Saturday, 26 December 2009

If you can't find peace within yourself, you will never find it elsewhere.

Thursday, 24 December 2009


My loooong day of renovation and cleaning up is over. I'm in the mood to backlog photographs so here goes!

Part of the renovation involved overhauling the air-conditioning system, so I had to shift my display cabinet which housed my Gundam collection away from the wall in order to create access to the wires.

So it all began with the Gundam.

Off they go, Noah's Ark style.

Other old school stuff I found:

Handheld LCD games - THE SHIZZ for any 12 year-old boy back in the 90s!

Protostar and SWOS - Epic old school. Those were the days when games still came with instruction manuals that were so thick because they just had to be translated into 812 languages.

Somewhat continued from the pasar malam post - the pirated CDs I still keep, with some of the most embarassing stuff on display here (Speed, A1, M2M, Jolin Tsai, Shaggy, Stephanie Sun and S Club 7 wooooohoooo).

All the stuff in the display cabinet eventually went to the floor in makeshift boxes.

The display cabinet gets emptied and stuff starts piling up all over the place and the room gets recalibrated...

Then the epic task of putting it all back together begins...

At the bottom of the whole stack of books, the fan and the television set lies my beautiful shelf waiting to be assembled.

This is the picture I took as I lugged the shelf home from Carrefour two days ago, all fricking 36kg of it. Because it was 1.7m long it was impossibly bulky and I totally fscked myself trying to bring it home on my own. Furthermore, I gymed that morning - my first in like 6 months - so my arms were totally busted already. That was some seriously messed up shit so I took this victory photo as I finally stumbled to my house door.

This is one of the new sets of air-conditioners installed in the house now, after the air-conditioner people from Gain City went through 9 backbreaking hours tearing down the old sets and replacing them with these. Despite the change/upgrade, I don't think I'll end up using air-conditioning much at all.
More photo backlogging with my brother's hamsters. At the peak he had around 10 hamsters because they were being very fertile, but my mom insisted on selling most of them away so now I think he only has about 4 or 5 left. I think the two big guys in these pictures are no longer around:

Haha I know this is really subpar blog material especially by personal standards. But if there's one thing I've learnt, it's that a good picture these days really needs a good camera. It's all in the detail and these shots all look so 2D they don't seem real at all (by modern standards at least).

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

I'm up dead early for the air-conditioning renovations that we should have done years ago and it really sucks because I had slept at 5am last night, clearing out my cupboards for some shifting to be done.

I found LOTS of (epically embarrassing) shit dating from way back in secondary school, so I took a memory trip looking through books full of writing both by my classmates and me (haha recall the Blue Book series, for those in the know?).

I found an autograph book that I vaguely recall egging my classmates on to fill. Secondary 4 was a time when everyone was pushing autograph books around and even though the entries are quite cringe-worthy I'm still thankful for this time capsule for a peek back into the past. Some of the entries, though so silly, were written with such earnesty that we must've really thought we were the shit and took ourselves really seriously as we precariously carved out our hopes, dreams and identities.

The general notes and appraisals I received from classmates ranged around being tall, looking dao and having a long face (I was called 马脸 (horse face) by the 'nenek' girls), contributing to the class with the website and class t-shirt designs, and being talented for being able to 'do many things'.

There were all sorts of nonsense my classmates thought I was good at - soccer, art, web design, programming, running, and even drums and dance (haha seriously). Seven-odd years on since then, almost all of those 'talents' never materialized into anything realistic, and some of them were truly just bogus. I suspect I merely had a way of making people think I could do more than I really could.

However, I think that if there was one thing has stuck with me since then, it's that I've always been open to trying, exploring and getting involved in doing new things. I wouldn't even call myself a jack of all trades though I'm definitely master of none, but I loved getting stuck in to all kinds of stuff. It's definitely toned down a lot now as there are some things that are really less embarassing to try only when you're very young, but a prevalent curiosity about things has always resided in me.

This philosophy stems perhaps from believing that everything has its own value and is worth giving a shot. The world is your oyster, just waiting to be discovered by you. :]

I can only hope that the stuff I write in my friends' autograph books are quite cleanly buried!

The Night Market Sunset

Another pasar malam (night market) set itself up in its usual spot near Serangoon Central bus interchange a few days ago. The location itself hasn't changed, but the size and scale of the area of the pasar malam has gradually shrunk over the last decade. Looking at the pasar malam of today, I think one could never guess ten years ago that its decline would prove so devastating.

I do notice the Serangoon Central pasar malam on the rare occasion it appears from time to time as I pass by the place regularly on my commutes but it never occurred to me to actually check it out. So two days ago, as the pasar malam sprung up again, for some reason I decided to take a walk through again just like old times.

I think I can safely say that the last time I really visited the pasar malam for genuine patronage was at least seven years ago. Between now and then, I somehow stopped visiting pasar malams, and even if I did go it was more so out of trivial amusement than one of true anticipation of the next pasar malam and excited thronging of the alleyways blanketed by bright lights, noise and canvassing that stretched for hundreds of metres. I have no exact idea why I stopped visiting pasar malams or when the precise moment I stopped going happened.

But when it comes to the memory of those times when I was a kid and pasar malams were a magical part of my life, the picture is clear as day. Word will spread among the neighbours and sometimes you could even hear the hustle and bustle from home. It was enough to get me bolting down as soon as possible to join the merry atmosphere that was a mixture of heat from the crowd, the food and the huge generator churning out electricity for all the shops to operate, sounds from the chatter, bargaining and the music from VCD, CD and game stalls, and smells of sausages, fishballs, ramly burgers and my favourite popcorn that used to sell for $1 and that I'd always buy without fail in order to seal off my experience there. Sometimes, there would even be funfair rides. It was an electric kind of atmosphere that I always felt very lucky to be immersed in.

Aside from the ambience and experience of simply being in a happening place, I also always looked forward to pasar malams as a kid because of the things they sold. In particular, pasar malams always became a chance to give myself a treat to pirated video games and music CDs, because I was simply too young to afford the originals. There were a whole ton of games I wanted to play and songs I wanted to listen to, but I didn't have the money to acquire them. Pasar malams became a chance to finally get my hands on such forbidden treasures. Furthermore, the occasion of a pasar malam itself became a reason for buying things, so coaxing my parents into giving me more money to buy things became a lot easier. I still keep every single CD I bought til this day.

Cheap copied software was the biggest prize of the day for me, but there was a whole range of other things I'd look at and sometimes buy, like bags, wallets, watches and shirts. Sometimes, I bought fake soccer jerseys too. The financial discipline my parents imposed on me kept me reduced to such alternatives to pricey originals, but it didn't matter at that time as I was too young to care.

The food needs little mentioning. Pasar malams of old sold some of the best street food I'd ever tasted and, for whatever reason now, it's not as nice now anymore. Maybe the feeling on the whole is just gone so the taste that came with the experience has disappeared too.

I suppose this explains quite a bit my fondness for night markets, be they overseas, in Bugis Street or Chinatown, or the modern day pasar malam version that is a far cry from its past glory. As I walked slowly through the Serangoon Central pasar malam two days ago at about 10pm - traditionally the prime time for pasar malams - business was really slow. The sparse number of patrons walked slowly through too, though they seemed to be, like me, taking more of a trip down memory lane than really going there to check out good bargains. Many stalls were open with their tables filled up with rows of products and many foodstalls had containers full of nosh, but few shops ultimately had buyers. Amid all sorts of thoughts - How much have these stall owners sold today? Do these stalls even make money? What keeps them going? Is the overall sale even able to cover the cost of setting up a pasar malam these days? What has happened to so many of the other stalls that used to be so popular? - I felt inevitably quite sad about how much the pasar malam has lost its place in our society. And I say inevitably because I am sad although I know this is bound to happen; I just can't help feeling like a part of our traditional culture has disappeared even though it's really nobody's fault the pasar malam is slowly but surely disappearing. Most of all, I wondered what the stall owners feel about all of this.

