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1-10 June 2003

10 JunSingapore's public health measures over the years
10 JunThe troubled world
9 JunDPM Lee's career change
8 JunThe malling of Singapore
8 JunSlammer in pictures
7 JunThe missing Iraqi WMDs & Singapore
7 JunGag order on students attending DPM Lee seminar
7 JunSARS & Malaysia-Singapore relations
7 JunBlogging software
6 JunAn unexpected discovery
5 JunThe demise of the paper trail
5 JunPosing as teenage girls
5 JunContact Bowl lucky draw
4 JunPhotos
3 JunDeep Space Nine; 1984

Singapore's public health measures over the years

10 June 2003 11:44 PM SGT (link)

The New York Times (In Singapore, a 1970's Health Law Becomes a Weapon to Fight SARS) reports on Singapore's measures over the years, especially in terms of legislation, to cope with public health problems, from malaria in the 1960s to today's SARS.

The troubled world

10 June 2003 11:20 PM SGT (link)

The Boy Who Cried Wolfowitz (Slate): Christopher Hitchens looks at the spate of mispronunciations of the US Deputy Defence Secretary's name and articles twice misinterpreting his comments on the Iraq war - in two different parts.

Mortal Combat Rages, but 'Mortal Kombat' Rules (New York Times): How boys in Bunia, Congo, scene of recent intertribal violence, spend their free time.

The real reason we went to war (Salon): a call for the administration to be honest with what it had and didn't have.

A Japanese paper first picked up the news, then it was more widely disseminated by this in the Telegraph. Cannibalism and hints of the buckling of Kim Jong Il's million-man army. It's sickening, and it reminded me of Hungry Ghosts that talked about the famines in China under Mao's Great Leap Forward. Steve den Beste considers issues like foreign food aid (that have apparently not reached the people they were supposed to reach) and speculates on a realpolitik scheme to defeat this member of the Axis of Evil. Also read his articles for his support for the Bush administration's "engaged apathy".

DPM Lee's career change

9 June 2003 6:40 PM SGT (link)

Reading his full speech (see my original post) I decided to look at the part where he talks about his own career decision to become a military man, then a politician, instead of a mathematician:

...Some of you want to be doctors and lawyers, not just because it is a good way to make money, but also because you feel passionate about saving lives, or upholding justice. Some of you want to be entrepreneurs, not just to make a fortune, but to create a novel product or service that will meet the needs of others. And if your ambition is to do research, you need a strong sense of curiosity, an obsession to understand the world around us and discover something new about it.

You are not the first ones to have to agonise over your career choices. Many generations of young adults before you have confronted the same questions, and had to make similarly difficult choices. When I was your age, I was fascinated by mathematics. I could quite happily have pursued it seriously and become a professional mathematician. But then I would have ended up in some university, probably overseas, researching some abstruse branch of mathematics which only a tiny number of people understood. Then the PSC offered me an attractive scholarship to serve in the SAF. I decided to take the scholarship, study mathematics for my degree, and after that come back to serve. The SAF was then a very young and raw organisation, and there were obviously many urgent things needing to be done. It was an exciting challenge.

In Cambridge, I did well in my first year examinations. After that my tutor spoke to me. He strongly urged me to change plans and take up mathematics as a career. He said it would be a waste if I gave up the subject. I should give up the army instead. So I wrote him a letter to explain why it made sense for me to stick to my plans. I had a responsibility to return to serve. In a small country, every person counted. I could not assume that if I opted out, it would not make a difference.

My tutor was persuaded. I graduated, joined the SAF, and learnt many things never taught in a mathematics course - how to lead and motivate people, how to build and run an organisation, and what we needed to do to secure and defend Singapore. It was quite a different challenge, but at least as demanding, intellectually and emotionally.

- Official transcript of DPM Lee's speech at the Pre-University Seminar 2003

To me it's obvious that to DPM Lee, public service was just as important, if not more important, than his own interest in mathematics or any other form of "abstruse branch" of knowledge - probably from his younger days when he accompanied his father to rallies and other political activities. If he was frustrated by the fact that his contribution would not be known to the majority of humanity save an elite few, or that he would have wasted his talent when he could have benefited Singapore in some way, then of course it was right of him to choose to work in fields where he could serve the public good, whether in the military or in politics. He probably would have been kicking himself down the road in that Cambridge ivory tower of his if he hadn't made that decision.

