Thursday, 31 December 2015

Hello (2016) Goodbye (2015)

Happy new year to one and all! Please seek to surprise yourself in 2016. :)

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

“The statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

– Mark Twain

In a place without an overlord, everyone fights, however unfairly, for their share of the pie, since the rules are set and written only by those who get to the top and claim power. History is written by the winners. Justification to annihilate the enemy at all cost is key; this is a winner takes all place.

Such is our world of nations, the perpetual Hobbesian state of pure nature.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


"What happens when life breaks down?
When there is systemic contradiction?
My name symbolized all that was corrupt to society.
His name symbolized all that was pure.
And I was being held in the embrace of a man who was pure.
And these inviolable sanctities were preserved in those ten words.
And it is the desacralization of all of these.
That has put us in the mess that we find ourselves.
Isn't it true, alas it is much worse;
A person may end up believing in anything?
Think of what it is when God Himself puts his arms around you and says 'Welcome home'."

- Ravi Zacharia, excerpt from his sermon on the Book of Hosea

Found this fascinating bit of insight off a Youtube video, which can spawn multiple perspectives depending on which way you wish to look at it. From a typically orthodox viewpoint, this goes to say that there is a God, one who is pure, from whom our corrupt and impure human selves lay in contrast to. We should believe in him since he provides a necessary anchor and guiding light, and also since he's ready to embrace us insofar as we are willing to accept him. Fair enough.

Another way to look at it (which admittedly was how I immediately saw it first) is that there is a "God" in all of us, not in the self-grandiose sense that we think highly of ourselves, but that there is a pure and uncorrupt way to live that each and everyone of us can mentally conceive of and are also capable of. We can choose to walk its path, or not. Perhaps the nature of man is such that this pure side of us needs to be personified in the form of a "God" in order to comprehend it. But for those of us who can do without the notion of a God, it is still possible to walk in the light of goodness, and embrace and accept that which is good.

From an orthodox point of view, there is one and only one God, which is as much as to say that there is only one way to be good. Indeed, goodness is a unifying force; there are a few universal ways that people can be good, such as by being kind, generous, knowledgeable, honest, and whatnot. Yet the ways of being bad manifest in countless divergent forms.

It comes as no surprise that Buddhist/Taoist practices strive to overcome humanly desires, because it had been deduced a long time ago that most of our human needs are expressions of the impure. Logically, then, that by suppressing, overcoming, or letting go of humanly desires, do we find enlightenment, which doesn't sound so much different from getting in touch with one's pure inner self, or God.


I once took a political philosophy class and had a professor who had many interesting philosophical parables to tell that were also at once magnificent, and there was this one story that has stuck in my head ever since. In his story, a boy asked God for an apple. So God lowered an apple down from the heavens, and handed the apple to the boy. There happened to be a worm on the apple, and it also had a few blemishes on the skin. The boy asked God, "Why isn't the apple perfect?" And God replies, "It is inevitable that whatever gets put into your world becomes imperfect."

I'm probably not recounting this story as magnificently as my professor did, but the basic insights remain. Put anything pure in the hands of humans, and you will naturally corrupt it over time. Take for example any well-intentioned ideology. Ideologies are by nature pure concepts. Any mature ideology proposes a perfect solution towards how human life should unfold and how society should be structured. Everything from capitalism to communism to democracy blows its own horn for having the utopian answer to everlasting fairness, peace, and happiness, and that isn't wrong; the idealistic end game of all of these ideologies are theoretically possible. However, impose perfect ideology on imperfect humans, and we find that we can never run the show the way we want it to.

Is that a good or bad thing? I'm agnostic about it for now, but I think that's how it is for humanity. It'll always be a constant struggle both on a macro scale (humanity's struggle with war, corruption, and peace) and a micro scale (each person's internal struggle between his own good and evil). Realizing this though at least gets us on the right foot forward, if we're so inclined to make things better.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A Man

"A man carries cash. A man looks out for those around him — woman, friend, stranger. A man can cook eggs. A man can always find something good to watch on television. A man makes things — a rock wall, a table, the tuition money. Or he rebuilds — engines, watches, fortunes. He passes along expertise, one man to the next. Know-how survives him. A man fantasizes that kung fu lives deep inside him somewhere. A man is good at his job. Not his work, not his avocation, not his hobby. Not his career. His job. It doesn’t matter what his job is, because if a man doesn’t like his job, he gets a new one.

