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Saturday, March 21, 2009

"A motion to adjourn is always in order." - Robert Heinlein


A strange link I got in my [junk] mail:

Reuters-Singapore: Terror attack in Singapore:

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"Powerful explosion burst in Singapore this morning.

At least 12 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded in a bomb blast near market in Singapore. Authorities suggested that explosion was caused by "dirty" bomb. Police said the bomb was detonated from close by using electric cables. "It was awful" said the eyewitness about blast that he heard from his shop. "It made the floor shake. So many people were running"
Until now there has been no claim of responsibility."

Given I hadn't heard about this through CNA's Twitter feed, I was very puzzled.

A cursory glance revealed that the "embedded video" was a link to a suspiciously-titled "save.exe" (doubtless, a malicious program of some sort), but I didn't want to bother installing a virtual OS to investigate.

The methods used to spread malign payloads are getting stranger and stranger.
New blog pic:

"My wife has a weird sense of humor"
"A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know." - H. L. Mencken



Arts and Letters: Freeing the Elephants - "By now, of course, a controversial literature is possible about anything, and yet to discover that there is a controversial literature about Babar is a little shocking—faut-il brûler Babar? (“Must we burn Babar?”), as one inquisitor puts it, in a famous French locution... Yet those who would burn “Babar” miss the true subject of the books. The de Brunhoffs’ saga is not an unconscious expression of the French colonial imagination; it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination and its close relation to the French domestic imagination... One can forget, reading the critics, that the books are, first and last, meant to be funny, and that Babar is an elephant who talks and walks: the story is happening to creatures that children know do not ride elevators, wear suits, or build buildings. Part of the joke is in the way the obvious animalness of the protagonist makes evident the absurdity of the human behavior depicted... the rhinos and the elephants have been at war, but the point isn’t that the rhinos are evil. It is that war between nations is as absurd in reality as war between animals looks on the page. Becoming French, the elephants reveal the absurd and contrived elements of the French national character."
I like what Laurent De Brunhoff says about the "white men are evil" crowd: "se moque de ces détracteurs politiquement corrects qui semblent confondre l’art et la réalité... Les universitaires qui se torturent les méninges à propos des significations de Babar feraient bien de ne pas oublier une chose. quoiqu’ils disent et quoiqu’ils écrivent, les livres de Jean et Laurent De Brunhoff continueront de procurer du plaisir à des millions de gens"

Oils 'make male breasts develop' - "Using lavender and tea tree oil products can cause young boys to develop breast tissue, a study finds."

Cunning Linguist - "In a country that laments the dearth of people willing to speak up, surely the defensive stance is a sign of insecurity? Does the logic for every public policy need to be rammed down people’s throat at every opportunity? What happened to the university as a space for open questioning?... The truth is, the PAP government has never seen universities as sites of enquiry for enquiry’s sake or knowledge for knowledge’s sake... the government sees universities as a place to produce people with the right skills for the market. Absolutely nothing wrong with this. Problem is people designed for the market will always be owned by the market. Meanwhile the spirit of enquiry at local universities is as flaccid as an 80 year old man on a Viagra cold turkey. Again, absolutely nothing wrong. Except that we’re always being scolded by the government for not being creative or innovative. Problem is the minute we say something contrary to PAP mantra, we’re called ‘stupid’. Like I said, we’re destined to be a very mediocre people."

African immigrants pose nude for calendar in Spain - "Lopez said he tried to take elegant pictures to reflect the dignity of migrants. “Without clothes, we are all equal,” said 32-year Mady Fofana from Mali, one of the models."

Steroid doping tests ignore vital ethnic differences in hormone activity - "Current steroid (testosterone) doping tests should be scrapped for international sport, because they ignore vital ethnic differences in hormone activity, suggests research published ahead of print in the British Journal of Sports Medicine."
Race is a social construct.

