21-30 June 2003
|30 Jun||We're a year old|
|30 Jun||School quiz|
|29 Jun||Blair on the Iraq war|
|29 Jun||Schwarzenegger: potential gubernatorial candidate|
|29 Jun||The Segway & Singapore|
|28 Jun||The Hours; Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her|
|27 Jun||Texas homosexual sodomy laws repealed|
|27 Jun||Singapore Flyer|
|27 Jun||The day before|
|25 Jun||The Michigan affirmative action cases|
|25 Jun||Lindows passes the Mom test|
|25 Jun||R(A) movies; Voting rights|
|25 Jun||Mac vs. Linux|
|24 Jun||Brain teasers in interviews|
|24 Jun||Creative charity sale|
|24 Jun||Powell on Zimbabwe|
|24 Jun||ST does its own friendliness test|
|23 Jun||Far From Heaven|
|22 Jun||Men in women's jeans|
|22 Jun||Kindness & the Singaporean complex|
|21 Jun||RSS Courageous trial II|
|21 Jun||A great short story by Nick Hornby|
|21 Jun||Freebies at Dhoby Ghaut|
|21 Jun||ORD gift|
|21 Jun||ASEAN's message to the junta|
|21 Jun||The NEL is like a PC?|
|21 Jun||Courage Fund disbursement; RSS Courageous trial|
We're a year old
30 June 2003 9:47 PM SGT (link)
Pop groups who have been around for a while usually release "Greatest Hits" albums, if only for the reason that they (& the record companies) want to churn up more publicity & make more money out of the hapless fans. & these days it seems the experience requirement of the group in question is steadily falling: now we have groups or singers with barely two years' worth of ballads or bosom-gyrating pop releasing compilations.
Which doesn't invalidate the idea of "Greatest Hits", by the way. I think this humble blog here has needed one for some time, partly because of the running sagas I always seem to be getting myself into, & the fact that this blog is low-tech, so you can't do searches or anything fancy or 90s-ish, & somebody's got to point to the good stuff so that you don't spend too much time wading through, say, incoherent babbling or something maybe 5 blokes on the planet are interested in. (I won't link to examples of that because, well, it'll be against what I said!) With that said, I've never met anyone who was interested in discussing, for instance, how the Kazon storyline in Voyager's Seasons 1-2 could be rewritten such that Voyager would be a much better series than it was. Not even the sole Trekkie I know, it seems.
A year, a year... I know this blog isn't exactly a year old, because as you'll see here, the first surviving post (there were a few before it that were removed) dates from 20 July 2002. I actually planned to retroactively date the birth of this blog to 1st July 2002, as I mentioned some posts before, because the event that led to the birth of the blog happened then. But I couldn't wait, so I'm writing this a few hours before the 10 chaps or so in Singapore celebrate the occasion for 2003, which thankfully will only be officially recognised with a simple ceremony, as was done in 2001 & before, & will probably be done forevermore.
What is the significance of the period of a year to a blog? Not much, I think. I believe the whole concept of a year was invented as part of the effort towards sedentary agriculture, & good harvests, rather than doing it haphazardly without regard for the changing seasons & growth cycles. Other than that, it seems that the time which Earth takes to make a complete revolution about the Sun, slightly corrected so that it can be measured in terms of the time Earth makes a complete rotation about its axis (a.k.a. the day, if anyone's not following), isn't that important when it comes to blogging, unless we're talking about events like Christmas or the New Year with blogger special reports of wild drunken parties.
Which you won't find here, if you haven't already guessed.
Anyway, I'm just pointing out that using the period of a year is a highly arbitrary move on my part. But at least I can do cool but practically meaningless things like graphs of the number of posts over these 12 months, grouped by 10-day periods:
As you can see, you the fortunate reader are getting more post-for-your-buck as time goes by - maybe that's not right, because you don't actually pay anything for them. Is anything divided by zero infinite or undefined? I think it's the latter, but this is the kind of thing I'm going here to learn about. My point is that it seems I've become more active in the recent months, & I suppose you can expect that trend to persist for some time, until I'm bogged down with work at the above-mentioned place, which I hope doesn't happen.
Goodness, so many paragraphs & I haven't even gotten to the point which I started with, the Greatest Hits of l.z.y./Data. I plan to link to this post from the archives page so that when someone asks you "What's so great about this blog?", you don't necessarily have to point to the latest posts, which may or may not be representative of the overall quality of the blog - with two clicks you can come here & access the vintage years, the creme de la creme. It also serves as a brief look at the past year's events.
The Greatest Hits of l.z.y./Data - Year 1
July 2002: I began with a whimper because the really juicy (& angst-ridden) posts on the injustice of the Enhanced SAF Day Parade were taken down for fear of legal problems. I had a post explaining why I also call myself Data, & some on Japanese dramas, a subject which faded away after that.
September 2002: Hints of what's to come with my observation that Singapore might have a crucial Security Council vote to cast. Also the first of my suggestions: MRT fare gates for left-handed people, continued here and here.
October 2002: I posted my friend's email about seat-belts for back-seat passengers (I had previously questioned the police clampdown), and my response. The Eldred v. Ashcroft case. The fare gates thing is still humming along. Various movie reviews.
November 2002: I went ga-ga here and here over the possibility of a large number of Star Trek Romulan alumni appearing in Star Trek: Nemesis. It proved to be a fake; somehow I don't think anyone but me cared. I note Holden Caulfield's observation about funerals & cemetaries in The Catcher in the Rye.
December 2002: In this & the previous month I'm concerned about Star Trek: Nemesis: its content, its bad box office showing & the implications for Star Trek. I also note Al Gore's exit from the 2004 race, & declare that I am an atheist-leaning agnostic.
January 2003: It was a busy month. After watching Gangs of New York through the New Year countdown, I declare that I too was inspired by the gangs of Singapore. I commented in detail on the RSS Courageous collision with a cargo ship here and here, with more to follow. I also had mega-posts on my favourite cartoons of the 80s & science fiction, including my particular interest in post-apocalyptic settings. The verdict to Eldred v. Ashcroft was also released. I also revamped the blog's design.
February 2003: Another busy month. I'm in shock over space shuttle Columbia's loss: many posts, including one where Q's "bloody nose" quote is used. I raved over Breakfast at Tiffany's, and later Audrey Hepburn's other famous work My Fair Lady. This was also the time when the idea of The Crazy Grand Amazing Library Race (later Tour) was fleshed out (also, here). I'm deeply affected by the book, & film, The Quiet American, especially the tragic character of Alden Pyle.
March 2003: Throughout this month & the next, posts on the buildup & progress of Gulf War II, including Singapore's stand here and here, & war crimes. The Library tour idea continues to be developed. I do some fancy graphs on the increasing trend in 4 'A' scorers in the 'A' Levels, & applaud The Pianist. I watch Star Trek: Nemesis for myself, and give a lament. I hatch the idea of bidding for a street sign. Lastly, SARS hits Singapore, & I question the policy of closing the schools.