I don't think DPM Lee is trying to disparage the field of mathematics, or promote the vocation of politics over it, but I think we must realise that everyone values such things as public service and individual intellectual fulfillment differently. Looking at the last paragraph I extracted above, of course mathematics is not about all the business/politics goals of motivating people and leading organisations/companies to success/wealth. You should not expect that, any more than you expect mathematics to tell you how to cure cancer (medicine), build a car (engineering) or live the good life (philosophy), Pythagoras notwithstanding. So if you value public service highly, going into mathematics or any similar intellectual pursuit is the wrong way of satisfying your interest, your goal in life.

I mean, I'm no therapist, but I think DPM Lee failed to understand himself, and failed to educate the audience, by not pointing out that all along he had valued public service highly, probably more than mathematical knowledge, but then he only realised at the last minute that he would not satisfy that goal by remaining in mathematics, which is why he left to do the things he's done.

The malling of Singapore

8 June 2003 10:10 PM SGT (link)

EXCEPT for its distinctive brown-tiled facade, the historic Cathay building and cinema is being torn down.

By 2005, a gleaming new 15-storey complex will rise in its place, complete with offices, apartments, cinemas and retail space.

Great, it's just what we need. Another mall.

Ever get that deja vu feeling shopping here? Step into any mall, whether in town or in the suburbs, and there'll be a BreadTalk outlet, a Body Shop one, any number of cookie cutter chain shops and some supermarket chain in the basement.

Singapore is in danger of turning into a giant shopping mall, sameness everywhere you go.

- ST 8 June 2003, Oh no, not another mall

I think the article's description is merely scratching the surface. I would like to humbly offer a more comprehensive list of What Singapore malls have:

Once you accumulate all the tenants I've listed, hey presto, you have yourself a modern Singapore shopping mall!

With that said, I hesitate to denounce the lack of variety in shopping malls, because all the categories I named above are necessary ones for modern living (except sushi, maybe), and before outlets of one name or another sprouted up in everyone's nearest shopping mall, many people had to travel longer distances to get them. (Of course, McDonald's was the first to realise the importance of situating itself near population centres.) I'm sure everyone can remember the days, just a decade ago, where there were no libraries conveniently located in shopping malls. Do we really want to travel downtown or to the next neighbourhood just to watch a movie or buy buns?

So I suspect we don't actually want to chase the same old supermarket brand or the same old fast food chain out - or like some French romantic, condemn the malbouffe (bad food) - we just want more "variety" in shopping malls. I think this is one of those slippery terms that we can't put a finger on. What about the stalls that sell handphone covers and other trinkets? Or the latest Singapore crazeTM, like bubble tea or luohan fish? If we insist on variety, such entrepreneurial ventures must not be allowed to propagate themselves to every mall and town central; in other words, becoming successful and popular would reduce the "variety" quotient, which we say is undesirable - yet they are successful, and they endure (or like the craze, for some time and afterwards get replaced by the next craze). We want variety yet we flock to ventures that will introduce uniformity and ultimately add to the same problem we are trying to avoid. So, should we restrict our support for entrepreneurial ventures so that they are only relatively successful in certain places and don't expand to other places? That sounds very contrived; it's certainly not the way businesses are grown.

Slippery concept indeed...

Slammer in pictures

8 June 2003 5:29 PM SGT (link)

Wired magazine - Slammed!: the spread of Slammer through the Internet in January is documented with pictures of network overload & also Slammer's assembly code that exploits a buffer overflow in Microsoft's SQL Server. Fascinating.

The missing Iraqi WMDs & Singapore

7 June 2003 9:56 PM SGT (link)

INSIGHT: No sign of Iraqi weapons: How now, Singapore? - all good questions from the ST. How will Singapore explain its decision to join the coalition of the willing when the weapons of mass destruction have not been found? (the US media have mentioned this almost continuously, almost as soon as hostilities died down.) Will it be forced to admit that it was indeed a quid pro quo, the support given in exchange for the passing of the FTA?