A man can speak to dogs.

A man listens, and that’s how he argues. He crafts opinions. He can pound the table, take the floor. It’s not that he must. It’s that he can.

A man can look you up and down and figure some things out. Before you say a word, he makes you. From your suitcase, from your watch, from your posture. A man infers.

A man owns up. That’s why Mark McGwire is not a man. A man grasps his mistakes. He lays claim to who he is, and what he was, whether he likes them or not.
Some mistakes, though, he lets pass if no one notices. Like dropping the steak in the dirt.

A man can tell you he was wrong. That he did wrong. That he planned to. He can tell you when he is lost. He can apologize, even if sometimes it’s just to put an end to the bickering.
A man does not wither at the thought of dancing. But it is generally to be avoided.
Style — a man has that. No matter how eccentric that style is, it is uncontrived. It’s a set of rules.

A man loves the human body, the revelation of nakedness. He loves the sight of the pale bosom, the physics of the human skeleton, the alternating current of the flesh. He is thrilled by the wrist and the sight of a bare shoulder. He likes the crease of a bent knee.
Maybe he never has, and maybe he never will, but a man figures he can knock someone, somewhere, on his bottom.

A man doesn’t point out that he did the dishes.

A man knows how to ridicule.

A man gets the door. Without thinking.
He stops traffic when he must.

A man knows how to lose an afternoon. Playing Grand Theft Auto, driving aimlessly, shooting pool.
He knows how to lose a month, also.

A man welcomes the coming of age. It frees him. It allows him to assume the upper hand and teaches him when to step aside.
He understands the basic mechanics of the planet. Or he can close one eye, look up at the sun, and tell you what time of day it is. Or where north is. He can tell you where you might find something to eat or where the fish run. He understands electricity or the internal-combustion engine, the mechanics of flight or how to figure a pitcher’s ERA.

A man does not know everything. He doesn’t try. He likes what other men know.

A man knows his tools and how to use them — just the ones he needs. Knows which saw is for what, how to find the stud, when to use galvanized nails.

A miter saw, incidentally, is the kind that sits on a table, has a circular blade, and is used for cutting at precise angles. Very satisfying saw.
He does not rely on rationalizations or explanations. He doesn’t winnow, winnow, winnow until truths can be humbly categorized, or intellectualized, until behavior can be written off with an explanation. He doesn’t see himself lost in some great maw of humanity, some grand sweep. That’s the liberal thread; it’s why men won’t line up as liberals.

A man resists formulations, questions belief, embraces ambiguity without making a fetish out of it. A man revisits his beliefs. Continually.
That’s why men won’t forever line up with conservatives, either.

A man is comfortable being alone. Loves being alone, actually. He sleeps.
Or he stands watch. He interrupts trouble. This is the state policeman. This is the poet. Men, both of them.

A man loves driving alone most of all.

A man watches. Sometimes he goes and sits at an auction knowing he won’t spend a dime, witnessing the temptation and the maneuvering of others.
Sometimes he stands on the street corner watching stuff. This is not about quietude so much as collection. It is not about meditation so much as considering. A man refracts his vision and gains acuity. This serves him in every way. No one taught him this — to be quiet, to cipher, to watch.
In this way, in these moments, the man is like a zoo animal: both captive and free. You cannot take your eyes off a man when he is like that. You shouldn’t. Who knows what he is thinking, who he is, or what he will do next."

