Friday, 29 May 2009

Getting By

This morning, I woke up
Feeling brand new, I jumped up
Feeling my highs and my lows
In my soul, and my goals
Just to stop smoking, and stop drinking
But I've been thinking I've got my reasons
Just to get by, just to get by
Just to get by, just to get by

The chorus from Talib Kweli's Get By "gives me the goosebumps everytime I listen to it", to quote a few people who commented on That just hit the nail on the head. His further collaboration with MosDef, Kanye West and Busta Rhymes just shows the clear divide between meaningful rap that evolved out of rotten social circumstances, and sell-out (c)rap that goes on about women, jewellery, drugs, and whose gun is bigger. Get By has been one of the best rap songs I have ever heard, and Talib Kweli is possibly the most underrated rap artist ever.

I was surfing around for my psychology write-up stuff the other day when I chanced upon this article on Psychology Today.

The fans of unknown artists are creatures of paradox. They lecture you about indie directors and fame-retardant painters, but they're secretly possessive of them. They dread catching a pet singer on MTV's "Total Request Live" or a beloved author in Oprah's book club (recall the standoff between Oprah Winfrey and self-proclaimed "highbrow" novelist Jonathan Franzen in 2001). But do die-hard fans share such unpopulist sentiments out of a sense of schadenfreude? Or is it just cultural elitism? Ehor Boyanowsky, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, believes that "there is a sense of personal discovery and exclusivity that is diluted by general public acceptance." Or, as Joshua Gamson, Ph.D., author of Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America, states, "If too many people know about it, it's no longer any fun."

From what I've observed, it does seem quite a bit like the tendency for some to go for obscurity is borne out of a desperate need to be culturally elitist. I might even have had that phase in life before during those floaty secondary school and JC years, a knee-jerk reaction when I was getting irked out immensely by the sudden awareness of the typicality of mainstream music (along with its various other negative connotations and associations). But for those who hold on to obscurity in such a possessive manner, the ability to appreciate anything for what truly appeals to oneself can end up being quite stunted.

It's trying to declare oneself on top of the pack by finding a niche (which is a niche only because few people appreciate that niche, or the work within the niche is just mediocre) and setting up shop in that obscure little corner, and then laughing at others for not knowing that obscure little corner better.

Then, when ever their favourite obscure work of art is criticized, attacked or questioned about, a common response is defensiveness rather than a rational defense built upon knowledge of the art, because there wasn't really anything else in it other than the vague notion that it's cool to be different and know stuff that others don't.

Go here for the rest of the article.

This post was inspired by drowning in music while carrying out my editing chores, and being in the midst of a sudden lull period at work. A lull that happened only because I've finished what Melissa needs me to do but she has far too much on her hands to get back to me. Poor girl.

Audio Candy:
Talib Kweli - Get By

Monday, 25 May 2009

Putting 2 And 2 Together

This is the most I've ever blogged about the same subject in such a short time. Newcastle are dead and buried. I can look forward to Northeastern derbies with Justin's bloody Middlesbrough.

I had a conversation with Nathaniel earlier today, and I guess it's true. Newcastle don't deserve to stay in the EPL. 1-0 down with everything to play for, they still couldn't muster anything at all in the second half that looked like a fight. Even a dying, cornered rat would come out with snapping teeth because it has nothing else left to lose.

But I will be optimistic. We will be back soon enough.

Work's heating up at Pearson as we were bestowed with our project timelines at our general meeting today, and that's not all. I've still got the ApoliticalSMU logo to do and a psychology article to write up for Socscistan. 'The psychology of the unknown' at that time seemed like such a wondrous and magnificent topic to write about, but now I'm getting dangerously close to deadline without an idea how to begin.

There is nothing quite as dreadful as living in Serangoon and working at Boon Lay without an MP3 player to accompany oneself through the eternal morning and evening rides.

I wouldn't be a vegetarian because I love animals. I'd be a vegetarian because I hate plants.

Audio Candy:
Red - Death Of Me

It's Not The Storm Before The Calm

We're going down,
And you can see it too.
We're going down,
And you know that we're doomed.

Newcastle has lost 1-0 away to Aston Villa. They only needed a draw and they couldn't manage it (of course this is subject to the result of Hull's game, but ex post facto or not, defeat is a result they could not afford at any rate if they intended to stay up at all). I don't blame them for today's defeat because I don't think it was easy, but at the end of the day the result is the only thing that changes the course of fortunes and the whole season has been a barrage of poor results.