Looking at the few people walking through the tentages, I might even go as far as to think that most people are even wondering why pasar malams still bother to appear. I might be wrong about how everyone feels about it, but I can't help but sense that some of these stall keepers still open shop just hoping that maybe there's a chance some of that past magic will be rekindled and that the public will be enticed with some savoury street foodfare or cheap bargains, only to be proven wrong more and more with the looming reality that pasar malams are no longer what they were in the hearts of our people. The pasar malam sprawled for only about a hundred metres. A mini funfair game station had ball throwing and fishing games with flashing lights in operation with no eager kids lining up to play. The pasar malam I used to love so much has indeed faded away.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Media-Induced Poverty Of Values

After watching my brother slime his way through another day for the umpteenth time today I couldn't take it anymore and attempted to engage him in some semi-intellectually charged discussion.

Me: Why don't you go read up seriously about something you like? Like maybe rock music. Go find out its history and what it stands for.
Bro: I know what rock music is about.
Me: What?
Bro: It is about expressing our feelings.
Me: That's just about the same for any form of music. What makes rock music different from other types of music, like maybe classical?
Bro: Oh, okay. Rock music is about expressing of angst.

Whoa, hold up. If my brother was a rasa tabula pertaining to music since I've never educated him about that stuff before, then I wonder where that influence came from. There are implications abound to think and believe that rock music exists primarily as an expression of angst. For one, its role as an outlet for aggression and anger would validate the behaviour of rebels without a cause. There is no longer a need for such angst to be qualified as a means so some other greater and more constructive end; the angst itself is the be all end all.

There are other avenue instances through which mediocre behaviour is allowed to be channelled through by various forms of media. For instance, I think New Moon really spelt out that it is quite okay for girls to be weak, submissive and indecisive because a hero (or two) will always come to your aid. I really seem to be going random here, but off the top of my head as well another outlet for wussy behaviour comes in the form of Taiwanese MTVs where guys are actually perceived as attractive being emo crybabies who can't make up their minds.

I think capitalistic media really tends to feed an increasing poverty in intellect and values. Of course, I've just totally discounted an entire branch of decent media that hosts documentaries and maybe Oprah, but to the layman kid nowadays I think the choice to watch mindless TV is much more compelling (and definitely much less demanding). Perfect incentive system to get easy viewership.

On a side note it looks like a Twilight/New Moon parody in the form of The Vampire's Assistant is coming up. Such breakneck speed of satire appears to be a hallmark of our postmodern attitude of absurdism.

Repost, With Proper Tribute

My dad gave me a poster a while ago. I posted its content because I thought it made a lot of sense. It was indeed a rare one that I thought would be really worth putting up on walls in place of mindless and ubiquitous 'Inspiration' and 'Determination' posters.

I've found out that it was actually a poem written by Max Ehrmann titled Desiderata (Latin for 'desired things'). More can be found at his Wikipedia page. So, this is a repost with due tribute paid to the author. It is a brilliant piece of work and insight for anyone seeking a philosophy for peace and happiness.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

- Max Ehrmann (1952), Desiderata.

Thursday, 17 December 2009


For the thousandth time my dad bugged me for my term grades, after I put it off 999 times:

Dad: What are your results?
Me: I'll email it to you later.
Dad: Why can't you just tell me what grades you got?
Me: OK. B, B+, A-, A-.
Dad: What did you get B for?
Me: Social cognition.
Dad: Okay nevermind you email me.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

They Paved Paradise And Put Up A Parking Lot

I was on Facebook checking out some pictures of SMU friends who graduated before this year's summer. They were probably the 2003/2004 batch to enrol into SMU (I might be totally wrong on the year because my math is too awesome to be accurate) and they came from various faculties (minus law, I might suppose).

I've had the pleasure of working with some of them on rare occasions and it has been always a very pleasant and somewhat more mature experience. Short of naming names, I recall one pleasant experience (amongst other similar experiences) I had working in a group consisting of two of these people for a particular module. We would never let the vicissitudes of school life bog us down and every meet up consisted of pleasurable (and very intelligent) discourses about food, current affairs, art and entertainment; indeed in stark contrast to the typical GPA-related talk that mark the day-to-day conversations we often have now. Both were always cheerful, and both graduated in April this year.

Looking at them donning the convocation dress, I can't help but feel that an era that highlighted what SMU symbolized in its most ideal sense is undeniably gone. With that batch graduated, the student body has completed its transformation. Nobody in the university now has experienced what life was like in the Bukit Timah campus, from which SMU's roots were first set. That is of course inevitable and is really nobody's fault because we have completely and permanently shifted from Bukit Timah to the city, but that spirit has been left behind instead of passed down. I've been to the Bukit Timah campus a few times and have indulged in drowning myself in the atmosphere each time I'm there. It's really one of the few places I can truly say that has given me the spine-tingling sensation of being in a learning institution built upon years of intellectual foundations, through which only more ideas can be borne out of, and where knowledge is power. Bukit Timah campus is now home to the prestigious NUS Law School. It seems somewhat apt that these learning institutions that have remained and must remain pure in purpose must be placed away from the contaminable mundane reality of the mainstream.

The modules definitely haven't changed, but perhaps what's changed is the 'spark', replaced by a chronic sense of jadedness every now and then. We sense it everywhere, from the open spaces to the little crevices, from the tenseness in the library to the students walking through the concourse, apparently constantly on edge. That spark, I would believe, comes about only when one truly loves what one is doing and sees it all in terms of an immaterial purpose instead of a material bachelor's degree. One simply can't lose hope if one sees the worthwhile meaning in his or her work. It doesn't matter if it's business, accountancy, information systems, law, economics or the social sciences. Our graduated seniors had it, and the first employers of our graduates sang our praises because of it. SMU rose to prominence because of it and became touted as 'different' from the other universities. NUS and NTU might've even had it before, but the decades rolling by have probably eroded it. Some might point and say 'Singaporean culture!' when trying to consider the causes for our regression towards mindlessness, impatience, jadedness and obsession with results, but that's another story for another day.

While SMU would only do well to reinvent itself based on the population that represents the school now rather than vainly chase the ideals of a time just past, I guess I'm thankful to have had a glimpse of what the magical world that the SMU of old was like, even if it was only vicariously through the eyes and words of the last batch from that golden age.

The other day I was watching Great Powers on History Channel and France was featured. The end off quote has been powerfully and resolutely etched in my head.

Only a country that respects ideas can have great ideas.
Cynicism entails a certain detachment of the cynic from perceived baser human nature he/she is divorced from. Whether this is due to a desire to be seen as 'above' things or whether it is simply necessary to step beyond the situation in order to access it is different in intention but not in kind.

Which is why, when one forays deeper into academics (and gets far too embroiled in it for good measure), one naturally becomes more 'cynical', as it is almost a necessity that one is highly detached in order to categorize people, label events and speculate unemotionally about issues, all in the name of theory.
The desire to speak freely and indiscriminately is a poisonous temptation that one should take heed to check, lest regret, which has fragile regard for one's esteem, crosses one's path from which there is little that can be done to unwind the clock.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Rock Music's Hopes And Dreams

If there is pretty much one thing that is quite congruent about rock music through the ages, it is that rock music has never been directed to appeal to upper class or well-off people. In almost all genres of rock music from rock and roll, classic rock, pop rock, punk rock, heavy metal, emo rock to alternative rock, we can always expect recurring themes of cynicism, anti-establishment, revolution, aspirations, lower and middle class struggle, angst, emotional sadness, depression, alcoholism, drugs and sex. These are all themes that will not appeal to people who've already got it.

Here are some of the examples I've found across various rock genres with their correspondingly explored sentiments (these are my own opinions and interpretations, any disagreement is welcome):

Tommy used to work on the docks
Union's been on strike
He's down on his luck, it's tough
So tough

Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man
She brings home her pay for love
For love

Bon Jovi - Living on a Prayer (Class struggle)

I wanna be a Kennedy
I wanna be tall and handsome
I'd conquer the world
And you'd see me on television
If I could be a Kennedy
If I could be a big heartbreaker
I'd watch you crash into my arms
With the stars under the barrel of a gun
We'd die young

Kill Hannah - Kennedy (Aspiration)

I wanna be the minority
I don't need you, authority
Down with the moral majority
'Cause I wanna be the minority

I pledge allegiance to the underworld
One nation underdog there of which I stand alone
A face in the crowd unsung against the mold
Without a doubt, singled-out, the only way I know

Green Day - Minority (Anti-establishment)

Wicked with your charm
I am circled like prey
Back in the forest
Were whispers persuade
More sugar trails
More white lady laid
Than pillars of salt...