I won't pretend to answer all these questions fully, certainly. But I think these are obvious: in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq, Saddam's regime had not given full cooperation with the UN inspectors. That was contrary to what UN Resolution 1441 demanded; the many resolutions before that too. Years of neglecting to impose sanctions more strictly had allowed the regime to blow hot and cold with inspections, and when you have the "final" resolution and it is not obeyed to the letter, what other options are you left with? Is anyone seriously arguing that Saddam would come clean once the French suggestion of inspections over six months was passed? When diplomacy and the tools of international law, like sanctions and resolutions, have failed, the answer that will lead to a definite solution is not more of them, but a radically new approach, an approach that has the chance of giving results.

I'm not arguing that finding the weapons isn't important, or that we can forget about that justification for war because, oh, now we've realised that Saddam was an evil dictator and a disaster for his people. There was intelligence, if not iron-clad intelligence, that Saddam's regime had the weapons. And Saddam certainly didn't do himself any favours with his obstructionist tactics. So what was the world to believe? By all indications Saddam's regime had the weapons, and leaving them intact would be a greater disaster for the UN and peace in the Middle East.

That was the reason most people could agree with, as Wolfowitz and others correctly judged - because the issue of Iraq's WMDs had been an unsolved problem haunting the Security Council and major powers concerned. But of course there were others, but certainly not something as ridiculous as "after 9/11, America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world". Do you think that would wash with anyone, not to mention Americans themselves? One must remember that the war against Iraq proceeded only with the approval of Congress (if not to the letter, at least to the spirit, authorising the use of all means to solve the problem), a generally supportive public, and allies like the UK and Australia - it was not simply borne of a White House megalomaniac's dream. Compare the case with the scenario of the US invading, say, Syria or Iran. The US has problems with regimes in both countries, but now it is relying on the classic dual-pronged strategy of the carrot (talk) and the stick (bluster) to deal with them. Mindlessly invading any Arab-Muslim country would just cause greater unhappiness against the US, and bolster the ranks of al-Qaeda. However, reforming a country and rehabilitating its people has a chance of succeeding.

I think the anti-war folks, while correctly blaming the administration for overselling the threat of weapons of mass destruction, should also realise that their solution is effectively no solution - Saddam would remain in power, his regime would have continued to oppress the Iraqis, and he would still have his weapons of mass destruction, and the means of obtaining more. There's also the incalculable political effect of standing tall as a rival to the mighty United States, not discounted by parties like Hamas, Islamic Jihad or "come support the strong horse, us" Osama bin Laden. The anti-war solution doesn't solve anything - it just pushes the problem to a later date to be dealt with at another time.

Sometimes doing nothing, as what happened in Rwanda or when Saddam chased out the inspectors before, isn't the best thing to do. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that despotic regimes will reform themselves nicely (witness the Myanmar junta's recent behaviour), or that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people like Saddam Hussein can be confiscated at will. (How did the UN achieve its successes in disarmament? It was in the aftermath of Iraq's defeat in the first Gulf War.) Who would argue that with US protection and international assistance, Iraqis now have the best chance they've had in decades to shape their future and their country's future for the better? Anti-war folks ominously say that "[their] happiness may not last." I don't think they secretly wish Saddam was still in power oppressing his people, safely out of sight, out of mind, but their comments amount to that.

So far the Singapore government has relied on the reason of the threat of Iraq's WMDs to justify their participation in the coalition of the willing. I'm afraid that if they stubbornly avoid the important political and humanitarian reasons to depose Saddam, they would really be left with nothing but an obvious quid pro quo.

Gag order on students attending DPM Lee seminar

7 June 2003 9:31 PM SGT (link)

510 16- and 17-year olds gathered at the Pre-University Seminar to listen to DPM Lee Hsien Loong talk about the role of young Singaporeans today, namely the question What should I do with my life?. But something very interesting happened when the ST wanted to find out more about what was discussed:

Don't talk...

ONE by one, it became clear yesterday that the junior college students at the annual Pre-University Seminar did not care to speak to the press.

'No comment', said seven of them in rapid succession when asked what they thought of Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's dialogue with them.

