Student 2: Where do you get SK2 lingerie?]

Who likes whops? (wasps)

[On chalet escapades] I'm in bed with Gabriel. That sounds so wrong.

Stop staring at my... leecher. (lecher)

[To me] How come you know everything?... Everything that has nothing to do with your major.

What shall I eat? Western. Then I wanted to eat Pork Chop. Then I realised they were Halal.

[On 'Virgin School'] Pseudo-porn stuff... [Me: I don't want to watch it for the pseudo-porn. Why do YOU want to watch it?] I don't know.

[On 'Virgin School'] It was very boring. [Me: I told you it wasn't pseudo-porn]

[Me on the people outside: They sound very excited.] Reminds me of a visit to the Singapore Zoo.

Have you gone to Thaipusam before? [Student 2: Of course not, I'm Muslim. *stumbles*] Krishna is looking down at you. [Student 3: You only *think* you're Muslim.]

We were looking for saikang warriors for some XXX event and XXX asked, 'What sort of workers do you want?' 'The sort who will just do and not ask questions and don't think'. Then XXX said 'Then you can't ask Gabriel Seah'

I think anybody who is bigger than me is a bit on the round side. [Me: And anybody smaller than you is anorexic.] Yeah, I'm just nice.

I can only say you surpass yourself each time I see you. [Me: What does that mean?] That's up to your own interpretation.

[Me on donuts: Are they yummy?] Yes they are. Please come and buy. They're for a good cuase - Me.

[Me: XXX doesn't like YYY. Then XXX wished YYY a happy birthday.] It's what girls do.

I miss her friendly disposition. [Student 2: We all have friends in this position.]

[Me: Why are you flashing me looks of diadain?] That's how I always look at you.
2 of my pictures are going to be used in other media!

Firstly, this picture of the Farnese Globe (from one of the Naples travelogue posts) will be used in the book "Cosmic Discoveries", by Paul Murdin (published by Thames and Hudson in 2009).

Next, this is going to be used to promote the "Next Wave" arts festival in Melbourne.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth." - Rex Stout


This post has been removed by request

Please see this post for an explanation.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort." - Herm Albright


School 1960 vs. School 2008
Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1960 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up mates.
2008 - Police are called; Armed Response Unit arrives and arrests Johnny and Mark. Mobiles with video of fight confiscated as evidence. They are charged with assault, ASBO's are taken out and both are suspended even though Johnny started it. Diversionary conferences and parent meetings conducted. Video shown on 6 internet sites.

Scenario: Jeffrey won't sit still in class, disrupts other students.
1960 - Jeffrey is sent to the principal's office and given 6 of the best. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2008 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. Counselled to death. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra funding because Jeffrey has a disability. Drops out of school.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbour's car and his Dad gives him the slipper.
1960 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2008 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. Psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mum has an affair with the psychologist. Psychologist gets a promotion.

Scenario: Mark, a college student, brings cigarettes to school.
1960 - Mark shares a smoke with the school principal out on the smoking area.
2008 - Police are called and Mark is expelled from School for drug possession. His car is searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Mohammed fails high school English.
1960 - Mohammed retakes his exam, passes and goes to college.
2008 - Mohammed's cause is taken up by local human rights group. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that making English a requirement for graduation is racist. Civil Liberties Association files class action lawsuit against state school system and his English teacher. English is banned from core curriculum. Mohammed is given his qualification anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers, puts them in a model plane paint bottle and blows up an anthill.
1960 - Ants die.
2008 - MI5 and police are called and Johnny is charged with perpetrating acts of terrorism. Teams investigate parents, siblings are removed from the home, computers are confiscated, and Johnny's dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls during break and scrapes his knee. His teacher, Mary, finds him crying, and gives him a hug to comfort him.
1960 - Johnny soon feels better and goes back to playing.
2008 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces three years in prison. Johnny undergoes five years of therapy. Becomes gay.
"The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated." - Oscar Wilde


Someone on incest: the japs and koreans love it
it's on also every j and k drama

Someone else on a silly paragraph: you didn't tell me whether i should edit it or just pour scorn at its empty verbosity, or its elaborate but grammatically lacking structure

Someone: guys usually are [undersensitive]
i attribute it to the lack of the discharge of blood monthly

Someone else: who ask u go write on multiculturalism
i would love to have my paper published alongside urs lor


Me: I must add this to my long list of bookmarks

Someone: yeah i already added it

Me: how long is yours?

Someone: about 12cm, erect

Someone else on measuring himself: eh fuck you la hahaha
i tried to get horny but got a stomachache instead

i am still recovering from food poisoning ok

Someone on Russians: [they] dont look like they eat pork

dont ask me how people who eat pork look like

i mean that i didnt imagine pork was part of their staple diet or whatever

Someone else: usually flirting for a gal means acting dumb
didnt u know that? :P

Someone: *Nick: 'XXX - my Macbook is here!!! I want to make love to her'*

Me: is the firewire slot big enough?

Someone: firewire? for mac?

Me: to make love to

Someone: haha idiot

Me: wah
then you must be damn small

Someone: haha yeah lor

this reminds me of something i saw scrawled on a UNC toilet wall

someone wrote "I have a secret fantasy to cum in my girlfriend's ear"
someone else wrote below it "yeah you can fit it pencil dick"

Someone else: i wonder should u be some woman psychologist


they're too screwed up

Someone: hurrr
doesn't the catholic part explain everything [sexual depravity]

Me: yah
like altar boys and priests

Someone: yah... like my catholic friend who slept around before marrying his wife and didn't want to use condoms (!!!!)

premarital sex = okay; condoms = BAAAAAD
stupid catholics

they went for premarital counseling with their priest and still ended up getting divorced (apparently ok too now?! but condoms still not ok?!)

Me: uhh I hope he got the clap

Someone: apparently he got lucky

MFS on the Real Doll: i do know about these things
cos our student newspaper
sends people every year
to c over the Adult Video Entertainment Conference in Las Vegas

and its fully paid for
media is accredited and stuff

Someone: since chinese people eat pork, by extension we are haram
so malays cannot accept chinese blood right

or rather
islam people cannot accept blood that is not from an islamic donor
"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." - Bertrand Russell


Facebook | I will tattoo the name of the highest donor on my ass!! - "I am Vanessa and I am hitching to Morocco over the Easter break, all in the grand name of Charity. Link Community Development to be specific. (www.lcd.org.uk) I will need to raise at least 300pounds for the charity. LCD works to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the most disadvantaged schools in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda. Over 900 schools and half a million school kids will benefit from your donations! So please donate! I will hitch with a big pink bow on my head if you wish. I will hitch dressed like a pig if you wish. I will tattoo your name on my ass if you wish!! (only if you wish!!) Of course, you will have to be the highest donor in order to have your name tattooed on my ass. :)"
Dressing like a pig might not be wise in Morocco... Donation link

Channel 4 sparks outrage with show about school that teaches virgins how to have sex - "James from Kent, who is 26 and had never slept with a woman, visited a sex school in Amsterdam, where he spent three months learning "the art of intimacy". Viewers were subjected to the uncomfortable sight of James losing his virginity to a sex therapist in the show called The Virgin School. Over the course of the programme, a nervous James completed stages with different sex coaches, starting with confidence lessons and concluding with full sex."

Conspiracy Theorist Has Elaborate Explanation For Why He's Single | The Onion - "In light of a broken engagement two years ago, area school-bus driver and longtime conspiracy enthusiast Robert Ericsson outlined an intricate theory to reporters Tuesday to explain his failure to begin a new relationship. "I am alone today due to the covert machinations of dozens, possibly hundreds of women in several countries," Ericsson, 38, said. "What we are looking at is a plot of epic proportions, which may seem counterintuitive, but that is, in fact, precisely what they would like you to believe.""

