Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Of Perfection And Ignorance

"In every generation, and now more rapidly than ever, the things which it is necessary that somebody should know are more and more multiplied. Every department of knowledge becomes so loaded with details, that one who endeavours to know it with minute accuracy, must confine himself to a smaller and smaller portion of the whole extent: every science and art must be cut up into subdivisions, until each man’s portion, the district which he thoroughly knows, bears about the same ratio to the whole range of useful knowledge that the art of putting on a pin’s head does to the field of human industry. Now, if in order to know that little completely, it is necessary to remain wholly ignorant of all the rest, what will soon be the worth of a man, for any human purpose except his own infinitesimal fraction of human wants and requirements? His state will be even worse than that of simple ignorance. Experience proves that there is no one study or pursuit, which, practised to the exclusion of all others, does not narrow and pervert the mind; breeding in it a class of prejudices special to that pursuit, besides a general prejudice, common to all narrow specialities, against large views, from an incapacity to take in and appreciate the grounds of them. We should have to expect that human nature would be more and more dwarfed, and unfitted for great things, by its very proficiency in small ones."

- John S. Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, 1867


To this end, I am reminded of the problems that the practice of reductionism causes. The whole is, more often than not, greater than the sum of its parts. Reductionism simply strips meaning away from what each part was meant to contribute within its roles and functions.

Take, for instance, an obsession with wanting to figure out what love is all about. Rigorous reductionism will reduce love to chemical reactions in the brain. Does that tell us anything at all in the end? Economics is blatantly guilty in this sense too. Everything eventually can be boiled down to the outcomes of cost and benefit weightage. While it might be true that that often pans out in reality, the sanctity and virtues of the actions of agents are totally stripped from the equation. One thing that always gets to me where reductionism is concerned is food and eating. A few decades ago scientists thought they had revolutionized methods to achieve good health by fragmenting food right down to its constituent nutrients and calories, riding on the assumption that if you consume the good chemicals and remove the bad, people will be better off (somewhere along the lines of being healthier). But is that true? Nutritionism has completely taken the fun and joy out of eating, and we've observed all sorts of nutritional obsessions that are still largely unfounded, such as calorie-counting, adopting all sorts of diet plans (carb-free, Atkins, etc) and consuming pills that can supposedly supplement or even replace one's meal. Are people healthier? Maybe. Are people happier and better off? No. Social activity and bonding from eating proper and good meals are on the decline. A multitude of eating disorders has arisen from these nutritional obsessions, such that books and policies are starting to spring up to encourage a return to more primitive and wholesome ways of eating.

This also calls to mind an idea I had discussed sometime towards the later part of 2008, where our existence in a world obsessed with instantly gratifying specifics and accuracies makes us forgo thinking about the "inconvenient truth". We are more concerned with the next decimal point than what infinity is all about.

By and large I think this might also cultivate the self-centredness and self-obsession that afflicts many individuals today, because of various consequences of living in a modern and advanced capitalist world. Capitalism and liberalism necessarily entails specialization, which fragments communities as people are plucked out of their social groups and made to know, as far as possible, how to do only one thing and do it well. To facilitate this, widespread pluralism is encouraged through tolerance, as liberalism holds that every opinion should be given equal weight and standing, so no one position is prioritizable over another. A form of subjective elitism results, as everyone then holds on to positions they belong to and believe what they hold to be true or right. And of course they do believe so; every position has its own history and story which validates its existence. But where then is the bridge between these solidified positions? What we see in the world today is a distinctive inability to come to terms with various conceptions of truth, as everyone holds opposing views that could be equally right. A failure to connect and engage in real argument and debate, resulting in assertions and counter-assertions with no real resolution to (important) issues, reflects how disconnected we are from each other in the world we live in today.

Can there be any more wonder as to how much distasteful political correctedness has grown because of this desire not to offend, when in the first place offensiveness can only be function of not understanding where the other party is coming from and not knowing fully the situation that befalls all parties? Bringing it right back to the opening point, it is a condition that is encouraged, during education, by the replacement of general understanding with specialization.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010



Today, I gave a pretty decent individual presentation for PSSM (political science study mission) class, but I think it was decent mostly because the professor is an idealist. My research idea about modernization and rural China is quite abstract and more explorative than rigorous, and I can think of other professors who would've shot it down for being too fluffy.

