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11-20 June 2003

20 JunDr. Mahathir is a racist
20 JunLittle Secrets
19 JunPhilosophy on the radio online
19 JunAir-con
18 JunBilingualism
18 JunDiverting donations from the Courage Fund
18 JunASEAN & Myanmar
17 JunPaperwork irregularities in SAF unit
17 JunOS X Calculator does conversions
16 JunSingapore's involvement
15 JunPederasty & Mr. Antolini
15 JunMac IE development stopped
15 JunDante's Divine Comedy
15 JunThoughts on TV Mobile
13 JunMy iBook; Plato
11 JunDeclaration on Religious Harmony
11 JunPursuing the 5Cs
11 JunMorgan Freeman

Dr. Mahathir is a racist

20 June 2003 10:37 PM SGT (link)

...His speech read like History 101. 'We have been colonised by three European races. For 450 years, we have been placed under their colonial rule. Now we...face the possibility of once again being colonised by them.'

It was critical, he said, that Malaysians know Europeans well and be aware that they had an insatiable curiosity, were greedy and liked to take 'forcibly the territories and rights of other people'.

...Dr Mahathir also told delegates to be wary when Europeans accused the government of being dictatorial as this could be a ploy for them to interfere in Malaysia's internal affairs.

Insisting that he was not trying to incite hatred against Europeans but merely telling the truth, he predicted that the Western press would label him a racist and that certain governments will be vexed by his comments.

- ST 20 June, Mahathir makes a stinging attack on West

There, I've said it. How's that?

What he's doing is denouncing an entire race - hardly an entire race, even: mainly white-skinned peoples whose countries are militarily and economically stronger than Malaysia's - for crimes and deeds done centuries and decades ago, and as a result of economic and societal impetuses. One moment he's condemning entire swathes of continents of people for having "insatiable curiosity", the next he steps back & denies he's being a racist. In what way is this kind of wild, sweeping statement different from what the Jews have suffered throughout the years, or even what the indigenuous Malays and immigrant Chinese and Indians suffered (to a lesser extent) in the years under British rule?

It seems the tables have turned: now white-skinned Europeans and Americans are supposed to kowtow to the inexorable weight of past sins, the stretches of tombstones and concentration camps, and renounce their ugly past, while Asians and other peoples are free to condemn their races for things they did then & things they are doing now? It seems the Doctor's happy with letting Europeans treat the Malaysians as equals, but also wants the exclusive privilege to knock them down a peg or two when he wants to (hence the "oh they're going to call me a racist, bah" language).

Besides the paranoia that engulfs Dr. Mahathir's geopolitical vision (facing enemies at every turn, Malaysians - no, the indolent Malay bumiputras must stand up and fight! Fight, people!), you can see the underlying intentions behind statements that Westerners were interfering in Malaysia's internal affairs by, say, being concerned about Anwar Ibrahim's arrest & totally unconvincing trial & conviction. Dr. Mahathir's not the first person (see, for a contemporary example, Zimbabwe's Mugabe) to wrap himself up in the flag of his nation against its perceived enemies, though there's nothing to his claims that human rights or the rule of law are insidious Western values that cannot be appreciated - indeed, should be outright rejected - by right-thinking Malaysians. We are past that stage where dictators or authoritarian leaders can shield their populations from comparisons with those in other countries, other societies, and letting them decide for themselves how they want to live. Hence glasnost, hence the collapse of apartheid, and many any others following.

I don't know enough about Malaysian politics to judge whether Dr. Mahathir's departure, and his replacement by Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, will be a good thing for Malaysia. But what I can tell is that it's definitely a good thing to have less of this racist, vindictive pronouncements coming from a national leader, especially one important to us.

Apropos: Hue and cry on ‘whiteness studies’ classes. May comment on it later after I've gone through it.

Little Secrets

20 June 2003 9:47 PM SGT (link)

Another serendipitous discovery, this time on HBO. Little Secrets is a delightful tale set in US suburbia about a 14-year-old girl, Emily Lindstrom, who's an aspiring violinist & has secret-keeping for her business: she puts up a stand, something like Lucy's 5-cents psychiatry practice, and listens to the secrets told by the neighbourhood's children, and also helps them hide things like broken porcelain, which as we should know are pretty common events, and important secrets to keep, among accident-prone children. The business has been going along nicely, but Emily has secrets of her own, and soon the involvement of her new neighbours 15-year-old David (whom she has a crush on) and 12-year-old Philip, who becomes her best friend, makes everyone learn the bad side about keeping secrets.