Why do ugly boys get gorgeous girls? The secrets of physical attraction are revealed - "Pick up any fashion magazine today and you could be forgiven for thinking that the ideal female body shape is that of an adolescent boy. But although the most fashionable silhouette in recent years has been an extremely slender one, its not one we necessarily find attractive. Studies have shown that people favour those who are of normal weight, and that people caught up in an accident are far more likely to be rescued if they are of a normal weight than their underweight - or overweight - peers."

Scarves under Taekwando Helmets Deferred to World Council - "The Quebec Federation of Tae Kwon Do’s board met yesterday at their Olympic Stadium headquarters to review the issue of female contestants wearing headscarves under their helmets. The eight-member board heard from the referees who were at the April 15 tournament where girls were barred from participating due to their headscarves as well as from the girls’ trainers from the Ultimate Tae Kwon Do club. At the meeting, coaches and an athlete from the club demonstrated a tight-fitting sport-hijab to the board. After consultation, federation members said they would present the suggestion of a sport-hijab to the World Tae Kwon Do Federation Council, the sport’s international governing body based in South Korea. “We will send their request to the WTF in Korea to see what they can do,” president Jean Faucher said."

For all higher ed's cost, what are we getting? - "Why is spending so much on health care considered a national scandal by many commentators but the outsized spending on higher education is not?... The self-interested consensus among academics is that this country needs to spend far more on higher education. When health-care costs rise at double the inflation rate, intellectuals understandably knit their brows. When higher-ed costs outstrip inflation (as they do year after year), the only people who complain tend to be powerless parents and students. "It takes more resources today to educate a postsecondary student than a generation ago," writes Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University and a rare insider who is critical of rising costs. "That is not true for most goods and services . . . . Relative to other sectors of the economy, universities are becoming less efficient, less productive, and, consequently, more costly." The problem is not only that "with the possible exception of prostitution, teaching is the only profession that has had absolutely no productivity advance in the 2,400 years since Socrates taught the youth of Athens.""
nw.t: i beg to disagree. contraceptive technology has greatly enhanced prostitution's productivity. effective contraception and semi-effective STD protective are great strides in the development of the world's oldest profession

COPYRIGHT MAY NOT BENEFIT CREATORS - "Copyright laws do not encourage creativity, a new book published by an Australian university has argued. Benedict Atkinson, a lawyer whose book is published by Sydney University, said lawyers and policymakers often stated that copyright laws provided creators with the incentive to produce. However, his study of archived records found that copyright laws were set up to satisfy vested interests, such as the recording industry, rather than give incentives to artists to balance their needs with those of consumers. He said government and educational institutions paid about £42 million a year in copyright fees and there was scope to allow more free usage."

Stretching before exercise is `useless' - "A controlled study of 2,600 soldiers conducted over 12 months found no difference in the injury rates between those who stretched their leg muscles before exercise, and those who did not. Now the Australian Army has been told to scrap the whole procedure of stretching."
I know I've posted something on this before but I can't find it.

Three Little Pigs 'too offensive' - "A story based on the Three Little Pigs has been turned down from a government agency's annual awards because the subject matter could offend Muslims. The digital book, re-telling the classic fairy tale, was rejected by judges who warned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues"... The judges also attacked Three Little Cowboy Builders for offending builders... They also warned that the story might "alienate parts of the workforce (building trade)". The judges criticised the stereotyping in the story of the unfortunate pigs: "Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?" Ms Curtis said that rather than preventing the spread of racism, such an attitude was likely to inflame ill-feeling. As another example, she says would that mean that secondary schools could not teach Animal Farm because it features pigs?"
Comment on The Times: "Oh great here we go again, these kind of decisions are usually made by a bunch of left wing white middle-class do-gooders deciding what may be offensive to Muslims. These are the people (without actually asking Muslims themselves) who cancel Xmas, or hot cross buns at Easter because it may offend Muslims. If they lived in the real world they would know how popular the character Peppa the Pig is among Muslim kids and how Muslim families love the Xmas decorations and lights in Oxford St and at their local town centre." - N. Khan, London, U.K.

Masculinity in Alien vs Predator: Requiem - "It was going to be “Masculinity and Femininity”, but the women don’t do anything... What we’re actually dealing with here is a weird hybrid of a 70s disaster movie and a 90s action movie, in which a large group of characters from different backgrounds band together in order to survive a catastrophe, only they do this by shooting at it and screaming ‘Motherfuckerrrrrrrrrrrr!’ a lot... The Nice Guy responds by… proving he’s the best at inflicting violence on his enemies while keeping his woman safe and screaming ‘Motherfuckerrrrrrrrrrr!’ at passing xenomorphs. This is supposed to be him maturing into a leader, but all he’s done is become the kind of aggressive, testosterone-fuelled alpha male he was fighting against an hour earlier. His targets may be Aliens who are just as capable of killing him if he doesn’t fight back, but the point remains that he spends the final act on a massive wank fantasy power trip, proving he’s the world’s biggest badass while protecting a defenseless woman who’ll fuck him when it’s all over."

Dog leash goths 'hounded off bus' - "A goth who leads his girlfriend around with a dog lead and collar was stopped from getting on a bus amid fears for passenger safety, a bus firm confirmed. Dani Graves, 25, and his fiancee Tasha Maltby, 19, of Dewsbury, West Yorks, claim they have been discriminated against by bus firm Arriva Yorkshire."
I don't know which is more ridiculous - not letting them on the bus, or their claiming they've been discriminated against.
"I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don't have any." - Ann Richards


by NUS Symphony Orchestra Chamber Groups

Away Without Leave, Bob Becker (Drum Medley)
Suite Popular Brasileira, Ney Rosauro: i) Baião, ii) Maracatu (Percussion Ensemble)
Thank God, I'm A Country Boy, John Denver, arr. John Martin Sommers (Percussion Ensemble)
String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111, Johannes Brahms: I - Allegro ma non troppo
String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96, "American", Antonin Dvořák: I - Allegro ma non troppo
Andante et Rondo for two flutes and piano, Op. 25, Franz Doppler
Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello and Piano, H. 315, Bohuslav Martinů: I - Moderato poco allegro

Por Una Cabeza, Carlos Gardel, arr. Matthew Naughtin (String Quintet)
Promenade, George Gershwin (Woodwind Quintet)
Marche, Arabian Dance and Russian Dance from "The Nutcracker", Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Woodwind Quintet)
Blues-Style, Tony Osborne (Double Bass Trio)
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, K. 364, W. A. Mozart: II - Andante, III - Presto

The empty toilet beside the UCC theatre seems to be the airconditioned place that comes closest to replicating a temperate climate. I wasn't sure why this was - perhaps it was the humidity or the scent, or maybe just the still air. Actually the aircon in UCC in general is atypical.

Outside the theatre there was a sign saying that flash photography and videography were not permitted; this was the first UCC performing event I'd seen which allowed non-flash photography. Yet, they were schizophrenic, since before the concert we were told there was to be no photography (and just before the second half they contradicted themselves by announcing over the PA system that flash photography was not allowed).

As you can see, the programme was varied, with untuned, Latin, Pop/Country, Romantic, Classical, Neo-classical (Martinů), Tango and Jazz. 20th century (happily) and Baroque (not so) were not represented.

The MC was just adequate, since he mostly read for the programme. While the stage crew set things up, he could've told us about the genre of the Sinfonia Concertante, or some Jazz conventions, but he just left us hanging and waiting for the stuff to be set up.

The Becker was interesting, if a bit draggy. It requires a lot of skill to make music made with purely untuned instruments interesting, and the piece was too long and repetitive, even with competent drummers. The Rosauro was tuned and thus more colourful: though the Baião was a bit blah, the Maracatu was more interesting, but the violinist in the latter could not be heard over the percussion.

The Denver piece was cut unexplainedly, so we then proceeded to the more conventional part of the performance.