SMU students walk barefoot to highlight plight of third world country children - "Students had the chance to experience the lives of children from third world countries, who are often exposed to broken glass and infected syringes."
Do these journalists even read what they write?!

Singapore Ousts Editor of Asia Sentinel Again - "If you think the place is loosening up, think again... On the same day [I was deported], the Burmese Gen. Thein Sein also arrived and was greeted warmly and got an orchid named for him. Perhaps there was a mix-up... [The PAP government has] lost just one case — in 1984, when Senior District Judge Michael Khoo made the mistake of ruling that Lee Kuan Yew’s mortal enemy, the late opposition politician Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, was innocent of making a false declaration about the accounts of his Worker’s Party. Judge Khoo was promptly transferred out of his position as a senior judge and transferred to the attorney general’s chambers. No judge in the intervening 24 years has ever made the mistake of ruling against the Lee family, especially in cases involving the press. The government or members of the Lee family have filed defamation or contempt charges against virtually every major publication in Asia... The attorney general filed suit against Melanie Kirkpatrick, a senior editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal itself, 15,339 kilometers away, in kind of the legal equivalent of Kim Jong Il deciding to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile because the powers that be weren’t paying enough attention to him. In a way, it’s reassuring that the government could reach across 21 years to pick my name out of the mists of history. It probably means they are vigilant enough to continue to pursue Mas Selamat Kastari... He won’t get away, if the police force can take the time away from pursuing the press and the opposition to look him up."
Time for another lawsuit

Lesbian attacks wife with sperm - " According to a number of website reports on Wednesday, Stephanie Lighten, 26, allegedly threw her wife Jennifer Lighten, 33, on a couch in the couple's home. She then threatened to impregnate her with "a turkey baster" filled with semen from Stephanie's brother kept in a sealed container, reported letzgetreal.com."

Monday, March 16, 2009

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"The Ranger Prototype Series Covert Infantry Biosuits"
"Right. Because nothing says covert like bright red, yellow and blue spandex"
"That is NOT SPANDEX!"
"Doc K can get a little defensive about his work"
"The material is a self-assembling nanofiber formed with an intercellular sheet memory alloy

OH: "Wow. We're *not* in Angel Grove anymore"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

(This post is here because Twitter limits me to 140 characters)

On Audrey Hepburn's singing of Moon River:

How is her singing lacking? Let me count the ways.
Her voice is breathy, and there is a lack of breath control
She cannot sustain notes and her vibrations are off
Her singing veers into speaking
And this was before the Rex Harrison days
Sometimes she even loses control of her pitch

Of course, this comes across as sexy to some, but even there it's not quite right, since breathy sexiness doesn't quite square with her petite frame and cutesy demeanor
"The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting." - Henry James


This is worrying if true (i.e. if this is not another Robert Ho conspiracy theory):

[OFFICIAL]PoThePanda Statement On CID/ISD Lim Kopi Session 02/03/09 | PoThePanda's Xanga Site - Weblog

"On the 02/03/2009,I was picked up from my house at about 11am by 4 persons who identified themselves as CID.They claimed they were investigating a post on Molotov Cocktails that I had posted on the forum Stomp.With regards to this particular allegation,I wish to state that I had posted an article on Molotov Cocktails on Stomp sometime late last year.The article was copied and pasted from Wikipedia,and was posted up for information value due to its appearance in the popular game Left 4 Dead.2-3 weeks AFTER I posted the article,the MP Seng Han Thong got burnt.Apparently,someone made a police report that I had instigated the old man to burn the MP,via posting that article...

The next method they used was pure aggression,subjecting me to a barrage of personal insults / defamatory statements in an attempt to wear me down mentally.And then they would suddenly make an incriminating statement,trying to catch me off-guard so I would inadvertently “confess” to having “conspired against the state of Singapore” and / or “participated in terrorism activities.”