Slowly it emerged that they dared not speak because of a rule printed in the programme kit distributed to all of the 510 participants at the annual seminar, held jointly by the Education Ministry and Victoria Junior College this year.

While some students scuttled off, a few others opened their files and pointed to a paragraph that read: 'If at any time you are independently approached by a member of the press... give a listening ear to the request but politely decline to be interviewed.' The students were also told in the kit to refer members of the media to the organisers.

When asked, the organisers replied in a statement that the rule was 'to allow organisers to balance the need to ensure that the activities at the event and interviewees' schedule are not unduly disrupted with the need to facilitate the media in covering the event and interviewing participants'.

They also said they would have been happy to have a press officer escort reporters if they wanted to approach participants directly. And that 'rule'? It was merely 'advice', the organisers said.

- ST, Born too late for good things in life? Think again

People at the ThinkCentre have already fired off the first return salvos (Singapore:Gag order on students in seminar with DPM), even linking it up with the larger issue of instilling creativity in students. But the fundamental point is true: why are the organisers so afraid of what the students might divulge? Is DPM Lee's words to students a matter of national security? (an echo of this) The revelation of a gag order imposed on students who attended the seminar makes me doubt the whole article - a nice work, like a Potemkin village, produced by the organisers for public consumption? Who is to know, with this secrecy?

Update 2: David reacts to DPM Lee's speech and points to the official transcript. I guess the ST won't twist DPM Lee's words or leave important parts out in their reporting (like the recent scandal at the Guardian), but if you have time, there's no harm getting it from the horse's mouth.

SARS & Malaysia-Singapore relations

7 June 2003 9:13 PM SGT (link)

I read these - Singapore's SARS border screening now wins praise and confidence of Malaysia (Channel NewsAsia) and Singapore's Sars checks satisfy KL (ST) - and I wonder if I'm imagining a sarcastic tone to both articles. Right, so the Malaysian government and media impulsively pointed the finger at us for exporting SARS cases when there proved to be none, but now we are making use of the chance to promote our wonderful border screening measures and (almost) gloating on the Malaysians' agreement. It seems that the abang-adik (older brother-younger brother?) feuds will only be reconciled after a very long time, and with great effort on both sides to restrain themselves.

Blogging software

7 June 2003 8:44 PM SGT (link)

Steve den Beste (U.S.S. Clueless) has written about the lousy experiences many people have gone through using Blogger, such as permalinks failing to work (a common complaint), and problems with the server causing the post you just laboured over go to "the great bit-bucket in the sky" (his words). He also talks about the popular alternative, Moveable Type, an open source blogging software based on Perl, and CityDesk, of the client-side kind that Steve himself uses. He also points to a survey of blogging tools that might be helpful.

As you might have noticed, l.z.y./Data is stuck firmly in 1996 - I don't use any special blogging software. When I thought of setting up this blog (actually I didn't start out thinking it would be a blog, but never mind), I didn't want to use Blogger/Blogspot because of the problems people were having with it. I wanted to use Moveable Type because of the features it offered, like comments for each post. However, sadly Tripod's hosting doesn't cover Berkeley DB or MySQL, not to mention Perl 5.004 that Moveable Type requires. (I notice Tripod has also started its own blogging service, but that's for paying subscribers.)

Eventually I will have to get my own server space somewhere, if only because the free space here will run out someday, if I want to keep all the archives online. Till that day comes, I guess I'll just procrastinate & do everything, including permalinks, myself. But I need some feedback: is the lack of comments for each post affecting your reading of l.z.y./Data (I wanted to put "enjoyment", but that's probably pushing it.) I mean, is it really irritating when you just want to say something about what I've posted, and can't fit it in the tag-board, or don't want to email it to me directly? Because I would obviously like to have much greater reader participation here, especially about issues that crop up.

An unexpected discovery

6 June 2003 11:57 PM SGT (link)

Sometimes the most innocent things you do can lead to the most intriguing discoveries. This afternoon I thought I'd visit the Xiao Guilin park near my house, just because I hadn't before. For those who don't know, it's called that because there's a place in China called Guilin which is remarkably like it, a granite formation sitting in a lake. At first I thought the only attraction was the lake and the footpaths surrounding it, great for wedding photos and maybe picnics (but while I was there, there were some people milling around the banks - I wonder what they were doing, playing with the turtles?).