Cradle of Filth - Nymphetamine (Drugs and hints of sex)

I do it for the drugs
I do it just to feel alive
I do it for the love
That I get from the bottom of a bottle

Smile Empty Soul - Bottom of a Bottle (Drugs and alcohol)

If I am lost for a day
Try to find me,
But if I don't come back
Then I won't look behind me.
All of the things that I thought were so easy
Just got harder and harder each day


I dreamed I was dying as I so often do
And when I awoke I was sure it was true
I ran to the window; threw my head to the sky
And said whoever is up there
Please don't let me die

Stars - Calendar Girl (Depression and hope)

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin'
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
'Cause if there's one thing that she don't need
It's another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto

Elvis Presley - In the Ghetto (Class struggle)

It's going down tonight in this town
'Cause they stare and growl
They all stare and growl
I take a scar everytime I cry
'Cause it ain't my style
No it ain't my style
Going down to the gravel head to the barrel
Take this life and end this struggle
Los Angeles come scam me please
Emptiness never sleeps at Cliftons 6am
With your bag lady friend and your mind descending
Stripped of the right to be a human in control
It's warmer in hell so down we go

The Distillers - City of Angels (Urban cynicism)

Now, what do you own the world?
How do you own disorder, disorder?
Now, somewhere between the sacred silence
Sacred silence and sleep
Somewhere, between the sacred silence and sleep
Disorder, disorder, disorder

System of a Down - Toxicity (Cynicism of the social order)

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he's had the pleasure to know
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say "Hello"
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar
The little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a mac
In the pouring rain - very strange
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies

The Beatles - Penny Lane (Average class mundanity)

Fake tales of San Francisco
Echo through the room
More point to a wedding disco
Without a bride or groom
There's a super cool band yeah
With their trilbys and their glasses of white wine
And all the weekend rockstars are in the toilets
Practicing their lines

Arctic Monkeys - Fake Tales of San Francisco (Satire of the middle to lower class rockstar life)

Staring into the intersection
She thinks that she can fly and she might
Holding on in a new direction
She's gonna try it tonight
The closer I get to feeling
The further that I'm feeling from alright
The more I step into the sun
The more I step out of the light

Jessica is covered in a blanket on a Sunday porch
Thinking of the weekends she would party in the city
She doesn't have a flame
She'd prefer to burn out like a torch
If she gets nowhere in life
At least she know's she pretty

Something Corporate - Straw Dog (About suicide, escape and societal misfits)

So hum hallelujah
Just off the key of reason
I thought I loved you
It was just how you looked in the light

A teenage vow in a parking lot
"Til tonight do us part"
I sing the blues
And swallow them too

Fall Out Boy - Hum Hallelujah (Pre-marital sex)

I judge by what she's wearing
Just how many heads I'm tearing
Off of assholes coming on to her
Each night seems like it's getting worse

And I wish she'd take the night off
So I don't have to fight off
Every asshole coming on to her
It happens every night she works

Nickelback - Next Contestant (Bar room brawling)

After all this time
I never thought we'd be here
Never thought we'd be here
When my love for you was blind
But I couldn't make you see it
Couldn't make you see it
That I loved you more than you'll ever know
And part of me died when I let you go

Lifehouse - Blind (Flat out emo)

I'm definitely carried away but I think this demonstrates clearly where rock music is headed. The congruence can seem uncanny - it is as if rock music is a shining beacon for non-elites who are either forced into their circumstances or choose to be where they are.

Which is in some ways why I like it. If rock as a music genre was a person I would think him to be earnest, humble and at some times exceedingly self-aware and self-deprecating.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Evolutionary Psychology EXP +0.1

I'm halfway through The Moral Animal. I can only dream, at this juncture, to have an inch of the book's capability of convincingly defending evolutionary psychology as an extremely powerful and rigorous science despite it's youth across most of its controversial involvements particularly in politics and morality (it has often been stereotyped and/or attacked as being unapologetically right-wing and misogynistic).

I am far from eloquent in protecting evolutionary psychology and knowing completely all of its intricacies. Thus, as a noob, I can only adopt a reactive stance: some of the things worth noting about evolutionary psychology that I think debunks its myths and stereotypes include its capacity to provide support for morality and conservatism and why utmost respect for women is vitally important, demonstrate that pornography is detrimental and that sexual indulgence and openness - against modern popular sentiment - really may not be the way to go, and also illuminatingly explain how the emotional ferocity of post-WWII feminism has not only backfired but has ironically sustained some of the problems that women face in trying to gain leverage.

Evolutionary psychology, whose roots lie in the Darwinist theory of natural selection, has traditionally (and contemporarily still) been accused of being sweeping generalizations. This is unsurprising since the now-defunct social Darwinists bludgeoned natural selection and used it to provide flimsy evidence for unfounded theories about human nature, most of which ended up supporting ruthless politics and public policies often in the interest of men. Early Darwinists, sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists from back in the 1970s have been scorched by cynics as well, so it can be assured that evolutionary psychology has evolved into a science that takes great care to tread carefully with its claims such that evolutionary psychologists today are 'masters of careful qualification'.

Further, while some of evolutionary psychology's analyses may be clinical (in the sense that it merely states concepts unemotionally: for example, men have been shown to be wired to seek new and younger mates), they are not prescriptive as people are prone to misunderstand (because men are inclined to seek new and younger mates does not mean they should do so). More importantly, evolutionary psychology exposes slippery slope tendencies that modern society may be vulnerable to. For example, in response to people who have argued that traditional chastity and sexual repression has led to "a pitiable alienation ... of men from their own sexuality", Robert Wright writes that "indulging these [sexual] impulses has helped bring a world featuring, among other things: lots of fatherless children; lots of embittered women; lots of complaints about date rape and sexual harassment; and the frequent sight of lonely men renting X-rated videotapes while lonely women abound."

It is therefore in this light that The Moral Animal has presented itself as a book that is truly aimed at reflecting deeply at worldly issues rather than just being another sensational story attempting a potshot at being marketably intellectual.

As a person so enamoured by the possibility of choosing the academics as a direction in life and career, I am hungry to learn all I can to defend and contribute to this compelling science of evolutionary psychology.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Lifted this from various sources across the internet:

Here’s a prime example of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” offered by an English professor:

The professor told his class one day: “Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me.

“The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.”

The following was actually turned in by two of his English students, Rebecca and Gary.


(first paragraph by Rebecca)
At first, Laurie couldn’t decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Gary)
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. “A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,” he said into his transgalactic communicator. “Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far…” But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship’s cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.

He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. “Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel,” Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. “Why must one lose one’s innocence to become a woman?” she pondered wistfully.

Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu’udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu’udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid Laurie.

This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.

Yeah? Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. “Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of F_KING TEA??? Oh no, what am I to do? I’m such an air headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels!”




Go drink some tea - whore.

A+ - I really liked this one.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Human Morality

Humans are endowed with a wide array of moral capabilities. These are the essential social glues - the capacity for altruism, loyalty, sacrifice, justice, fairness and guilt - that culminate into a conscience that motivates people to behave ethically so that there is peace, social stability and that life can go on with as little trouble and as much happiness as possible.

But at the same time as humans are capable of morality, humans are also brutally capable of moral flexibility, switching morality on and off in order to maintain self-interest in the struggle for survival. Equally, humans are often ignorant of their propensity for moral flexibility other than the oft-felt nuance that edges them towards thinking for oneself in the form of temptation.

As Robert Wright writes in The Moral Animal, "human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The post-PSLE troubles for my family are reaching an all-time high as the deadline for deciding on a school for my brother draws to a close. It is about less than two days away.

There's my authoritative dad, who is trying to force my brother to apply for schools he doesn't want. Then there's my brother, who is too passive, apathetic and afraid of pressure to aspire for schools that can offer better, preferring now to sit on a school he has made up his mind to go for (for quite lame reasons). He is also very closed off to information in order to find out more about other school choices. It apparently got pretty heated and emotional before everyone went to sleep. Right smack in the middle of this is my mom, who tends to believe that it is the child's happiness that really matters at the end of the day, because my brother whose confidence in studying amongst other things is already shaky might end up extremely discouraged and jaded for the next four years. My dad is accusing my mom of being too soft-hearted, which could be why my brother is the way he is now.