Soon, the international players will start leaving, and so will the better talents. Just makes me feel like they need a manager like Roy Keane right now to force them back into the EPL. I've heard some people say before that Newcastle has far too much history for them to go down, but they've been relegated as a cold, hard fact.

Goodbye to the Black and White for now.

I nearly committed the mortifying act of raising hell and pandemonium because I didn't have internet on my office computer when my LAN cable simply wasn't connected to the wall jack.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


What der fark... Newcastle is down 1-0. Hull is losing to Manchester United too. Buck up! If Hull loses, a draw will suffice.

I will sympathize with Hull later, but for now it's a dog-eat-dog world out there.

I'd be at the Newcastle fan club with Nathaniel and Theodor and a thousand other scary Newcastle fans if not for work tomorrow. I can't imagine what the mood there must be like now. I'm imagining funeral music. Please don't lose, Magpies, or I will have to join the legion of Leeds fans out there.

In Yer Face

This is a little bit like old news, but still.

The Workers’ Party opposes the Public Order Bill
14 April 2009 by Sylvia Lim, NCMP

The change in definition of “assembly” and “procession” is more disturbing. As the Explanatory Statement to the Bill says, these words are no longer restricted to gatherings of 5 persons or more. This means even ONE person alone can constitute illegal assembly, thus giving the State complete control over an individual citizen’s freedoms.

As a matter of philosophical morality, where does Singapore politics stand? The government's arbitrary power has grown once again, and along with that, citizen freedoms have taken another hit.

Audio Candy:
The Spill Canvas - Self Conclusion

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Internship And Yadayada

I guess at this point of time in my life, having had 23 years to live and studying psychology and all that, when I ask what someone is really like, it's not because I haven't got a clue or can't pin something onto that someone. It's more like I'm hoping to get a better opinion so that I can perhaps give a little benefit of the doubt.

I'm in the higher education regional publishing department at Pearson. I've, however, been tasked to help Melissa, who's much older than me but really looks more like my junior, work on the 'Indonesian project', which involves providing Indonesians teachers with English teaching materials. Edit edit edit. My grammar analness is proving to be very useful.

My department's colleagues are a really jolly bunch so far.

Audio Candy:
Stars - Take Me To The Riot

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Intern Awaketh

It seemed to start with a little tingle to my senses - a softly registered decibel perhaps - and gradually the colours started to fill the crammed and plastic landscape around me. A middle-aged lady to my left darted the mouse across the computer screen, highlighted a small length of text and hit a button, deleting the selection. The peculiar but very familiar practice of e-mail replying without the apparently distasteful RE: prefix. I started scanning the office. To my right, a young, boyish-looking girl was deftly maneuvering between a few internet explorer windows with the alternate-tab keys, one of which I could pick out even with a fraction of a second to be a blog. Probably a honed skill from needing to juggle between work and illegal entertainment.

The air was filled almost subliminally with the haphazard sound of the scrambling of fingers over keyboards, punctuated once in a while with something else equally mundane, like the stapling of paper. This squarish farm of cubicles was abuzz with the echoes of activity beneath its unmoving exterior.

The time was 1046h. I'd entered the building at 0815h and had went through two hours of briefing, and it felt as though my mind had just woken up, all the while nestled in a bed on legs that had been merely lumbering around on autopilot.

This is it. Time to get used to 6.00A.M.s out of the sack. Time for ninety-minute traveling every weekday morning. TIME FOR INTERNSHIP!

"Every day is President's Day when you have an intern!"
- David Letterman

Audio Candy:
Papa Roach - Lifeline

Monday, 18 May 2009

Religious Philosophy

"No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.”
- David Hume

By similar logic, no amount of observations can lead to the inference that there is no God, as a single encounter with God is sufficient to refute such a conclusion. It is also intuitively illogical to reverse the statement as follows: no amount of observations can lead to the inference that there is a God, as a single encounter with no God is sufficient to refute such a conclusion.

Furthermore, to say that there is no God, one has to be all-knowing, i.e. God. This is self-defeating.

Philosophy FTW.

Audio Candy:
Ludovico Einaudi - Fuori Dal Mondo

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Howay The Lads

How do you give me so much pleasure
And cause me so much pain?