But when I looked at the NParks board, I realised that there was this nature trail threading through the hills that could get me to Chu Lin Road, in the Hillview area. The name of the road sounded familiar, maybe because this uncle who drove the school mini-bus I took in primary school had a passenger who lived there. Anyway I decided to check it out. It was stated as 700 metres long, and the route was roughly what you see in the map below, but more meandering.

Guilin Nature TrailI began by walking along the Bukit Gombak stadium fence (a pebble path) and then going up a staircase. There you have this panoramic view of 95% of the stadium and the surrounding flats and condominiums. Why more people don't take advantage of the site to watch S-League matches at the stadium, I don't know. (Maybe they already do.) Anyway the nature trail went on uphill, and then into the forest, also uphill for pretty much all the way (from the Little Guilin direction). Some parts have fallen into disrepair, so much that it's probably safer to explore most of the Bukit Timah Hill routes than to try this one carelessly, or when at night or alone (and the sign duly strongly urges you against doing that). By the way, this nature trail is not documented on NPark's website - probably only on the map outside the stadium.

Finally while up the hill, I reached some "Lookout Points". Two of them were blocked by trees and "Steep Slope" warning signs, but there was one that had a pretty good view of the lakes of Little Guilin and the condominium across the road from it. There was a bench at each point, and it looks like a good spot for couples who want some privacy, and to be at one with nature (or themselves). There was also a fair share of graffiti & a Pokka green tea can sitting on one of the posts - hardly any spot in Singapore is untouched by humanity in an ugly way.

After noting the lookout point with the best view, I resumed my journey and finally came to this long sequence of stairs down (for a change, these were very well-maintained, made of pebbles and little logs). I finally emerged at the dead-end of a small lane with semi-detached houses all around. Walking down this road (Chu Lin Road) and turning out, I was able to roughly gauge where I was - I was in the Hillview area but not quite near enough to Mindef (where I work) to make the journey practical. It may be 700 metres, yes, but it's not an easy 700 metres.

Some mental calculations: I will take 15 minutes to go from my home to the Xiao Guilin trail, 10-15 minutes to do the trail itself, and probably 30-45 minutes to walk to Mindef (& up the hill too!) from Chu Lin Road. All in all, the journey will take maybe an hour and 15 minutes.

If you're wondering why this ulu nature trail is of such concern to me, it's because I like to joke that as the crow flies, I live pretty near to Mindef (but separated by the granite formation of which Xiao Guilin is a part), and a helicopter ride would be the fastest to get from here to there. The way I go to work now is horribly indirect, if you're the kind who cares about these things - I make a big detour through Bukit Batok central. So all along I thought nothing short of a helicopter could allow me to cross the formation, and today I found out I was wrong - there is a way, just not the best that there could be. And as I calculated, it's impractical to use it.

Still I have this strange compulsion to try this route at least once, to go to Mindef from home or vice versa, before I say goodbye to Mindef forever. It will be hard to arrange because I can't use the nature trail in the early morning or evening, when the whole place will be dark & very dangerous with broken stairs and loose branches around. I could do a compromise and walk out to the main road (Hillview Avenue) from Chu Lin Road, but then I'd rather take the bus the whole way. But as I said, I have this strange compulsion to do this crazy thing & I'm thinking of a way to do it.

After reaching Chu Lin Road, and walking around to figure out where exactly in Hillview I was, I headed back using the same route. (Before that I heard someone from one of the houses playing the piano - some blues tune I think.) I found it slightly more difficult to go down the broken steps rather than push my way uphill, but I returned to the stadium in one piece.

Strangely, perhaps, it's a good feeling to have discovered this trail and explored it. Besides making it part of a crazy plan to actually use it to get to work, I thought it refreshing and exciting, almost as if I had carved out the route myself. But then again, I didn't, and if I did have any trouble, I could always fall back on the fact that civilisation was a few hundred metres away, so it wasn't that great. Am I deceiving myself by thinking this a "great adventure"? I wonder.