Technically, it is fluffy because I do not have scientifically worked out causal mechanisms to test and I won't get statistically solid numbers to work with when my research is done. But analytically, I think what I'm trying to do is very exciting and can shed light on and provide insights for where rural societies are headed.

It is just somewhat disconcerting at times that one's fortunes are so vulnerable to the biases and dispositions of those whose opinions matter.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Do You Know What's Worth Fighting For

If it's not worth dying for?


I caught Confucius on the big screen, and it has made me realize quite a few things (this is regardless of whether Confucius was an accurate account of the real life of Confucius himself).

It is quite a big thing to proclaim, but I think I'm close to being someone who'd die for ideas. Give up life for knowledge and truth (I'm using these terms generally and loosely). There are of course varying degrees of what this translates into and how this manifests itself. For instance, I think that I will readily lead a frugal and minimal life and give up a lot if I had to pursue knowledge and truth. I always get this spine-tingling sensation whenever I realize that I'm someone who can sacrifice quite a bit if it means that a truth will be uncovered, or even propagated. It's a spine-tingling sensation along the lines of excitement more than fear, such as the prospect of going to the Middle East or Africa to do stuff. What stuff exactly? I'm not sure yet, but if that day ever comes when I know going somewhere 'dangerous' will get me answers, I think I'd go. Will I endure a gunshot so that I can salvage a principle? Maybe, this is a tough call. But I certainly won't deny the possibility that I really might.

When Yan Hui dived into the water to try and save as many of Confucius' scriptures and writings as possible and then died doing it, I think that was where it really really got to me. As absurd as it might seem, I can totally identify with it, and think it to be the noblest of acts. It reminded me also of other similar shows I've watched with scenes where I totally cracked emotionally. In Bodyguards and Assassins, it was how the revolutionists sacrificed their lives to ensure that Sun Yat-Sen could travel safely out of Hong Kong. I really lost it when one of the characters went against the will of his conflicted father (but only because his father loved him dearly) and got killed while being a decoy for Sun Yat-Sen, and although he was gripped with fear as a young man, he smiled just before his demise because he knew that with Sun Yat-Sen alive for another day, the corrupt and tyrannical rule of the outdated Chinese dynasty could be eradicated for the betterment of society.

These are instances where people risked their lives fighting for the things they believed in, even in the face of imminent death.

A lot of it stems from a personal perspective of the world whereby ideas are what shape generations of people, and individuals are merely carriers of those ideas. While this doesn't mean that life is a cheap commodity since people appear to be dispensable, I think that the way people are so caught up with self-importance and being self-obsessed can be misguided. I believe myself to be pretty much nothing more than a flash in the darkness; before long I'll be gone and forgotten. But truth and knowledge - they live on for much longer, and ultimately they can liberate people.

Damn man, when Confucius was finally allowed back to the Kingdom of Lu after years of being exiled (for being too much of an ethical idealist, no less), his tears of joy from finally being let back into the motherland that kicked him out (rather unfairly) said so much. He still executed the 'outdated' practice of kneeling before the doors, demonstrating reverence and ultimately a profound respect for tradition, which is a pretty strong way of indicating that he knows his place in the bigger scheme of reality, regardless of how important a man he is. Regardless of how one sees oneself and how one believes one's needs to be important, we are all still mere drops of sand in a huge desert. A humility in this sense of knowing one's place, I believe, is desirable and strongly called for.

The danger of course resides in the potential for 'hyper-rationality' - Hitler, Lenin and Mussolini were all people who believed in some ideal utopia and, at the height of their passions, did some despicable things. But who could really fault them for believing that there really would be a better world constructed under the veil which renders seeing the future impossible? Terrible consequences came from their faith in extreme social engineering to construct what should have worked in theory.

But we can only learn from history and hold dear our idealism that provides hope that there is a better future for everyone ahead, and strive to make as much sense of truth and knowledge as possible, so that any proposition for a gameplan for life will be approached with due caution.