April 2003: Many big events happening, & consequently many big posts. Using information from the RSS Courageous inquiry, I illustrate what happened and question the Navy's reaction. The Iraq war: My first attempted letter to the forum, in reply to an Iraq war peacenik; I later write a second one on Singapore's chemical exports to Iraq. The Iraq war ended well with the coalition victorious, but SARS continued to spread in Singapore. I write a third letter responding to an MP's call for more draconian measures. I discover Singapore's refusing a treaty banning land mines. I also start a thread on legal issues I'm flummoxed about, & end up with a parody of SAF's property regulations, which I'm told is pretty funny =). Some lighter fare: astrogeology. Amidst all that, I'm successful in my street sign bid.
May 2003: Yet more things happening. I decide that I'm going to do the Library Tour on the 17th, & here's the full report. I pen two letters to the Forum on SARS & civil liberties here and here. May is also the month with the mother of all l.z.y./Data sagas, the NLB SARS policy: my initial post calling for the need to respect library users' privacy, encounter with my MP about the issue, with my petition. I later develop the effectiveness argument, another path up the same mountain. It finally ended with NLB's response & my effective boycott. Another topic I periodically revisited was the overflowing Courage Fund, first mentioned here.
Non-sagas or personal matters: I pay tribute to Once and Again, discuss atheism vs. deism, rave about My So-Called Life, & regarding the USP interview, I explained why I hate interviews, & report on how it turned out. I also linked to the essay Paved with Good Intentions, which tries to give a wake-up call to Singaporeans who are blindly following the prescribed path to a perfectly normal, uninspiring Singapore life.
June 2003: You thought you'd never get here eh? Anyway, in this month, I discover a nature trail from Bukit Gombak to Hillview. I also comment on the brouhaha about the missing Iraq WMDs & the implications for Singapore. I declare no interest in chasing after the 5Cs. I pronounce Dr. Mahathir a racist. I have some thoughts on Far From Heaven, and the Scotus rulings on affirmative action and Texas's homosexual sodomy laws. I propose to give NSFs voting rights (watch out for this).
Continuing sagas: Referring to the overflowing Courage Fund, an idea comes up to allow donors to divert their donations, & I comment here and here. I also comment on the RSS Courageous trial in civilian court.
All right, finally, the end of the round-up. I'd like to point out that all my letters to the Forum were rejected, so the only place you'll get to see them is here. There are also many things I normally post about that weren't mentioned, like book & movie reviews, & ruminations on Trek.
30 June 2003 12:26 AM SGT (link)
The Chinese High
which secondary school (singapore) should you be in?
brought to you by Quizilla
This quiz is totally dumb, & the author says he/she's taking it down... today! But it's somehow very accurate with my answers. Could it be that I am the quinessential Chinese High boy? (always boy, never "alumnus/student/gentleman") I pity my fellow alumni.
Blair on the Iraq war
29 June 2003 8:55 PM SGT (link)
Via Andrew Sullivan, Tina Brown's opinion piece in Salon - Is Tony Blair the Hulk? - drawing on Peter Stothard's "Bob Woodwardian" book (30 Days: A Month at the Heart of Blair's War) with accounts of how it was at No. 10 Downing Street as the war against Saddam's Iraq drew closer.
...Stothard makes a persuasive case that Blair's Iraq policy was based on conviction, not on kowtowing to America. The Bush/Blair relationship is one of deal partners, rather than prayer partners. No one at this point should attribute Blair's position on Iraq to sycophancy. "What amazes me is how happy people are for Saddam to stay," he ruminates to his team. "They ask why we don't get rid of Mugabe, why not the Burmese lot. Yes, let's get rid of them all. I don't because I can't, but when you can, you should."
- Salon, Is Tony Blair the Hulk?
A good point for those who allege hypocrisy in Bush & Blair's stand against Saddam Hussein, ignoring the larger picture.
Schwarzenegger: potential gubernatorial candidate
29 June 2003 7:44 PM SGT (link)
Normally Californian state politics & the recent effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis for dragging state finances into the (deep) red would not be topics I'm concerned about. However, there seems to be a quiet buzz behind the scenes for Arnold Schwarzengger to replace Davis as California's next governor. Of course these days he concentrates on promoting his latest movie, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to do so too: Rise of the Politician could be the Sequel (Los Angeles Times); What Should Schwarzenegger Do? Act or Govern? (Reuters); California Dreamin' (The Observer).
(While Arnold could run for governor, no, he can't ever be President, it seems - Article II says that "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President". The annotation is a bit hazy on naturalised citizens; all presidents since the time of the Declaration of Independence have been natural-born citizens, though. I don't remember how this question popped into my head, & Arnold isn't even that presidential: maybe I just wanted to get US consitutional law mentioned somehow.)
Coverage of the movie & Arnold reprising a decade-old role has it that this is his last chance to stay in the action-hero limelight, after his contemporaries Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone & Steven Seagal have pretty much faded away (Bruce Willis clings on by doing some "emoting" roles on the side, as SFGate points out). Going back to arguably his most famous role might be a good way to accomplish that. For instance, the Chicago Sun-Times has an article with a list of the laconic Terminator's rare words (Third time fits Schwarzenegger to a "T"), and I recognise the most famous like "hasta la vista, baby" even though I've never watched the shows. (& you have to pronounce them with Arnold's accent to achieve the effect.)
Anyhow, I regard Arnold well: I mean, people often laugh at his accent & his monotonous acting, but in every movie he's in he's either an action hero or in a comedic role (like Kindergarten Cop), which means he consistently plays to his strengths. I liked Total Recall (& yes, people have made the pun); I don't even think his more recent movies like The 6th Day are that bad, even if they weren't box office successes.
The End of Days bears a special mention: it had a truly outlandish story with Arnold as a alcoholic bodyguard Jericho Cane (get it?) doing battle with the Antichrist (Gabriel Byrne) who will bring about the end of days (ominous music) when he impregnates a particular woman (Robin Tunney) between 11 p.m. & 12 midnight on 31st December, 1999. So Arnold's in this messianic role, alone in the war against pure evil, & meanwhile everyone's struggling not to laugh out loud to all the signs that supposedly lead to this epic showdown (you know "666"? Turn it around & you get "999". A "1" in front, and...(gasp) 1999!!), & point out big loopholes like how many gunshots Mr. Satan can take before he expires. The movie also has numerous references to the haplessness of the Catholic Church, & Satan persuading Jericho to give it up, saying things like "Let me tell you something about Him [God]. He is the biggest underachiever of all time. He just has a good publicist, that's all...Something good happens, 'It's His will'. Something bad happens, 'He moves in mysterious ways.'" & Arnold being Arnold, there's tons of special effects & gun violence.
Of course Christians, especially Catholics, should avoid this movie if they want to avoid getting a heart attack, but personally... it's hard to explain, but when stories get so over-the-top like this, it almost becomes enjoyable. Like It Could Happen to You that I reviewed: its sunny optimism just got to me. I will take The End of Days over any bland action movie any day. It's not to say that I approve of such pseudo-theological storylines or wanton violence, it's just that it somehow transcends its crappiness by overdoing it.