- Tom Chiarella, "What Is a Man?" for Esquire

Reposted from, December 2011

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Over Your Shoulder You Have to Watch Heaven Fall into Hell

I think the "me" from 7 years ago had far better prose-writing skills. :\

Friday, 15 May 2015

Mandating Social Decency

Social decency is something that cannot be mandated. It certainly should be cultivated — for it benefits the greater good in a utilitarian way, but more importantly simply because it is a desirable trait in and of itself — but forcing people by law to be "socially decent" is paradoxical. Genuine tolerance or acceptance can't be bred by making people afraid of behaving offensively.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Morality and Reasoning

"Here's a fascinating fact about us: Contradictions bother us, at least when we're forced to confront them, which is just another way of saying that we are susceptible to reason. And if you look at the history of moral progress, you can trace a direct pathway from reasoned arguments to changes in the way that we actually feel. Time and again, a thinker would lay out an argument as to why some practice was indefensible, irrational, inconsistent with values already held. Their essay would go viral, get translated into many languages, get debated at pubs and coffee houses and salons, and at dinner parties, and influence leaders, legislators, popular opinion. Eventually their conclusions get absorbed into the common sense of decency, erasing the tracks of the original argument that had gotten us there. Few of us today feel any need to put forth a rigorous philosophical argument as to why slavery is wrong or public hangings or beating children. By now, these things just feel wrong. But just those arguments had to be made, and they were, in centuries past."

One can only hope the debates at "pubs and coffee houses and salons, and at dinner parties, and influence leaders, legislators, popular opinion" are possible so that we can reach reasoned conclusions that can be "absorbed into the common sense of decency".

Wednesday, 1 April 2015


Singapore hasn't seen as much discourse as the last week or two in a long, long time. I'm glad for it.

I'm surprised (but also maybe not really surprised) though that I haven't quite heard anyone raise the argument of the social contract from Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan as a metaphor for the state. Given the recent squabbling because of the conflation of freedoms with security/safety, it's useful to consider the Hobbesian notion of social contracts or covenants, which can materialize because people are willing to giving up some individual liberty in exchange for some common security.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Importance of Civil Liberties and the Dangerous Illusion of Safety

[I must disclaim that I've utmost respect for Mr Lee and that this post is not directly related to whether his rule was good or bad. It's unfortunate that such political correctness is needed but considering the emotionally charged atmosphere currently sweeping the country, this is necessary. This post is directed at former NMP Calvin Cheng's which is a laughable piece of social commentary.]

Some people have recently lauded Calvin Cheng's post about how we're better off not having the fundamental civil liberty of freedom that the West rattles on and on about, because we're free in our own way. We're definitely safe from general harm on the streets because we're orderly and safe from disease in the water because our infrastructure is good. We're also possibly free from discrimination, and Calvin hints at the meritocratic education system for providing fair access to opportunity (although that's at best contentious). I'm definitely grateful for these things. But the article has a severe misunderstanding of what fundamental civil liberties are and why they're important.

Fundamental civil liberties are personal guarantees and freedoms that the government cannot abridge, either by law or by judicial interpretation. Some examples of civil liberties include freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom from torture, the right to security and liberty, the right to privacy, the right to equal treatment and due process, the right to a fair trial, and the right to life. These civil liberties did not arise overnight; through long periods of philosophical inquiry undergirded by significant historical events, these ideals materialized in order to protect people from societal harm. Calvin Cheng's poor treatment of this important philosophical tradition reduces his article pretty much to noise.

It’s tempting to think of safety as a kind of freedom, and safety appears to be loosely interchanged with freedom in Calvin Cheng's article. However, safety is not freedom; a bird that is well fed in it's pristine golden cage with rations of food and water every day and is kept safe from the cat while behind metal bars still isn't free. Some people prefer safety to the proper civil liberty of freedom. That’s fine; people (should) have the right to choose whichever side of the fence they want to be on.

But why then, if Singapore appears to be able to do without civil liberties such as freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial (as in the case of political opposers who were detained or bankrupted), or even the right to life (the legalized death penalty simply makes the state a legalized killer which has its fair share of problems, such as in the recent case of Yong Vui Kong), should we perhaps care about civil liberties?

Civil liberties are important because they concern how much power the state should have when dealing with people who have compromised the law, especially when of course the state itself determines what the law should be. Caring about civil liberties is therefore important because the state is a powerful political tool, and whoever becomes the head of state has these political tools at his or her disposal. If you do not enforce and constitutionalize civil liberties, the balance of power falls heavily in favor of the state. If anything, the rhetoric of safety has been a useful political veil to stop people from questioning whether we truly are free. A country that does not value human freedoms puts its people at risk of anyone hungry enough to want and acquire that power for his or her own personal interests.

