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11-20 November 2002

19 NovPhony Funerals
19 NovGreat Romulan Conspiracy a Hoax?
19 NovEscher in Lego®
17 NovYEP, YEP, YEP, YEP, YEP...
17 NovFever Pitch and the Footfall Fan
17 NovThe Belief System Selector
17 NovDS9 on DVD
17 NovAll Your Base Are Belong to Us
16 NovThe Photoshop Era
16 NovPAP Whip to be lifted
15 NovWit

Phony Funerals

19 November 2002 11:22 PM SGT

I'm reading The Catcher in the Rye, one of those books I should have read earlier but somehow didn't, & for one I really identify with Holden Caulfield's disgust with all the phony people he meets, although he's the über-cynic & misanthrope (there's a scene where his sister Phoebe asks him to name something he likes a lot, & he's stumped). The few people he likes are basically not there to advertise their own greatness or causes & are actually interested in his fortunes.

Phonies: closely related to wayang. I've met plenty in my life, short as it has been, like the time when quotas were allocated for the memorial service for the American victims of the September 11 attacks, organised by the American embassy & with guests like PM Goh. People in the SAF, at least, thought it would be a good idea to send a token number of their personnel to a memorial for crying out loud. & why? Because we are supposed to have good defence relations with the U.S., maybe. Or at least we must make it look that way. It seems inconceivable that we could actually allow people to choose whether they wanted to go or not. Rack this kind of behaviour up a few notches & it resembles the cliché scene in some Chinese movie where the patriarch's five wives are weeping their guts out at his funeral but afterwards fight for his fortune. Then the youngest wife (read: underdog) will by her innate kindness & good luck get it all while the rest of the wives will meet their deserved ends. It's a morality tale that throws in everything from karma to Beauty and the Beast. What is it with these people? Don't they feel at least a bit uncomfortable with sending representatives to memorials/wakes/funerals?!

Anyway I know for sure I don't want any quotas turning up at my funeral. It might seem strange to be planning for one's funeral when one has barely lived a third of his expected lifespan, but these incidents get to you. Right now I'm in favour of having nothing significant: no funeral, no wake, no rites & all that. Saves everybody's time & gets it over with without wayang. The simplest way to ensure that nobody who's unwilling or uninterested is there is not to have a public service, it seems; a tall order goes for extreme measures. It also gives proper respect to the people who remember me because they want to, not because their paycheck is on the line (never mind respect for me, I'll be dead). Just dispose of my ashes somewhere where it won't cause pollution or something. I quote the book:

...In the first place, I certainly don't enjoy seeing him [Allie, Holden's brother] in that crazy cemetery. Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all. It wasn't too bad when the sun was out, but twice - twice - we were there when it started to rain. It was awful. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That's what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner - everybody except Allie. I couldn't stand it. I know it's only his body and all that's in the cemetery, and his soul's in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn't stand it anyway. I just wish he wasn't there. You didn't know him. If you'd known him, you'd know what I mean. It's not too bad when the sun's out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out.

- Chapter 20, The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

But wait, not just yet: if I'm a little rich & influential I might request for some choir & orchestra somewhere to perform Mozart's Requiem, not because I'm Christian but just that I think it's a great beautiful piece of music. But if that can't be done it's OK, at least everyone has their recordings.

Anyway I'm still reading it, but I highly recommend it, especially to people who have cynical moments like Holden. :-)

Great Romulan Conspiracy a Hoax?

19 November 2002 10:41 PM SGT

Well all the supporting cast names previously mentioned in this post have been taken down (anything after Lanier's), so it seems someone at IMDB was just shooting their mouth off. But never mind; I still haven't watched that episode with Telek, I have it on tape somewhere.

Escher in Lego®

19 November 2002 10:28 PM SGT

Andrew Lipton & Daniel Shiu have created three fascinating Lego representations of Escher's pictures: Balcony, Belvedere & Ascending and Descending. Scroll down to see them & other nice ones like Rodin's Thinker, & also visit the official Escher site.

YEP, YEP, YEP, YEP, YEP...

17 November 2002 9:38 PM SGT

After reading Singaporeans Exposed: Navigating the Ins and Outs of Globalisation, a book produced by the SIF for its 10th anniversary (edited by Lee Geok Boi, 2001, DDN 303.482), I have caught a bit of the world citizen/voluteerism bug. There were essays written by expatriates talking about how they become more Singaporean as they are away from it, and volunteers who venture overseas (the ASEAN countries mostly) in teams to provide medical assistance, or Youth Expedition Projects (YEPs) formed by teams of 20-35 who refurbish schools, construct irrigation canals etc. in poor remote areas. One thing I found interesting in the YEP guidelines (after the ho-hum details about team structure and funding issues):

17. The accommodation for the participants for the duration of the community service project should be on-site and not in hotels.