The Segway & Singapore
29 June 2003 2:48 PM SGT (link)
... [Amazon.com CEO Jeff] Bezos suggested starting slow, using one city or country as an experimental station. Once Ginger's benefits were clear, the company would have a wedge to pound into U.S. regulations. The perfect place to begin, thought Bezos, was Singapore. "You only have to convince one guy, the philosopher king, and then you have four million people to test it."
[Minor investor & board member] Vern Loucks, who had been quietly watching the fireworks up to this point, said, "You mean Gob Click Tong. He's not a king, he's the prime minister. I can get us in to see him if we want to do that," he added.
I first heard of the extract from Slashdot's Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos meet "Ginger", which concentrated on Steve Jobs's gut reaction: "I think it sucks!". Today's ST column Overheard has it like this, conveniently omitting the part that would really make it stick out among Singaporeans (hahaha, but at least Loucks got one part of the name right):
THE Segway 'human transporter' is now being tested by the Singapore Police Force. But it emerges that somebody was so prescient that testing the battery-powered scooter in the Republic was thought of as early as when it was still a prototype.
The Harvard Business School website recently ran an excerpt from a book called Code Name Ginger, which chronicles the development of Segway.
It recounts the hair-raising pitch that the Segway's developers had to make to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos in a bid to raise some capital.
Singapore gets a mention when Bezos proposes testing the scooter in a small market.
'You only have to convince one guy, the philosopher king, and then you have four million people to test it,' he suggests.
- ST 29 June, Overheard
Bezos's comment is also puzzling, and I hope as raw & impulsive as Steve Jobs's, if not more, because the Republic of Singapore isn't quite the same as Plato's Republic: Goh Chok Tong is our PM, not a philosopher-king, different from a king, mind you, but exactly why would take a pretty long explanation & knowledge of Plato's dialogue. Plato's Republic is a conceived vision of Socrates's in the dialogue (but probably mostly Plato's) when Socrates is confronted with the question of "what is justice?". The Republic is his vision of a perfect society, though he says (wistfully?) it will probably never be realised, and this vision of the state is analogous to the internal composition & interaction of the different elements in an individual. When I read the Republic, I was most surprised (but fascinated also) about features that seem extreme & very totalitarian to us modern denizens (which is why Popper condemned him along with others in his The Open Society and its Enemies, but I digress).
Reality writ large in Singapore is pretty far from Socrates's vision. First, our Republic's organisation is based on the work of more modern philosophers & thinkers - a body of representatives elected by the people, & a head of state instead of a monarch. Second, our Republic does not have a concrete aim much beyond that of keeping our society in good order. That's what I've wondered about Singapore before: what is its purpose? As defined now, probably a perpetual chase after material wealth & comfort, as opposed to Socrates's views about ascendance in The Parable of the Cave inside the dialogue (a version of the parable in modern prose). Third, though we openly avow meritocracy & the technocracy, these involve the technological & scientific aspects of our republic, not ethical & political. Our government in fact sidesteps the potential problems it would have on its hands if it tried to dictate the good way of life to us, and that's a good thing.
OK this is my scatter-brained response to Bezos's claim that we are the Republic & PM Goh is a philosopher-king - far from it. The issue, properly considered, is worth a thesis or two someday.
The Hours; Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her
28 June 2003 8:09 PM SGT (link)
Both chock-full of acting talent. Both intimate portraits of various women's lives.
I watched The Hours some months ago, but I don't think I reviewed it here - I felt I had nothing to add to it, since I haven't read Virginia Woolf's works or Michael Cunningham's book that pays homage to them. The movie was a bit hard to swallow in that it's so depressing. Three women in three different eras: Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman, of the fake nose fame), struggling with mental illness & suicidal tendencies, penning Mrs Dalloway, a tale of a woman who is preparing a party when events intrude to make her reminisce about her past & how they made her what she is. Meanwhile in a modern setting, Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) is preparing a party, & we see her interact with her ex-lover Richard Brown (Ed Harris), in the final stages of AIDS, & her realisation of how vacuous her life really is. Laura Brown (Julianne Moore, in a role that brings her other great one in Far From Heaven to mind) is a 1950s housewife with a loving husband & great children, yet she feels locked in & depressed, & contemplates ending her life. You'll want to watch it for the director Stephen Daldry's success in interspersing the stories of these 3 women.
Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, besides having such a rollicking-long title, went directly to television - unbelievable considering the hard work & talent evinced in its stories & acting. It's also about women, just not in the highfalutin fashion of The Hours: it's divided into segments that neatly segue into the next, each concentrating on someone in Los Angeles. For instance, the first segment, simply titled "This is Dr. Keener", introduces, well, Dr. Keener (Glenn Close), who spends her morning taking care of her infirmed mother & making repeated calls to someone. She later meets with a tarot-card reader Christine (Calista Flockhart), whose explanation of her personality is voiced as the camera focuses on Glenn Close's face as the aptness of the description slowly dawns on her. There is also Rose (Kathy Baker), a divorced mom & writer of children's books who seems to see something in her new neighbour, who happens to be a dwarf. Christine talks with her dying lesbian partner Lilly amidst tears & happy memories. Carol (Cameron Diaz) & Kathy (Amy Brenneman, "Judging Amy") are sisters: Carol's blind, but she goes on dates more often than Kathy. My favourite segment is "Fantasies about Rebecca": Rebecca (Holly Hunter), a bank manager, is in a relationship with a married man. Conversations with a vagrant that calls her a "whore" & an unexpected pregnancy combine to make her see her life for what it is.
Yes, TYCTJBLAH is a "small" film, much as, maybe, You Can Count on Me (another "small & great" film) was, but its charm lies in its simple, realistic stories about relationships, love & life, & how these small tales are coyly interweaved through connecting characters & situations (I was fascinated by that). I would say it's as worthy a portrait of the female life as The Hours was.
Lastly, here's a table of the acting talent on display in both films. It won't do both films justice, but it's just for a glimpse.
|The Hours||Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her|
|The Ladies lead...||
Nicole Kidman (Virginia Woolf)
Julianne Moore (Laura Brown)
Meryl Streep (Clarissa Vaughan)
Glenn Close (Dr. Keener)
Holly Hunter (Rebecca)
Kathy Baker (Rose)
Calista Flockhart (Christine)
Cameron Diaz (Carol)
Amy Brenneman (Kathy)
|& the Gentlemen follow||
John C. Reilly
|Matt Craven (his character is quite important)|
Texas homosexual sodomy laws repealed
27 June 2003 11:51 PM SGT (link)
I'm still going through the coverage, mentioned when I talked about the affirmative action case. Basically the Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, struck down the Texas law that banned homosexual sodomy even among consenting adults (Supreme Court strikes down Texas sodomy law, CNN). More coverage at the major news sites & legal blogs that I linked to.
Gay & lesbian activists are already hailing the Lawrence v. Texas result as historic, & I agree that it's pretty momentous:
...Legal analysts said the ruling enshrines for the first time a broad constitutional right to sexual privacy, and its impact would reach beyond Texas and 12 other states with similar sodomy laws applied against the gay and lesbian community, and into mainstream America.
"The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's majority. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
...CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the decision appeared to strike down most laws governing private sexual conduct, but he said laws governing marriage would be unaffected.