I was channel-surfing, basically, when I saw the beginning of this movie and noticed its first credited star, Evan Rachel Wood - immediately I knew this has to be pretty good. Evan Rachel Wood, for those who aren't that particular about the names of actors and actresses in shows they watch, plays Jessie in Once and Again; she was also the daughter in Simone, the movie about the computer-simulated movie star. In Little Secrets they make use of another side of her talent I haven't seen before: she plays the violin pretty well, and has showpieces like the theme from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor (the 3rd movement, allegro molto vivace). (However, the violin grandstanding is nowhere as high, and "high"-inducing, as Chen Kaige's Together, which I've reviewed.) The shots of people gaping as they see her skill gets a bit sickening after a while, though.

And don't denounce it for being a movie aimed at kids! As Roger Ebert says, it's rare to have a movie with teenagers, aimed at teenagers, that has them recognising people like Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë (identified by Emily as namesakes). I'm now trying Wuthering Heights just to see what the fuss is all about.

Philosophy on the radio online

19 June 2003 11:38 PM SGT (link)

John Holbo links to Radio Singapore's page on its Philosophy programme, and talks about his department head's reaction to the news that his "off-the-cuff" interview on John Locke's theories (mostly the epistemological aspect) is online to be googled and linked to from all around the world (unfortunately I don't have the knowledge of Monty Python to fully appreciate his analogy).

I didn't know about this programme, but now that I know about it, I think I'll just read the transcripts (of the major highlights) online, rather than listen to the broadcast. I do the same with Channel NewsAsia's Singapore news. Think of it: the programme on TV is 30 minutes, most of which consists of extraneous video that's put there so that we don't have to see the plain, (boring?) image of the newscaster reading off the teleprompter. Plus, I'm generally not interested in news like the latest snatch theft, perhaps, and the reporting and interviews of excited onlookers & the victim really gets on my nerves sometimes. So in my view, taking 10 minutes (an overestimate already) to read online the news you want is a much more efficient way of getting the information, and using your time.

Digression, digression. Back to the philosophy page, people...

Air-con

19 June 2003 11:02 PM SGT (link)

This is absolutely the worst time of the year to have your air-conditioner break down on you. Yes, at this moment all my readers who don't suffer from the hot weather this time of year are sniggering, or better, trying but failing to see my point; those who suffer because they don't have the luxury of air-con, and are cursing me for being a spoilt brat - well, maybe I am, compared to the millions of people who don't have them, but then again you don't berate yourself endlessly for having three good meals a day, do you?

Anyway, after that bout of pre-emptive strikes against reader objections...

(That's it, this just proves my point. A praying mantis just managed to fly into my room, and only left after some near-desperate coaxing. I do not relish living in a hot, humid, jungle-like climate.)

Anyway, this problem with my air-con reminded me of Cherian George's anthology of essays, Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation. In the introduction, George explains how he got inspired to choose this title (some of you might remember this anecdote):

...When the Wall Street Journal asked several 20th century luminaries to pick the most influential invention of the millennium, [SM] Lee named the air-conditioner. "The humble air-conditioner has changed the lives of people in the tropical regions," he said. "Before air-con, mental concentration and with it the quality of work deteriorated as the day got hotter and more humid... Historically, advanced civilisations have flourished in the cooler climates. Now, lifestyles have become comparable to those in temperate zones and civilisation in the tropical zones need no longer lag behind."

...[W]hat is captivating about the air-conditioner theory is not what it reveals about the machine and the millennium, but what it says about Lee's Singapore. For there are few metaphors that more evocatively crystallise the essence of Singapore politics.

- Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation, by Cherian George (pages 14-15)

This book is a must-read, if only for the introduction where George goes on to elaborate on the air-con metaphor. The essays might feel a bit dated (they range from 1990-2000), but I think they're still important to what we think about our lives and our society. Indeed, George dedicates this book to "all who call Singapore home."

Bilingualism

18 June 2003 7:55 PM SGT (link)

I'm not following the Chinese drama serial at 7 ("Holland Village"), but I notice that Jamie Yeo plays a pretty important role in it, and her spoken Chinese is actually not bad. Her "day job" is as a DJ with Perfect 10, where she speaks English, for those who don't know. I'm always surprised at finding these "effectively bilingual" people, people who are equally at home in English and their "mother tongue" (a misleading term, but that's another story). These seem to be a uniquely Singaporean species of mythical beasts, like the Merlion, because I think it's difficult to do it, and that's why we don't see more of them.

