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11-20 September 2002

18 SepA suggestion to the LTA
16 SepWe have a vote
14 SepIsaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, and the man
14 SepRoad to Perdition
14 SepThe "War on Terror"
11 SepOne Year On

A suggestion to the LTA

18 September 2002 10:38 PM SGT

A few days ago I took the plunge to another feedback channel1, & sent a suggestion to the LTA! Unfortunately I forgot to preserve the exact text before sending, and I canít seem to get it back. Anyway hereís roughly what I wrote:

Subject: Fare Gates for Left-Handers

I would like to suggest that the larger MRT stations have one or two fare gates catered for left-handers i.e. with the ezLink card reader or farecard reader on the left side. Happily, buses already have this option. Since the size of the left-handers in the population has been estimated to be anything from 5-20%, this will make it even more convenient and pleasant for them to ride on the MRT.

Perhaps I should supplement the suggestion with this illustration:

Illustration of Proposed Gates for Left-Handers
Exercise: which are the gates for left-handers? Duh, hahaha...

We could have one or two fare gates separated from the usual ones, & with clear signs, there should be little confusion as to which gates are for who. In short, I think this could work pretty well, so long as the cost is not prohibitive or sth.

Well I'm not a left-hander, so this is not a personal grievance. I can't really say what made me think of it, except perhaps this book Living Left-Handed which I read a bit some time ago (although it was terribly disorganised, it did make some good points here & there) and the glaring fact that all the MRT fare gates are inconvenient for left-handers to use. You might argue that over these years they've gotten used to it, but as I see it, if it doesn't cost too much money and effort, we could try to make the process more pleasant for them. Anyway there are already plans to install lifts into all the MRT stations for those who can't use escalators.

Note: 1. Those of you who are old-timers at LzyData might remember that this site was started partly because I wanted to publicise the feedback I sent to Mindef about the SAF Day Parade. Anyway there has been no word from them, so years from now the only record that anything like a fiasco ever happened would be retained in the memories of unfortunate spectators like me. I could feel important but I feel more like apprehension.

We have a vote

16 September 2002 1:24 AM SGT

I was reading an old article on the Iraq situation when it dawned on me that Singapore is currently a member of the United Nations Security Council (it was elected for a term of 2 years beginning in 2001, and with the system of a rotating presidency, President too for the months of January 2001 and May 2002). That means that subsequent events concerning Iraq might result in a vote for renewed enforcement of the inspections for weapons of mass destruction, or possibly even military action. Any such resolution has to be approved by 9 of the 15 members (& the concurrence of the 5 permanent members for "substantive" matters - I guess war is substantive enough. Pop quiz: which countries are they?). So when it comes down to a vote, our little nation has a say - what stand will our representative & our government take? A public call for a peaceful resolution by some Muslim associations some time back met a somewhat curt response: essentially it depends on our national interest. Of course it should, as we ARE in a world of nation-states, but I wonder whether Singapore's national interest involves considering merely its economic interest & its alliance with the United States, nothing else.

Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, and the man

14 September 2002 10:33 PM SGT

Cover of 'Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer'I also read Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, by Michael White, a biography with an honest aim: to shatter the myth of Newton as the ideal scientific hero. He talks about his obsessive, sometimes vicious character that was harnessed to probe at the truths of nature or against his enemies, like his obsession with alchemy & delineating the true Christian belief (his personal faith, Arianism) against the corruption of the Catholics, and how he would be totally uncompromising with coin counterfeiters (he served as Warden of the Royal Mint for a while), or his colleagues like Leibniz (whom he had a priority dispute regarding the calculus) and Robert Hooke, his rival in scientific circles. He even dabbles in a bit of psychological analysis & questions about Newton's sexuality. A very interesting point: the quote from Newton that is often used to show his remarkable modesty could not be further from the truth:

(Background: In September 1675 Newton sent two papers on light - reflection, refraction and diffusion - to be presented to the Royal Society and Robert Hooke accused Newton of plagiarising these from his book Micrographia, in his personal correspondence. This is not their first dispute, and both men detest each other. In Newton's reply he had this to say.)

What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, & especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.

- Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, page 187.)