Laws that might be most vulnerable would be ones that govern fornication and adultery, said Diana Hassel, associate professor of law at Roger Williams University.
Substantive Due Process
At first glance, seeing that the majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy this time, was based mostly on the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment ("[No State shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"), rather than its Equal Protection Clause ("[No State shall] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"). Now the plaintiffs' Equal Protection justification I understand: the law specifically targets the behaviour of homosexuals, and mere "moral disapproval" of homosexuality "fail the test of minimum rationality", as said by Justice O'Connor in her concurring opinion. But on the face of it, the Due Process Clause seems to be the states' analogue to what was mandated in the Fifth Amendment (for federal courts & agencies), & doesn't seem to have anything to do with any constitutional right to privacy. I mean, I thought that came from the 9th amendment ("The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.") or something...
It turns out that there is some legal precedence behind the theory of Substantive Due Process. I found a great layman's explanation, as well as other sites labelling it a scam, or a judicial power grab, or in language along those lines. I think you'll see why from this:
...The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, states "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..." The facially clear meaning of this passage is that a state has to use sufficiently fair and just legal procedures whenever it is going to lawfully take away a persons life, freedom or possessions. Thus, before a man can be executed, imprisoned or fined for a crime, he must get a fair trial, based on legitimate evidence, with a jury, etc. These are procedural or "process" rights.
However, under "Substantive Due Process," the Supreme Court has developed a broader interpretation of the Clause, one that protects basic substantive rights, as well as the right to process. Substantive Due Process holds is that the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee not only that appropriate and just procedures (or "processes") be used whenever the government is punishing a person or otherwise taking away a person’s life, freedom or property, but that these clauses also guarantee that a person’s life, freedom and property cannot be taken without appropriate governmental justification, regardless of the procedures used to do the taking. In a sense, it makes the "Due Process" clause a "Due Substance" clause as well.
In other places, Balkinization explains why basing the ruling on Due Process instead of Equal Protection might be good for the homosexual community's interests (Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Sodomy Law, 6-3), & FindLaw's annotated Constitution is a godsend! Not just the Constitution & amendments themselves, but also their interpretations & cases based on them. Coincidentally, Phil Carter also discovered this recently, and he has a post on the ramifications of the ruling for the US military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Also, Lawrence Solum.
Justice Scalia & Sen. Santorum's comments
SANTORUM=SCALIA??!!: I think they're the same person. Santorum said:"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything," Santorum, R-Pa., said in the interview, published Monday.
And in his dissent, Scalia says:State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers' validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today's decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.
Has anyone ever seen them together at the same time?
Back in April, Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum discussed this case & raised a stink with the above comment, among blogs & in the general media (e.g. CNN, Santorum under fire for comments on homosexuality). It turns out that with the Lawrence v. Texas, he could well be right, because the court has broadened the entitlement to sexual liberties between consenting adults, but not in the way he might wish. I think it's ridiculous to be lumping all these behaviours together, as maybe Santorum's list of sinful deviant sex, and saying the state should run a sex & marriage police.
Turning to Scalia - although I haven't read his dissent, it's reported that in it he complains that the court "has taken sides in the culture war" and "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda", while clarifying that "[he] ha[s] nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda though normal democratic means. There can be many reasons to oppose this ruling, but with this, I think I see shades of Mahathir here.
Our anti-sodomy laws date from English law, I believe, as does the American states'. (But apparently the majority opinion has something to say on exactly how great a tradition this kind of law has been, so i may be wrong on that.) There are strict laws against private, non-commercial, consensual sex between homosexuals, and in some areas even beyond that (more on this).
27 June 2003 11:22 PM SGT (link)
Singapore will have the world's highest observation wheel in two years' time, taking passengers 170 metres off the ground and giving them a spectacular view of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.
Soaring 35 metres higher than the Millennium Wheel in London, the Singapore Flyer will cost S$200m and is expected to attract 2.5 million visitors in its first year of operation.
...Peter Purcell, CEO of Orient and Pacific, said: "The Eiffel Tower was developed in 1889. It currently pulls in about 6 million visitors a year, and has over 200 million visits since it first opened. What we can do is look at every major platform or rotating structure that has been erected in the last 150 years. They've been tremendously popular and successful. There's no reason to believe it won't be the same in this situation."
- Channel NewsAsia, Singapore to have world's highest observation wheel
A consortium is to invest $200m to build a giant observation wheel in the largest foreign investment in a Singapore tourism attraction.
Germany's Melchers Project Management on Friday signed an agreement with the Singapore Tourism Board for the project called Singapore Flyer.
...Lim Neo Chian, STB's Chief Executive Officer, said: "Singapore Tourism Board will buy the land from the government and on a back-to-back arrangement will lease the land to Melchers. So essentially the project for Singapore Flyer is a private project and the private sector takes the risk."
- Channel NewsAsia, Foreign group plans S$200m giant Ferris wheel, mulls public listing in Singapore
The comparison to the Millennium Wheel (also known as the London Eye) initially made me sceptical of the whole project, but after some googling, I've clarified that the attraction that everyone's complained about is the Dome, & the Wheel seems to be doing pretty well (e.g. The Eye has it, Guardian, April 11 2000). All the same, Mr. Lim's comment is important, if only to protect our own interests.
The day before
27 June 2003 10:31 PM SGT (link)
Today's the day before the big day of my Operationally Ready Ddate, which is quite a misnomer because most NSFs don't consider that the day they are officially trained & available for mobilisation in the face of threats to our nation's security & sovereignty, they consider it their day of freedom.
I'm now listening to Classics Forever, a collection of popular classical music pieces that my section IC bought as an ORD gift (this is separate from The Remains of the Day), so my warmest thanks to her! My branch head also joked that I should be prepared to give a review of the book when I next see the office people for my farewell lunch; I don't suppose this counts? I know it's a joke, yes, but I still find the similarities between Stevens's journey in space & time, reminiscing & reconsidering his life's achievements, with the twists & turns in my NS liability, remarkable.
Oh, I suppose I should put down my list of reasons why ORDing is like dying, just for the historical record. Those who are tired of hearing about this (admittedly) morbid & unpleasant concept can skip this.
- You are said to be "going to a better place."
- The people you know around you start leaving before you do.
- You go to the places you went to when you first started out (at Mindef) - to the QM's & security office to return items, to the hospital for birth & death.
- You have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one hand you feel relieved that the horrible times are over, but you also realise that they don't affect you as much as they did then, & that you did have good times, now & then. On the other hand, you are pretty unsure of what lies ahead; even though the times were a mix of good & bad, at least they're familiar.
- With the advent of anaesthesia & painkillers, you could even say they both involve no pain.
Still, I suppose that except for the first point, all are pretty true of situations when big changes are about to take place in one's life.
I had planned to write an ORD email (something I talked about so long ago, I don't think the relevant archives have permalinks), but I haven't - I guess it was too personal, & probably I've done enough griping about all of it.
(This post is pretty incoherent, jumping from point to point, & I guess my feelings on ORDing finally are somewhat like that too. So bear with me please.)