There are plenty of if-onlys that come to mind: If only my brother did better so that he could go to Zhonghua Secondary School, the choice both my brother and my dad are satisfied with; if only my brother could be less passive about things and not so risk-averse; if only my dad could be more open to ideas and alternatives and be less stubborn. But these do not solve the problems that are happening right now.

Choices and dilemmas. I wonder what the next few years will bring. It is funny how I hardly recall my time during the post-PSLE period as being anywhere near as eventful and as difficult as this.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Dubai Scare Makes The Market Look Stupid

The latest market plunge caused by investors dumping shares after Dubai's shock request to suspend loan repayments makes me believe more so now than ever before that the capitalist market system is really incompatible with realistic human nature. In theory, it's supposed to work because humans are expected to behave in a rational, self-interested manner which, to some extent, is true. But in a system where the sum total actions of all individuals acting in a rational manner in the system is supposed to result in an overall good, it is extremely susceptible to nonsense outcomes where tremendous losses are experienced and unnecessary unhappiness is created when everyone acts irrationally also due to human nature, such as when everyone panics, acts defensively (so that the prisoner's dilemma situation becomes an all-lose scenario) or behaves unintelligently due to a lack of complete information with which to make rational decisions.

I'm a little more lenient on the last point, as the reason for incomplete information is often due to the lack of liberal freedom, and illiberal conditions can only be created because politics undermines the 'efficiency' of the market (created by either the presence of monopolies or redistributive governments). Political influence thus results in withheld information and/or individual liberty constrained by unnatural economic flows. But otherwise, capitalism and free markets simply create room for the avalanches caused by snowflakes who don't see themselves as responsible.

I guess where one really stands on this depends on what one deems as the real direction of human nature. But while I believe it is true that humans are self-interested, each individual's psychological reactions to situations, particularly ambiguous ones that are notoriously created by the uncertainty of the market, makes each supposedly 'rational' self-interested action irrational instead. In other words, we do not meet the human condition that capitalism expects for its free market mechanism to work. I suppose this begs the question of what social system really works then, since communism has proven to be the opposite end of the spectrum and has been a great fiasco as well. Socialism? Haha. We're digressing already.
Jozef was a Polish Jew who was captured by the Soviets in 1939 and sent to a Siberian camp before becoming an officer in a Polish division of the Red Army. In the summer of 1945, he led an armed platoon to Klaj, Poland, to discover what had happened to his mother, his sister, and his niece. There he learned that an armed gang had shot them, but when he was face-to-face with the man who led the gang, he hesitated to shoot. Instead, he delivered him to the police, who investigated the crime and then, after about a year, released the murderer. Until his death, Jozef remained tormented by regret at his failure to take vengeance. We regularly ignore the fact that the thirst for vengeance is among the strongest of human emotions. The writer’s conversations in Papua New Guinea made him understand what humans have given up by leaving justice to the state.

- Abstract by The New Yorker on Jared Diamond's Vengeance is Ours

Friday, 27 November 2009

Symbolic Interactionism In The SMU Hell Hole

How we attach symbolic meanings to things and interpret things symbolically still fascinates me to no end. Symbolic interactionism is, very briefly, a sociological theory that states that things are what they are because we attach symbolic meanings to these things, and these symbolic meanings go through a dynamic and reinterpretive process such that what the thing stands for now can be very different from what it really is. For example, a flag is objectively just a cloth, but through symbolic interpretation we see a flag as a symbol of nationhood. Around these parts one could be tried for defacing such a sacred piece of cloth.

School and the negative stigma associated with SMU for one always keeps me mentally entertained. I usually bring my laptop and a book or two out on my travels, carried along in a sling bag. The laptop is considerably heavy (since it's an old school Acer from 5 or 6 years ago), so I often opt to hand-carry the book to lighten the load on my shoulders. I also do so because it facilitates reading since it's already in my hands - I can simply flip to the last read page and resume reading. If it was in my bag, there would be significant inertia to make me deliberate over whether I want to read when the chance arrives. In geek-speak, given an unlimited number of opportunities to read, I would have read a lot less if I had chosen to keep my books tucked in my bag.

So it's always the laptop in the bag and the book in my hand. I've been reading Guns, Germs and Steel (hereafter referred to as GGS) since June but because of internship and then school I've had to put reading it aside at times and have yet to complete it until now. I just acquired The Moral Animal (TMA) today, so I've got two books on hand now. My preference for 'one book in hand + laptop & book in bag' is greater than 'two books in hand + laptop in bag' or 'no books in hand + laptop & two books in bag', so for a moment earlier today I was confronted with a very mild dilemma of deciding which book to hold in hand. I instinctively chose TMA. The rationalization of why I chose TMA then leads me on to the symbolic interactionism I was amused with.

The main reason why I even had the instinctive notion of keeping GGS in my bag while holding TMA is because GGS is a book used for SMU's Technology and World Change (TWC) module. Everyone who has seen me holding the book, enquired about it and recognized it, is aware that it is Professor Terence Fan's TWC textbook when he teaches TWC (it is perhaps the only reason why people here have come to know of the book's existence I suppose). To avoid irky questions of like, "you're reading GGS? Isn't it a TWC textbook?", "you're taking TWC next term is it, that's why you're reading it" or "you took TWC is it, that's why you're reading it", I'd rather keep it covered and expose people to TMA instead.

I have my reasons for reading GGS - while I might've heard of it only because Richard told me that it's an interesting TWC textbook and somewhat recommended it to me, I have found it an extremely informative book and it has helped me compound further questions and ideas pertaining to my areas of interest. I read it because I am intrinsically motivated to read it. I hold no qualms for explaining these reasons to people who ask me irky questions. The funny thing is, no one can accept those reasons as legitimate in the face of their symbolic interpretation of GGS as an SMU textbook, something to be read only if you're doing a TWC class, and therefore disgusting because it is associated with school (which is then further associated with many other ills that are stigmatic of SMU, such as stress, unhappiness, anxiety, etc).

If I bring this even further, I am in the school library now on a public holiday (Hari Raya Haji) as I speak. I came here today because I found out that TMA is available here and I'd been frustratingly unsuccessful trying to get it elsewhere. I pass familiar faces and many people have difficulty understanding or accepting the fact that I am in the school library because 1) it is a public holiday, 2) I have already finished my papers, and 3) I am here to borrow a book. By virtue of symbolic interactionism once more the school library has a very specific, unpleasant purpose, and that is to allow people to visit it and stew in mugging, which incites very unhappy emotions, for the exams.

Very objectively speaking, GGS is simply a book. In fact, beyond that, GGS is a fantastic book that traces the evolution of human development, state building and why people end up having very different fates across the globe. Also, objectively speaking, school is simply a facility where I can conveniently access books, the internet, power points and a place to settle in to do other stuff without having to spend money on food or drinks just to get a seat. It is therefore very intriguing to me how symbolic the social construct of 'school' is and how strongly its stigmas attach to objects like books and facilities that have been associated with it. Sometimes, it even strikes me that the reactions people give are instinctive and second natured, such as like an instantaneous cry of disapproval and disgust when GGS is held up when I'm asked, "what's that?" Some people even instinctively attempt to sympathize with me: "OMG GGS! I feel your pain bro!"

School must leave dire and deeply-resounding impressions on its students here for its ability to create such a subconscious level of effect such that negative reactions are second nature. As I type, nothing much has changed such that one can't tell that it's really a public holiday today - the rows of tables are filled with quiet and hunched students whose facial expressions are stoic. I even saw some Malays in their ethnic costumes; did these Malay SMU students excuse themselves from celebrations early in order to continue mugging for the papers that aren't over next week?

School must be a hell hole, and people actively communicate their extreme dislike for it where, as Irving has described, "it is so hot because you can practically feel the brainwaves".

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

I find it really funny why business exam papers love to focus so much on memory work. I can totally appreciate why this is necessary in science, history or psychology, but to ask for the specific definition behind something like 'inquisitorial intervention' just amazes me. In the psychology world, having an exact knowledge of theory and definitions is necessary because when I say, "discomfort from doing something you don't like is due to 'cognitive dissonance'", I expect other psychologists to understand and when they throw out terms like 'knowledge activation' and 'social facilitation', I am likewise expected to know them, know them well, and know them so that we can move on, build on existing concepts and generate new ideas.

But I have this strong suspicion that if I went to a firm and began running my mouth with terms like 'inquisitorial intervention' I am merely going to get smacked.