Personally I'm much more at home in English - I have been since primary school (that's where you can see my Chinese grades steadily losing ground to my English ones), and despite 4 years of studying in a "Chinese" school, that hasn't changed. People think that because I'm from the Chinese High School, that means I'm definitely good in Chinese, whereas the reality is probably that those already good in, or inclined towards, Chinese (like PRs from China) choose Chinese High (and these are the guys who cause the misconceptions).

It's wrong, because regardless of the history, culture or funding of the particular institution, it still has to follow the MOE-set curricula and standards, which precludes the school or the teachers from introducing more Chinese-centred material - lack of time and energy. With Chinese High going to merge with Hwa Chong JC, and the shift to a 6-year course, this could change, but in my time there, we had our hands full with the O Level syllabus and other requirements. Whatever things "Chinese" we were exposed to were severely limited. When English is the medium of teaching, and the only time we use Chinese is in Chinese lessons and informal conversation, you can't really develop a good command of the language and culture - I remember we had a semester of Chinese calligraphy, a semester of weiqi (otherwise known as Go) - pitifully little time for even a basic understanding of these subjects - and overworked Chinese teachers who had plentiful talent but little avenues to apply them to, over and above the O Level syllabus.

That's why I say that if you want a Chinese school, please go to China! Don't think that Chinese High or any of the traditional "Chinese schools" in Singapore (founded by rich, philanthropic Chinese merchants) have a unique perspective on Chinese language and culture - whatever they had, they are fast losing, because ours is an English-dominated society.

With that said, I'm impressed by those who can still become effectively bilingual - I suspect they have had guidance from Chinese-educated parents who love the language and culture, so that the person imbibes this along with the mostly-English education he/she receives at school. Even with that, I guess that absorbing and mastering the two worlds must not be a simple task.

In Singapore, there is a strong undercurrent of prejudice against people who don't know their mother tongue: mainly Chinese who can't speak or read Chinese. For one, I'm not ashamed that I'm not good in Chinese - I recognise it as a product of a complex interaction between my genes and my environment, perhaps one that inclines me towards only one language, and it happened to be English. If I were really interested in Chinese, I think, I would jump into it straightaway! I don't think people have the right to lecture me or judge me because I don't know my supposed mother tongue. For instance, I might be interested in Chinese because I want to read The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, probably the only thing of Chinese culture I'm interested in. But should I instead choose to learn German to read Goethe, French to read Victor Hugo, or Italian to read Dante, then those are equally valid decisions, in my humble opinion. In our modern age, our choice of language should not be based on our race, or else, how would this be different from more conventional forms of racism - attributing certain traits to certain races?

Diverting donations from the Courage Fund

18 June 2003 7:27 PM SGT (link)

This letter is worth reproducing in full:

Let Fund donors switch donations

THE Courage Fund has collected more money than the trustees can spend towards its original purpose of helping Sars victims and the health-care workers who are in the front line combating the epidemic.

The trustees of the fund mooted the idea of transferring the excess to charity. This has been opposed by some members of the public, who considered the action to be a breach of faith.

I suggest the following solution. The trustees can allow donors to switch their donations to an approved charity.

I have sent my request to the trustees to transfer my personal donation to the School Pocket Money Fund. This fund, which is running short of money, is doing excellent work in helping students from poor families cope with the current economic situation.

I suggest that the trustees approach the larger corporate donors to make a similar switch to benefit any worthy charity. These corporate donors should still be recognised as helping the cause of The Courage Fund.

TAN KIN LIAN

- ST 18 June, Let Fund donors switch donations

While this solution might be feasible for big donors from companies and organisations, or even for the government's contribution (matching dollar for dollar, and an additional $1 million), I don't think the trustees are going to agree, or are even capable of, attending to the requests of donors from the public to divert their donations to other charities or funds. It simply isn't feasible.

So that's why this is quite a knotty problem: as Mr. Tan has said, if they divert some of the funds themselves, it might not be what the donors intended; however there's no simple way to allow donors to get their money back, or divert it to other causes. It brings back the question of why people continued to donate when they could see for themselves that the Fund was quite sufficient for its needs (as you'd expect, I griped about this before), and now they're complaining that their donations are not put to good use. But I don't want to be vindictive: I think Mr. Tan's solution is a good compromise.