Lastly, the first anniversary of that grand occasion, the Enhanced SAF Day Parade 2002, is approaching (1st July). (I told you to bear with me.) This was truly a life-changing event for me, an event that forced me to evaluate my impressions & understanding of the SAF & also our government.
It was also the event that triggered a pretty hot-headed response to the Mindef Feedback unit & the ST; the latter didn't print it, the former passed it around without any reply. Continuing my episode of fury, I registered http://lzydata.tripod.com & put my letter on it. After a while I read the official document regarding "seeking redress" & realised that they specifically prohibited complaints about SAF events on public forums or newspapers. I was afraid of any legal problems, so I took down the letter; however, anyone who wants to read it can email me.
At this point, the raison d'être for the site (it didn't have a name yet) was gone, so I decided to turn it into a blog where I'll post links to news & good articles & sites, my commentary on events, & gripe about matters SAF & not (within the limits of the law, of course). I tried this before (in the guise of a personal homepage; that was before the age of weblogs dawned on us) but I never had anything very interesting to put. Basically that's how the blog you're reading got started.
On the day of the anniversary itself, I plan to see what I can extract from that year-old letter of mine so that I don't reveal any intimate details of the Parade, & still manage to give you all a sense of my feelings & impressions. I might also digress into some other insights of the SAF & of military service that I've gained, so that'll be as close to an ORD email as I'll get.
The Michigan affirmative action cases
25 June 2003 10:09 PM SGT (link)
Everyone seems to have good comments on the latest Supreme Court verdicts on the twin Michigan affirmative action cases (involving their law school and undergraduate admission programmes). CNN has the report (Narrow use of affirmative action preserved in college admissions). FindLaw has the decisions & opinions: Gratz v. Bollinger (undergraduate admission, overturned 6-3) and Grutter v. Bollinger (law school, upheld 5-4). SCOTUSBlog has links to the news reports & commentaries in the various papers like the New York Times and Washington Post, so I won't be reproducing those links here. As for blogs, we have Profs. Balkin & Volokh providing ample commentary (which I confess I haven't finished reading). Also read Slate's article, Supreme Court fudge, and Glenn Reynolds's opinion.
Off the cuff, the ruling definitively rejects the undergraduate admission point bonus for being in a minority race, but is OK, with reservations, with the law school's procedure of considering the race of their candidates "holistically" with their academic qualifications & other achievements. This seems to be a recipe for further legal disputes; Justice O'Connor, who wrote the majority opinion in the Grutter case, seemed to rely heavily on the amici briefs from military & business circles, and specifically said that in 25 years' time or so, the need for affirmative action would need to be reviewed. Affirmative action in schools has been upheld to a. right past wrongs of discrimination & b. bring about diversity in school bodies, and if the two aims have been attained, it would be potentially harmful to continue with programmes that (it should be acknowledged) violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
In other words, it's my belief that the majority of the Justices decided on a moderate course of action - acknowledging that there is great support in society for affirmative action despite the questionable claims of achieving the nebulous concept of "diversity", or that other methods besides race-based admissions are available - and not purely on the law. The problem with the rulings is that admissions boards will be acting illegally in using overt methods of affirmative action (points or quotas) - & that's legally correct - but are allowed to decide privately what degrees of "diversity" they desire, determine the ratios & not publicise them, or even acknowledge they exist, and keep such policies for as long as the next lawsuit. At best, you could say they would delay the question of affirmative action for another quarter of a century (after 1978's Bakke case), at worst they will encourage clandestine admissions processes, and might end up sabotaging what affirmative action aims at (because people will be suspicious of minorities' true abilities.)
Going back to Singapore for a while, I don't believe anyone has questioned the justification for racial quotas in HDB housing, enlistment in the SAF, and perhaps in more areas we don't know of. (That's probably because it seems an area marked off by booby traps, and various laws to protect our society's harmony; I won't use the common term "OB markers" because I think it trivialises the subject, & because I don't have much respect for golf as a sport.) But consider that our constitution basically says that everyone is entitled to equal treatment regardless of race, with some limits & clarifications here & there, I gather, then consider the inevitable fact that when a person in the minority gets a place, another in the majority loses it, & vice versa. We shouldn't look askance at the hidden costs of affirmative action (or racial discrimination) but ask ourselves, and renew the introspection & public justification in every era & with every generation, the need for such measures.
Update: Oops, left out FindLaw's commentary.
Lindows passes the Mom test
25 June 2003 10:00 PM SGT (link)
Apropos to my earlier post on the Mac vs. Linux, ExtremeTech has a review of Lindows 4.0, the latest version of what they call a popular distro. (I've not been following the developments in Linux for, like, years now, sad to say, so I can't confirm that.)
Anyway, the interesting thing is that they put Lindows through the Mom test, meaning that the reviewer's Mom sat down in front of a Compaq Presario loaded with the OS to try it out. However, in the review itself, it doesn't seem that she did much poking around except to find Office, or the equivalent office suite. Though the nomenclature might be a bit unkind, and unfair to tech-savvy mothers, I think it's a good byline on what's needed for a successful OS for the masses.
R(A) movies; Voting rights
25 June 2003 1:32 PM SGT (link)
Finally an R(A) movie that seems to be worth watching will open tomorrow - City of God, a Brazilian film. It matters to me because it'll be the first R(A) movie I will watch; and although I was considering celebrating my attainment of 21 years of age by, ahem, relaxing my movie-watching criteria, I ultimately decided against it.
This minor issue of whether one has reached a stage of maturity sufficient to view films with "artistic" content reminds me of the 26th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, of which I read about some time ago. The amendment is one of a few proposed & passed in the 1960s-70s to clarify certain vague portions of the constitution, including matters like the order of succession (25th) and voting age (26th). The 26th says that "[t]he right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."
Apparently this issue came about because of the Vietnam War draft, where it was pointed out that many between the ages of 18 and 21 were called up to possibly die for their country, when it was impossible for them to vote for the politicians that would send them to their deaths. So the amendment to change the legal voting age to 18 and above was duly passed (under the US constitution, amendments have to be passed by both houses of Congress by a two-thirds' vote, and also by at least three-quarters of the States' legislatures or conventions - Art. V).
I'm now pretty interested in this because (1) the legal voting age in Singapore is 21, the same as in the US before the 26th amendment & (2) 18-21-year-old male citizens & PRs are also enlisted and called on to possibly die for their country - so the situation is remarkably similar! So I think at some point somebody should raise the issue of a 26th amendment for Singapore (that is, if no one already has). However, the government and populace have never been very interested in constitutional issues, and there doesn't seem to be an appropriate time to raise this issue, as both NS & elections have proceeded smoothly without it, and no NSF has actually died in battle at the behest of our politicians. Will it take a challenge in the courts, a la the US Supreme court? I have no idea how that would proceed.
Correction: I was wrong: I don't think the issue could be resolved in the courts because it's not some legal ambiguity, but a political lapse in what kind of rights we are willing to give our young citizens. With that said, would the right course of action be to amend the Constitution such that male citizens & PRs 18 & above get to vote, whereas females have to be at least 21? By this argument it's right, but I can't help but think a lot of people like feminists would not be pleased.