This should be Newcastle's theme lines. I guess it would be expecting too much of a team that is battling relegation to be able to turn a victory into a winning streak, but they simply cannot afford to lose, especially not at home, and that they did again by going down 1-0 to Fulham. Ugh heartbreak.

Howard Webb made a host of horribly poor decisions, one of which saw a completely legitimate Viduka header goal disallowed and the other resulting in the sending off of Bassong for a seemingly harmless tussle. My goodness.

One wonders what Alan Shearer tells the squad. Everyone thinks he's better off taking off his suit, donning a jersey and actually playing and maybe Newcastle will really score. Probably something along these lines:

"C'mon lads! Get stuck in and show more spirit! Strikers, you gotta hit the ball at this part, you gotta head the ball like this. Fight with determination! We gotta get the goals because to win you gotta have more goals than your opponent! Okay now Ian (Dowie) will take over for the tactics and second half strategy."

I watched the game at Nathaniel's house with his brother Theodor. Theodor is as passionate a Newcastle fan as any. Here are some memorable quotes in the midst of his angry rambling:

Theodor: Walan eh Fulham keep wasting fucking time, like this motherfucker what's his name? Pantsil or whatever fuck.

Nathaniel: Which Kamara is this?
Theodor: Aiya it's bastard Kamara. The one with no father.

Theodor: Fuck Howard Webb lah! Fuck his mother cheebye! If he has a mother. Bastard.

Khairul, Arvinder and Nathaniel are talking about Hall games, and that Hall 7 is the strongest.
Theodor: Hall 7 can win Newcastle lah.

Newcastle are now back in the drop zone with one game to play away to Aston Villa. Hull have overtaken Newcastle to get to 16th with a point earned today, and will also have one game left to play but to Manchester United. Newcastle can afford to draw if Hull loses, which is quite likely, but if Hull draws Newcastle definitely need all 3 points. So Newcastle should just try and score and win for once (Vs Middlesbrough one game ago was another matter). If Hull wins Manchester United, then the shit would've hit the fan and it'll be goodbye to Newcastle.

Audio Candy:
Green Day - Know Your Enemy

Saturday, 16 May 2009

All At Sea

There is always a sense of beckoning when I see and am in the midst of whatever limited nature I can get around here. Be it sprinting across as my toes dig into soft sand and hurling myself into the waves with the bright blue sky sprawling overhead, or immersing into the dark of the night with the echoes of cicada and the fresh scent of nocturnally-active plants, I always feel most carefree and like I belong. Recently, there's been a Go card advertisement which depicts the holders of the card diving in the bluest of lagoons, hiking in the deepest rainforests and driving across long stretches of Savannah, and I can't help but feel a deep sense of longing for the ability to travel and experience such an adventure.

I had one of the most carefree three days of my life at Sentosa with everything I love. :]

Audio Candy:
Jason Mraz Feat. Colbie Caillat - Lucky

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Light In The Harsh, Dark Reality Of The Relegation Battle

Psychosis induced by supporting a team facing relegation. Symptoms include crankiness, excessive use of caps lock and exclamation marks, and bitterness that spills over into dire hatred for teams in the same league at the top.

Newcastle lifted themselves out of the drop zone by beating fellow relegation-battler and my cousin Justin's beloved Middlesbrough 3-1. It really could've swung any way and it might've been him who'd be celebrating survival instead of me. But it was crucially down to this game and Newcastle knicked it to sniff, for the first in a long time, some glimpse of hope.

For Newcastle, it's the first win for Alan Shearer and their first home win since December.

For me, it might soon mark the end of a major trough in the rollercoaster ride that being a Newcastle fan always seems to involve.

This should remind Nathaniel that he's just being as gay as gay can be considering becoming a Liverpool fan should Newcastle really drop this season.

I've never wanted to leave. I'm here for the rest of my life, and hopefully after that as well
- Alan Shearer as a Newcastle player

Audio Candy:
Guns 'N Roses - Chinese Democracy

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Time Immemorial

On numerous occasions in temples and mountains in China, I'd get into mental states where I could imagine and visualize ancient Chinese people dressed in their slacks and pulling their carts of fruit around me as I walked across paths made up of stone smoothed out by centuries of weathering and human traffic. The alleys and streets would get crowded and I'd practically bump into them, if not for the barrier we call time that separated us from one another.