Hooke has been described as "crooked" and "pale-faced", and according to White was "so stooped and physically deformed that he had the appearance of a dwarf", so what looks like a compliment is certainly not so - a very vicious double entendre that everyone has chosen to forgive.

However White is not trying to smear Newton's reputation: it acknowledges that his kind of person marked the end of magic and mysticism and the beginnings of science, all thanks to this complicated but brilliant man who relentlessly sought for Truth, scientific or religious, and ended up changing the world. In many ways the more complete & complex picture of this great man is much more satisfying to understand rather than just the bland hero.

What's lacking in the book: a good bibliography. I don't mean the sources - it's mostly Newton's personal writings & correspondence, and other biographies of Newton - but books that could help me learn more about the English political milieu in the 1600s-1700s; alchemy & why so many notable intellectuals were obsessed with it; Bible studies (OK maybe not this); characters with dealings with Newton e.g. John Flamsteed (Astronomer Royal at the Greenwich observatory), Edmund Halley (of Halley's comet fame), Leibniz etc. I'll need to read two dozen books or something before I become more acquainted with Newton's time & experience!

Last point of note: for some reason I did not experience the feeling of angst which I usually do when I reach the end of a biography (like Einstein's by Josef), because the subject dies & there are the inevitable regrets. White's skilful writing, or was I just repulsed by Newton's character being exposed?

Road to Perdition

14 September 2002 10:00 PM SGT

I watched Road to Perdition on Tuesday: the cinematography is simply breathtaking (done by Conrad L. Hall, who also did American Beauty together with the director Sam Mendes), and the music too, but the story left me untouched. Some reviews over at CNN, by Roger Ebert & Salon. Well at least you can watch it for the visual treat.

The "War on Terror"

14 September 2002 9:34 PM SGT

Read this: It's Empire Versus Democracy, by Tom Hayden:

In the aftermath of September 11, American conservatives launched a political and intellectual offensive to discredit any public questioning of the Bush administration's open-ended, blank-check, undefined war against terrorism. The conservative message, delivered through multiple media outlets, was that dissenters from the Bush administration's war were those who allegedly "blamed America first," that is, dared to explore whether Bin Laden's terrorism was possibly rooted in Western policies toward the Islamic world, the Palestinians, and the oil monarchies of the Middle East...

One Year On

11 September 2002 9:49 PM SGT

First off: just because it's the anniversary doesn't mean that we should expect a terrorist attack: in fact if they have any brains they will choose a date where everyone is less guarded and alert. Anniversaries are quite irrelevant to their cause. I would think that the reason why the added security has been hyped up is just for show.

Anyway as Streats had it today, everyone can remember where they were when they heard the news on 11 September 2001, much like the news when JFK was shot for Americans a generation ago. I certainly do: I was watching Ally McBeal on Channel 5 when suddenly there was this message marquee at the bottom of the screen: "Plane crashes into World Trade Centre" I think. I paid close attention to CNN and BBC World for the rest of the night, and weeks after that. Ally McBeal seemed so insignificant when compared with the events happening.

A year on and much has changed, yet much hasn't. The Taliban in Afghanistan have been overthrown and the country is poised to rebuild its peace and society, but America seems hesitant to give more aid to the Karzai administration threatened again recently by acts instigated by the Taliban or Al Qaeda, we can assume. bin Laden has not been apprehended, and Al Qaeda is still active. Instead attention has been turned to "regime change" in Iraq - a repulsive dictator but not directly related to the war on terrorism, but to domestic political interests. And some in the administration have seized the opportunity to introduce draconian legislation that overturn the constitutional rights of suspected terrorists, who are simply detained without trial, & proposed ideas like TIPS threaten to turn America into a nation of informants. I think there has hardly been any action on the root causes that result in extremist groups, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and poor and discontented populations in the Middle East, and any hint of criticism of the administration or of the war is regarded as unpatriotic.

And there has been much lament from journalists about the inevitable blitz of melodramatic and patriotic coverage this week, like what I'm watching on CNN. Quite paradoxical that it's the media which is responsible for it, & also the media who's complaining about it. But as I've said, after all the patriotism, songs and flag-waving, America has to wake up to its international actions & commitments instead of treating it as a mere military threat.

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