My last paper is finally done for this term.

Donation Realism

Uniform groups were out in full force thronging the streets of town early today to solicit donations. I spotted the big three of the lot - NCC, NPCC and SJAB - scampering about trying to get a largely apathetic and behaviourally-scripted town crowd to give up some loose change.

It just struck me, although the underlying implication isn't new, that a hot girl would probably get donations from guys more and a hunk dude would get donations from girls more. People don't rationalize these kinds of one-off donations, so it would therefore only make sense to forgo the whole appeal to organization and authority and instead capitalize on first impressions, attraction and sex appeal. Between a decision to donate and a decision not to in the case of such donation-tin solicitation, first impressions and snap judgments, and unfortunately often very subconscious ones, can mean the difference between getting some moolah or none at all.

I've been in these poor sods' shoes back then in secondary school and the inefficiency induced from trying to skirt the ugly truth of human nature has always frustrated me to no end. I mean, seriously, I wouldn't donate to me if I were a sweaty kid in an ugly green uniform. Forget the uniform groups, employ attractive people instead, and specifically ask the ladies to target the men and the men to target the ladies. Let the uniform groups be involved for politically correct reasons, but keep them at logistics or administration or something else. Even if people are going to criticize the whore-like nature of the whole business, it's not going to stop donations from coming in because first impressions count - I'll bet that people are still going to fall for that charming smile even if they try to consciously remind themselves that it's exploitation out there on Orchard Road and they're going think of plugging into their wallets before they can react. It's all mentally scripted stuff and second nature is difficult to prevent because it's automatic. See an attractive person and your reasoning goes to pot. This is why they plant bikini babes at car shows and IT fairs - to exploit the psychological loopholes on the vast pool of men who will come down. The same will work for women. At any rate, donations will come in at a fraction of the effort, but perhaps at twice the cost of people being unhappy about being psychologically manipulated.

But hey, it's for a good cause! And what's more wrong, charity groups manipulating you into donating, or you not helping just because you were stingey, lazy or turned off by the smelly pudgy kid shoving a tin can in your face (which could be considered additionally wrong because it is an appeal to attraction in the first place)?

On a side note, what I predicted quite a while ago seems to have happened. I never believed that those ticket-style donations, where people would approach you to buy $2, $5 or $10 coupons that would partly give you perks with some food place or shopping centre and partly contribute to beneficiaries, would last. I hardly see them these days. Singaporeans hate having to go out of their way in the first place, and being approached to stop and entertain these solicitors totally breaks the mundane momentum of things. Add taking money out of pockets and it gets worse. I think we only entertained these people for a while because it forced us out of our comfort zones and the novelty of the situation made us unable to react quickly enough to deal with. But once this gets far too played out, people are prepared and can consciously decide not to entertain them (see how this is in contrast with my tin-can donation idea - sex appeal sells because the reaction is an automatic one and cannot be undone if you're normal). Additionally, it's a little dubious where the money really ends up, because the companies that promote the sale of these tickets merely act as agents moving the donations around. Maybe one day, when we're on a clean slate again because there are new generations to fool come about, we'll see these coupon sales again.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

L4D Is Horrible Next To Benassi, But This'll Have To Do

Saturday was Benny Benassi @Zouk and I was psyched up to go down with some SMU pals, but (perhaps as should really have been expected) the plan didn't go through because Saturday is like two days before the exam week and most people can't put mugging off for some fun. It really sucks but that's just that, and while I love great music, I'm not hardcore enough to club on my own.

But I was too restless to stay home by then anyway, so I headed out nonetheless and was prepared to just hang around doing nothing much and maybe even gravitate towards Zouk subconsciously when Nathaniel gave me a buzz and asked if I was up for doing something that night. It seemed like a miracle so I asked him if he was keen on Zouk but he was totally off the idea, so we ended up playing Left 4 Dead until 4.30am instead. In the words (and tone) of Bear Grylls in my very own Man Vs Reality, "L4D is horrible next to Benassi, but this'll have to do."

We caught up quite a bit and updated each other on our lives, and I learnt that he had found himself recently when he had his 'purpose' figured out. I don't mean this in a religious sense and I often use the term purpose loosely. But when one is genuinely aligned with a sense of purpose, it is a truly profound feeling. It makes one wake up to each new day knowing that there's always something new to be done and somewhere to be headed. It makes the trials and tribulations of GPA-chasing miniscule. Everything is done with a renewed sense of vigour and meaning. Nathaniel found it when he rethought his plan in life and realized that sometimes, what people and society expect of you can make you lost and where you're headed unclear.

When I look at the friends I'm closer to (I suppose a good definition of this is if I would invite them to my wedding since I don't exactly have that many haha), most of them have attained some degree of actualization, and quite a few have already embarked on chasing their ideals. One is a yoyo performer and has broken into the emcee and stage scene. Another is pursuing a mass communications degree to venture into media and journalism. Yet another intends to set up a business. Those are all friends I made when I was much younger and in a very fascinating way, it could be that there was something about these people I was drawn to in the first place, whether I knew it or not. There were ideals and philosophies we shared that were bigger than the superficial details of whether we enjoyed doing the same activities or had the same social circles. All of them have a signficant degree of idealism they were prepared to give up a mediocre, average life for. This made them individualists, because to trade the norm for the purpose you passionately desire to achieve entails not drifting with the mainstream.

I'm really glad this is it for me and for all my buddies. This feeling sometimes seems to run parallel with the sensations of liberty in the way that those who appreciate it talk about it. "Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect." How can living by the day being constantly pressured by social comparisons in school, via grades and the mere fact that everyone else seems to be studying, be a goal worth chasing? Study because you want to. This subjectivity isn't even a real one sometimes - it is a somewhat mindless fear of not keeping up with others one has perceived to be benchmarks of self-worth. It can sometimes be, to quote someone respectable, quite a diminished way to live.

Politics > Economics? Tough Call In Our Revenue-Driven World

SMU has recently raised its parking fees to tackle over-demand. I've always joked about the economic principle of supply and demand never really happening in reality when I point at crowded stalls with crazy queues around school and quip that they should raise prices to counter the problem. But such an action ever only benefits, at the end of the day, the 'market' which is largely an abstraction that certain people attempt to divorce from reality.

So I somewhat mock-applauded the decision because it was bold, it was sudden, it was - I believe - ignorant and it was, yet in a completely objective sense, practical. Let the price mechanism rebalance the situation. Economics textbook stuff. Want a parking lot? Pay a higher price. The price doesn't match your utility? Don't park! Problem should be solved and it's win-win - the school makes more revenue if the numbers don't dwindle, the ones who can pay can now have the luxury of less congestion.

But as expected, the market HARDLY ever works out. What ensued after that is typical of the everyday struggle between politics and economics. After the person in charge sent out the email notifying the school of the parking fee raise, student activism (of sorts) kicked in. People aren't normally happy that they can't have their pie and eat it too, so a few voices are raised and soon people are going to start petitioning or pulling the Student Association into this. Cookie points for our dear representative body soon, yay. To the credit of the student body, the carpark service hasn't exactly been up to par to begin with.

Of course, the most positive outcome to this would probably be that the demands cause innovation to occur and the school somehow builds a bigger and more efficient parking lot such that prices still remain low and demand can remain high. But such structural changes seldom take place because of a whole host of 'inefficient' reasons - the school is lazy, the school can get away with it, people can't deal with the construction, nobody wants to bother because students have a lifespan of about 4 years (duh) which is too little to care, etc. If politics triumphs, then the school will be forced to keep the prices low again and congestion will remain. But I suppose it's alright if people don't mind struggling for a parking lot if it means getting one that is cheaper, but at the expense of parking lot security. The utility comparison becomes: ($2.60/hr + parking lot insecurity) > ($3.00/hr + parking lot security), which equates to 40 cents per hour being waaaay too expensive for a higher assurance of parking lot spaces. There's no improvement, but it's okay as long as I don't ostensibly pay more. People can be funny that way.

We see this played out in Government, Union and Corporation battles across the globe regularly. Inflation forces prices to rise, workers protest against wage cuts, the market mechanism gets jammed, and we get workers who are perceived by economists as people who spend half their time believing in the power of revolt and the other half pretending to work. Wages remain high, costs stay high, and we continue pondering why the prices just don't stop rising. Hmm.