The Brahms started off weak and squeaky. It improved a little, but soon plummeted to new depths. Throughout, I kept hearing weird noises (as if not everyone was tuned to the same key [it didn't help that they didn't tune themselves before playing] - the effect was what [I imagined] a damanged LP sounded like). The violins were really bad (not having enough resin, among other things), the violas were okay and the cello was not bad, but that could not rescue the performance, which was painful to sit through. They didn't work well together, either, sounding like 5 players lumped together rather than a quintet.

The Dvořák, in contrast, was quite good. For one, they actually tuned themselves before starting (as did most of the following ensembles). The sound was much tighter and more intimate (despite only having one less player than the previous group). Even though the Brahms was probably a nicer piece than the Dvořák, in performance the latter sounded much better (though the first violin squeaked a bit - resin resin resin!).

The Doppler was quite good, displaying good rapport, though the first flute didn't have very good control, leaking air at the loud bits (the second flute was good though).

There was a PRC (naturally) couple beside me who kept talking and it was very irritating. I had to ask them to shut up.

The last piece before the intermission was the Martinů. It sounded quite strange - Neoclassicism may draw on some of the forms of the Classical period, but it does not share the same aesthetic sense; the themes and harmonization sound very much worse (The Music Chamber - Neoclassicism - "It combined musical elements from the Classical Period with the newer trends that were emerging early in the twentieth century. These classical elements included tonal centers, clarity of form, and melodic shape. To these (and many other) classical elements, neoclassicists added such modern flavorings such as quirky rhythms, spiky dissonances, and large amounts of chromaticism.") Despite the performers, the first theme was strange, though the second was alright - bad playing can ruin good music, but good playing cannot rescue bad music.

After the intermission, we had the Gardel. The "sultry tune from the violins" sounded anorexic and unsure, while the "ferocious, staple Spanish flamenco passion" it was supposed to morph into sounded like a group of drunks. Considering it was a tango, the players lacked intensity. Then again, it was hard to top the Brahms in the tearing of tunics, beating of breasts, pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth.

The Gershwin sounded messy, but it's Jazz so it was alright (good, even). However, the French Horn unfortunately met my expectations for it. The Tchaikovsky was awkward: the March lacked rhythm and was timid and loose, and the flourishes at the end of each phrase were especially limp, the Arabian dance, didn't sound mysterious and the Trepak lacked energy.

(PaRaDoX on why the Horn is so hard to play: "because it's got a small embrouchure
and u gotta force the air thru the miles of tubes, which u dun have to with the trumpet")

The Osborne was a rare piece only for double basses. It was a bit dull, but that was probably because of the range of the instrument. There was a double bass duet following (not listed on the program), and it was a bit flat (perhaps in more than one way).

Last was the Mozart. During the Andante, the soloists were okay (though they were better playing individually or alternately than in concert), but the orchestra was a bit dead (and no, that's not a good thing even though it was written to commemoriate his dead mother) and plodded at times. There weren't many brass parts, but they managed to be flubbed. Both soloists and orchestra were better in the Presto (they seemed better at vivacity than moroseness), though the horns acted up again and the oboes were a bit off also.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it." - Frank Zappa


"Our task now is to indicate briefly the serious limitations of the previous kind of analysis, which almost certainly vitiate it even from a theoretical point of view. In the first place, it is completely arbitrary to assume that the individual behaves so as to maximise an integral of the form envisaged in (2). This involves the assumption that at every instant of time the individual's satisfaction depends only upon the consumption at that time, and that, furthermore, the individual tries to maximise the sum of instantaneous satisfactions reduced to some comparable base by time discount...

Moreover, in the analysis of the supply of savings, it is extremely doubtful whether we can learn much from considering such an economic man, whose tastes remain unchanged, who seeks to maximise some functional of consumption alone, in a perfect world, where all things are certain and synchronised. For in any case such a functional would have to be dependent upon certain parameters which are socially determined ; " effective " desire for social prestige, length of human life, life cycle of individual economic activity, corporate structure, institutional banking and investment structure, etc. In general, there is strong reason to believe that changes in such parameters are not of an equilibrating nature. Even to generalise concerning these can only be done in terms of a theory of " history " (in itself almost a contradiction in terms). In any case, this would seem to lie in the region which Marshall termed Economic Biology, where the powerful tools of mathematical abstraction will little serve our turn, and direct study of such institutional data would seem in order...

In conclusion, any connection between utility as discussed here and any welfare concept is disavowed"

--- A Note on Measurement of Utility, Paul A. Samuelson, The Review of Economic Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2. (Feb., 1937) [Ed: The article which outlines the Discounted Utility Model]

"In our reading. economists have accorded the assumption of rational, self-interested behavior unwarranted ritual purity, while alternative assumptions-that agents follow rules of thumb, that psychological or sociological considerations matter, or that, heaven forbid, they act downright irrationally at times-have been accorded corresponding ritual impurity. This association between "impure" assumptions and ritual pollution has had the ill effect of confusing the esthetic task of economics-which is to provide clear logic for analyzing economic phenomenawith the agenda of economics-whch is to explain the economic events of the real world. Keynesian theory, with its partial reliance on psychological, sociological, and rule-ofthumb behavior to derive departures from full employment and Pareto optimality, is the worst casualty of this failure to dissociate esthetic from agenda. If agents really behave according to impure assumptions, is it not likely that the best models to fulfill the agenda will mirror that behavior?...

During the past two decades Keynesian theorists- have- struggled to formulate a "sensible" microeconomic foundation for Keynesian economics based on individualistic optimizing behavior, by relaxing the assumptions of the perfectly competitive Walrasian model and introducing instead a dizzying array of market imperfections: asymmetric information, incomplete contingent claims markets, staggered contracts, transactions costs, imperfect competition, specific human capital, efficiency wages, etc. Have these efforts been successful? Not entirely. While each of these innovations has enriched economics by modeling important aspects of reality, the introduction of these imperfections has still not provided a total rationalization of Keynesian economics when judged according to the rule that the proposed theory be fully consistent with rational optimizing behavior and the absence of any unexploited gains from trade. In the end, it invariably turns out either that there is an unrealistic assumption or that some clever, complicated neoclassical contract will eliminate involuntary unemployment...

Importantly for Keynesian economics the Kahneman-Knetsch-Thaler experiments indicated the presence of anchoring based on current money wages. Respondents felt it fair for a company whose business was bad to raise wages by only 7 percent when there was 12 percent inflation, but unfair to cut wages by 5 percent if there was no inflation. These findings are consistent with the standard sociological theory of fairness known as equity theory...

Even if supervision and monitoring are feasible at low cost, it may not pay firms to monitor their employees too closely. A recent study by Edward Deci, James Connell, and Richard Ryan (1985) has shown that workers who are given more detailed rules and are more closely monitored experience less job satisfaction, are less motivated, and place more importance on such external rewards as compensation; in contrast, those who are less controlled achieve greater satisfaction in mastering their jobs. If firms are to take advantage of the self-motivation that comes with on-the-job autonomy, then they must ensure that workers perceive themselves to be fairly treated. The cost can easily involve paying wages in excess of market clearing. Accordingly, we would expect perceptions of fairness to play a role in determining wage contracts and anchoring to cause money wages to be sticky."