ASEAN & Myanmar

18 June 2003 1:32 PM SGT (link)

...On paper, Asean's friendly call urging Myanmar to get on with democratic change is a far cry from Washington's tough line against the Yangon regime. But the blandness of the statement belies the pointed message ministers are reported to have conveyed to Mr Win Aung, who was told his government's repressive policies had hurt Asean's image.

- ST 18 June, Myanmar to let Red Cross visit detainees

Never mind that the Burmese military junta has subverted democracy, jailed the people's leaders, persecutes minorities, and makes a good living exporting drugs - just don't hurt ASEAN's image!

Seriously, I think I've developed an instinctive abhorrence of wayang from my experiences in the army. That word is on everyone's mouths almost from day one - it means to put on a show instead of doing something substantial, or making the show your priority instead of the substance - and each time we were doing something that was frankly useless and inefficient, with its only advantage being its PR-value, I got more sickened of it.

For instance, Mindef canteen operators were apparently asked to put on masks when handling food and serving it to customers, after a suspected SARS case was discovered among them. (I don't know whether the case was eventually confirmed or not.) However, these were paper masks - ineffective against anything smaller than dust particles - and what's more, the operators thought they were a hindrance to their work, and either wore them only when they were near customers, or even not at all. The whole reason why they were asked to wear paper masks, weeks after the case, seems to be to show outsiders that Mindef cares deeply about the possible spread of SARS, when reality is diametrically opposite to that. This time, things might turn out OK, but someday a wayang is going to do serious harm to somebody.

Paperwork irregularities in SAF unit

17 June 2003 11:44 AM SGT (link)

Scandalous:

...[I]rregularities were uncovered in late 2002 in the logistics or storekeeping records of one of the sub-units of 1st Commando Battalion. There were also discrepancies in the individual fitness test scores reported by two of the unit's specialists, who handle the stores.

A ministry spokesman said: 'The SAF takes a serious view of such matters. As a result, the unit was disallowed from participating in the Best Unit Competition for the year. This is to uphold the integrity and high standards of the competition.' Disciplinary action is being taken against the individuals concerned.

Word of the Commandos' ban has been making its rounds in defence-linked Internet chatrooms.

It is believed that storekeepers, who are tasked with managing all supplies from light bulbs to spare tyres, doctored some paperwork to account for missing items.

- ST 17 June, Commando unit barred from SAF competition

I'm commenting on this more from the perspective of a civilian layman rather than a NSF, or soon-to-be NSman, because I've no direct experience with unit operations and procedures. Isn't it strange that such irregularities are discovered in a competition, rather as part of some routine auditing, or some verification procedure done for stores and other things? It seems this competition isn't really what you would normally call a competition; but I'm still more assured of regular procedures to check units' paperwork, outside of whether they're participating in a contest.

Besides, I was under the impression that "doctoring... paperwork to account for missing items" was a pretty common phenomenon, because somehow or another things will go missing and the unlucky storemen involved will have to cough up the item by hook or by crook (perhaps my friend can shed some light on this). Will it turn out to be a matter of casting all the blame on the storemen or PTIs who did the doctoring, rather than some systematic failure of the organisation in allowing, even encouraging, this kind of thing to happen?

Lastly, I'm free to comment on this, an SAF matter, on a public forum now because there it is in the ST, it's not for the SAF to keep hush-hush anymore.

OS X Calculator does conversions

17 June 2003 12:28 AM SGT (link)

I just discovered that not only is there a cute "paper tape" mode to the OS X calculator (like something from one of those simple machines that you punch in numbers to get receipts), it also allows you to do conversions within the program itself. I actually try to calculate the cost of buying books from Amazon and shipping it to Singapore pretty often, so rather than what I used to do, calculate the price, then go to the online currency converter, I can now convert it directly in the OS X calculator.

It may be pretty trivial, but it's always the trivial things that get to you, whether it's some irritating sound in the background, or some manual task you have to do because the tools aren't available.

Update: I forgot to mention this (how could I?): it retrieves the latest currency conversion from some website:

OS X Calculator

Singapore's involvement

16 June 2003 6:09 PM SGT (link)

Today's ST article on the coming Asean meeting that will discuss the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by the Myanmar military junta doesn't mention it (Myanmar, regional security to top Asean meeting (ST, 16 June)), but if you read/watch the Channel NewsAsia report, this shows up:

Channel NewsAsia understands that an earlier meeting between the UN special envoy and the Myanmar activist was, in fact, brokered by Singapore.