Insofar as I am 'afflicted' with these tendencies, I think I have a responsibility to uphold it; to act on my convictions as long as I believe my convictions to be virtuous where, as Plato asserted centuries ago, the physical body (along with all its material cravings of possessions and social affirmation and being a mere imperfect form for the soul) is subordinate to truth, knowledge and ultimately virtue.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Easy Way Out

In all brilliant theories that have ever been conceived by respectable philosophers or thinkers lie excellent critiques of the nature of structures and institutions and draw our attention astutely to certain natures of man that have been left out by those structures and institutions. Plato drew our attention towards the lack of objective justice when "might is right" and believed that man lives best when he is well placed in the divine order dictated by objective truth and justice. Hobbes raised very important concerns about the necessity of peace in order to merely survive as dignified beings, and so touches on the need for a 'Leviathan' to prevent man from falling into a state of anarchy. Locke criticized the stifling nature of the state in preventing us from being free, independent and equal beings. Marx attacked the alienating nature of industrialization and capitalism, drawing our attention towards the fact that we are, ultimately, social beings.

The inevitable flaw that accompanies every brilliant theory, though, is in its attempt to rationally propose a strategy based on its critique for man to follow and attain some form of ideal end. Even worse is our glaring incapability as human beings to carry out grand strategies, because an ideal end requires sacrifice and the tendency for self-interest can never be completely pushed aside. The greatest 'flaw', if I were to indulge in a loaded word, of our nature is in the tendency for some men to even use the proposed theory to their self-serving advantage. We've seen this play out with all the thinkers I had mentioned. Their good intentions eventually provided the legitimacy for various forms of tyranny to occur, such as totalitarianism, fascism and rampant corporatization, to name a few.

Were we never meant to achieve ideal ends? Are utopian goals an evil in itself? Why has there never been a theory that can work perfectly? It seems like, as beings torn between knowing and not knowing, and having intelligence but being of limited perceptibility, the best of us are capable of providing sobering accounts of how drastically wrong we were and illuminating what we are as human beings, but are never quite capable of proposing a game plan that can cover all the loopholes that our nature can exploit.

If there was a theory I would consider 'most right' though, it would reside among the circles of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and later St Thomas Aquinas. They were primarily concerned with the 'shaping of the soul' from young. What this essentially means is that people should be taught virtues and should be allowed to interact based on shared morals that were derived from objective principles of truth and justice, rather than on rules and laws. When the sensibilities of society are already well established, a population made up of enlightened and compassionate citizens should fare better than any other population that has to depend on rules and regulations to correct evils.

The problem with this plan, of course, is its immense difficulty in implementation, far greater than any other easier-way-out ideology that exists for states to utilize today. And even then, the concept of states and sovereignty itself is a recent and proximate phenomenon, borne out of Hobbesian and Machiavellian prescriptions.


FUCKYEAHPUNS is new love. Except that it updates new content quite slowly.

Lady GaGa puns:

Of Course It's BIG TIPS

TV faux pas with these neutral words whose meanings are charged in the eyes of hosts, contestants and viewers alike.

On a side note, I am reminded of Dennis Miller's stand up quip on tit-for-tat: "What is tat? Where do I get it? How do I get the other for it?"

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Let this pass, or fight administration?

The past month or so and its countless battles has been such a fascinating milestone in my life, and there's no sign of things slowing down.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Sea Of Red

The blood-letting Thai demonstrations was quite a chilling message. It was a show of how far they'd go within their capacities of citizens and religiosity. Most external observers would think it to be a thoroughly silly act with a whole waste of precious blood, but to these guys, they were drawing on one of the most potent forms of retaliation they know of - cursing the government with superstitiously unlucky blood and playing on symbolism to create avenues for their needs to be heard. "If they are willing to step over our blood and go home, then the government truly doesn't care for us," one protestor warned. It is almost silly to draw rationality into the picture. These people would consider spilled blood more worth the while than stashing packets of donated blood to save lives, and you can't blame them. What is reasonable for one person is unreasonable for another; our rationalities are bounded by external forces that shape the choices we make.

The Thai government seems to be more content riding their luck on the matter. The general sentiment is that once the protestors get tired of demonstrating, they will have to get on with their lives anyway, and the numbers will dwindle. In so many countries with disgruntled citizens, that often happens to be the case. In China, the dissent of the populace often centers around practical purposes - poor ruling from a county head, unfair distribution of subsidies, lack of utilities and facilities, etc - rather than ideological ones. People often care little for ideological unification or pursuit; once their basic needs are met and all is considered fair, it doesn't matter what the intent of the government is. Life goes on. Ideological pursuits are more characteristic of American citizens, who want more than just the meeting of basic necessities but philosophical alignment.