Why am I grateful for LKY? Because despite having so much power in his hands, he used it with more rather than less decency (and with such courage against so many odds too, I have to add). I am grateful because I am lucky. Yeah, people who are either legitimately marginalized or simply perceiving that they are marginalized by his rule will disagree, but as a beneficiary myself of the system I can’t not be grateful that he has been, on the whole, very kind to me. But are we always going to be this lucky that good leaders will keep getting behind the steering wheel of such powerful political apparatus? None of us can say for sure. To assume that Singapore will keep being such a pristine cage because we have chosen safety over freedom just shows how little thought we have and can put into the sort of political lives that we lead.

Fundamental civil liberties matter because they keep the government in check. They provide at least some means to challenge the state and protect the people should a less than competent leader come to power. Calvin Cheng's rhetoric about safety is embarrassing, to say the least. It’s rather funny and ironic how he ends off with "there was no trade-off. not for us", happy and unaware that anything has been lost. You can't really tradeoff when you're unaware that there’s a tradeoff at all.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew Tribute

Power and politics. The ethics of the state are distinct from the ethics of humanity. Those who do not or cannot partake in the struggle for power can only hope that, amidst the chaos, the biggest badass that remains standing has his own interests aligned as much as possible with the public's. And for better or worse, we've had a pretty decent run.

To your guile, cunning, foresight, political acumen, and leadership, here's a toast. Have a good rest, old man.

Friday, 20 February 2015

A moralist's free will puts him in chains.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Thank You God

Quite deliciously delightful.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie.

Satire is a fundamentally important check-and-balance tool. It assists uneducated, uninformed, or unmotivated audiences to accomplish the mental journey necessary to understand the flaws of any dogma.

"Political satire to be most effective
is caustic, unfair and never objective
with all this in mind, you may ask why im for it
the answer is simple: tyrants abhor it”
– Leonard Freedman, The Offensive Art

Friday, 26 December 2014

Thursday, 6 November 2014


This is Moscow's Kristina Pimenova, described as the "most beautiful girl in the world." As of today at the tender age of 6, Kristina has appeared on the cover of Vogue Bambini and has already had fashion collaborations with designer brands like Roberto Cavalli and Benetton. You can see more of her pictures at

Beauty is, to put it squarely, an enthralling subject. There is no line that captures the power of beauty as succinctly as that of Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's 1604 play, Doctor Faustus: "Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" (Act V, Scene I.) Chuck Palahniuk also attests to this as he wrote in Invisible Monsters, "It's all mirror, mirror on the wall because beauty is power the same way money is power the same way a gun is power." Beauty is powerful because historically, traditionally, and conventionally, beauty is scarce. To borrow another great quote from H. L. Dietrich, beauty is endowed upon those who have it because it's a destiny that's "decided by a cosmic roll of the dice". Beauty is something you're born with. Beauty is a gift. Beauty is a privilege of the lucky few who have it. Some people indeed see this as a matter of life being unfair. But that's how it is because if life is fair and the qualities that we value are no longer scarce because everyone is entitled to their share of them, then they will no longer be valuable.

This is happening in our world today though. Cosmetic products are increasingly available and sophisticated. People are becoming more and more adept at manipulating beauty. And if that's not enough, surgery can change everything. This shift in the perception and value of beauty is monumental, because beauty now becomes a commodity like many other common goods. Beauty is no longer given the due respect it has garnered in the past. If you weren't born beautiful, you had to find another place and role in society that you could be content with. To be fair, there are historical stories of people so envious of the beauty of their rivals that they kill. But there are also countless other stories of people who accept their lot and focus on other qualities that they have. The most degrading aspect of this modern change against beauty is that people are feeling increasingly entitled to beauty. With the vast number of people in the world today who have cosmetically enhanced their looks (certainly at a standard much higher than people in the past could), beauty's power and sacred place in the world is undermined.