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
- Albert Einstein

Audio Candy:
Ludovico Einaudi - Interludio

Friday, 8 May 2009

A Statistical Discontentment

Hans Rosling is a really respectable statistician who has been through stuff before he talks. And I've never seen a data analysis so excitingly and elegantly presented as this, especially with the urgency that is symbolic of the need for those who can do something about world poverty to do it already.

This is not to say that every developed country should stick its nose into the business of LDCs, because I don't think anyone is in a position to say that poor people need our help. But in empowering people ranging from students to social helpers and policy makers to entrepreneurs who can provide innovative services and solutions, the poor can gain opportunities to improve their lives as they deem fit. I do believe that there are some things that are universally desired, such as the ability to live longer and experience less suffering, and there are economic improvements that can eradicate the factors that shut masses of people out from being able to lead less agonized lives characterized by a lack of resources such as food and water.

Hans Rosling demonstrates in his presentation that a major problem exists when we often lump people together into countries, regions and whole continents. With access to good data, which actually does exist, people who have the means to cater to individual groups even within small states can do what it takes to provide proper and better targeted aid such as HIV diagnostic and prevention measures. For example, this is highlighted when the social classes of Niger and South Africa are compared (2003 statistics). The bottom 20% of Niger's population rank among the lowest in terms of child survival (75.6%) and GDP per capita in the world ($102 GDP per capita), and the richest 20% of South Africa have a 97.5% child survival rate and fare almost equally with the richest in the world with $30400 per capita GDP. And yet people are constantly guilty of saying that Africans need help. But it is hard for most of us to comprehend or come to know of this because of the lack of open data available.

As Hans Rosling states, "we find that students get very excited when they can use this, and even more policy makers and the corporate sectors would like to see how the world is changing. Now, why doesn't this take place? Why are we not using the data we have? We have data in the United Nations, in the national statistical agencies and in universities and other non-governmental organizations. Because the data is hidden down in the databases. And the public is there, and the Internet is there, but we have still not used it effectively. All that information we saw changing in the world does not include publicly-funded statistics. There are some web pages like this, you know, but they take some nourishment down from the databases, but people put prices on them, stupid passwords and boring statistics."

Tell me about it. I've scoured the internet for information at times when doing term papers and assignments only to find a horde of knowledge tucked neatly into little packages with price tags on them.

Sure, when I publish a journal, I would definitely like to be credited for it. I wouldn't be someone who pursues business profits, but I'd still like a salary because I need to eat, and I do expect a certain degree of remuneration for the prestige I hold that has been grounded upon years of intellectual rigour, dedication and perfecting knowledge in a certain field of expertise, and because nothing would suck more than to study, do research and spend years mentally debating over issues of the world for the intellectual betterment of mankind and not get paid for it.

Because one can't say for sure how an academic should be paid, and who should do the paying, it is left to the free market system which dictates that I get paid by users of my work. That means no more open sharing of knowledge, because no one wants to be responsible for the education of the world. The utility of one's work is directly linked to the combined utility of those who desire it, transacted by money. And because, more disgustingly, some people see a market opportunity and profits in being middle men and agents for the dissemination of information.

I respect that scholars and academics desire credit and recognition for their work. But because of some reason that money is now the only practical means for acknowledgement, much of the world's intellectual journals, scholarly writings, statistics, data and wisdom are now largely inaccessible to the most convenient means of access - the internet - which is a huge pity. I suppose there are probably scholars and academics who are also guilty of being only motivated by money when they work, but I believe the system churns out certain types of people (coupled with the decline of philosophy in the 19th century and its collapse in the 20th century as the world moved towards capitalistic and economic practicality). Whatever it is, it doesn't change the fact of the matter that we have a glorious opportunity to be wiser from the exposure to such knowledge, but the knowledge is just not publicly available.

It would really be good to one day see greater information sharing and access so as to reduce uncertainty and ignorance especially with regards to dire decisions to be made and preconceived notions of the world.

Audio Candy:
Sting - Shape Of My Heart

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


"I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate - it's apathy. It's not giving a damn."
- Leo Buscaglia

If there is anything worse than being evil or hateful, it is blind, unthinking apathy. Ignorance, apathy and a lack of thought is the weapon by which bad acts are enacted. Without the parochial masses, there will be no means for those capable of evil to exact their intentions. In essence, one who is capable of hate still has the propensity for taking a stand and, by virtue of that, can then be convinced with rationality and reason. Attacking the opinions of such a person will still evoke a thinking response.