But every now and then, some unlucky government doesn't quite get away with it. The tipping point for revolution to happen is organization. There is a lot of built up discontent among Thai citizens now, and while they are united in thought they are not united in resolve. It is not an easy process, but all it takes eventually is for a charismatic leader to rise among them, organize them and lead them for a revolt to occur. Governments systematically oppress unofficial organizations because this is the ultimate tipping cause for a political fightback. Once there is a uniting force that keeps the dissatisfied together, their individual needs will be subjugated to the group. People will begin to sacrifice themselves more. All the benefits (or ills, depending on the situation) of herd mentality, groupthink, deindividualization and social influence will subvert the 'soul' from the individual to the group such that the organization becomes an entity with a life of its own. And that's when the government that hasn't been able to keep its subjects happy will be in trouble.
Over the past couple of weeks I've had the resolve on my personal principles tested on numerous occasions and I'm clear that I've upheld them. I've done so in the face of impracticality and the potential grating of friendships. I can only hope people do not take things personally and that the principle should speak for itself. I suppose sometimes it's difficult to separate the actor from the action along with all of its perceived assumptions and byproducts. Nonetheless, it's a judgment call, and there are certain principles that simply should withstand the ills of political correctedness and social pressure. Even if it entails myself being compromised within the community (with possible exclusion in all its various forms), it really matters less to me if I might lose a few trivial friendship bonds along the way than to give up on principles that I think, very deeply, are correct. I do not mean to say that friends are not important, but it should never be held that friends can get away with murder and injustice if the evidence so states. It is indeed a tough call sometimes, but insofar as I can fight the good fight with a discerning preservation of good friendships, I would.

But in the face of this new challenge, the past few weeks have been trivial little trials. This new circumstance I'm facing is stressing on the core of my fundamental beliefs. The system was tolerable while it was dormant and I could skirt around it. Now that the system has woken and has imposed itself upon me with what I think isn't fair, should I up and leave? Or even further, should I oppose it?

This might be when all that theory finally becomes bullets in a gun, when it comes down to the grind, when it comes down to the difference between pretentious hot-air and a true empowering of my proclamations, when it comes down whether you're going to load that gun with those bullets and fire them away.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Jack Neo The Evolved Animal

At the rate the Jack Neo scandal is going, it wouldn't be long before I read an article about it because I'm getting all these reports shoved in my face on the internet.

So I read a particular commentary on the issue at which referenced Lianhe Wanbao, and I chanced upon this gem of a paragraph:

"Lianhe Wanbao said she had tried calling Jack several times on Friday but he did not answer her calls. She then went to Jack's home at about 3 pm and waited till he returned home. She told him she wanted to go in and talk to his wife, Madam Irene Kng, 46. To her surprise, Neo let her into the house and called his wife to come downstairs. Chong said Madam Kng's reaction to her husband's affair shocked her. 'She asked me, 'What do you want?' She said that she did not care about who Jack involved with as she was content that she loved him.' The three of them later left for a meeting in a restaurant at Changi Airport's Crowne Plaza Hotel in a car driven by Madam Kng."

The scenario fits Darwinian predictions right down to a tee. Sorry for being a realist geek, but let me dissect and explain.

Jack Neo, nevermind whether he looks handsome or is old or not, is a man of high social status with lots of money. As the tenet goes, men who have resources are desirable, and almost nothing is more attractive to a woman than a man who has resources and is willing to invest them. Jack Neo has provided for his wife and four kids. Therefore, Irene Kng doesn't take issue with the fact that Jack Neo had an affair, but instead asserts that it is more important that they were still in love. And maybe it isn't entirely true that she doesn't take issue with it, but more importantly, what mattered most to her is that Jack Neo's heart still resided with her, not Wendy Chong. As long as Jack Neo is still emotionally bounded to Irene Kng, he would still be a willing investor in the marriage, despite the 'unnecessary' but most probably transient slip up in sexual commitment. In fact, she would be more likely to forgive his transgressions insofar as he can continue to pay the bills and more. The reverse is true: a key cause of wife-initiated divorce is the husband's loss of job (i.e. lack of resources).