Addendum: Speaking of feminists, it's noticeable that they have been silent on the issue of males-only NS, even though they are usually very vocal about other issues where they see females have been unfairly treated, like the uproar over civil servants' health benefits (equal work, equal benefits! which I happen to agree with). While I can't claim an inside knowledge of their position, it seems to me that they're trying to have their cake & eat it too: when it comes to rights & benefits, equal treatment; the responsibilities - or, more harshly, the liabilities of being Singapore citizens or PRs? The males can do it, we've no problem with that.
So if a 26th amendment was passed for males above 18, people with this view would be in a jolly quandary: by the logic of their usual position, they could not agree with a law that deprives females of a right that males have, but then they would have to handle the issue of males-only NS that comes along with that.
Mac vs. Linux
25 June 2003 12:12 AM SGT (link)
Via Slashdot: "(When) Will Linux Pass Apple On The Desktop?": a puzzling article from Slate: Flipping the Switch: "Linux's new popularity may hurt Apple more than Microsoft". It basically starts off with some analysts' thesis that Linux's market share of desktop computers will soon surpass the Mac's, and comes to a conclusion that the Mac will be Linux's next "friendly-fire casualty", referring to all the desktop Unixes which Linux has vanquished because it offered something compatible, just as good - if not better - and most importantly, dirt-cheap. Anyway, as I was saying, Webhead takes this thesis and runs off with it, ending with the proclamation that Wal-mart's US$249 Linux no-frills box is the next biggest thing, not whatever Steve Jobs is advertising.
I say it's puzzling because Webhead doesn't seem to have considered that some companies have tried selling no-frills Linux boxes, and didn't do very well, probably because (no matter how Webhead tries to avoid the issue) Linux and applications in it still aren't at the level of the Mac, or even Windows, in terms of usability. When you buy a Windows PC or a Mac, you also "buy" access to whole ecosystems of hardware & software vendors that help you use that computer for anything from word processing & Internet surfing, to the kids-friendly music burning & movie-making1, to the more heavy-duty applications that handle graphics, programming & networking. The impetus for Linux today, as it has been for some years, is heavily weighed towards the latter because big firms like IBM & Oracle are using it to provide better solutions for their customers. Meanwhile, desktop-level application development is chugging along nicely, but it's not the main reason why people download/buy Linux & install it. There are Linux equivalents for Word, Excel, Photoshop & the like, but let's admit it, the ecosystem isn't in place yet, and people don't want to have to struggle with these everyday applications unnecessarily, even if the box & the software are cheap. Sometimes life is too short for you to tinker with a lot of things to get to the part you're really interested in.
With that said, a basic working knowledge of Linux or the *nixes, the shell & the applications, is practically de rigueur if you're into computers, and that's where Wal-mart's offering will come in. But for the wider world? I don't think Linux won't take over Apple just yet.
1: If you remember the precocious kids in Little Secrets that I mentioned some time ago, in it Emily asks Philip to help her tape her playing the Mendelssohn piece with her videocam, but immediately after she asks "you know how to do it right?" Philip retorts: "it's the 21st century; I can edit too." Now that's a cool quote =)
Brain teasers in interviews
24 June 2003 11:47 PM SGT (link)
Wired News has an article about companies using brain teasers in interviews - Landing a Job Can Be Puzzling, which was mentioned in my post about William Poundstone's book How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, inspired by Microsoft's practices. It has a wider perspective on the efficacy of such a technique.
Creative charity sale
24 June 2003 11:16 PM SGT (link)
In his latest good deed for charity, Creative Technology founder Sim Wong Hoo will hold a sale of 100,000 items he purchased recently from debt-ridden budget chain, One.99 Shop.
Calling it a Conscience Charity Sale, he wants Singaporeans to pay any amount they want for the products.
The proceeds will go to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.
- ST, 24 June, Creative solution for a good deed
The sale will be held from Thursday to Sunday at Creative's headquarters at Jurong; I'm thinking of going. One marvels at the generosity of Sim Wong Hoo - read the article for a brief recap.
Powell on Zimbabwe
24 June 2003 10:59 PM SGT (link)
US Secretary of State Colin Powell writes in the New York Times about the state of Zimbabwe: Freeing a Nation From a Tyrant's Grip. My thoughts are in line with AFP's: Powell notes similarities in Myanmar, Zimbabwe crackdowns on opposition, especially in calling for Zimbabwe's neighbours - South Africa and others - to take more active roles in persuading the regime to back off. Hopefully it won't be a repeat of ASEAN's reluctant, and ineffectual, statement against Myanmar's military junta.
ST does its own friendliness test
24 June 2003 11:08 AM SGT (link)
I haven't gone through the full report yet, but with what I said about the initial response to the American survey of friendliness in 23 cities around the world, how should I react to today's article?: Bring on the smiles: "A random test by Life! shows that Singaporeans are generally a friendly bunch, but there is still plenty of room for improvement".
I know I might be acting slightly curmudgeonly, but I don't deny the right of the ST or other Singaporean media to find alternative testimonies or conduct their own tests! I just question their mindset, their thinking that because they've done a small-scale test only in Singapore, or asked a few foreigners, they expect to refute the international study.
Update: Under the "What can be done" section:
...To make Singapore a friendlier city, spontaneous social interaction of a non-competitive nature should be encouraged in schools, said Dr Tan.
Lessons could be less structured and done just for 'fun' - rather than out of a pressing need to fulfil the curriculum.
This will create a conducive milieu where people are more likely to offer help to those in need, something which friendliness entails.
However, Dr Tan warns against any over-zealous promotion of the virtue: 'I hope we never get to the point of organising a friendliness competition, or try and benchmark ourselves against world standards of friendliness.
'Let's promote it and allow it to take root naturally.'
Dr. Tan's sagacious comments are worth remembering, especially the part about Singaporeans going overboard in trying to convince themselves and others that we are actually friendly & kind people, resulting in impressions of desperation & thin-skinnedness instead. Let's just be friendly & kind, & not look to some survey or government campaign for guidance.
Also, Life!'s test of borrowing people's handphones to make an urgent call is obviously quite different from Dr. Levine's tests, most notably because there's a chance someone might make off with your handphone if you hand it over unreservedly, whereas the 3 tests in the global survey involved helping or returning a lost item. So at best Life!'s survey is related to the idea of testing a people's friendliness/kindness, but can't be compared with it.
Far From Heaven
23 June 2003 9:49 PM SGT (link)
Most of the critics mention that Todd Haynes, writer & director, was inspired by the 1950s films of Douglas Sirk. Stanley Kauffman of TNR launches into an elaborate exposition of all things great about Sirk's life and how it influenced his technique of filming melodrama, then publicly wonders why Far From Heaven, a mere imitation to him, had to be made.