In what I feel was an attempt to wear me down mentally,they made a host of personal,defamatory attacks to me.Barbed comments like “You stay in a 3 room flat?It’s like a pig’s sty.” “You remind me of a donkey,of a mule.You are just an animal that needs to be shown who its master is.” “Some people say you can lead a donkey to water,but you can’t make it drink.Today I am here to force you to drink.” “You write rubbish,everything you say online is rubbish.”...

”Mr Tan,if you walk out of here tomorrow,you might get killed.You might meet with a mysterious accident,you might disappear and nobody will know what happened to you!”

Even if the account of what happened during the interrogation is exaggerated, it still boggles the mind that not only could posting an article on Molotov Cocktails be taken as instigating someone to burn an MP (and move someone to make a police report), but that the police would take it seriously and interrogate the person.

In tandem with some other incidents I know of, it leads me to suspect that the justice system is being abused by people in order to settle personal scores.

Even if this guy only gets a "stern warning" in the end, or even if charges are not pressed, not only is a private citizen being unnecessarily inconvenienced, it's an immense waste of the police's time and other resources. Consider that 60% of police calls are nuisance calls and you get some idea of the scale of the problem.

While on some level it is good that the police respond to complaints from the public, given that Second Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam has urged the public not to treat the Police as "as a free resource which can deal with any complaint just because it is convenient to call them at any time round the clock" and noted that there is a shortage of police staff, it is amazing that random internet postings about Molotov Cocktails and an NMP conducting surveys in public warrant attention from them.

[Addendum: Or, indeed, naked people walking around in Holland Village.]

After all, if I called the police and complained that 5 children were making noise in the playground (both disturbing the peace and transgressing illegal assembly laws), they would (quite rightly) tell me to go and die.

Meanwhile, we hear of cases where the police do nothing when there're fights outside clubs and people get their noses broken. Misaligned priorities, anyone?

More evidence that our police should exercise more discretion before investigating ordinary citizens:

Someone: something funny happened to me

my friend and i were at the petrol kiosk, waiting for the car cleaning
so we were just standing around

the petrol kiosk also had a workshop
and at a corner of the workshop, i saw a sign that said "emergency eye wash"

but the emergency eye wash was blocked by a lot of tires
stacked up
so i took ap ic of it with my handphone

then... the workshop boss or something came up to me and asked what i was doing, and where i was from (it was pretty clear that he was worried i would report him. i think he thought i was from the safety regulartory body)

he said "why you take photo?"
so i said "Why cannot take photo?"

then he said, "you anyhow take photo at my place, i call police then you know"
so i said "call la. i call for you, want?"

i hate idiots who think they can scare ppl by invoking the law or the police when they have absolutely no grounds

he was like "you come my place take photo still still so yaya, i go your house take photo you like?"

Me: hahahahaha
singaporeans are like that

this guy took pics at shen xiong
health and safety violations

then the staff intimidated him and forced him to delete

Someone: i will refuse [if people try to get me to delete photos]
fuck them

really how to force
come i call for you

and they can't stop him from leaving either
singapore has no privacy laws

yes, it may be rude to take photos
but it's not illegal

Me: anyway not worth getting beaten up

Someone: actually it may be worth getting beaten up

the compensation

no this is the best part

so he was like "which one is your car?"
then he paused and went "nvm, later you leave i can see"

so my friend said
"no no nede to see. i tell you which one is my car. the blue one over there. number plate blah blah"

we were in a rush
or else we'd have waited there for the police with him

that idiot has aboslutely no case

so we went off
and guess what

at 11pm
they went to ***'s house
(Cos it's his car we were using)

the CID
went to his house
and they went
"i know you were at the petrol kiosk this afternoon at 1pm. were you there to top up petrol or were you there for some other purpose"

this is just damn dunny

"it's a natinoal security issue because we were taking photos of a petrol kiosk"
we may be planning to bomb it
"Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule." - Stephen King


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Someone asked me what I thought of the auction of the Chinese fountainheads.

In short, I think the furore is ridiculous.

