When you can't live without bananas

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

No laser beams

"No laser beams" (it says the same in Japanese)

Perhaps the more amusing bit is the related images at the bottom:

Free Elections vs Fair Elections

"Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." - George Bernard Shaw


Like flotsam and jetsam, namby and pamby and helter and skelter, "free" and "fair" are always found together in the context of elections.

Yet, it is important to disentangle the two. Just because elections are free does not mean that they are fair (though it is hard to think of fair elections that are not free).

A classic case is Singapore, whose elections have been described as free but not fair.

To understand what is lacking (and so what should be worked towards), it is important to not just define "free and fair elections", but untangle the two definitions.

An old (and really lame) joke has it that there is Freedom of Speech in Singapore, but not Freedom After Speech (this is on par with lines like "I know Lee Kuan Yew, but he does not know me"). It was similarly suggested to me that like in Singapore, North Korean elections are free but not fair as:

they are free to cross out the name with a red pen, but the agents are free to arrest them.

Getting the definitions right is thus important so as to clarify discourse (and smack people who make lame jokes).

In search of these definitions, I had a (relatively) quick look at the Second Edition of "Free and Fair Elections" by Guy S. Goodwin-Gill (and published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union).

After 229 pages, I was still not much closer to getting separate definitions; although the criteria for "free and fair" elections were reasonably clear, the book stubbornly refused to break them down (as far as I could tell). Perhaps this had something to do with how it kept stressing the limitations of definitions, but then one needs something to work towards and assess.

The closest I found was that:

Amongst others, ‘free’ is about participation and choice; ‘fair’ is about equality of participation and of the vote, and about impartiality and non-discrimination; together, they imply respect for human rights at large and the absence of coercion

More helpful was CommonBorders (FronterasComunes), a site about elections in Latin America. Their helpful breakdown:

"A 'FREE' electoral process is one where fundamental human rights and freedoms are respected, including:

  • freedom of speech and expression by electors, parties, candidates and the media;
  • freedom of association; that is, freedom to form organizations such as political parties and NGOs;
  • freedom of assembly, to hold political rallies and to campaign;
  • freedom of access to and by electors to transmit and receive political and electoral information messages;
  • freedom to register as an elector, a party or a candidate;
  • freedom from violence, intimidation or coercion;
  • freedom of access to the polls by electors, party agents and accredited observers;
  • freedom to exercise the franchise in secret, and
  • freedom to question, challenge and register complaints or objections without negative repercussions.

A 'FAIR' electoral process is one where the 'playing field' is reasonably level and accessible to all electors, parties and candidates, and includes:

  • an independent, non-partisan electoral organization to administer the process;
  • guaranteed rights and protection through the constitution and electoral legislation and regulations;
  • equitable representation of electors provided through the legislation;
  • clearly defined universal suffrage and secrecy of the vote;
  • equitable and balanced reporting by the media;
  • equitable access to financial and material resources for party and candidate campaigning;
  • equitable opportunities for the electorate to receive political and voter information;
  • accessible polling places;
  • equitable treatment of electors, candidates and parties by elections officials, the government, the police, the military and the judiciary;
  • an open and transparent ballot counting process, and
  • election process not disrupted by violence, intimidations or coercion."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"This letter is made of so many kinds of fail."

"The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage." - Mark Russell


Caught repeatedly by closing MRT doors

"Caught repeatedly by closing MRT doors

LAST Friday, at about 6.20pm, I took a train from Bedok MRT station to Bugis. The train was packed and when it reached Bugis station, I started to move towards one of the doors.

About 10 commuters were ahead of me and when I reached the door and was about to step out, it shut in my face. I instinctively knocked on it.

The door opened for a moment but as soon as I tried to step off the train, it shut again, hitting me. The opening and closing of the door happened three times, each time hitting me as I tried to step out.

Then the train moved off, leaving this 73-year-old man with no choice but to get off at City Hall station and walk to Bugis Junction in the rain.

I would like SMRT to enlighten me on the following:

- Why did the train door open for only about a second and then shut again? And why did it happen three times, each time after a pause of a few seconds?

- Can the train driver see what is going on in the train?

- Why are there no staff to assist commuters at stations when trains are overcrowded?

- How does the driver ensure that all alighting commuters have safely stepped off the train before it moves off?

I pose the last question because a child could be separated from his mother if he steps off the train and his mother is prevented from alighting. This can also happen to an elderly or infirm person being separated from his caretaker.