Here's why - it's great! (& for a person like me who's unlikely to ever watch any movies of the 1950s short of the most classic ones, Douglas Sirk's or not, I'll argue the "imitation"'s worth it.) Frank (Dennis Quaid) and Cathy (Julianne Moore) are the picture-perfect couple (literally: they pose as "Mr. & Mrs Magnatech" for Frank's company), until Frank discovers his homosexuality (or bisexuality) and Cathy finds herself attracted to her gardener Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), who's Black. So you have two of them engaging in things that were severely taboo in their day - Frank agrees to go for treatment ("aversion therapy"; he says "I'm going to lick this problem") and Cathy is ostracised by the womenfolk for being seen with Raymond at a restaurant. (Critics like Kaufmann and Roger Ebert mention that the film is similar to Sirk's All That Heaven Allows in having a housewife falling in love with her gardener, except that now he's Black. I see resemblances to Pleasantville where the picture-perfect family starts to disintegrate.)
There's another point I think these critics have missed (before I begin my take, another favourable review from Slate's David Edelstein): the juxtaposition of the two big secrets Frank & Cathy are hiding evoke two big social issues America has had to deal with in modernity: homosexuality & civil rights (for Blacks).
Even in the milieu of the late 1950s that Far From Heaven is set in, you can see that society's views on the latter issue are changing rapidly, with the rise of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). For me, the most memorable scene that summarises the prejudice against Blacks ("Negros") at the time was at this swimming pool: a Black boy wanders into the Whites' swimming pool and dips in, before being chased away; shortly after, all the adults get out, and drag their kids along with them. (Finally the camera pulls away to show the empty pool.) Frank and Cathy look on in silence - they feel something's wrong with this, but they don't put it into words or action. Cathy had been portrayed in local circles as being "friendly to Negros", but I'd bet she didn't count on her developing attraction to Raymond. Yet the film is straightforward with the pas de deux between Cathy & Raymond, the awkwardness as Raymond enters mainly-White areas and Cathy mainly-Black, and Cathy saying how she wishes people would "look beyond the surface", and we feel more than a tinge of regret that their relationship was not to be.
In contrast, when wrestling with his problem, Frank begins drinking heavily and visits a gay bar, and finally is exposed by Cathy when she walks in on him kissing another man in his office (this is why the film's rated NC-16). He goes for therapy, but (spoiler) later throws in the towel and admits it's his nature. Throughout the film, Frank's predicament, and his agony at having to remain in his closet and submit to society's conventions regarding sexuality is seen but not highlighted (you could say it's because it's meant to be the lady's film, but I disagree). I feel it remains largely the same today, even though there is more freedom to raise the issue and (generally) not have people condemn it out of hand. For instance, the film is rated NC-16 for a homosexual kiss (and would have been rated NC-16 even if it had been a lesbian kiss, so in that way it's fair), but nobody bats an eyelid at heterosexual kisses, no matter how passionate or sensual (& the films are rated a harmless PG). The movie was, however, allowed to be shown, unlike in more conservative &/or oppressive places where it would be cut out or the whole film banned.
So in a way, our society's prejudices are reflected in what ratings we give stories like this, and how we look at them, much as those of the 1950s were governed by circles of friends and colleagues - so tightly circumscribed that when gossip about Cathy being seen with a Black goes around, you feel the stares as daggers aimed right for Cathy's heart. One wonders which race was really more free, as in liberated, in those days.
Compare this state of affairs to the relationship between Cathy and Raymond: would scenes of miscegenation (cohabitation/sexual relations/marriage/interbreeding), White-Black or otherwise, be banned or criticised today? Racism has been outlawed, legally and socially, and I think that's a good thing. But homosexuality is still largely a taboo subject today; I wouldn't be surprised if a few decades down the road, a filmmaker pays homage to Douglas Sirk and Todd Haynes by doing a film that shows the homosexual going down the path that Cathy does as she opens herself up to new possibilities. I think that would be progress. I think progress is not so much allowing everyone to have their opinions about others, racist or not, as allowing everyone to have their opinions about others so long as they don't restrict others' rights to have theirs. (Pretty Millsian eh?)
Finally, amidst this film's paean to Douglas Sirk and 1950s film, the brilliant acting by both Moore and Quaid, and Haysbert's angelic innocence (he would have done Nicolas Cage's part in City of Angels very well; but anyhow, I didn't like that movie), here's something to think about as you watch Far From Heaven.
23 June 2003 7:58 PM SGT (link)
To address some issues that I've touched on in previous posts together, rather than put them in small individual posts, I've grouped them here.
- RSS Courageous trial (previous): I guess my friend David's right in saying that they're being charged in a criminal court of law for the offence of resulting in 4 deaths, and the court-martial for offences such as (but probably not limited to) negligence will come later. It seems the SAF Act doesn't address such offences as negligence resulting in casualties on your own side, or in any case, not in such easily-understandable language; I thought it did, hence my mistake.
- "NippleJesus" (previous): I guess I like the story so much because it gives us a glimpse at how what we consider the proletariat regards his jobs when they seem menial and dull, like security guards, bouncers, bus drivers & the like. Its genius lies in how we see the proletariat narrator become enthusiastic about his job for once, because he feels he's doing something important, and (spoiler) how he is disappointed in the end. I've finished the collection of stories, and yes, "NippleJesus" is still the best of them all. Hornby should've just wrote his own stories rather than asked them from all those people! =)
- The Remains of the Day (previous): I've finished this novel too, and it's a masterpiece. Finally in the closing pages, I realise what the title means. Not to give too much away, but it has to do with a quip Stevens (the butler) hears from a stranger he strikes up a conversation with: "the evening's the best part of the day." (The metaphor has to do with Stevens's life as he looks back at it in this novel.) Somehow I feel the novel ends on a more upbeat note than the movie did.
- Courage Fund redirection (previous): Today's ST has an "Off-the-Cuff" poll result (Handicap welfare group seeing 'red') showing that 75% of those polled say that Courage Fund donors should be allowed to redirect their donations to other needy charities. It's not exactly a scientific poll, but it pretty much indicates popular opinion, which makes me expect that there will be further developments on this front. Have I griped about how these people stepped on their own feet by donating to the Fund, then realising that it has more than it knows what to do with, and now want to redirect their donations? Oh yes, quite a few times.
Follow-up to follow-up: I meant to say this but forgot: The Remains of the Day, in addition to giving us a vivid picture of a person's goals and regrets in life (Stevens repeatedly reexamines the question "what makes a great butler?" because for him it stands for "what makes a good life?"), also has some insights on the nature of democracy. So it's kind of Platonic in encompassing these sweeping fields of inquiry, the nature of virtue and the polity (as studied in The Republic and other places). As Alfred North Whitehead said:
The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
Men in women's jeans
22 June 2003 3:41 PM SGT (link)
It's not exactly cross-dressing: the Los Angeles Times article concentrates on the specific phenomenon of men wearing women's jeans, which they like because it's "low-rise" & tight, all the better to "show off a bit of flesh". I'm not a jeans person, so I don't have much to say about that, so... read the article.
Kindness & the Singaporean complex
22 June 2003 2:49 PM SGT (link)
The ST has reported on a recent study of kindness in 23 cities around the world (Singapore, unfriendly?), where 3 tests were conducted to test the (wo)man-in-the-street's readiness to help (a) a blind man crossing the street (b) return a dropped pen & (c) someone who has hurt his leg. (& don't just take the ST's word for it, read the full report: The Kindness of Strangers, by Robert V. Levine, in the American Scientist magazine.)