--- Rational Models of Irrational Behavior, George A. Akerlof; Janet L. Yellen, AER, 1987

"There are several aspects of the quantitative approach to economics, and no single one of these aspects taken by itself, should be confounded with econometrics. Thus, econometrics is by no mean the same as economic statistics, Nor is it identical with what we call general economic theory, although a considerable portion of this theory has a definitely quantitative character. Nor should econometrics be taken as synonymous with the application of mathematics to economics. Experience has shown that each of these three viewpoints, that of statistics, economic theory, and mathematics, is a necessary, but no by itself a sufficient, condition for a real understanding of the quantitative relations in modern economic life. It is the unification of all three that is powerful. And it is this unification that constitutes econometrics." - Frisch, Econometrica, 1933

The difference between Econometrics and Statistics is that statistics is used in the Natural Sciences, so there aren't issues that econometricians hav eto deal with, like serial correlation, seriously flawed data and the inability to do controlled experiments. To think that it took till my 4th econometrics module (taught by a Visiting Lecturer, at that) to learn that (too bad I've since dropped it, despite all that).
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910), Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line


Singapore culture shock: civility and lack thereof « e pur si muove - recherche en dépaysement - "I hate to be sexist, but girls in their late teens were by far the rudest demographic that I’d encountered. Why do so many of them behave as if that the world has to bow down to them? Gee, I’m sorry that I didn’t throw my coat over a puddle in your way, Your Royal Highness. No, the world doesn’t owe you any favors if Orchard Road runs out of hot pink handphone attachés. And please stop spouting feminist Nazi-esque dreams of unconditional male servitude, ‘cos yo’ sure a hollaback girl, girl... An ah ma I helped chope a seat for on the MRT as she was boarding (and thus earning me many dirty looks from several SACSAL-types) whispered in my ear: “You don’t have to be so nice. People nowadays aren’t.”"

When Harry Met Sally... - "Romantic comedies often are derogatorily referred to as "chick flicks." There are many reasons why the genre has been associated more with women than men. Perhaps the most plausible is that a majority of romantic comedies purposely cater to women and, in the process, isolate men not sold on the format. The female characters in such films are usually fleshed out, well-rounded individuals, while the males are either portrayed boorishly at worst or bland at best."

Woman jailed for testicle attack - "A woman who ripped off her ex-boyfriend's testicle with her bare hands has been sent to prison. Amanda Monti, 24, flew into a rage when Geoffrey Jones, 37, rejected her advances at the end of a house party, Liverpool Crown Court heard. She pulled off his left testicle and tried to swallow it, before spitting it out. A friend handed it back to Mr Jones saying: "That's yours." Monti admitted wounding and was jailed for two-and-a-half years."
I'm quite sure the reverse would've gotten a penalty at least twice as severe.

Tiny magnet that soothes the misery of menopause - "Tests on hundreds of women have shown that the LadyCare magnet can relieve symptoms from anxiety and mood swings to hot flushes and memory problems."
Too bad double-blind tests are impossible with this.

Savage Love - January 9, 2007 - "When you write an advice column, gentle readers, it looks like you have all the answers because you only run questions for which you have answers. This is as it should and must be; we advice professionals need people to think we have all the answers so they'll keep sending us their questions. But this scam has a cruel and unintended consequence: When we don't respond to a question, the reader who sent it thinks, "He/she doesn't care," or "He/she is too busy," or "He/she thought my question wasn't interesting." When the reality may be that he/she has no fucking clue. And here, to mark the New Year, are a few other letters that I haven't answered for want of a clue... I'm a guy into she-male porn, and I've noticed that almost all the models in said porn have very tight scrotums. Like they're cold. So I'm wondering, what's the deal? Is it just the hormones? Or do they employ some kind of pre-shoot scrotal-tightening technique? A bit of both, perhaps? Never Understood Tranny Scrotums... My wife and I enjoy a vigorous BDSM lifestyle and take part in some pretty heavy activities. One we haven't tried but are anxious to is Tabasco sauce on mucous membranes, e.g., nostrils, clit, and anal tissues. Our question: What would we use to cool the burn should the application of Tabasco sauce to her anus or clit prove to be too much for her to endure? Master & Servant"

"Sellout," Randall Kennedy, racial politics, affirmative action, African-Americans - "Black critical thinkers often face an extra step in the writing process -- we have to separate what we think from what our comrades of color expect us to believe, presume we believe, or would rather we didn't discuss in racially mixed company, in public, or at all. For us to reason independently of Negro orthodoxy -- especially to criticize sacred cows of black America like affirmative action -- means risking banishment from the black community. The threat of getting kicked out of blackness (impossible as that sounds), or at least being seen as outside black solidarity, looms large... You can bet that the words of William Hannibal Thomas, the first black man to attend Otterbein College, have never been trotted out at graduations, sermons, or rallies. Thomas' 1901 screed, "The American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He Will Become: A Critical and Practical Discussion," posits that "the negro represents an intrinsically inferior type of humanity, and one whose predominant characteristics evince an aptitude for a low order of living.""

We're here, we're queer, I'm sick of it - "Once pride was essential to curing the shame of the closet. Today it is the medication we're addicted to. Once pride captured the spirit of a revolution. Today it is too often the gay equivalent of pro forma patriotism. Once pride made a compelling moral argument. Today it is becoming the Ten Commandments on every wall. And when pride in the simple courage that it takes to come out of the closet in a hostile world turns into complacence and ideological rigidity, it threatens everything that we've won so far... As Dan Savage has recently argued, pride wasn't counted as one of the Seven Deadly Sins for nothing. "The fwap of rainbow windsocks is making us dull and slow," he writes... At first it's easy to think, "Well, fuck them if they're not comfortable with out-and-proud sexuality." This is dangerous and unnecessary. It's true that we'll never reach the rabid anti-gay kooks, but writing off average people like Will assures that millions who might be persuaded to help us -- or who at least might be vaccinated against inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric -- will remain obstacles to overcome... As Savage says, "Surrounding oneself with constant reminders to feel prideful is to constantly be reminded of shame ... American gays and lesbians act like cancer patients who, having been cured, remind themselves that they aren't sick anymore by dropping by the hospital every once in a while for a little chemotherapy.""

The intravenous use of coconut water - "Medical resources routinely used for intravenous hydration and resuscitation of critically ill patients may be limited in remote regions of the world. When faced with these shortages, physicians have had to improvise with the available resources, or simply do without. We report the successful use of coconut water as a short-term intravenous hydration fluid for a Solomon Island patient, a laboratory analysis of the local coconuts, and a review of previously documented intravenous coconut use."

Monday, January 21, 2008

"They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum." - Tallulah Bankhead


u r wt u wr (all from before Week 1):

- 'Hot babe alert' [Back: 'Dance fiesta']
- 'Alone [Back: Again]'
- 'Foxy babes. Scout team.'
- 'Tease me'
- 'The rolling faith *Picture of red lips, with a red tongue sticking out*
- 'Drink lots of water' (???)
- 'It's hard work to look this good'
- 'The flower smells like me' (?)
- 'Mr Noisy' (This must be what they mean by 'inappropriate gender behavior')
- 'Is it hot in here or just *something*' (Her SCARF was covering the rest. Google reveals the full line is likely "Is it hot in here or just me?" and someone suggests saying it's her hot flashes)
- 'Single and ready to mingle'
- 'Miss Slut'
- 'Mr Messy'
- 'Sinful'
- 'Best brunette ever. A&F' (She had black hair; this beats the plain 'A & F' T-shirts though)
- 'The Virgin Islands call you *picture of a woman*'
- 'You make my heart stop'

- 'Wanted: Fast woman for slow shag' (Guy)

I saw a guy with a hole in his ear, lined by a black ring studded with white stones. I was tempted to put my pinky in his hole.

u r wt u wr Foreign Edition (Hokkaido):

- 'Bikini babe *picture of monkey in bikini' (This was a member of our group)
- 'Just a little let me tell you something. Do not misunderstand. [Back: I can't wait to touch you in the flesh]'
- 'How much in your body!! Du uknow? All polished neatly from the inside!'
- 'I wish to know how sweet a kiss can be'

This was mostly from Singaporeans. Jap girls are more sophisticated than that, mostly.