- ASEAN ministers to discuss Myanmar's arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi (Channel NewsAsia)

If this is true, then I think it's a good sign that although Asean's stated policy is against interference in other member countries' internal affairs, at least members of Asean are interested in seeking a peaceful resolution to this latest move against Aung San Suu Kyi. Considering Singapore's phobia with getting involved in matters such as this, even when it's pretty obvious who's in the wrong and who's being the illegitimate power, I think it's a good sign, that at least they're willing to work behind closed doors to do something about it.

With that said, I have to admit that I am sceptical that this kind of thing can be done by our government out of true goodwill, or even with considerations of our interests, whether to do with the economy or national security, without any wish for it to be publicised by our national media and hailed as a sign of how great our little nation is, because that's the message we seem to be getting with so many other things.

Meanwhile (though this is a few days old), the US and others have reacted more strongly against the move (e.g. Powell lashes out at Myanmar junta (ST, 13 June)). Also read Powell's words: Get Tough on Rangoon (Wall Street Journal, 12 June).

Pederasty & Mr. Antolini

15 June 2003 10:59 PM SGT (link)

I'm reading Julia Annas's Plato: A Very Short Introduction, and I found the chapter "Love, Sex, Gender and Philosophy" very illuminating in an aspect of Plato's philosophy that is usually downplayed or even bowdlerised - the homoerotic relationships between men and boys, also characterised as between mentor and pupil, where the mentor takes an interest not mainly in the sex but in the interaction of souls; Annas also considers this as the derivation of expressions like Platonic love. It's also said that Plato perhaps thinks the intellectual offspring that result from such intimate mental and physical contact to be "superior" to the mere physical offspring that result from the "prosaic" relationship of marriage. This may or may not arise from the Theaetetus where Socrates calls himself a "midwife" of ideas, in that he doesn't have much knowledge to call his own but through dialectic, helps others discover their own.

Anyway this discussion of Greek pederasty reminded me of the character of Mr. Antolini in The Catcher in the Rye. He's an old teacher of Holden Caulfield, and when Holden decides he's sick of hotels and roaming about aimlessly, and cannot return home because he doesn't want his parents to know he's been kicked out of his school again, he turns to Mr. Antolini, who gives him very insightful comments on why Holden has the problems he has with the world and everyone, and how he could make the best of his situation. Unwittingly he was trying to rescue Holden from his descent into madness:

[To Holden, Mr Antolini:]"...I think that, once you have a fair idea of where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself in school. You'll have to. You're a student - whether the idea appeals to you or not. You're in love with knowledge. You'll find... that you're going to start getting closer and closer - that is, if you want to, and if you look for it and wait for it - to the kind of information that will be very, very dear to your heart. Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them - if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.

- The Catcher in the Rye, chapter 24

Holden is hardly in a condition to listen to Mr. Antolini's wise words, and falls asleep on Mr. Antolini's sofa. He awakens later to find Mr. Antolini sitting next to him and caressing his hair. In his shock and disgust he leaves his last refuge of sanity (I'd like to think). So I guess perhaps Mr. Antolini saw himself in the role of mentor to Holden, which led to that unfortunate misunderstanding. Now I'm wondering about Salinger's intentions in having events turn out that way.

Mac IE development stopped

15 June 2003 2:49 PM SGT (link)

Microsoft Kills Off Mac IE, Blames Safari (Slashdot), and this comes with Microsoft saying that it's because it "does not have the access to the Macintosh operating system that it would need to compete." Now, where have we heard about that problem before?

Anyway, as Ars Technica suggests here, this might be related to the recent announcement that standalone versions of IE will not be released anymore, instead of being purely a move against Safari & Apple.

Dante's Divine Comedy

15 June 2003 1:36 PM SGT (link)

I overheard a conversation between two girls when I was in Kinokuniya yesterday (I didn't mean to, but they were talking pretty loudly, and I thought what they said was interesting, so I "tuned in".) They were at the Poetry section and one girl was pointing out to another Dante's Divine Comedy, and told the other girl a funny experience her friend had with the book. Apparently this character, Girl 3 I designate, had another friend who was really into this kind of stuff, and he was reading it "like how you and I would read a comic book", and Girl 3 asked to see what he was reading. So he showed her. & she asked "so, is it funny?", and she took it over to have a look, and she was apparently stunned into silence or something.