"Apathy is the slow poison coursing through the body politic that paves the way to tyranny."
- Laurence Overmire

But the one who is apathetic and unthinking has no such thought logic. Being devoid of a want for deeper clarification and understanding of things leaves much room for the inability to be properly enlightened, resulting in behaviour that follows the crowd without rootedness in objective morals. Such an unenlightened state leads one and many to the ills of dispassionateness, erosion of tradition and consumerism. And in such an apathetic state of mind, there is little propensity for genuine guilt should one commit an act of evil, other than guilt you have been told to experience in order to make yourself seem like a normal person, an emotional response adopted in a bid to belong to the normal order of the world.

Apathy is the basis of blind faith for those who do not bother to seek beyond the lines and colours of what they see. When pressed for reasons, they will only have textbook answers, beyond which there is often nothing else but shrugs or emotional states of defensiveness.

Stripped of the tangible, material ropes that anchor these parochials to some popularly held state of mind, they are left with nothing. And with disgust, they can be watched as they stray aimlessly until they locate and leech themselves to some other reasonably attractive truth, axiom or following; intellect and responsibility exchanged for comfort, security and a sense of self defined by someone else.

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking."
- John Maynard Keynes

Audio Candy:
Feist - Let It Die

Sunday, 3 May 2009


I've just returned from my 12-day stay in China, where I visited Xi'an, Kunming and Lijiang. I've missed drinking water straight off the tap. It's been a trip where I've learnt much more than I'd bargained for.

We toured companies and talked to people deep in the action of Xi'an's incredible economic expansion over the past decade or so. Quite a bit of life's philosophies were shared by these people spearheading the up-and-coming force that drives the growth of Xi'an.

China has attained a somewhat positive state of economy where the basis of her capitalism is in service to the people. Many enlightened enterprises understand the important roles they and their competitors play in the business economy, and believe that the goods they produce must firstly be good for their consumers, which is in contrast with the inefficient communist economy and the selfish nature of American capitalism.

The importance of 关系 was also clearly highlighted as I observed its extension to relations with not only competitors and partners, but the government. China's government structure is complicated. If I were to set up a firm in China, I would have to establish good relations with each government department before I can be cleared or directed to the next relevant department. It isn't as straightforward as the system in Singapore.

I've also found that social grace is pretty much lacking in China, and there are reasons for this. I've noticed that if I were driving on a road, it's okay someone to cut my lane (the way we would totally frown upon in Singapore) because it's mutual - later on it will be okay for me to cut someone else's. Traffic is all about give and take. Likewise, it's okay for me to stand in the way or shove someone aside for my own convenience, because someone else will scold me or remind me about it, and nobody feels bad for being reprimanded or being told what to do there. As a result, acts of social awareness and being considerate is very low, as nobody really bears the brunt of failing to think ahead of their actions.

I also suppose we are prone to judging them socially in a negative manner because of the advanced nature of their development. If someone behaved in a socially obnoxious manner in the slums of India or Africa, I wouldn't think so much of it. But in a modern civilisation like China's with so much promise, I can't help but think that there is still quite a bit lacking.

Lijiang is a beautiful town with many plains, farms and mountains that have, quite unfortunately in my opinion, been marred by an expanding and modernising economy fuelled by tourism that is disgustingly milking their culture for money. Aside from the small city area that has clubs blasting Chinese techno with girls dressed in ethnic costumes grinding each other, the villages have extremely scenic views of nature with horses and boats to ride on.

After more than a week of immersing in Chinese culture, I think my English started going down the drain. While my Chinese has definitely improved in leaps and bounds (it's still not fantastic, but this is compared to how incorrigible my Chinese has been in the past), I'm becoming more prone to thinking in terms of Chinese and the translation process in my head sometimes messes up my thought processes because of the language switching. I've even got a couple of Chinese songs irritatingly stuck in my head because of the KTV sessions where nobody sings English songs.

But I think Chinese language is very naturally poetic.

I think I've also learnt the price of self esteem and dignity. There are some pressing things I will need to think through, re-evaluate and deal with, and with urgency, because I don't know how much more of these thoughts circling my mind I can take.

Although the weather here can't compare at all to China's, I'm just glad to be back right now.

Audio Candy:
陈淑桦 - 东方之珠