Also available: Hokkaido Notes (LJ)
"Let not the sands of time get in your lunch." - National Lampoon, "Deteriorata"


China and India:

"It is important not to overlook the resistance to Indian - particularly Buddhist — influence that was also widespread in China, The resistance to Buddhism in various periods of Chinese history contained, among other elements, a strong belief in China’s sense of intellectual invulnerability, and in particular the persuasion that ideas generated outside China could not really be very important. Han Yu, an anti-Buddhist intellectual in the ninth century, who would be much championed later on by Confucians, put the issue starkly in his ‘Memorial on Buddhism’ written in 819:

the Buddha was of barbarian origin. His language differed from Chinese speech; his clothes were of a different cut; his mouth did not pronounce the prescribed words of the Former Kings; his body was not clad in garments prescribed by the Former Kings. He did not recognize the relationship between prince and subject, nor the sentiments of father and son.

Han Yu even offered an illustrative proof of the wrongness of Buddhist ways:

[Emperor Wu of the Liang] dedicated himself to the service of the Buddha. He refused to use animals in the sacrifices in his own ancestral temple. His single meal a day was limited to fruits and vegetables. In the end he was driven out and died of hunger. His dynasty likewise came to an untimely end. In serving the Buddha he was seeking good fortune, but the disaster that over took him was only the greater. Viewed in the light of this, it is obvious that the Buddha is not worth serving.

Daoist (or Taoist) opposition to Buddhism also had a strong element of Chinese intellectual nationalism and a sense of superiority of Chinese ways. As it happens, Buddhism and Daoism have many similarities, but that only made the battle even harder, and the issue of temporal priority, too, figured in this conflict...

'[Wang Fu’s] basic thesis is that Lao-tzu, on departing China, traveled across Central Asia into India and there either (1) magically transformed an accompanying disciple into the historic Buddha, (2) converted Buddha to Taoism, or (3)
became Buddha himself, depending on which version of the text one reads. Buddhists fought this Taoist attack primarily by moving the life of the Buddha back to earlier and earlier times, and Taoists responded in kind by reassigning dates to Lao-tzu.'

As Leon Hurvitz and Tsai Heng-Ting have discussed, the question, ‘Why should a Chinese allow himself to be influenced by Indian ways?’ was, in fact, ‘one of the objections most frequently raised by Confucians and Daoists once Buddhism had acquired a foothold on Chinese soil’.’ The loss of the central position of China in the order of things in the world was among the concerns...

'The monks of Nalanda, when they heard of it [Xuanzhang's plan to return to China], begged hum to remain, saying: 'India is the land of Buddha’s birth, and though he has left the world, there are many traces of him. . . . Why then do you wish to leave having come so far? Moreover, China is a country of mlecchas, of unimportant barbarians, who despise the religious and the Faith. That is why Buddha was not born there. The mind of the people is narrow, and their coarseness profound, hence neither saints nor sages go there. The climate is cold and the country rugged — you must think again.'"

Tryst with Destiny:

"[Footnote] We must, however, distinguish between cases of good results brought about by strong political commitment and any expectation that authoritarian leadership would, in general, produce such results. North Korea is authoritarian too, as was the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Idi Amin’s Uganda and Mobutu’s Congo. The central point at issue concerns political vision rather than coercive power."

Indian and the Bomb:

"Whether, or to what extent, powerful weapons empower a nation is not a new question. Indeed, well before the age of nuclear armament began, Rahindranath Tagore had expressed a general doubt about the fortifying effects of military strength. If 'in his eagerness for power', Tagore had argued in 1917, a nation ‘multiplies his weapons at the cost of his soul, then it is he who is in much greater danger than his enemies’... The ‘soul’ to which Tagore referred includes, as he explained, the need for humanity and understanding in international relations.

Tagore was not merely making a moral point, but also one of pragmatic importance, taking into account the responses from others that would be generated by one’s pursuit of military might. His immediate concern in the quoted statement was with Japan and its move toward extensive nationalism. Tagore was a great admirer of Japan and the Japanese, but felt very disturbed by its shift from economic and social development to aggressive militarization...

There is nothing to indicate that the likelihood of conventional war is, in fact, reduced by the nuclearization of India and Pakistan. Indeed, hot on the heels of the nuclear blasts, the two countries did undergo a major military confrontation in the Kargil district in Kashmir. The Kargil conflict, which occurred within a year of the nuclear blasts of India and Pakistan, was in fact the first military conflict between the two in nearly thirty years. Many Indian commentators have argued that the confrontation, which was provoked by separatist guerrillas coming across the line of control from Pakistan (in their view, joined by army regulars), was helped by Pakistan’s understanding that India would not he able to use its massive superiority in conventiona; forces to launch a bigger war in retaliation, precisely because it would fear a nuclear holocaust...

The argument for the balance of terror has been clear enough for a long time, and was most eloquently put by Winston Churchill in his last speech to the House of Commons on 1 March 1955. His ringing words on this ('safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation') have a mesmerizing effect, but Churchill himself did make exceptions to his rule, when he said that the logic of deterrence 'does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dug-out'.

Dictators are not unknown in the world (even in the subcontinent), and at least part-lunatics can be found with some frequency in both the countries judging by what some eloquent commentators seem to be able to write on the nuclear issue itself...

After the 1998 tests, India’s and Pakistan’s positions seem to be much more even, at least in international public perception. As it happens, Pakistan was quite modest in its response. I remember thinking in the middle of May 1998, following the Indian tests, that surely Pakistan would now blast a larger number of bombs than India’s five. I was agreeably impressed by Pakistan’s moderation in blasting only six, which is the smallest whole number larger than five...

As the Human Development Report 1994, prepared under the leadership of that visionary Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, pointed out, not only were the top five arms-exporting countries in the world precisely the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, but they were also, together, responsible for 86 per cent of all the conventional weapons exports during 1988—92. Not surprisingly, the Security Council has not been able to take any serious initiative that would really restrain the merchants of death. It is not hard to understand the scepticism in India and Pakistan — and elsewhere — about the responsibility and leadership of the established nuclear powers."

The Reach of Reason:

"The Enlightenment perspective has come under severe attack in recent years, and [Jonathan] Glover adds his own powerful voice to this reproach. He argues that "the Enlightenment view of human psychology" has increasingly looked "thin and mechanical," and "Enlightenment hopes of social progress through the spread of humanitarianism and the scientific outlook" now appear rather "naive." Following an increasingly common tendency, Glover goes on to attribute many of the horrors of the twentieth century to the influence of the Enlightenment. He links modern tyranny with that perspective, noting not only that "Stalin and his heirs were in thrall to the Enlightenment," but also that Pol Pot "was indirectly influenced by it." But since Glover does not wish to seek solutions through the authority of religion or of tradition (in this respect, he notes, "we cannot escape the Enlightenment"), he concentrates his fire on other targets, such as reliance on strongly held beliefs. "The crudity of Stalinism," he argues, "had its origins in the beliefs [Stalin held." This claim is plausible enough, as is Glover's reference to "the role of ideology in Stalinism."

However, why is this a criticism of the Enlightenment perspective? It seems a little unfair to put the blame for the blind beliefs of dictators on the Enlightenment tradition, since so many writers associated with the Enlightenment insisted that reasoned choice was superior to any reliance on blind belief. Surely "the crudity of Stalinism" could be opposed, as it indeed was, through a reasoned demonstration of the huge gap between promise and practice, and by showing its brutality-a brutality that the authorities had to conceal through strict censorship. Indeed, one of the main points in favor of reason is that it helps us to transcend ideology and blind belief. Reason was not, in fact, Pol Pot's main ally. He and his gang of followers were driven by frenzy and badly reasoned belief and did not allow any questioning or scrutiny of their actions. Given the cogency of Glover's other arguments, there is something deeply puzzling about his willingness to join the fashionable chorus of attacks on the Enlightenment...

Indian religious literature such as the Bhagavad-Gita or the Tantrik texts, which are identified as differing from secular writings seen as "Western," elicits much greater interest in the West than do other Indian writings, including India's long history of heterodoxy. Sanskrit and Pali have a larger atheistic and agnostic literature than exists in any other classical tradition. There is a similar neglect of Indian writings on nonreligious subjects, from mathematics, epistemology, and natural science to economics and linguistics. (The exception, I suppose, is the Kama Sutra, in which Western readers have managed to cultivate an interest.) Through selective emphases that point up differences with the West, other civilizations can, in this way, be redefined in alien terms, which can be exotic and charming, or else bizarre and terrifying, or simply strange and engaging. When identity is thus "defined by contrast," divergence with the West becomes central."