The demise of the paper trail

5 June 2003 9:24 PM SGT (link)

The End of History: How e-mail is wrecking our national archive (Slate) - an important issue, because it's not just limited to government offices but practically every big and small organisation that uses email and/or instant messaging extensively. Correspondence or discussions that would have been done using memos or letters in the past are now almost exclusively done through email, and there's hardly any systematic way of storing these records for future retrieval.

For each organisation, it amounts to how much they want to keep such records, or if they're OK with totally being in the dark about what events happened or what decisions they made - and how they were made - just a matter of a few years ago. Heck, look through biographies of people who lived a century or two ago and you'll see extensive reference to letters they wrote to their family or friends, as a window into their thoughts and personality. I think such information about the people today is simply not there, unless one fastidiously keeps email and letters written, or maintains a comprehensive journal.

P.S.: Calling it "the end of history" is exaggerating it: of course history happened, and there are other ways of finding out who said what, just that they're less "reliable" than old memos and letters. It's not 1984 yet.

Posing as teenage girls

5 June 2003 9:15 PM SGT (link)

As undercover assignments go, posing as a teenage girl online to catch pedophiles has its share of challenges for the typical FBI agent.

Should he ever capitalize words in instant messages?

Is it okay to say you buy your clothes at 5-7-9?

And what about Justin Timberlake? Is he still hot or is he so two years ago?

For those investigative details, the FBI calls on Karen, Mary and Kristin - Howard County eighth-graders and best friends. During the past year, the three have been teaching agents across the country how to communicate just like teenage girls, complete with written quizzes on celebrity gossip and clothing trends and assigned reading in Teen People and YM magazines. The first time the girls gave a quiz, all the agents failed.

"They, like, don't know anything," said Mary, 14, giggling.

"They're, like, do you like Michael Jackson?" said Karen, 14, rolling her eyes at just how out of it adults can be...

- Washington Post, Teens teach FBI gift of cyber gab

I just wonder whether pedophiles on the prowl online for teenage girls would know these things themselves, but never mind. I think Michael Jackson is definitely "out of it", but Justin Timberlake? Who knows? Who cares?

Contact Bowl lucky draw

5 June 2003 9:05 PM SGT (link)

Ever since a $50,000 lucky draw was added to the Contact Bowl initiative, the number of name cards being dropped at many participating outlets has gone up.

Some people are dumping more than one card into the bowl each time...

- Channel NewsAsia, Name cards in Contact Bowls surge after $50,000 lucky draw

So Singaporean.

Photos

4 June 2003 11:18 PM SGT (link)

I can't remember where I read it, but it was this small news article about Claire Danes apparently being a bit uncomfortable about autographing MSCL DVD sets, because it reminds her of the time when she was 15 years old - 800+ minutes of it. That's the problem with being a child star - even if you don't have huge career expectations and then fall short of them, you'll be "haunted" by many images of yourself at that time, with all the warts & embarrassing moments to go with it. Not that Claire Danes would particularly mind her looks, but I guess anyone would be embarrassed by the dialogue & the character - it can't be too far from what she really was at that time.

OK so what's my point, you ask. Slowly, I'm getting there.

I know I'm just coming off 1984, with the routine rewriting of the past that Winston Smith and others do at the Ministry of Truth, but I have this crazy notion from God of Gamblers (this 80s Hong Kong movie starring Chow Yun Fat and Andy Lau). It's about Gao Jin (Chow Yun Fat), the God of Gamblers, who one day has a car accident, rolls down a hill and has a concession that causes amnesia. He becomes childlike and has irresistable cravings for a particular brand of chocolate. Later after some events this down-in-the-dumps slacker played by Andy Lau (forgot the character's name) takes care of him as he gradually regains his unbeatable gambling skills to settle his scores with the people who sabo'ed him. It's simply great - it's still the only Hong Kong movie I heartily recommend.

OK so what's my point, you ask again. Slowly, I'm getting there. I digress a lot.