So it's not merely a charity project; you really have to be immersed in the culture and environment, & I guess as you learn about the people you're helping, you also learn more about yourself & your identity as a Singaporean. It's just too bad I didn't hear about such things when I was in JC. I note that RJC has one coming this December, to Vietnam to "build 2 classrooms, provide teaching aids and community service in Ba Be National Park"; teams from polytechnics, CCs, private organisations and universities are also listed.

That got me thinking, why not NSFs? I feel that these days, with the mismatch in the expectations & ambitions of youth with the (mostly) drab reality of NS, nothing could be better than participating in small-scale projects to return some sense of purpose to these 2.5 years. We're mostly fit, & certainly resourceful, & it would be a good test of our ability to adapt to new situations & reach out to others. & it's not even dangerous, like doing peacekeeping in East Timor. It's not that our 2.5 years is not (mostly) well-spent; it's that it could be made even more meaningful if the SAF contributed to this effort in small ways.

Fever Pitch and the Footfall Fan

17 November 2002 9:00 PM SGT

Fever Pitch is Nick Hornby's first book (see my previous post on his novel About a Boy), and unlike his subsequent ones it's a memoir and a tribute to his football fandom. He has had a long-term relationship with Arsenal for decades; the kind of fan that turns up for every home game and many of the away ones, and whose life and emotional state is closely tied up with the team's fortunes. He understands that most of it, like the retention of countless football minutiae and feeling depressed over his team's bad runs, on one level, is quite silly, but hell, he's an Arsenal fan. And did I mention that the book is very funny too?

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is that it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point. Football is a context where watching becomes doing - not in the aerobic sense, because watching a game, smoking your head off while doing so, drinking after it has finished and eating chips on the way home is unlikely to do you a whole lot of Jane Fonda good, in the way that chuffing up and down a pitch is supposed to. But when there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun, even though they are the ones that get to score the goals and climb the steps at Wembley to met Princess Diana. The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

- Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby

Good for anyone who wonders why the cause of football fandom is not like "your local restaurant" where you just take your business elsewhere if the food sucks - you stick with your team, even if they're languishing at the bottom of the league table, for instance. That's quite alien to the pragmatic Singapore mind: you stick with the winners :-)

Personally I'm not really a football fan: I don't own any jerseys or memorabilia, I don't play (voluntarily), and I only watch the big games like that nail-biting Euro 2000 final or the World Cup matches. I tell people I support the underdog, but on the whole I have a pretty phlegmatic attitude towards the outcome, whether or not they win. But when I do watch it, I like the experience.

Football naysayers: I've met plenty of people who say that football sucks, that they're amazed why everyone is so crazy about it in Singapore. The protests get louder during World Cup season where the sports pages are plastered with football at the expense of other sports. Plus these basketball/rugby/golf/tennis/whatever fans are being deprived of their time on television after the international, regional, English and Italian leagues have had their turn, so naturally, I think, they feel cheated. It is unfortunate, but to those who say that football is uninteresting because (the classic quip) it's just "22 men chasing a ball" - that is so wrong, and guys like Hornby will have your head ;-).

Seriously, football can be so exciting because these men don't merely react to the ball: they advance forward, they create chances, they shoot, they score. It might seem like a silly chess game for the television viewer (how could he miss that pass?), but to the guys on the field with a 2-D perspective, they need to see opportunities where others see only the grass and the men. The paucity of goals add to the tension (especially when the trailing side is threatening in the closing minutes) and allow us to admire the luck and skill they require. IMHO you can only admire a slam-dunk, for instance, a few different ways, but the best football creates spectacular, unique goals. Spectators of sports where there are a lot of "goals" just look out for other things instead. Of course, the enormous turnout and true passion of the fans also makes us all participants in the great celebration (or defeat). So I ask, why not football?

The Belief System Selector

17 November 2002 2:25 PM SGT

With 20 questions you can find out which religions most share your beliefs. It probably won't be too surprising since I guess very few of us are truly unbiased about our religious beliefs i.e. we have assimilated some, if not all, of the beliefs our chosen religion holds dear, but still it can be intriguing. P.S. I got "Secular Humanism." Unfortunately it doesn't give more details on how it analyses the difference between that & the next one, Nontheism, except maybe for the former's concentration on the importance of each individual's commitment to the betterment of humanity.