As could be expected, the ST tries to ameliorate the bad feeling one gets when one sees that Singapore is ranked 21st out of 23 cities with an accompanying report that protests, No, most here are kind and helpful, says expat, where it proposes that the anecdotal testimonies of, yes, two expats, are more definitive than Mr. Levine's study that has been done in many cities in the US, as well as around the world. It's like a parent who punishes his/her children for something they have done wrong, yet feels compelled to give them some candy afterwards. In this case, the problem we have with accepting criticism, even if it is warranted, is commingled with our love-hate relationship with the outside world: we are delighted at receiving praise and approval from foreigners, but shy away from criticism (the extremists might even respond as Mahathir has done). It's schizophrenic.
RSS Courageous trial II
21 June 2003 10:11 PM SGT (link)
(Sequel to this) The more I think about it, the more it doesn't make sense. The two Navy officers were on duty when they gave the wrong commands and steered their ship towards collision. The people that died as a result of the collision were also military, albeit off-duty (in their bunks). Why is this case being tried in civilian courts? It's puzzling to me that the SAF Act, which governs the system of military courts & court-martials, doesn't apply to this case. As a result, it's unclear what happens to them besides the punishment meted out of the civilian court (maximum penalty: two years' jail and a fine). Do they get dishonourably, or even honourably, discharged from the Navy? Are they retained in the Navy? What duties will they have in future? I don't think civilian courts have a say on such matters; it might be that the SAF intends to decide on these issues privately.
That will not be good because I think the public has a right to know what the SAF is doing to make sure these officers are not put in similar situations where they will make such mistakes again, and if the punishment or treatment of them is not reported on, we won't get that assurance. This may be a one-off incident, but the fact that it happened when the ship was on duty patrolling Singapore waters, and the fact that 4 died as a result of the navigational errors, IMHO makes it important that the public can trust the Navy with the lives of its own personnel & those of Singaporeans in general, during times of both peace and war. Even if the SAF wants to continue looking good in the media, they at least owe an explanation to the victims' families, and a simple penalty for "a negligent act not culpable to homicide" isn't going to cut it. This is no car accident, people.
A great short story by Nick Hornby
21 June 2003 9:34 PM SGT (link)
After About a Boy and Fever Pitch, this is going to be the third time I'm acknowledging Nick Hornby's genius here, and highly recommending his works. Last year he collected some short stories by contemporary writers, mostly British, into a book, Speaking with the Angel, in order to raise funds for Treehouse, a charity for autistic children (of whom his son, Danny Hornby, is one). These writers include Hornby himself, Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's Diary), Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) Zadie Smith (White Teeth) and even Colin Firth, who has played both Jane Austen's & Helen Fielding's Mr. Darcy, and who also played Dr. Stuckart in Conspiracy (reviewed here).
I've finished two-thirds of the book, and while I like Robert Harris's "PMQ" (a prime ministerial address to the House of Commons about an unusual scandal) and Giles Smith's "Last Requests" (of death row prisoners, obviously), Nick Hornby's "NippleJesus" is far and away the best. In just 20-odd pages he has weaved a touching and thought-provoking tale about a bouncer-turned-security guard who's assigned to protect this modern art piece called NippleJesus, a collage of images of breasts cut out from porn magazines forming a crucifixion scene. The story is excellent because you can relate to it in the usual simple manner, an entertaining tale with a twist, in the league of the best, and you can also understand the deeper lesson and see the character's motivations and society's response. I can't get into detail because I don't want to spoil the story for anyone, so please, find this book & read "NippleJesus".
Freebies at Dhoby Ghaut
21 June 2003 9:19 PM SGT (link)
There was almost complete chaos at Dhoby Ghaut station.
It all started after staff from Golden Village began handing out free movie tickets to NEL commuters.
..."I don't care what it is. So long as it's free, I will queue up for it," said one passenger.
"I have no idea whatsoever. It's just free so I thought I will have a look," said another.
- Channel NewsAsia, Chaos at Dhoby Ghaut station as Singaporeans rush for freebies
This got me smiling. What a wonderful country I live in.
21 June 2003 12:10 PM SGT (link)
I've finally decided on the ORD gift that my office will be giving me (it might sound strange, but it's actually a pretty good way of going about things so that everyone's happy): Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. I got interested in the novel after I watched the movie adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It's a very good movie too: I was very impressed by Anthony Hopkins's performance.
The Remains of the Day is about the consummate professional, to the point of repression, English butler who goes to visit a housekeeper who used to work with him at his lord's house, and along the way reminisces about his long loyal service to his employer, a "great gentleman". He also starts wondering about how great his employer really was, and his commitment to him, and whether he gave up too much in life in the name of this service. You might see a mild, ironic reference in the implication that this novel's to be a gift for a soon-to-be NSman.
Update: I think I was practising the subtle art of understatement - the verisimilitude is actually higher than "mild", especially when it comes with the description I gave. Creepy.
ASEAN's message to the junta
21 June 2003 11:48 AM SGT (link)
Drezner comments on the differences in how the Western and Eastern media differ in reporting the issue (Same story, different worlds): basically the West (or most of it) sees it as a victory for Powell's call to ASEAN to get tough on the junta, but the East see it as a move by ASEAN to shore up its international image, and not as a response to Western pressure. Of course it's understandable that both sides should see it that way, but I think ultimately this message is just the tip of the iceberg in an approach to the junta that should also include the ASEAN-style "quiet diplomacy" and tough measures like sanctions. The ST also has an editorial on this issue today (ST 21 June, Asean makes its move).
The NEL is like a PC?
21 June 2003 11:38 AM SGT (link)
...So when you get on that NEL train and one platform door doesn't open, or the train stops in a tunnel between stations for a minute or two, be forgiving.
No one will stand for another fiasco like the trouble-riddled Bukit Panjang LRT, but at the same time, commuters should not expect NEL to run flawlessly from day one.
Not unless you have a PC that never hangs.
- ST 21 June, Why not bug-free? Don't be so hard on NEL
The article might be good in explaining the factors that cause the NEL to be more expensive to develop than the previous lines, and why the problems are understandable (as the older lines also had problems in their first years of operations), but the last paragraph's metaphor is, like, practically inviting laughs from Mac OS X, Linux and Unix users, not to mention those who operate critical systems that have to be kept running for years (see a Slashdot entry on QNX, and the linked Fortune article, for instance). Which is probably what we'd expect from the NEL too, if it wasn't new technology and all that.
Addendum: Yesterday's ST also had an article with details on the intricacies surrounding the NEL systems: ST 20 June, Why it isn't easy fixing NEL bugs.
Courage Fund disbursement; RSS Courageous trial
21 June 2003 11:18 AM SGT (link)
The Working Committee responds to this letter I commented on (ST 21 June, Provision made for contingencies), which has some details on the short- and long-term plans it has for putting the donations to good use.
Why aren't they being charged in military court? (ST 21 June, Navy collision officers in court to face criminal charges) One of those questions that one will probably never get an answer to, since we don't have something like FindLaw's Writ (commentary) or the Volokh Conspiracy (legal blog) here. But I'll be happy to be corrected.