The Indian Identity:

"I do not doubt that some Hindus do indeed find, as reported recently in the newspapers, that even Valentine’s Day cards are offensive as being allegedly sexually explicit — a point made with much force by some politically activist Hindus. But Hindus vary in their attitude to issues of this kind, as the sculptors of the temples in Khajuraho could readily explain. I take the liberty of speculating that the greatest Sanskrit poet, Kalidãsa, with his eloquence on the beauty of female forms bathing in the river Sipra in his native Ujjayini, would have found Valentine’s Day cards to be deeply disappointing."

--- In: The argumentative Indian : writings on Indian history, culture and identity / Amartya Sen
"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out." - Alfred Hitchcock


India: Large and Small:

"Since my childhood thoughts — for what they were worth — did not attract me at all to religion, I asked my grandfather whether I should be concerned that religion did not appeal to me. He told me, ‘No, in fact there is no case for having religious convictions until you are able to think seriously for yourself — it will come with time.’ Since, in my case, it did not come at all (my scepticism seemed to mature with age), I told my grandfather, some years later, that he had been absolutely wrong. ‘Not at all,’ replied my grandfather, ‘you have addressed the religious question, and you have placed yourself, I see, in the atheistic — the Lokãyata — part of the Hindu spectrum!’

I remember reflecting on that large view of Hinduism when, some years later, I was helping my grandfather to produce and edit the English version of a book on Hinduism which he had written in Bengali (he knew little English), at the invitation of Penguin Books. This book, published in 1961, was a great success, both in English (with many reprints on both sides of the Atlantic), and in translations into other languages (French, Dutch, Spanish, but also Farsi and Japanese). Among its substantive accomplishments, Kshiti Mohan’s book brought out with much clarity the heterodoxy of beliefs that Hinduism allowed, with a rich variety of well-developed but diverse religious arguments. Kshiti Mohan identified an overarching liberal ity as being part and parcel of the basic Hindu approach, and saw it as one of its intellectual contributions to the world of thought: ‘Hinduism also points out that a difference of metaphysical doctrine need not prevent the development of an accepted basic code of conduct. The important thing about a man is his dharma [roughly, the personal basis of behaviour], not necessarily his religion.” That pride in liberality and tolerance contrasts rather sharply with the belligerently sectarian interpretation of Hinduism which is now becoming common through its politicization. [Ed: Yes, but then this is the same principle as how religions that encourage fecundity will become more popular than those that do not because, as we all know, God wants us to reproduce.]...

However, scepticism about religion need not always take the combative form of resisting religious pronouncements. It can also find expression as as deep-seated doubts about the social relevance and political significance of differences in the religious beliefs of different persons. Despite the veritable flood of religious practices in India, there is also a resilient undercurrent of conviction across the country that religious beliefs, while personally significant, are socially unimportant and should be be politically inconsequential. [Ed: Bring on the post-modernist attacks! Which, interestingly enough, he himself uses in other instances. Oh well, consistency.] Ignoring the importance — and reach — of this underlying conviction has the effect of systematically overestimating the role of religion in Indian society.

This claim might seem peculiarly implausible for a country in which allegedly religious conflicts have been extremely prominent in the recent past, and in which they seem to influence a good part of contemporary politics as well. We have to distinguish, however, between (1) evident societal tensions that we may see between pugnacious spokesmen of communities identified by different religious ancestries (often led by sectarian activists), and (2) actual religious tensions in which the contents of religious beliefs are themselves material. Indeed, even when the enthusiasts for religious politics in India have been successful in playing up religious differences, they have worked mainly through generating societal frictions in which the demographic correlates of religion have been used to separate out the communities for selective roguery (as happened, to a great extent, in Gujarat in 2002). In this, the finery of religious beliefs has typically played little or no part. It is important to appreciate the distinction between religious strifes, on the one hand, and political discords based on utilizing communal demography, on the other."

Tagore and his India:

"Friedrich Schiegel, Schelling, Herder and Schopenhauer were only a few of the thinkers who followed the same pattern. They theorized, at first, that India was the source of superior wisdom. Schopenhauer at one stage even argued that the New Testament ‘must somehow be of Indian origin: this is attested by its completely Indian ethics, which transforms morals into asceticism, its pessimism, and its avatar’, in ‘the person of Christ’...

Rabindranath’s passion for freedom underlies his firm opposition to unreasoned traditionalism, which makes one a prisoner of the past (lost, as he put it, in ‘the dreary desert sand of dead habit’).

Tagore illustrates the tyranny of the past in his amusing yet deeply serious parable ‘Kartar Bhoot’ (‘The Ghost of the Leader’). As the respected leader of an imaginary land is about to die, his panic-stricken followers request him to stay on after his death to instruct them on what to do. He consents. But his followers find their lives are full of rituals and constraints on everyday behaviour and are not responsive to the world around them. Ultimately, they ask the ghost of the leader to relieve them of his domination, when he informs them hit he exists only in their minds...

Tagore was explicit about his disagreement [with Gandhi]:

We who often glorify our tendency to ignore reason, installing in its place blind faith, valuing it as spiritual, are ever paying for its cost with the obscuration of our mind and destiny. I blamed Mahatmaji for exploiting this irrational force of credulity in our people, which might have had a quick result [in creating] a superstructure, while sapping the foundation. Thus began my estimate of Mahatmaji, as the guide of our nation, and it is fortunate for me that it did not end there.

But while it ‘did not end there’, that difference of vision was a powerful divider. Tagore, for example, remained unconvinced of the merit of Gandhi’s forceful advocacy that everyone should spin at home with the ‘charka’, the primitive spinning wheel. For Gandhi, this practice was an important part of India’s self-realization. ‘The spinning-wheel gradually became’, as his biographer B. R. Nanda writes, ‘the centre of rural uplift in the Gandhian scheme of Indian economics.” Tagore found the alleged economic rationale for this scheme quite unrealistic. As Romain Rolland noted, Rabindranath ‘never tires of criticizing the charka’. In this economic judgement, Tagore was probably right. Except for the rather small specialized market for high-quality spun cloth, it is hard to make economic sense of hand-spinning, even with wheels less primitive than Gandhi’s charka. Hand-spinning as a wide-sprad activity can survive only with the help of heavy government subsidies.

However, Gandhi’s advocacy of the charka was not based only on economics. He wanted everyone to spin for ‘thirty minutes every day as a sacrifice’, seeing this as a way for people who are better off to identify themselves with the less fortunate. He was impatient with Tagore’s refusal to grasp this point:

The poet lives for the morrow, and would have us do likewise. . . . ‘Why should I, who have no need to work for food, spin?’ may be the question asked. Because I am eating what does not belong to me. I am living on the spoliation of my countrymen. Trace the source of every coin that finds its way into your pocket, and you will realise the truth of what I write. Every one must spin. Let Tagore spin like the others. Let him burn his foreign clothes; that is the duty today. God will take care of the morrow.

If Tagore had missed something in Gandhi’s argument, so did Gandhi miss the point of Tagore’s main criticism. It was not only that the charka made little economic sense, but also, Tagore thought, that it was not the way to make people reflect on anything: ‘The charka does not require anyone to think; one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgement and stamina.’ [Ed: So much for alienation and creative work.]...