I think Girl 1 meant it to be funny because Dante's work is pretty deep verse, and certainly not something trivial to read. (Certainly not if that fabled Smart Guy was reading that edition I saw with the original Italian printed on one side & the English translation on the other.) But I thought it especially funny because though it was titled a "comedy", there's certainly nothing very funny in itself about the sufferings in hell (Inferno) so intricately described, or the religious ascendance through Purgatorio towards Paradiso. I mean, I haven't read the book myself, but I did read a review of it by this person who went back to Columbia, his alma mater, to experience a year of reading the classics (Great Books, by David Denby). I suppose both aspects of the joke are valid, though, naturally, I'm inclined to see mine more sympathetically.

Anyway you can read the "comedy" for yourself online. & if you're one of the characters in the little anecdote I've mentioned, sorry if you're offended or anything.

Thoughts on TV Mobile

15 June 2003 1:16 AM SGT (link)

After rereading one of my favourite books, The Catcher in the Rye, my thoughts are (dis-)organised in a stream of digressions as well as curses on the world's phonies and morons, the two species of humans that Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, seems to assign everyone in, except a few select people like his sister Phoebe. I talked about the book before, and I found I still love it as much as I did before.

So anyway I was on this SBS bus on my regular Saturday afternoon journey to my piano teacher's house for lessons, and as usual on TV Mobile some cooking programme is on. It would be bad enough that one host talks like he's talking to a kid, but the other host is doing the same, so it's some absurd wayang that gets irritating after a while.

The problem with TV Mobile on a bus is it takes great effort to shut out its effect. TV is like a magnet that pulls in your gaze at least every now and then, even if you're not one of those who have absolutely nothing to do on the bus except sit (or stand) and stare. I have a few theories as to why we are so compelled to at least give it a look now and then - (1) somebody's usually talking in a TV programme, and it becomes like having an absolutely irritating relative over for Chinese New Year. She just goes on and on and on about things you may, but usually don't, have interest in, but you have to acknowledge her presence if only occasionally, because it's just grossly impolite to just ignore her & pretend she's invisible (and inaudible). (The only difference is that you don't have to talk back to the TV set - thank goodness.) (2) The TV set brings life to the environment, whether it's some boring EarthVisions programme with the narrator intoning about the mating habits of seagulls, or an uproariously unfunny Phua Chu Kang episode. It's the same reason why people must play Kenny G or Kevin Kern "New Age" music before ceremonies, or leave the TV set on at home even though nobody's watching the show, or blast pop songs at weddings & sports events - it gives the constant reassurance to the people present (who are talking or not) that something's happening or is about to happen. If the house/bus is silent, at its best it's boring (and people have inconceivably survived this drought of entertainment and information on buses for decades), at its worst, the hyperactive or excitable ones might be totally uncomfortable. So due to either theory (1) or (2), or both, people must bring TV to a previously quiet setting like the bus. (I know, I know - buses have had bawling children or teenage loudmouths since they started, but at least they didn't have the ability to go on and on without stopping.)

When TV Mobile was first introduced, I was extremely grateful that my area is served by TIBS, whose buses don't have TV Mobile installed. Even SBS after a while removed some TV Mobile units from their buses, so that it's up to your luck on whether you get into an SBS bus with one. When it was launched I did consider some situations where it could be beneficial. Maybe when you're on the way home and you want to catch some programme, but you forgot to set the VCR timer (& then again, you have to have the luck that TV Mobile is showing the same programme.) Maybe when it's World Cup season, it'll be useful so that you can make your journeys while not missing the action (but that is also determined by where the next World Cup seasons will be held, and whether you'll even be on the bus at that time e.g. 3 a.m.). Maybe you're too poor to own a TV set, and you don't want to bring your own chair to the shop selling TVs (too embarrassing), so you pay a token sum to enjoy the seat and aircon on buses? Now we're getting to the surreal.

Anyway there was some movie trailer on - some comedy starring Michael Douglas. It's not the first time I watched (or rather, heard it - no matter how I avoid the image, I can't avoid the sound) the trailer, and he was saying something about the CIA. It got me thinking about Michael Douglas's trademark husky voice - it's unmistakeable. I bet if you're awoken by some phone call at 3 a.m. & your brain hasn't fully powered up when you grab the receiver & say something like "Hello?", and if it were Michael Douglas on the line, you'd recognise him in an instant; you probably won't be able to do that even if it were your mother or your wife. (Not that they should be offended, unless they have a husky voice that can match up!) Douglas's voice is so husky that everything he says sounds like some secret plan or conspiracy. You could have him read the phone book or something and he could make it sound like a sinister CIA plot - that's what I was thinking after I heard his voice on that trailer. Just an observation.