Only time will tell what will happen with regards to the SMU carpark saga. One has a hunch though that sometimes it is really money that garners political power in Singapore and the cream in$titution of the lot at $MU.

Note: My dispassionate perspective on the issue doesn't mean I do not feel the ball-squeeze for carpark users who have obviously been bearing the brunt of what is clearly rotten carpark service for quite some time, and then now this. This write-up is merely a lamentation about the vicissitudes of daily strife we wish we could come to embrace as normal, whichever side you're on.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

This Sounds Like Tragic Romance On Halloween Night

It's a cold dark night,
Hallows Eve upon the crest,
In a parking lot of vampires in suits to look their best,
And the music, with these coffins made of gold,
With friends and lovers freshly buried.

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.
For you

In a white dress, with no eyes,
Black suit red devil bow tie,
The king and queen are crowned Victorian.
"Is this the last of our haunting?"
She says as she floats like an angel.
"You will never know until you let me go,
I'm hoping this will never end!"

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.
For you

The haunting, where we fell in love.
The haunting, where we fell in love.
The haunting, where we fell in love.
The haunting, where we fell in love.

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, and then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, and then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.
For you

I Am Ghost - We Are Always Searching

Thursday, 19 November 2009

I am going to generalize. Say, between delusional self-confidence (immaterial) and a bunch of jobs you'd want to put together as a safety net so that you know you're employable (material), which would you rather have?

Personally, I'd rather have all of delusional self-confidence, because that kind of intrinsic and immaterial motivation is far more enduring and provides the character tools needed for the rest to happen.

Besides, from what I've observed, to peg your worth and happiness to something material like money or your GPA is a surefire way to end up being unhappy in all sorts of ways.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On Cynicism

I attended Dr Samantha Vice's Philosophy On Tap session last night, which will mark her last night here in Singapore. A wrap-up on about two weeks' worth of sharing, discussing and exploring her ideas on cynicism and morality went on for about an hour. I'd regretfully missed most of her talks while she was on tour in Singapore, especially the Capstone Seminar session, but even last night's short session was quite thoroughly enjoyable.

For a start, people generally admire cynics because they seem to be seeing things most of us don't. When a cynic speaks up against something, it's like wow, finally someone brave enough is willing to stand up and say something about it and even sound clever doing it. Dr Vice aptly used business men (often in advertising) and politicians as her target examples for why cynicism, when applied, can be a virtue. A caveat, however, is that we only appreciate them if they share the target of our disapproval. People get extremely defensive when they belong to a group that cynics target. Just consider the love cynic who espouses negative thoughts to an audience of yuppies.

The strongest albeit most controversial aspect of her argument is that cynicism is incompatible with morality, i.e. it is immoral to be cynical. This is mostly due to the way she has defined cynicism which, while it makes sense, has elements that are inherently immoral in some aspects already. So her definition of cynicism differs somewhat from the more layman way of thinking about cynics.

In a nutshell which runs the terrible risk of oversimplifying, cynicism involves 1) belief in human nature as 'bad' (self-interested, flawed, etc), 2) skepticism, suspicion, pessimism, maybe even resignation (which stems from the belief that the human condition is pathetic and unsalvageable), and 3) 'disengagement', which is the most crucial point in my opinion. Disengagement is a deliberate separation of self from the situation, such that one is then allowed to indulge in the witticism, coolness and suaveness of being a cynic. Because the cynic has such a low outlook on humanity, there is little that can get him or her down because everything is already expected within his or her realm of negative judgment. The cynic thus cannot seem to be 'shaken'. This disengagement stems from a lack of optimism about the human condition and a dispassionate take on the reality such that one will not be inclined to do anything about it.

Most of us who would think of ourselves as cynical would fulfill points 1 and 2, but point 3 is tricky because as long as we still have faith yet that there is hope for humanity to change things for the better, we aren't the extreme cynic Dr Vice is critical of. In other words, if we care enough about something, we aren't completely cynical. The fashionable coolness of cynicism stems from their devil-may-care attitude about the torrid state of things, and then joke about it and adopt a stance that says that they don't really give a damn.

Dr Vice has raised some objections to such an attitude towards life. For a start, whether we should endorse something can be judged by whether we would allow our children to be brought up that way. As such, there is something rather perverse about having a cynical child who is suspicious about everything. It is important that this should be contrasted with having a smart chlid who is discerning - the cynic looks at things a priori with a stance of suspicion already, which brings us to the next point. It is immoral to be cynical because we will judge people negatively even against the light of evidence, because everything has some underlying ulterior motive. This immorality may lead on to a whole host of other things later down the road, such as elitism and stereotyping.

Another compelling question Dr Vice raised also is: "can you imagine committing yourself to a lifetime with a cynic?"

I think the idea can be generalised most in a utilitarian manner when one simply thinks of life as consisting of a series of prisoner's dilemmas on a day-to-day basis. If there were more cynics amongst us, or if everyone in the world is a cynic, each prisoner's dilemma outcome would either be 'I lose' or 'both loses', leading to an overall decrease in wellbeing of both society and the individual.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

'Rather' Can Be Found In 'Character'

I would rather have all the problems associated with having too much freedom than not have any freedom at all any day.

I would rather have too much to think about than not have anything to think about.

I would rather grapple with the confusions of knowing too much than not knowing enough.

I would rather be confronted with problems of an 'unnecessary' nature than not have any thought experiments to deal with.

I would rather be opinionated and stubborn than apathetic and meek.

I would rather defend a stand and offend than sell my soul to please and be accepted.

I'm sure as hell elitist in my own weird way, and I'm really glad I am. :]

When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.
- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.
- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Overheard this in a conversation next to me.

Guys have it easier [in SMU], because they have the twin capacity to 'chum' male professors and 'charm' female professors.


"But I'm happy," a most unlikely person said to me.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is the sum total of what it means to have made it in life. You could be doing whatever weird-ass shizzle there is to do, but to be able to answer with conviction, at the end of the day against all of life's vicissitudes, "yes!" when you're asked, "are you happy?" is to be at at peace with yourself and everything in the world. When that truly happens when faced off with your conscience, nothing else really matters.

Signs Of The Times

I've noticed that missing the 2007/2006 university intake (i.e. you are from the 2005 and earlier batches) makes your tagged Facebook photos decrease by up to 1000% (I know this logic is directionally wrong but it's still correlationally correct). Talk about missing the bandwagon, which is good or bad only accordingly to what ultimately floats your boat with this whole Facebook thing.

This is the age of acronym-ing.


Friday, 13 November 2009


For a while I've been going to the National Library's 7th storey social sciences section with ease getting through security. The security people there used to consist of very crabby old women who always gave me the impression their husbands refused sex the night before and so were taking their work of denying people an easy time as a power trip, but recently while visiting my favourite part of the National Library to work on my international political economy paper I've had some very nice security ladies letting me through with a smile, I've even begun to forget about those unpleasant times dealing with them.

So today's old school crabby security lady was both a surprise and a return to old days. Maybe the powers that be thought it to be good again to instill some pain back in library patrons. But anyway, I just let her have her way with me, which saw me almost emptying out my bag to check if I had drugs or something. The security woman saw my notes and asked me to take them out too. I laid them out on the table, and the first one had a cover page with the title, "PIONEERS OF PARADIGMATIC CHANGE: WELFARE STATE TRANSFORMATION IN SMALL OPEN ECONOMIES".

And then she stared at me and said, matter-of-factly, "economics section is at the eighth storey."



This has been a great term for me as a couple of things have happened, and sometimes quite revelatorily.

In no particular order, the first (and possibly most significant because it might somewhat prelude the rest) is my decision to drop organizational behaviour and human resources (OBHR) as my second major and instead adopt political science as my second major.

This decision wasn't made overnight. In fact, the decision to pick up political science was possibly influenced from a long time ago when I started embarking more seriously on political and philosophical thought. Professor Rahul Sagar had probably quite a great deal to do with it, as the magical world of political sciences and history came alive under his introductory classes. I had always been fascinated by the discipline prior to university, but never thought I was competent or driven enough to dabble in it. I've even mentioned before that I worried that if I studied political science seriously, I would end up hating it. I started reading more related stuff after that and found that my thoughts on psychology, philosophy, politics and even economics had links and connections which I simply couldn't ignore. Those insights fascinate me so much that it would be a dream come true if I could just spend all my time deliberating on them.