Tan Kim Hock"

Comments I like:

"I wonder what safety precaution SMRT had taken to ensure that the train door is idiot proof and will not open when the train is travelling full of commuters on board?" (I can't tell if this is sarcasm)

"I think because of age this man is incoherent. Everything he says can be contested. Driver cannot inside every compartment. He thought the door didnot close properly so pressed the close button. If we use our common sense when there is good crowd we can be smart. (like approaching the door well in advance)"

"If the door is a problem , then do away with doors on smrt train."

"This case cannot blame driver , either he is too slow in getting out, or boarding passengers getting in too fast. Anyway, this 73 years old man is no ordinary elderly, knock 3 times by the train doors, still no problem, steady steady walk all the way from City Hall to Bugis in the rain and worry not about himself but children separating from parent. Wow, MRT need more of such commutors.."

The eventual fate of Singaporeans

(from EDMW)

Incidentally, if you omitted the last panel you might spin a "if animals can do it, so can we - let's all live in harmony" message.

Original photo series (dug up by Ivan): Cheetahs catch impala, and release it alive

"The particular shots of the three cheetah brothers as shot by Michel and Christine Denis-Huot do indeed end with the young impala being eaten. That is the reality of life however much humans wish to anthropomorphiize wild animals." (comment on Daily Mail)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Really? I thought it was called a "scholarship"

"The idea of people bonding themselves to a foreign employer in return for the costs of getting to their place of work, and then repaying the debt through labour, has been tried before. In the 19th century it was called indentured servitude"

Links - 5th July 2010

"The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we have of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us." - Quentin Crisp


China's real estate boom spells trouble for boyfriends - "On the wildly popular TV reality program "Don't Bother Me Unless You're Serious," one woman tried to size up a suitor by asking matter-of-factly, "Do you have money?" The man cut to the chase: "I have three flats in Shanghai." The hard-boiled bachelorette, Ma Nuo, has gone on to become one of China's most recognizable bai jin nu. Marry for love? Fat chance, said the material girl: "I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on the back of my boyfriend's bicycle.""

Diesel banned from using offensive ads - "The first shows a woman holding open the waistband of her bikini bottoms and taking a picture of her groin as a lion prowls behind her. In the second, a woman stands on a step ladder whilst lifting up her top to expose herself to a security camera... "We considered that the image portrayed socially challenging actions that might be attractive to younger consumers who would be interested in the youthful and edgy fashion range and might encourage behaviour that was anti-social or irresponsible." The ASA said the second poster with the lion is "likely to cause serious offence to many adults""
Of course, bashing men is still fine

You need a paper licence to link to the Royal Mail website - "If you want to know why the Post Office is losing money, there we have it. They have an entirely circular process designed to stop you linking to their pages. "

6 Strange and Compelling Workouts For Women - "When it comes to working out, nobody finds stranger ways to try to burn off a few pounds than women. Actually, let me rephrase that: Nobody creates more ridiculous weight loss products than the people that try to sell them to women. Regardless, these creations may not be good for women but they sure are great for comedy"
For $9.99, I'd get the Easy Curves just for kicks

delanceyplace: the future of china - "Thirty years of growth does not mean unending growth. It means that the probability of China continuing to grow at this rate is diminishing. And in the case of China, slower growth means substantial social and political problems. I don't share the view that China is going to be a major world power. I don't even believe it will hold together as a unified country"

Abitare - international design magazine » Guerilla Paint Action in Berlin - "Last week a group of cyclists dumped 13 gallons of paint on the road at Berlin’s busy Rosenthaler Platz, creating a series of colourful lines as cars drove through."
It's time for the graffiti experts from Berlin to come and show that they can break our laws

Why do girls wear thongs? - Yahoo! Answers - "Q: She says she wears them because there comfortable, but then complains about wedgies all day. And then when I tell her that her thong is sticking out she yells at me. Shes constantly playing with the back of her thong as well
A: It's like dental floss for your butt."

Evolution and Creativity: Why Humans Triumphed - "Where population falls or is fragmented, cultural evolution may actually regress. A telling example comes from Tasmania, where people who had been making bone tools, clothing and fishing equipment for 25,000 years gradually gave these up after being isolated by rising sea levels 10,000 years ago. Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia argues that the population of 4,000 Tasmanians on the island constituted too small a collective brain to sustain, let alone improve, the existing technology. Tierra del Fuego, in a similar climatic and demographic position, experienced no such technological regress because its people remained in trading contact with the mainland of South America across a much narrower strait throughout the prehistoric period. In effect, they had access to a continental collective brain."