Historical and cultural properties do not belong to any one country, but broadly to humanity in general.

On a micro scale we should respect the property rights of the parties currently possessing the items (even if we are against looting today, though I think freshly dug-up items don't necessarily belong to the country on whose soil they were found - more below), but more broadly governments have no right to lay claim to artefacts.

So China claims that the fountain heads were stolen from China and should be returned, but this is very problematic.

They were stolen from a Qing Chinese palace, but their designer was actually an Italian Jesuit (Giuseppe Castiglione, aka Lang Shining). Here is a picture of the fountain in Yuanmingyuan the sculptures came from:

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It would surely be a stretch to claim this is a fountain of Chinese design (in more than one sense of the word).

Is it a Chinese fountain? An Italian fountain? A Chinese-Italian fountain?

If a cure for AIDS was discovered by a PRC scientist working in a lab in a top American University working with other PRC scientists and under a PRC boss, is it an American discovery - or a Chinese discovery?

There are no easy answers here.

On another level the fountain heads were the property of a Manchurian dynasty which did not see itself as properly-Chinese (remember that Queues were imposed - on pain of decapitation - on the Han Chinese, and they were happilly lopped off in 1911). If the fountain heads dated from the early Qing period this is even more so (the Summer Palace was started in 1749, during the reign of Qianlong, and Castiglione died in 1766, so indeed it is).

Then, most Chinese people at the time hated the Manchurians and rejected them as not Chinese (see lopping off of queues; this likely exists to a lesser degree, Communist rhetoric about minorities aside), so the Chinese people of the period itself would not have accepted the fountain heads as belonging to "them" per se (though they might have viewed them as fine works of Chinese artisanry - illegitimately possessed by the scheming Manchus).

So what we have now is a retrospective grab of universal heritage.

In fact, it is more convincing to argue that the Chinese government has no right to "Chinese" heritage because it has shown itself to be manifestly unworthy guardians of it.

The Cultural Revolution, a prime candidate for the greatest orgy of cultural destruction the world has ever seen, was promulgated by the very same Chinese Communist Party that still rules China.

They thus have no right to grandstand about the looting of cultural heritage.

If you loot cultural heritage, at least you preserve it (compare the caryatid in the British Museum with her sisters in Athens - the extensive damage to the latter is both shocking and sad), whereas if you destroy it, it is gone forever.

As an analogue, the Taliban might've blown up the Bamiyan Buddhas, but the current Afghan government is different so their trotting out of the cultural sovereignty argument would have somewhat more respectability.

This is putting aside the fact that this same Communist government is still destroying its country's heritage. How many real hutongs are left? They're also trying to drown out Tibetan culture by shipping in Han migrants.

As an (admittedly imperfect) analogy, it is like trying to murder your infant child, having it taken away by a child protection agency, and then 10 years later demanding that your child be returned to you, claiming that it was illegally kidnapped (while still abusing your kids - even if you don't try to murder them anymore)

While the claim is that heritage is being reclaimed on behalf of the Chinese people, in reality it's a political ploy by a government to lay claim to artefacts, which will be put under its administration for its own benefit.

Those who are so-inclined are free to locate how many Tibetan artefacts are in Chinese museums located outside Tibet (and to look at historical maps of Chinese territory to forestall the inevitable rejoinder justifying modern Chinese imperialism).

Generalising, things become even more problematic when it comes to older cultural heritage: artefacts belonging to past peoples who, though they occupied the same geographical space, share little else in common, be it identity, language, race, religion or more.

Heritage belongs to everybody - and nobody.
"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm." - Vince Lombardi


A friend's bad experience:

Stay away from BNP.

I would have let it go if I’ve stopped receiving ridiculously unreasonable letters from this money-sucking, cunning, repulsive, abhorring deception master of a financial institution. Is this really how they earn their keep, stuffing their faces with foie gras and escargots? (I honestly hope they die from cholesterol and every other health disease possible would plague them.)