Update: Speaking of phonies, I was in the Orchard area in the evening, and they were having these performances on outdoor stages near HMV Heeren. When I was passing by, there was some guy onstage trying an American-style rap, and the audience were yelling & hissing as he got to certain words, which I assume were provocative in some way (I didn't stick around or anything to find out what they were). It's just that as his voice was alternating between the decent, unremarkable Singaporean accent & pseudo-gangsta rap, I couldn't help but think of the innumerable phonies that Holden Caulfield encounters in pubs & other places. I didn't have the impulse to puke (probably because I wasn't pumped full of nicotine & alcohol that Holden was), but it was a pretty disgusting experience; I'm glad I got away soon enough.

My iBook; Plato

13 June 2003 10:09 PM SGT (link)

I ordered my iBook on Wednesday, collected it yesterday, and I'm now typing my first blog entry on the Mac using bbEdit Lite. I'm still very much an amateur at using the system, though I'm getting the hang of it.

Before I enter university and take up some philosophy courses, I want to read up on Plato and why he's been called the greatest philosopher of the Western world. (You can find translations of his works at many places online, for instance, Project Gutenberg and Perseus.) I found it difficult trying to decide in which order I should read them: normally people divide them into early, middle and late periods and then go in chronological order, as Plato was thought to have written them (like this). The earlier dialogues usually have Socrates questioning one or more people on the true nature of something, so that in the end it is better clarified, or else the people at least can understand that they don't actually know what they were so sure they knew. The later ones have Socrates essentially acting as Plato's mouthpiece for his ideas, but I guess in those days this was not regarded as sacrilegious or detrimental to the historical record, but as a form of respect and honour.

However, I also found Bernard Suzanne's exposition of a series of tetralogies pretty intriguing. It reminded me of Mendeleyev's periodic table, or Murray Gell-Mann's Eightfold Way - both models doing much to clarify what used to be very chaotic situations with chemical elements and quarks. I won't duplicate his work here, but basically he arranges 28 of Plato's dialogues (more or less those that are agreed to be genuine) in 7 tetralogies (4 dialogues each). Why 4? One is an introductory dialogue, while the three delve deeper into the separate realms of desire (or emotions), will (or passion) and reason (or logic) that make up the human soul. (I believe this is explained better in The Republic.) Similarly, the 7 tetralogies are arranged in a progression from the basic question, "What is man?" (with an introduction in Alcibiades and developed in Lysis, Laches and Charmides, on the subjects of friendship, courage and temperance respectively), culminating in Plato's grand dialogues about the universe and the ideal politic (Timaeus and the Laws respectively). (Also read his overview of the tetralogies.)

It's ambitious, and perhaps even true to some extent, that Plato's works can indeed be read and understood in such an order. However, of course I have to read more of them, and also Suzanne's arguments, in order to decide for myself.

Digression: The Star Trek writers who came up with the idea of the Vulcans, and their culture that emphasises logic and suppresses emotion and irrational behaviour, might have unconsciously tapped into this schema of Platonic thought. The background story each Vulcan tells is that many centuries ago their people were violent and almost destroyed themselves until a great figure, Surak, called for suppression of the emotions as the path to peace (the "founding father" of Vulcan). However, it is never explained how pure logic can lead to the impulse to explore the galaxy, and to respect other species and cultures (IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). When T'Pol on the Enterprise NX-01 is asked by Captain Archer (about why they explore the galaxy if they are afraid of raising trouble with others), she evades the question (I forgot which episode). I have tended to think that by suppressing emotions, the Vulcans were actually referring to their "raw" primal emotions such as happiness or sorrow, anger or despondency, aggression or fear etc., while they still retain the passions such as an insatiable curiosity about other lifeforms and other worlds (shared with humans), and allow the passions to govern their rational behaviour.

Declaration on Religious Harmony

11 June 2003 9:10 PM SGT (link)

Declaration on Religious Harmony

WE, the people in Singapore, declare that religious harmony is vital for peace, progress and prosperity in our multi-racial and multi-religious Nation. We resolve to strengthen religious harmony through mutual tolerance, confidence, respect and understanding. We shall always

and thereby ensure that religion will not be abused to create conflict and disharmony in Singapore.

- MCDS Press Release

Also see More than words, a S'pore way of life (ST) and Religious Harmony Declaration calls for greater social cohesion among Singaporeans (Channel NewsAsia).