Furthermore, the decision to drop OBHR was egged on by my growing impatience and intolerance towards business-related modules. I don't even really know where to begin on this. For one, bidding for OBHR mods was like a vomit-inducing process, because absolutely nothing fascinates me. Seriously, Training and Development? Human Capital Management? Management of People At Work? It takes some very specific passion to like and want to learn something like that and then apply it to work later on, and I know clear as day that I don't have that passion needed to do this. And nothing revolts me more than biting my lip and then putting a bid price down on choosing classes I've no drive to go for. It's too much lying to myself to get through, and I'm just not willed enough for that. Plus, I could really do without the next three months of feeling like I could've spent my time doing something else. On top of that, I've had far too many negative experiences with business-related modules and I'm too critical about it to pass off as tolerant of corporate behaviour (or even pre-corporate behaviour), so all I'm gonna end up doing, if my bids are successful, is to flunk all my OBHR mods. And I've really nothing against business, it's fine if there are people on the other side of the fence who think that social sciences is fluff, nonsense and intolerable themselves too, my disliking for business is just me and I've made my choice. I've sat through introduction to marketing and other business modules too and I can't see it without the critical glare of the social sciences getting to me, such as the psychological exploitation of the corporation that's going on, so I think I'm not just being narrow minded here and I've definitely made an informed choice.

The moment this drop-OBHR-do-political-science decision was made in my head, everything became a thousand times clearer. Everything I did and every decision I made suddenly had a boost of purpose. I went through the term doing social cognition, sociology of food and international political economy and I've never felt happier and more carefree studying. I did negotiation and conflict resolution too, the last OBHR mod I chose to do because I bidded for it before my decision to drop OBHR, and I was really lucky because I had the honour of studying it under an academically-driven professor, Dr Michael Benoliel, who was truly passionate about the subject and was honestly interested in imparting the knowledge of negotiations as a skill we can use in future to be successful in whatever we do.

Secondly, I did my internship at Pearson Education South Asia, which was the local publishing branch of Pearson. My time at Pearson wasn't the most pleasant, and I usually joke that if there's anything I really took away from my internship, it would be never to work at Boon Lay again. But Pearson became a valuable addition to my resume as it strengthened the perception of my competence in writing and in things related to media and publishing. If I don't make it in life, at least I know I'll always have editorial as a back-up job to do, which really isn't all too bad. It's great being able to earn money doing something you enjoy doing or don't have to put in effort for. In this case for me, it's writing and copy-editing (i.e. correcting people's English and grammar), something I would do anyway without remuneration. Just ask those I've frequently irritated by being grammar anal.

Next, I joined the social sciences publication team and, on what was really my whimsical suggestion, came up with the concept of Socscistan: the first ever faculty magazine for our very own social sciences faculty. During my stint there as a writer and illustrator, I wrote psychology articles and created designs, illustrations and comics for two issues, further cementing my credentials in the field of writing and publishing which will prove to be handy later on. Now as I begin move on into the twilight years of my undergraduate life, I've accepted the offer to take on the role of content editor for the magazine, and will be finding contributors rather than writing next time and deciding on the content for future issues.

With these events of my life in motion so far, I began to strongly give post-graduate studies a serious consideration. With my writing portfolio and aspirations to pursue academia, I decided to look at teaching and research assistant opportunities to bolster my experience and credentials, and strengthen my chances of applying for further studies through my academic resume and professor referrals. I ended up working with Professor Tobias Rettig on developing a website for disseminating information on the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, and am looking at potential working opportunities with social psychologist Jennifer Tong and evolutionary psychologist Dr Norman Li. The potential of working with Dr Li is especially exciting since he's a figurehead in the academic industry now and I'm very interested in evolutionary psychology. Further, my articles on Socscistan also piqued his interest in the idea that I might co-author some work with him, so it won't all just be research assistantship. It is so exciting that I get goosebumps just thinking it. This whole process and situation where I'm immersing myself so deeply in interacting with like-minded people who are passionate about knowledge feels like home.

Just as things couldn't seem to fall more in place, SMU recently announced that it will be opening a PhD programme for psychology. Suddenly, everything seems to be falling so much in place and for the first time in my life I feel like I really have a place to be. It hasn't been easy holding on to these ideals while going through life where you're always told you should be doing something else 'more important' - study sciences, it's better for you; study business, it's better for you; don't waste your time thinking about 'unnecessary, unimportant academic stuff' that won't earn you money, it's better for you - and for once I've got a real career choice in research, writing and academia I can spearhead myself towards. We've been warned that it's going to be four years of non-stop research and academic work, but I could seriously do that happily every day; in fact I already am doing that right now being the geek that I am, just that undergraduate stuff such as exams and project work from elsewhere keeps disrupting my focus. Finally, this!

I had a great time bidding for next term's mods - evolutionary psychology and political philosophy - and I'm in such an anticipatory mood. I will also be going to Guizhou for SMU's first ever political science study mission where we will be studying development, underdevelopment and poverty in one of the poorest provinces in China.

School couldn't be any better, life couldn't be any sweeter.

What is, indeed, the icing on the cake though is that I have a wonderful sweetheart who believes in me and my dreams and wants to see me through all of this.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

No Deal > Bad Deal

The other night I was watching TV when I saw Peter Schmeichel trashing around in the sewers below Paris with other French sewage workers. I was baffled until I realized the segment was titled Dirty Jobs with Peter Schmeichel, where each episode sees the legendary ex-Manchester United goalkeeper trying his hand at some ridiculously uneviable and downright shitty jobs around the world.

This is what happens when you earn too much money, retire too early, love the limelight and are just not good-looking enough to be marketable in a normal way.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Misconstrument On A Corporate Scale

Remember that psychological fact stating that 55% of communication is made up of non-verbal behaviour?


Last week, for a school assembly a guy with a British accent came in to do a reptile show for the school. He showed us his python named "Monty". I started laughing violently. No one else got it. MLIA

Today, I decided to have some fun at the mall by walking up to random women, and saying in a stern voice, "I know about the affair." Four said they didn't know what I was talking about, five begged me not to tell their husbands, and three women paid me off. New hobby? I think so. MLIA

Today, my teacher saw me texting under the desk and grabbed my phone. She didnt grab my penis. MLIA.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Transport Thrones From Past And Present

I've recently had SCV set up at home so I'm finally on the History Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet bandwagon. I just sat through a segment that covered the coveted Air Force One. By definition, any aeroplane that the Commander-in-Chief of the US becomes Air Force One, and the documentation of George Bush's visit to Tanzania definitely captured the glorious significance of this name and duty.

To me though it seems like nothing has changed since in the course of history over how leaders of people are treated. The moment a monopoly on power, force and the lives of people is gained, one has people at his beck and call, and it often turns into a lavish and grand affair. Preparations for the flight to Tanzania began months before the actual flight, and thousands of people were involved which definitely costed a lot of money and resources. Both the interior and exterior of the aeroplane that will eventually bear the responsibility of Air Force One is ridiculously and meticulously prepared and furnished. Infrastructure was shipped from the US to Tanzania to ensure that the Air Force One aeroplane has the adequate utilities and facilities to travel and land, and professionals from all over the world were employed to ensure that great food is served on board, security is taken care of at the airport and communications are secure and efficient. The whole idea is to recreate the experience of home away from home, as if the President was still in the White House. Everyone pours their hearts out into a flight like this, because of the sheer significance and symbolism of the act of transporting the President safely - One is protecting not just a man, but the representative of the United States of America.

This seems hardly any different from King Atahuallpa of the Inca empire, who sat on thrones weighing tens of tonnes held up by hundreds of Indian soldiers. One only has to watch 300 and observe Xerxes to grasp a visual of the enormous splendour, power as well as the decadent grandeur of royalty.

To worship one's country as a god is indeed to bring a curse upon it.
- Rabindranath Tagore

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

In Celebration Of The Idealist

Sometimes, I think idealists can be likened to heroes. Delusional as they are, they hold on to faith in the face of uncertainty, knowing that their cause can only succeed along with the shared belief of everyone else their cause may concern as well. It is easy to find a comfort zone by having the anticipation of worst-case scenarios as the acceptable outlook in things, and these are the realists, cynics and skeptics in life, love and whatever else. All it takes is the cold hard reality espoused by a cynic, and the idealist's cause crumbles.