Mouse and Snapping Turtle (Animated GIF)

Kuriositas: 10 US Military Aircraft That Never Quite Made It

La sexomnie, un mal très répandu - "Ce trouble qui pousse les gens à faire l'amour pendant leur sommeil toucherait une personne sur 12... Deux pères de famille ont déjà été acquittés pour le viol de leur fille après avoir plaidé la sexomnie"

The most controversial tourism video ads - "So what exactly does this ad promote? That you can “lure fast, blond Danish women home without a condom,” as a sociologist pointed out?"
4/5 come from Australia and New Zealand. Hmm

Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence from a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society - "The Maasai represent a textbook example of a patriarchal society whereas the Khasi are matrilineal... Maasai men opt to compete at roughly twice the rate as Maasai women. Interestingly, this result is reversed amongst the Khasi, where women choose the competitive environment more often than Khasi men, and even choose to compete weakly more often than Maasai men"
This paper is interesting not so much for the misleading abstract (the differences in the Khasi were insignificant) as for the mention gene-culture coevolution where the matrilineal system has led to women evolving to become more competitive, and the tidbit that the matrilineal society is also less risk loving than the patriarchal one overall

Tim Ho Wan restaurant, Hong Kong: the hottest meal ticket in town - Telegraph - "Michelle Wranik joins the queue at Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant... "124 dollars," squawked the lady at the counter. Less than £10 for both of us. A wonton-sized price for a princely, Michelin-starred feast"

Post-It notes and the end of written history - "Ministers and officials are so worried about leaks to newspaper and premature disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act that they have simply stopped writing things down."

I love my country, I hate my country - "For a country of 4.5 million people, I believe that there are fewer than 10% who are active readers. From that percentage, even fewer pick up and read works written locally. Readership is a challenge. We don’t have a reading culture. If you look at the bestseller lists, they are works, in a sense, already successfully and globally marketed, like Harry Potter. A lot of self-help books reach the bestseller list. That happens to be the reading diet of the Singapore population. I think it comes from this idea that any kind of reading should be sort of instrumentalist, which means that you don’t read for pleasure alone. You read for some kind of edification. You read for a purpose, like improving your life"

Home Page - "Thai, Malaysian, Chinese Food with an Attitude! Home of the first and only Singha Beer Garden in the US!... 2010 Girls of SATAY Calendar on Sale NOW! Only $10 Includes S&H!"

Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World's Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack

YouTube - Vuvuzela Concert - "Together, we are the Vuvuzela group of the Konzerthaus-orchester Berlin... we're going to play the famous "Vuvuzela Chorale" from Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms... Already in the 19th century, composers discovered the Vuvuzela's versatility. Used in sorrowful lamenti or comic divertimenti - this instrument is an all-rounder"

The Most Controversial Magazine Covers of All Time

Eyeful of breast-feeding mom sparks outrage - "Babytalk is a free magazine whose readership is overwhelmingly mothers of babies. Yet in a poll of more than 4,000 readers, a quarter of responses to the cover were negative, calling the photo — a baby and part of a woman's breast, in profile — inappropriate... since the August issue came out last week, the magazine has received more than 700 letters — more than for any article in years"
If even many moms of babies are against it, lactivists have a serious paradox to tackle.

When the scientific evidence is unwelcome, people try to reason it away - "People whose pre-existing stereotypes about homosexuality had been challenged by the scientific evidence presented to them were more inclined to believe that science had nothing to offer, on any question, not just on homosexuality, when compared with people whose views on homosexuality had been reinforced. When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate attempt to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken. This is an interesting finding. But I'm not sure it makes me very happy."

The camera never lies, well not when there are so many of them now - "But if we maintain our current levels of casual cameraphone photography, maybe a more accurate cumulative truth about humanity will emerge. We won't fall for the airbrushed glamour shots any more because there'll be so much evidence showing what these people, what all people, really look like on an average Tuesday. We'll realise that the camera can lie, but that 10 million cameras are unlikely to"

YouTube API Blog: Flash and the HTML5 <video> tag - "Standard Video Format, Robust video streaming, Content Protection, Encapsulation + Embedding, Fullscreen Video, Camera and Microphone access"

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Singapore's Economic Model

A theory I heard recently is that Singapore's economic model is a combination of Hong Kong, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Monaco.

Hong Kong - Financial services (and probably having a lot of expatriates).
Hawaii - The locals in Hawaii all work in the service industry (tourism, there). They make a living, but they don't earn very much.
Las Vegas - Gambling. 'Nuff said (probably MICE also).
Monaco - Attracting high net-worth individuals.
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