I think this is an important declaration - our (partial) "First Amendment", as well as a statement of how our society should be. We should bear it in our minds and actions.

Pursuing the 5Cs

11 June 2003 9:02 PM SGT (link)

My friend is blogging about his thoughts on the pursuit of wealth and the other good things in the Singaporean life, in relation to his chats with friends and DPM Lee's speech (which I commented on here and here). One sentence caught my eye:

I do however think that in our society people who don't choose to pursue [the 5Cs] are thought as a bit wacky. No?

- iaosb

When I was young and naive, I thought it would be a good thing to live in a 3-storey bungalow. It seemed to me the epitome of good living - more than the one-design-fits-all HDB flats or condominiums with shared facilities (never mind that one of the C's is condo). Of course I didn't know much else then: for one, the enormous effort one would need to maintain such a bungalow. Another point: if I lived alone or had a small family, most of that space would just go to waste. And waste just seemed something inelegant, something to be avoided if possible.

At about the same time, my family and relatives started this house-viewing craze. I can't remember which year it was, but maybe there happened to be a lot of good bargains in the bungalow/terrace/semi-detached house market. We went to see at least two houses - one with three storeys, one with two. I was ambivalent about viewing the three-storey one, and upon viewing it, I was reexamining this "life goal" of mine. It might have been three storeys, but the rooms were not that big. It was in an isolated area (as most houses are, because of the space they take up), so it was nowhere near amenities like shopping malls, the MRT station or any other convenient transport. It was barely affordable, even with our families pooling resources. The worst part were the streets lined with yet-unoccupied bungalows that looked no different from each other, or from the one we were viewing - it was like something out of The Truman Show. It was unreal; it wasn't for me.

I realised that material possessions mean little if they aren't important to the person you are and the way you live. What's the use of working towards a condominium apartment that you're saddled with payments for, when you actually don't need anything more than a simple flat? (I think dictators like Saddam build grand palaces for themselves as a display of wealth and authority, when all that space probably just leaves them more isolated and paranoid - an irony.) To paraphrase a point from "Paved with Good Intentions", what's the purpose of a country club membership when you're too busy working to actually use it? I think the things we really do need to live comfortable lives are little compared to the things we desire to have, whether we'll actually use them, or whether we'll actually be interested in them after we get them. The pursuit of the 5Cs may be important to some, so much so that their lives become this pursuit, instead of what they started out with, providing for the family or making some good of yourself. I might be wacky, but as I grow older & shed mistaken beliefs and wants like the bungalow, I realise that I don't need the 5Cs as much as I need vocations that allow me to serve humanity & my community to my fullest, hobbies to relax and improve myself with, and people around me whom I can share my thoughts & learn about theirs.

Morgan Freeman

11 June 2003 3:00 PM SGT (link)

I haven't watched Bruce Almighty, and I'm not planning to, but when I heard Morgan Freeman was playing God in the movie, it somehow assures me that the movie won't be as bad as it could be with Jim Carrey's antics played to the fullest. The New York Times has an article (Mr. Freeman, You Look Divine) on the implication of a black God onscreen. It's an interesting issue notwithstanding this:

...Members of the creative team behind "Bruce Almighty" said the choice to depict God as black occurred more from a desire to cast Mr. Freeman than to make any racial or theological point. Steve Oedekerk, a screenwriter who helped devise the film with Mr. Carrey and the director Tom Shadyac, said their goal was to present God as "more personal," less "generic and pious." Race did not figure in the screenplay. But in discussing how to cast the film, Mr. Oedekerk said in an e-mail message, the creative team focused very early on Mr. Freeman for his combination of authority, wisdom and comic timing.

- New York Times, Mr. Freeman, You Look Divine

I liked Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in Deep Impact: in some ways a black US President is as radical an idea as a black God, but it's one of those things that's achievable without a miracle or dying & going to heaven. If you don't know, the movie's about how various characters react to an impending asteroid collision with the Earth that will wipe out civilisation, a theme that was also used in Armageddon. Although Freeman's part was small, it was extremely influential - his various speeches detailing how his administration will ensure the survival and continuity of the US, and his words "life will go on, we will prevail" are as rousing and inspiring as they could be. I think the critics and viewers who looked at this as just another summer movie, and not more deeply at the possibility of the threat and the implications for ourselves and our role, are missing out on Freeman's noteworthy performance and the movie's message.

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