It is just like two people acting on good faith in a transaction - All it takes is for one party to steal and horde the goods, and the party who acted on the basis of good faith loses out. From then on, selfishness and distrust is the key in future transactions.

So in championing the idealist, I can liken them to heroes as they have much more to lose while, courageously or delusionally, walking on the thin throes of faith, the burden of bad consequences not fearful enough to weigh the spirit down.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Sometimes I rush for MRT seats just so that I can give them up to people who need them later. Leaving civic mindedness to the general public is like leaving the occurrence of a pregnant lady or a frail old folk getting a seat to chance.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Sir Bobby Charlton, King Kev And Newcastle United

Sir Bobby Robson

"My father had five sons. I had four brothers."

"Hitler didn't tell us when he was going to send over those doodlebugs, did he?"
- On why he was refusing to name his England team before a World Cup qualifer against Sweden in 1989.

"We didn't underestimate them. They were a lot better than we thought."
- Sir Bobby after England sneaked through against Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup.

"Look at those olive trees. They're two hundred years old - from before the time of Christ!"
- Sir Bobby illustrates how great life is in Barcelona.

"I played cricket for my local village. It was 40 overs per side, and
the team that had the most runs won. It was that sort of football."

"We don't train in this country. We train at the beginning of the season to get fit once the season starts, we're a nation of match-day footballers."

"They're two points behind us, so we're neck and neck."

"Football never surprises you and it never sometimes demoralises you."

"If we start counting our chickens before they hatch, they won't lay any eggs in the basket."

"We've got nothing to lose, and there's no point losing this game."

"I would have given my right arm to be a pianist."

"I do want to play the short ball and I do want to play the long ball. I think long and short balls is what football is all about."

"Their football was exceptionally good - and they played some good football."

"Eighteen months ago they [Sweden] were arguably one of the best three teams in Europe, and that would include Germany, Holland, Russia and anybody else if you like. "

"We're taking 22 players to Italy, sorry, to Spain... where are we, Jim?"
- On whether Paul Gascoigne should have gone to the 1998 World Cup.

"He's very fast and if he gets a yard ahead of himself nobody will catch him."

"The first 90 minutes are the most important."

"In a year's time, he's a year older."

"Anything from 1-0 to 2-0 would be a nice result."

"Home advantage gives you an advantage."

"The margin is very marginal."

"Well, we got nine and you can't score more than that."

"He's got his legs back, of course, or his leg - he's always had one but now he's got two."

"Everyone's got tough games coming up. Manchester United have got Arsenal, Arsenal have got Manchester United and Leeds have got Leeds."

"Manchester United will find it very intimidating with 100 screaming fans in the Bernabeu."

"I thought that individually and as a pair, they'd do better together."

"If you're a painter, you don't get rich until you're dead. The same happens with managers. You're never appreciated until you're gone, and then people say: 'Oh, he was OK'. Just like Picasso."

"What can I say about Peter Shilton? Peter Shilton is Peter Shilton, and he has been Peter Shilton since the year dot."

"When he was dribbling, he used to go through a minefield with his arm, a bit like you go through a supermarket"
- On Paul Gascoigne.

"Steve Hodge has been unfit for two weeks, well, no, for 14 days."

"Ray Wilkins' day will come one night."

"All right, Bellamy came on at Liverpool and did well, but everybody thinks that he's the saviour, he's Jesus Christ. He's not Jesus Christ."

"Jermaine Jenas is a fit lad. He gets from box to box in all of 90 minutes."

"If you see him stripped, he's like Mike Tyson. But he doesn't bite like Tyson."
- On Titus Bramble.

"Nobby Solano discharged himself from hospital after the Tottenham game and he's driving, living the life and aware of who he is."

"We can't replace Gary Speed. Where do you get an experienced player like him with a left foot and a head?"

"They can't be monks - we don't want them to be monks, we want them to be football players because a monk doesn't play football at this level"
- On Newcastle's disciplinary problems.

"If we invite any player up to the Quayside to see the girls and then up to our magnificent stadium, we will be able to persuade any player to sign."

"We mustn't be despondent. We don't have to play them every week - although we do play them next week as it happens."
- Following Newcastle's 2-0 league defeat by Arsenal who they then played the following Sunday in the FA Cup.

Alan Brazil: "I'm delighted to say we've got Sir Bobby Robson on the end of the phone, fresh from getting his knighthood at Buckingham Palace. Bobby, terrific news."

Sir Bobby Robson: "What is?"

Brazil: "You know, getting the old sword on the shoulder from Prince Charlie."

Sir Bob: "Eh? [Long pause] Oh yeah... well, it was a day I'll never forget."

"The crowd were expecting Craig Bellamy to come on and turn it around in an instant. They think he's a magician. He's not, he will be, but he hasn't got a magic wand. He hasn't played for seven months. He will be an October player. He's not a September player"

"I'm not going to look beyond the semi-final - but I would love to lead Newcastle out at the final"

"There will be a game where somebody scores more than Brazil and that might be the game that they lose."

"We used to have Shaka Hislop on our books but I've never heard of Shakira. Is she a singer?"
- On learning that the pop diva was staying in the same Barcelona hotel as his players in November.

Kevin Keegan

"The ref was vertically 15 yards away."

"There are two schools of thought on the way the rest of this half is going to develop; everybody’s got their own opinion."

"Goalkeepers aren’t born today until they’re in their late twenties or thirties."

"The game has gone rather scrappy as both sides realise they could win this match or lose it."

"I don’t think there’s anyone bigger or smaller than Maradona."

"They compare Steve McManaman to Steve Heighway and he’s nothing like him, but I can see why – it’s because he’s a bit different"

"There’ll be no siestas in Madrid tonight."

"By using his strength. And that is his strength - his strength."

"One of his strengths is not heading."

"Gary always weighed up his options, especially when he had no choice."

"I’m not disappointed – just disappointed."

"The tide is very much in our court now."

"Chile have three options – they could win or they could lose."

"That would have been a goal if it wasn’t saved."

"I came to Nantes two years ago and it’s much the same today, except that it’s totally different."

"The substitute is about to come on – he’s a player who was left out of the starting line-up today."

"I know what is around the corner – I just don’t know where the corner is. But the onus is on us to perform and we must control the bandwagon."

"Hungary is very similar to Bulgaria. I know they’re different countries."

"In some ways, cramp is worse than having a broken leg."

"The 33 or 34-year-olds will be 36 or 37 by the time the next World Cup comes around, if they’re not careful."

"England have the best fans in the world and Scotland’s fans are second-to-none."

"I’d love to be a mole on the wall in the Liverpool dressing room at half-time."

"It could be far worse for me if it was easy for me."

"Argentina won’t be at Euro 2000 because they’re from South America."

"They’re the second best team in the world, and there’s no higher praise than that."

"You’re not just getting international football, you’re getting world football."

"Luis Figo is totally different to David Beckham, and vice versa."

"Football’s always easier when you’ve got the ball."

"I want more from David Beckham. I want him to improve on perfection."

"The Germans only have one player under 22, and he’s 23"

"I’ve had an interest in racing all my life, or longer really."

"We managed to wrong a few rights."

"We are three games without defeat is another way of looking at it. But if we are honest we have taken two points from nine."

"I’ll never play at Wembley again, unless I play at Wembley again."

Newcastle United

Q: Why do so many housewives love newcastle?
A: Cos they stay on top for ages and then come second.

Fire brigade phones Bobby Robson in the early hours of Sunday morning...
"Sir Bobby, St James Park is on fire!"
"The cups man! Save the cups!" replies Sir Bobby.
"Well...the fire hasn't spread to the canteen yet, sir."

Q. What's the difference between the Toon keeper and a taxi driver?
A. A taxi driver will only let in four at a time.

Why do Geordie Supporters have Moustaches?
A: So they can look like their Mothers.

Quasimodo asks Esmeralda, "Am I really the ugliest b**tard in the world?"
"Why don't you go upstairs to the Magic Mirror and ask ?" says Esmeralda.
Quasimodo goes upstairs to the mirror and returns a few minutes later.
As he hobbles in Esmeralda asks "Well, what did the mirror say ?"
To which Quasimodo replies, "Who's Peter Beardsley?"