You will not get this scenario if the roles are reversed. If Irene Kng had an affair with another man, Jack Neo wouldn't go all saintly and forgiving and say that it's okay as long as he still loves her. His attraction to her will virtually vanish, especially given the high status man he is, and it is highly likely that he will leave. This is because, in evolutionary terms, men compete for the more valuable gender - women - in order to gain sexual access which increases their ability to have offspring. A man (who can afford to do so) will therefore experience greater motivation to seek other mates who will be more sexually faithful or engage in the reverse - to show unfaithful partners no remorse or forgiveness. Nothing disgusts most men more than the thought of their wives having an affair.

Physiological tests have shown what happens to men and women when dealing with thoughts of their partners' behaviour with people of the opposite gender. The heart rates and blood pressure of men shot up to the level one gets when consuming three times the normal dose of caffeine when they imagined their partners having sex with another man, compared to when their partners were just flirting with another man. The reverse was true when women imagined their partners emotionally engaging with another woman compared to when their partners were having sex with another woman. What this essentially says is that men place a premium on sexual fidelity, while women place a premium on emotional fidelity which is more likely to signal love, commitment and investment.

Additionally, it is really no surprise that Jack Neo has coincidentally followed in the footsteps of Tiger Woods. Both are high flying and reputable men within their social arenas, and the more resources a man can attain being at the top of the status hierarchy, the more motivated a man will become to acquire more sexual mates simply because he can afford to do so.

What slots in really nicely next is the affair target, 22 year-old Wendy Chong. How uncannily too, because an age of 22 resides in the reproductive window where a woman is most fertile - Jack Neo's adaptive mechanisms must be in overdrive to have found her desirable enough to do the deed. Jack Neo isn't seeing her as a new partner for a long term relationship, but it's always a bonus to be able to sow one's seeds. Men are visual creatures because they are visually attuned to sexually attractive features of the face and body, which are essentially physical markers of youth and fertility. Wendy Chong herself is an attractive woman who knows she's pretty (somewhat impossible not to be self-aware when you're a model who's participated in a recognizable pageant), so she has the means to snag a high status male because she's got the looks to do so. She got Jack Neo.

One might ask, if Jack Neo was a high status male, why stop at one? Well look how many more women are positing their claim to fame now. The last count appears to be a snag-list of ten.

This is not an exercise to say or prove that this is natural and therefore ought to be okay. But it's just amazing how (1) human nature creeps out despite our attempts to maintain a civilized society full of taboos against these things, and (2) we're in utter disbelief at the fact that this is happening, as if a plastic bottle increasingly filled with water that bursts open deserves frenzied amazement.

Human Nature

If human nature is ugly, then two particular circumstances come to mind that force it out, despite our best efforts to uphold pretensions of civility. They are (1) being in a group, and (2) being in a desperate situation where basic needs or desired resources are lacking such that transactional and competitive behaviour is motivated.

I'm quite keen to figure out if there are more circumstances that rear nature's ugly head.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Education Through Storytelling

In political philosophy class today, my professor gave what I thought was a brilliant account of how an education system or curriculum should be designed, or at least how kids should be taught by parents or teachers.

Drawing on the argument by Plato (and, subsequently, St Aquinas' lex est magister) that education shouldn't be considered merely as an imparting of information but a thorough 'shaping of the soul', children should spend a substantial amount of time being told stories from all over the world. Children should be read stories that make them feel sad or joyous, and attached to words and truth. Children should be taught particulars and specifics about the morals and fables in folklore and fairy tales first, rather than generalizations through rational science and mathematics. Theological virtues, such as hope and justice, should be inculcated and should be the responsibility of a good and virtuous education.

One can see how this appeals more to the heart than the intellect, and it makes so much frickin' sense. Only with heart can a child's sensibilities about the world and reality be formed, and only with heart can the rational information he/she is eventually going to be exposed to fit in the right manner.

Lamentations Of A Year Three TWC Student

Being the only year three in Technology and World Change (TWC) class is turning out to be quite an experience. Firstly, TWC is by and large a year one course. You get all sorts of rhetorical questions that don't expect an answer (I'm being rhetorical here) from friends pertaining to doing TWC in year three as a weird thing. My standard reply is that it's better than being a legendary year four TWC student.