So this is my story and I really do hope at the end of the day, you stay away from BNP Paribas in every sense of the word and I hope this financial institution crumble and rot in their paperwork of lies.

I was an exchange student at Sciences Po Paris and I needed a bank account set up. As a student of the school, setting up the account gives me 80 euros in my account. I had my rendez-vous, prepared all my paperwork, and had to wait for the letter for the confirmation of my residence. However, I had some problems with the hostel, which refused to acknowledge me as the legal tenant (in a friend’s name) in spite of the both of us going down so many times with more administrative papers but it never got changed so I never got my letter, I never got my bank card, I never used the account.

In the next month, when I finally got an apartment of my own, I went down to the bank to request that they send me the letter again so that I can finally activate my bank account. Incidentally, since it is under the French law that one has to get an insurance for the apartment, the lady at the bank, Clemence, who has been handling my account all these while, told me that SINCE there was 80 Euros existing in my account, and the housing insurance under BNP is 76, I just had to sign the papers and I would get my insurance. And she told me that I would just have to wait for the letters to be reposted which meant the post had to recall my previously sent letter.

After waiting for well, a month and a half with all the frustration (I was already borrowing money from my friends to pay my landlord. I desperately needed a bank account set-up for my family to transfer money over) I decided to set up with Société Générale instead which was done within 2 weeks.

Being an exchange student, sure I took every chance I had to travel. And imagine my shock when I came back from my winter holidays when I got home with letters from BNP claiming that I owed them 139 Euros and threatening judiciary case if I do not contact my agent soon. Of course I panicked. Being in Europe itself is already expensive enough. I cannot possibly go around paying 139 Euros for a service I didn’t even use.

To cut the story short (I really hate to recount. Makes my blood boil.) So yes, I went down to the agency, got into a huge argument about how is it that they could possibly say there was 80 euros when there weren’t. I couldn’t understand why Clemence had to deceive me. I couldn’t understand why was it that it took them forever to even attempt trying to set my account up (when I was desperate for money and they were completely indifferent to finding another way to set up my account). I couldn’t understand why they could send so many letters about my debt but none for my bank card. I couldn’t understand why they made me sign so many papers regarding services that I never asked for and didn’t know about. I could have paid upfront for my insurance there and then. I still cannot comprehend how 139 could possibly make a difference in their financial roll.

One of the lady was sympathetic to my plight and acknowledged the fault of the bank. She promised me that it would be cleared, which it wasn’t when I returned in about a week’s time. In fact, when I returned the following week, I was forced to pay up in order to close my account. The whole thing wasn’t pleasant at all in the sense that the service lady who ignored us (I was there with my French friend, L.) when I have already made an appointment. Her attitude was quite appalling. We then walked in on our own where the lady with whom I had an appointment with went into a sudden shouting match with L for no rhyme or reason. It was all very bewildering and frustrating. It really felt like there was no one who understood what exactly my plight was. I’m not trying to be narcissistic here but i’m only a student with no income and 139 euros (conversion rates do not stand in my favour) means a lot to me even if it’s the typical lunch tab for a banker. So she was unreasonable too and we decided to walk into the office of the director who well, simply told me to pay up too.

So I paid, told the lady EXPLICITLY in English (since my poor grasp of the French language got me into this mess in the first place) that I want to close my account COMPLETELY and have nothing more to do with the bank. She gave me a stack of papers to sign, as always with any French institution and system, which I did.

So I thought it was over.

But no, after coming back home, I’m still receiving letters about being in DEBIT!??!?!
(It stands currently at - 25 euros.)

Stay far far away from BNP.

Close all your BNP accounts and never ever ever have anything to do with them. Even if I’m saying this out of spite and dripping with detestation, there are better, more honest banks and financial institutions out there. And BNP is not one of them. I hope they die in this recession.

p.s: please spread the word! i think it's important that people stopped getting cheated by institutions like that.
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