Tagore’s criticism of patriotism is a persistent theme in his writings. As early as 1908, he put his position succinctly in a letter replying to the criticism of Abala Bose, the wife of a great Indian scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose: ‘Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.’ His novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) has much to say about this theme. In the novel, Nikhil, who is keen on social reform, including women’s liberation, but cool towards nationalism, gradually loses the esteem of his spirited wife, Bimala, because of his failure to be enthusiastic about anti-British agitations, which she sees as a lack of patriotic commitment. Bimala becomes fascinated with Nikhil’s nationalist friend Sandip, who speaks brilliantly and acts with patriotic militancy, and she falls in love with him. Nikhil refuses to change his views: 'I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.'"

Our culture, their culture:

"The invoking of Asian values has sometimes occurred in rather dubious political circumstances. For example, it has been used to justify authoritarianism (and harsh penalties for alleged transgressions) in some east Asian countries. In the Vienna conference on human rights in 1993, the Foreign Minister of Singapore, citing differences between Asian and European traditions, argued that ‘universal recognition of the ideal of human rights can be harmful if universalism is used to deny or mask the reality of diversity’. The championing of ‘Asian values’ has typically come fron government spokesmen rather than from individuals at a distance from established regimes...

The difficulties of understanding each other across the boundaries of culture are undoubtedly great. This applies to the cinema, but also to other art forms as well, including literature. For example, the inability of most foreigners — sometimes even other Indians — to see the astonishing beauty of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry (a failure that we Bengalis find so exasperating) is a good illustration of just such a problem. Indeed, the thought that these non-appreciating foreigners are being wilfully contrary and obdurate (rather than merely unable to appreciate across the barrier of languages and translations) is a frequently aired suspicion. [Ed: If only Bengalis like him, it is obvious that the rest of the world is being ethnocentric.]...

In the reading that sees the Western tradition as the natural habitat of individual freedom and political democracy, there is a substantial tendency to extrapolate backwards from the present. Values that the European Enlightenment and other relatively recent developments have made common and widespread can scarcely be seen as part of the long-term Western heritage — experienced in the West over millennia. There has, of course, been championing of freedom and tolerance in specific contexts in the Western classical tradition, but much the same can he said of many parts of the Asian tradition as well — not least in India, with the articulations associated for example with Ashoka’s inscriptions, Südraka’s drama, Akbar’s pronouncements or Dadu's poetry, to name just a few examples.

It is true that tolerance has not been advocated by all in the Asian traditions. Nor has that advocacy typically covered everyone (though some, such as Ashoka, in the third century BCE, did indeed insist on completely universal coverage, without any exception). But much the same can he said about Western traditions as well. There is little evidence that Plato or St Augustine were more tolerant and less authoritarian than Confucius. While Aristotle certainly did write on the importance of freedom, women and slaves were excluded from the domain of this concern (an exclusion that, as it happens, Ashoka did not make around roughly the same time). The claim that the basic ideas underlying freedom and tolerance have been central to Western culture over the millennia and are somehow alien to Asia is, I believe, entirely rejectable.

The allegedly sharp contrast between Western and Asian traditions on the subject of freedom and tolerance is based on very poor history. The authoritarian argument based on the special nature of Asian values is particularly dubious. This supplements the more basic argument, presented earlier, that even if it had been the case that the values championed in Asia’s past have been more authoritarian, this historical point would not be grounds enough to reject the importance of tolerance and liberties in contemporary Asia."

Indian traditions and the Western imagination:

"I shall begin by considering the curatorial approaches [to India]. But first I must deal with a methodological issue; in particular, the prevalent doubts in contemporary social theory about the status of intellectual curiosity as a motivation for knowledge. In particular, there is much scepticism about the possibility of any approach to learning that is innocent of power. That scepticism is justified to some extent since the motivational issues underlying any investigation may well relate to power relations, even when that connection is not immediately visible.

Yet people seek knowledge for many different reasons, and curiosity about unfamiliar things is certainly among the possible reasons. It need not be seen as a figment of the deluded scientist’s imagination, nor as a tactical excuse for some other, ulterior pre-occupation. Nor does the pervasive relevance of different types of motivation have the effect of making all the different observational findings equally arbitrary. There are real lines to be drawn between inferences dominated by rigid preconceptions (for example, in the 'magisterial' approaches, to be discussed presently) and those that are not so dominated, despite the possibility that they too may have biases of their own.

There is an interesting methodological history here. The fact that knowledge is often associated with power is a recognition that had received far too little attention in traditional social theories of knowledge. But in recent social studies, the remedying of that methodological neglect has been so comprehensive that we are now in some danger of ignoring other motivations altogether that may not link directly with the seeking of power. While it is true that any useful knowledge gives its possessor some power in one form or another, this may not be the most remarkable aspect of that knowledge, nor the primary reason for which this knowledge is sought. Indeed, the process of learning can accommodate considerable motivational variations without becoming a functionalist enterprise of some grosser kind. An epistemic methodology that sees the pursuit of knowledge as entirely congruent with the search for power is a great deal more cunning than wise. It can needlessly undermine the value of knowledge in satisfying curiosity and interest; it significantly weakens one of the profound characteristics of human beings...

In addition to veridical weakness, the exoticist approach to India has an inescapable fragility and transience that can be seen again and again. A wonderful thing is imagined about India and sent into a high orbit, and then it is brought crashing down. All this need not be such a tragedy when the act of launching is done by (or with the active cooperation of) the putative star. Not many would weep, for example, for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when the Beatles stopped lionizing him and left suddenly; in answer to the Maharishi’s question of why they were leaving, John Lennon said: ‘You are the cosmic one; you ought to know.’...

Even on religious subjects, the only world religion that is firmly agnostic (Buddhism) is of Indian origin, and, furthermore, the atheistic schools of Cãrvãka and Lokayata have generated extensive arguments that have been seriously studied by Indian religious scholars themselves. Heterodoxy runs throughout the early documents, and even the ancient epic Rämayana, which is often cited by contemporary Hindu activists as the holy book of the divine Rama’s life, contains dissenting characters. For example, Rama is lectured to by a worldly pundit called Javali on the folly of his religious beliefs: ‘O Rama, be wise, there exists no world but this, that is certain! Enjoy that which is present and cast behind thee that which is unpleasant.’...

Despite the grave sobriety of Indian religious pre-occupations, it would not be erroneous to say that India is a country of fun and games in which chess was probably invented, badminton originated, polo emerged, and the ancient Kamasutra told peopie how to have joy in sex. Indeed, Georges Ifrah quotes a medieval Arab poet from Baghdad called al-Sabhadi, who said that there were ‘three things on which the Indian nation prided itself: its method of reckoning, the game of chess, and the book titled Kalila wa Dimna (a collection of legends and fables).’ This is not altogether a different list from Voltaire’s catalogue of the important things to come from India: ‘our numbers, our backgammon, our chess, our first principles of geometry, and the fables which have become our own.’ These selections would not fit the mainstream Western image of Indian traditions, focused on religion or spirituality."

--- In: The argumentative Indian : writings on Indian history, culture and identity / Amartya Sen

Sunday, January 20, 2008


"The roots of scepticism in India go back a long way, and it would be hard to understand the history of Indian culture if scepticism were to be jettisoned. Indeed, the resilient reach of the tradition of dialectics can be felt throughout Indian history, even as conflicts and wars have led to much violence. Given the simultaneous presence of dialogic encounters and bloody battles in India’s past, the tendency to concentrate only on the latter would miss out something of real significance.

It is indeed important to understand the long tradition of accepted heterodoxy in India. In resisting the attempts by the Hindutva activists to capture ancient India as their home ground (and to see it as the unique cradle of Indian civilization), it is not enough to point out that India has many other sources of culture as well. It is necessary also to see how much heterodoxy there has been in Indian thoughts and beliefs from very early days. Not only did Buddhists, Jams, agnostics and atheists compete with each other and with adherents of what we now call Hinduism (a much later term) in the India of the first millennium BCE, but also the dominant religion in India was Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. The Chinese in the first millennium CE standardly referred to India as ‘the Buddhist kingdom’ (the far-reaching effects of the Buddhist connections between the two largest countries in the world are discussed in Essay 8). Ancient India cannot be fitted into the narrow box where the Hindutva activists want to incarcerate it."