I wonder how it would be if all the photographs of me, save one, were destroyed. Off the face of the Earth. That would be like the mysterious God of Gamblers, whose only (black and white) photograph is one where he has his back turned to the camera. That's how he gets his aura of mystique and invincibility. Not that I would gain an aura of mystique and invincibility, or that I want one (it wouldn't be bad though). My goal is so that I don't feel embarrassed or have regrets over the superficial aspects of my past, like how I looked or who I was with. I have no objections to photos of my surroundings, my friends, or records of what I did or what I thought (like in my diary and on this blog). Even handwriting archives are interesting (I notice my handwriting has shrunk significantly since primary school.) It's just how I looked or behaved that I don't want.

At BMT, there was a sergeant that liked to talk nonsense with us and pretend to be friendly, while in actual fact he was one of the most sadistic ones around - the classic two-faced person you see so often in the SAF. It was a week or two before we finished our short BMT, and he came into our bunk & told us to bring photographs of ourselves and our family, friends, whatever, so that we could all get to know each other better. The fact that had we wanted to know each other better, we would have better ways - that was beside the point; actually he wanted to look at the photos himself & be a kaypoh (nosy-parker). So I didn't find any photos worth bringing - and didn't particularly feel like doing a big search for them, I might add - so I brought the class photos that had to be taken every year. Those were pretty dull. & he asked me why in a pretend-exasperated way. So I pretend-jokingly told him about me trying to be Gao Jin. & he had no response - he was speechless. Now that I think about it, it's probably the best joke I ever cracked, non-original though it was.

So the next time any kaypoh demands to see your personal photos - whether you have them or not, or whether you want to show them around or not - you could consider using this tactic. See if the other person ends up speechless, and expose him for the loser he is, mwahahaha.

In case you don't know, this is my bout of birthday angst. Really I would be glad if the Gao Jin thing happened to me, however impossible it is in this day and age where everyone's more occupied with preserving the moment rather than actually living it. But it's more of angst than any true wish.

Deep Space Nine; 1984

3 June 2003 9:41 PM SGT (link)

I'm back from my little "vacation" from blogging. Actually it was also brought on by the fact that I've been on leave these few days and I've not done or seen many interesting things. Things worth blogging about, that is.

Deep Space Nine

I did finish the first two seasons of Deep Space Nine and I'll try to post some reviews soon. I thought it was fabulous, and the show wasn't even into its greatest period when it chronicles the Federation-Dominion war. The quality of the stories and the characterisation was superb - so much so that I can safely say that these first two seasons are overall the best Star Trek has to offer. It's gross injustice that this show isn't better known.

For now I'll like to share the following exchange between Quark and Garak; I'm not sure which episode it comes from (Season 4 or 5 perhaps), but it's simply excellent. Download the sound clip for the full experience.

Quark: "I want you to try something for me. Take a sip of this."

Garak: "What is it?"

Quark: "A Human drink, it's called Root Beer."

Garak: "Ahh, I don't know..."

Quark: "Come on, aren't you just a little bit curious?"

[pause]

Quark: "What d'you think?"

Garak: "It's vile!"

Quark: "I know. It's so bubbly and cloy, and happy."

Garak: "Just like the Federation..."

Quark: "But do you know what's really frightening? If you drink enough of it you begin to like it..."

Garak: "It's insidious!"

Quark: "...Just like the Federation."

Alright you probably won't get the implication of their exchange about the Federation unless you've watched a significant amount of TNG and DS9, but never mind.

1984

I also reread 1984 (the Penguin UK edition, with Big Brother on the cover). Reliving the ultimate totalitarian dystopia is frightening and yet very convincing. I loved (if one can say that) the part where Winston Smith (the dissident) reads the (banned) book by the Party's enemy Emmanuel Goldstein - The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism - that describes how and why the Party organises society to perpetuate its rule. We get the complete chapter explaining the Party credo "War is Peace", and part of "Ignorance is Strength". (The last part of the troika of slogans, "Freedom is Slavery", is left as an exercise for the reader, I presume - hey that might be an interesting challenge, explaining "Freedom is Slavery"). The slogans might seem paradoxical and a joke, but they actually demand the utmost skill of doublethink (holding two contrary thoughts in one's mind and believing in both of them depending on what's required), until the traditional pre-Party concepts of "freedom" and "war" are forgotten and wiped out. These are simultaneously fascinating and revolting as they explain the Party's vision for subjugating humanity to its "efficient" rule forever.

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