DS9 on DVD

17 November 2002 1:53 PM SGT

This is the best news I've heard in quite a while: DS9 is coming to DVD! See the official press release. I'm now waiting to buy the Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD box sets (seven or six; I might forgo Season 1), & personally DS9 on DVD is even more important to me because I haven't had the chance to watch the series (except for the pilot "Emissary"), & from the feedback from my friend & Star Trek Hypertext, it's very good. Even better than Voyager, so they say. Personally Voyager was really inconsistent: its special effects gave it an edge when the stories were good, but they also had many duds. On the whole it was good, but had lots of unexploited potential. Now, to wait till February...

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

17 November 2002 12:08 AM SGT

Since I started on the WTC Tourist meme, it makes sense to mention this one as well. A good explanation at Wired News again:

"In AD 2101. War was beginning. What happen? Somebody set us up the bomb. We get signal. What! Main screen turn on. It's you!! How are you gentlemen. All your base are belong to us!"

It must be seen (Flash) to be believed. This actually comes from a poorly translated old Japanese arcade game Zero Wing - it's incredibly cheesy - but it has turned into a craze of its own; T-shirts, photos, you name it, all have the famous phrase if you believe the Photoshopped images. I guess there isn't any real justification for all this madness, just that maybe it's fun & makes those in the know feel, well, in the know :-).

The Photoshop Era

16 November 2002 11:43 PM SGT

Wired News: Dubya, Willya Turn the Book Over? is an interesting article on the phenomenon of fake photos put together by Photoshop mavens (here specifically political ones). Harmless, or having the potential to become pervasive lies? What caught my eye was a worrying quote: "In fact, so many Photoshopped shots are circulating that, one observer says, no real photographs will exist in a few years." Quite provocative eh?

However the article doesn't mention some other points e.g. pornsters have adopted this tactic for years. And who can forget the notorious WTC tourist picture, & the subsequent Tourist Guy meme where he was plastered in every conceivable kind of picture - movies, news, history etc. Obviously the perpetrators have nothing better to do, but some are quite funny. Take this, Forrest Gump!

PAP Whip to be lifted

16 November 2002 11:27 PM SGT

As the CNA page says, the last occasion this was done for an education issue was the Goh Keng Swee Report on Education 23 years ago. Now for some debate, ladies & gentlemen! :-) (See my previous post & read the JC/Upper Secondary Education Review committee's report (PDF format).

Wit

15 November 2002 10:50 PM SGT

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so...

- Holy Sonnet X: Death, be not proud, John Donne

A moving HBO film written by Emma Thompson and Mike Nichols, based on the play by Margaret Edson. It tells the story of Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson), an intellectual spinster who specialises in the poems of John Donne, but is diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer ("There is no Stage 5", she intones). She goes through a painful experimental treatment which is ultimately unsuccessful, and, like the 10th Holy Sonnet, is forced to confront her impending death. Her struggle is all the more intense with a hostile medical establishment: her doctors who admit they prefer research to the messiness of real patients and are more concerned about the outcome of the trials, and the fact that from a position of strength & independence (an English professor), she has to rely on the care and concern of her nurse when her health steadily declines. Meanwhile she gets by with her own wit & that of Donne's. One of Donne's most famous works, Death, be not proud is also used heavily in the film: her English teacher cautions her against reading the last line as a gesture of defiance; rather, a conclusion to a more subtle argument that Death is in fact to be pitied (see A Quick and Rough Explication of Donne's Holy Sonnet 10: Death Be Not Proud - a godsend for non-literature students like me).

Doctor taking her particulars: Your name?
Vivian: Vivian Bearing.
Doctor: Doctor?
Vivian: Yes I have a doctorate in English literature.
Doctor: No, your doctor?
Doctor: Um, Dr. Kelekian.
(later)
Vivian (sotto voce, to the camera): I am a Doctor of Philosophy!

- Wit

PopMatters has a review that is not too favourable, but I find Wit, well, witty yet touching. It is shot in a very theatrical style: most of the time it's Vivian in her hospital ward talking to the camera. While this may be necessary since it IS about her facing death, I think some might be bored. Anyway the very fact that it has been made into a movie allows me to have the chance to watch it & review it here; in contrast, that's the unfortunate limitation of theatrical productions.

Another portion of Donne's poetry, parts of which should be vaguely familiar:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

- Meditation XVII: Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, Morieris. Now, this Bell tolling softly..., John Donne

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