The Argumentative Indian:

"Prolixity is not alien to us in India. We are able to talk at some length. Krishna Menon's record of the longest speech ever delivered at the United Nations (nine hours non-stop), established half a century ago (when Menon was leading the Indian delegation), has not been equalled by anyone from anywhere. Other peaks of loquaciousness have been scaled by other Indians. We do like to speak.

This is not a new habit. The ancient Sanskrit epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which are frequently compared with the Iliad and the Odyssey, are colossally longer than the works that the modest Homer could manage. Indeed, the Mahabharata alone is about seven times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey put together. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are certainly great epics... we encounter masses of arguments and counterarguments spread over incessant debates and disputations.

[Ed: Compare - ""Indians, moreover, 'are naturally contentious'. Like women, they are loquacious and theatrical, too indulgent and irresponsible to be capable of the social discipline of 'hard' Confucian culture." (Quoted in Devon and Wong)

When Amartya Sen says Indians are talkative, he is lauded for writing a brilliant book. When the Great Leader says the same thing, he is racist (I guarantee you the same accusation will be levelled even if you lop everything after 'theatrical' off.

Keywords: Lee Kuan Yew, LKY, talkative, argumentative, querulous]

... Even if we go back all the way to ancient India, some of the most celebrated dialogues have involved women, with the sharpest questionings often coming from women interlocutors... For example, in the Brihadãranyaka Upanisad we are told about the famous 'arguing combat' in which Yajnavalkya, the outstanding scholar and teacher, has to face questions from the assembled gathering of pundits, and here it is a woman scholar, Gargi, who provides the sharpest edge to the intellectual interrogation. She enters the fray without any special modesty: 'Venerable Brahmins, with your permission I shall ask him two questions only. If he is able to answer those questions of mine, then none of you can ever defeat him in expounding the nature of God.' [Ed: The feminists will have a field day with this.]

... As the Reverend A. C. Bouquet, an accomplished expert on comparative religion, has pointed out: ‘India in particular furnishes within its limits examples of every conceivable type of attempt at the solution of the religious problem.'

And so it does. However, these grand explorations of every possible religious belief coexist with deeply sceptical arguments that are also elaborately explored (sometimes within the religious texts themselves), going back all the way to the middle of the second millennium BCE. The so-called ‘song of creation’ (or the ‘creation hymn’, as it is sometimes called) in the authoritative Vedas ends with the following radical doubts:

Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whence this creation has arisen — perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did
not — the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows
— or perhaps he does not know.

These 3,500-year-old doubts would recur in Indian critical debates again and again. Indeed, Sanskrit not only has a bigger body of religious literature than exists in any other classical language, it also has a larger volume of agnostic or atheistic writings than in any other classica language. There are a great many discussions and compositions of different kinds, conforming to the loquaciousness of the argumentative tradition...

It is not hard to see that the possibility of scientific advance is closely connected with the role of heterodoxy, since new ideas and discoveries have to emerge initially as heterodox views, which differ from, and may be in conflict with, established understanding... We can argue that the flowering of Indian science and mathematics... benefited from the tradition of scepticism and questioning which had been flourishing in India at that time...

In the Ramayana, Javali, a sceptical pundit, lectures Rama, the hero of the epic, on how he should behave, but in the process supplements his religious scepticism by an insistence that we must rely only on what we can observe and experience. His denunciation of religious practices (‘the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts and penance have been laid down in the sãstras [scriptures] by clever people, just to rule over [other] people’) and his debunking of religious beliefs (‘there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that’) are fortified by the firm epistemological advice that Javali gives Rama: ‘Follow what is within your experience and do not trouble yourself with what lies beyond the province of human experience.’ [Ed: As you can see, sedition and offending religious feelings is a sacred, millennia-old tradition.]...

Like Akbar’s championing of rahi aqi (the path of reason), Tagore emphasized the role of deliberation and reasoning as the foundation of a good society:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert
sand of dead habit;...
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake...

I end on a positive (if somewhat light-hearted) note, by recollecting a nineteenth-century Bengali poem by Ram Mohun Roy which bears on the subject matter of this essay. Roy explains what is really dreadful about death:

Consider how terrible the day of your death will be.
Others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back."

--- In: The argumentative Indian : writings on Indian history, culture and identity / Amartya Sen

He accuses cultural essentialists of cherry-picking to paint India as a Hindu country, but I can't help but feel that he's doing cherry-picking of his own (a la Karen Armstrong) in the aim of a lala we love everybody agenda.

For one, as others have pointed out, he demonizes Aurangzeb and whitewashes Akbar.
"There is often value in obtaining another field's perspective on what one does. Some EEs have not been particularly reticent about providing BEs with such input (see, e.g., Smith, 1991). In this essay I attempt to return the favour in a small way...

[Footnote:] It is a curious fact that undergraduate economics majors, unlike psychology majors, rarely take courses in empirical research methods. As a result, while they may be well-tooled in regression techniques, they are typically at a complete loss when it comes to other aspects of empirical research...

Efficiency, however, is not the same as high external validity. Double oral auctions or even one-sided auctions, not to mention short-selling, are rare in daily life. I do not think I have ever encountered a double oral auction outside of participating in an experiment, and the last time I participated in any type of auction was as a teenager when I bought a broken washing machine motor for $0.25. [Ed: This was written in 1999.]

... Besides exaggerating the degree of learning that takes place in real-world settings, stationary replication can also affect people's preferences in a way that may or may not enhance external validity. Repetition tends to repress certain types of psychological motives, such as fairness, that may play a prominent role in early-period play. How many times can a subject get angry about someone splitting a pie unevenly? It must be acknowledged, however, that similar factors may be operative in daily life: how many trips to the wine store does it take before one forgets one's resolution to punish the French for violating the nuclear test ban treaty?...

[Footnote] Because context cannot be eliminated, experiments should never be used for the purpose of measuring individual propensities. It is tempting, but a big mistake, to think that behaviour in dictator games measures an individual's altruism, that responders' behaviour in ultimatum games measures their taste for fairness, or that behaviour in the trust game measures trustworthiness. I am aware of no evidence showing that people who give more money in dictator games contribute more to charities, are more likely to put themselves at risk to rescue a drowning stranger, or give their subway seat to the elderly or infirm. But, even if such data are collected and the correlations prove to be positive, the fact remains that it would be easy, through a suitable manipulation of context, to design a dictator study in which people would give none of their money to a stranger, or one in which most people would give all of their money away. Which of these contexts uncovers people's `true' level of altruism? Some EEs seem to believe that they know the answer: whatever context gives results that are closest to the standard economic model...

Some EEs seem to believe that some of these motives can be eliminated through procedures that assure anonymity... the idea that people directly `consume' (that is, care about) their reputations is not only eminently reasonable, but consistent with a myriad of studies (see Bodner and Prelec, 1996). For example, people behave very differently in the presence of a mirror, even when they believe that no one is observing them (Duval and Wicklund, 1972)...

Even if experimenters were able to eliminate motives other than profit maximisation from their experiments, it would not necessarily be a good thing insofar as external validity is concerned. Profit maximisation may be an important incentive in economic transactions, but it probably is not the most important. Anyone working in a business setting, for example, can attest to the power of social comparison. Most academics seem to be motivated more by ego than by the size of their salary, and academics probably are not exceptional in this regard. Even when people do care about money, their degree of concern is often remarkably unrelated to the amount of money involved. Small amounts of money can gain momentous significance under certain circumstances ± for example, if one gets an undeserved speeding or parking ticket, or if one is unfairly denied a small year-end bonus. Much larger changes in wealth, such as those which result from a change in stock prices, can leave one remarkably unmoved."

--- Experimental Economics from the vantagepoint of Behavioural Economics, George Loewenstein
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