Life isn't fair, maybe. But that's how life is. Perhaps with god-given aspects such as structural poverty, redistributive justice can go a long way to help those dealt with a bad hand in life. But with god-given beauty, life is fair in its unfairness, and rightly so, and our obsession to right this "wrong" has sadly turned beauty into something so ugly today.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why Study History?

"People often ask, what is the purpose of studying history? They sometimes imagine that we study history in order to predict the future, or in order to learn from past mistakes. In my view, we should study history not in order to learn from the past, but in order to be free of it.

Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures."

- Yuval Noah Harari

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Check out for a look at your personality and motivations profile.

I'm quite unmotivated according to these rubrics LOL

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Female Vs. Male Identity Crises

Men and women chugged along just fine in their roles for the last 20,000 years or so (or earlier if you want to consider our evolutionary ancestors along the homo genus line). When and why does gender role and identity confusion come about?

This happens when the expectations of the role and identity no longer accord with "tradition". It is arguable what tradition really means, but if we go back to our evolutionary roots, males and females perform particular biological functions, and it all then branches out from there. While this may seem somewhat deterministic, it is the very basis of how we got to where we are. Tough luck.

Our gender identities are then a subsequent product of these biological functions. By the roll of nature's dice (which isn't actually all that random), mammalian females tend to be the more selective sex while mammalian males have to compete for access to the sexual resources provided by conspecific females (of course this pattern is moderated by all sorts of other environmental factors, such as sex ratio and the social status of males, but the general pattern holds true). Therefore, women have traditionally been bestowed nurturing and homely roles, while men have traditionally been expected to go out and bring home the bacon, so to speak. Females often are expected to be coy and charm the males when on the mating market, and then expected to spend a larger of proportion of time than males taking care of children. All of this, in general and on average, of course.

Fast-forward then to the world of today. The proliferation of gender studies associated with the female identity is certainly an offshoot of the changing expectations on females. The modern, urban, and professional world is increasingly a world that blurs the divide between men and women. The more that people are obliged, compelled, or attracted to work in big multinational companies and take up professional working roles, the more that people have to behave.... well, like men. Simply put, the competitive world out there is a world that men have traditionally populated. Whether men created the rules of the game or not, it's pretty much a masculine environment.

This picture pretty much sums a lot of things up:

Although veiled behind the issue of physical attractiveness, females constantly struggle with expectations (and their associated effects with self-esteem) as a consequence of standards that are varied and often contradictory. Is she supposed to be submissive or strong? Is she supposed to stay home or work? Contemporary expectations of females do not make it easy. On the other hand, the male role tends to be very specific, and has remained stable relative to the female role. In short, for men, often there is no issue. Either you fit (good for you), or you don't (better buck up, or lose the benefits associated with being manly).

As we move along, if expectations on the male identity become more complicated (as is starting to happen now with the expansion of stereotypes of men), we can also expect to see an associated boom in the number of studies and attention accorded to the male identity crisis.

Friday, 29 August 2014


Was having lunch at the coffee shop, when the cries of "Lai loh! Lai loh!" (i.e., "coming!") filled the air. The carpark ticketing uncle had been spotted, and now off go the sirens! All the guilty patrons paused mid-activity, got off their seats, and scampered over to the carpark to generally do something about the situation. The ticketing uncle looked over at the coffee shop and raised his hands exasperatedly, his facial expressions spelling out "walaoeh" rather palpably.

This is a community at work, and in this seemingly trivial example lies a powerful message. Power doesn't exist in a vacuum. There is no power without social endorsement of that power, and when a group of people do not obey, then the powers that be no longer exist. This is a trivial example, but the logic prevails in other, more consequential circumstances - such as in corrupt police forces and illegitimate authoritarian governments.

The community and its sounders at the coffeeshop serve to police the neighbourhood they care about in their own way, and that's why this silly little example is trivial yet heartwarming. The community is the most important, protective, and inclusive unit of society and through it the abuse of power from a source external to the community can be prevented. There are so many things that compromise on community spirit these days. When we lose community, we lose what is rightly ours.