Secondly, you get to make observations for all sorts of reasons. You can observe the behaviour of year ones to ascertain if (a) you were equally stupid when you were a year one, or (b) the apparent "intelligence level" of new students is declining by the batch.

I am inclined to think that the behaviour appears to be getting less and less intelligent. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to recall any of my classes I endured in year one (or any other class thus far for that matter) being as mired in such seeming stupidity as my TWC class is. And I'm not blaming any individual in particular. I think a lot of this has to do with a systematic problem - there must be reasons why freshmen are becoming increasingly perceived as being more absurdly "unintelligent". There must be herd mentality related reasons why such behaviour is being extorted.

I think the level of competitiveness, channelled through a certain particular sense, has definitely risen. As the years go by, SMU is moving further and further away from its original ideal of being an institution with a student body that thought differently, critically and, dare I posit it, virtuously. The class participation, bell curve and GPA system, amongst other things, increasingly facilitates an incentive system that is exploited by disgusting yet effective tactics of quantity over quality. It doesn't matter what is being contributed when speaking up for class participation, as long as the professor notes the volume of your participation. It doesn't matter if the class learns something from your presentation, as long as you pretend to be able to cover as much analysis as possible, a lot of which is smokey nonsense. It doesn't matter if you lose some friends along the way, as long as your group forming strategy leads to assignments and presentations that go down well with the professor. What implicitly becomes increasingly emphasized, as encouraged by the incentive system adopted by SMU, is one's GPA as the only bottomline because it appears to lead on to a good resume and a job. If you thought your year was bad enough, wait til you observe the later batches. I couldn't even believe it myself, but it is happening.

I had a field day for my presentation in class today. When these kids were shooting our group questions during the Q&A of our presentation, you could practically feel the glee each one had in believing he/she had come up with the perfect question to send us packing. I happily served it right back to every single one of them. It was helluva satisfying, to say the least.

At least, the professor has proven himself to be someone who is passionate about knowledge. He spends each class patiently trying to pique our interest in tracing the development of technology through history, along which the rise of agriculture, the renaissance period, and various other milestones were discussed. I have definitely learnt a lot, and I enjoy listening to his explanations and descriptives about how technology has evolved over the centuries, much of which I believe I will takeaway with me forever. I get the strong suspicion that much of his enthusiasm is lost on the students with a different perception on the usefulness of this class though, and at the back of their heads each one is calculating how to "eliminate thy neighbour".

But let's be positive I guess. If anything particularly useful can be identified out of my three years of giving presentations and taking questions, it's that one should focus on knowing the material one is to present inside out rather than memorizing a stupid script and looking dumb in the process. Also, present with as much of a genuine intention to explain as possible. By really believing that you want to educate your classmates and let them know of an idea you have, you will establish a connection because you desire it and appear far more natural and understandable. Lastly, appear confident in everything you say, even if you know you're throwing an epic smoke grenade. This is facilitated of course by knowing the material so that even you'd convince yourself of your own confidence.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Alas, my blog entries have been negatively correlated to the amount of work I've had to deal with. This isn't a big deal if it didn't accurately imply that my involvement in other things I'd like to do is being compromised. Even a conscious attempt to 'make time' for other stuff isn't quite working, and my general reading has screeched to a halt since I finished How the Mind Works two or three weeks ago. I haven't gone for Capoeira for nearly two months.

The perpetrator that has been hungrily consuming my time is Socscistan. However, it's not a bad monster to feed, because I'm learning even more that I really like doing such work. Writing, particularly about fields in the social sciences, is right up my alley and I can spend hours reading articles written by contributors and editing them, even at the expense of sleep, or silly TWC and other modules. Getting into editor mode hardly requires a conscious switch from being oneself to another, and when I do what I like to the point I'm engrossed, I do feel as if I am dimensionally somewhere else. Like I'm on drugs. Or something.

One thing I've become disconcerted about though is the increasingly immense gulf between my ability to write and my ability to articulate. Filling a blank slate with words that swirl into logical, eloquent lines and sentences is more and more so my cup of tea, but my ability to convert that into spoken fluency is hardly on the same level.

And I'm never good at chasing people. I realize just how nice I can end up being at times, to my dismay. Hmm.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Yet More Government Ridiculousness

The bottomline argument on this 1k-own-a-flat thing:

Tharman: A 2-room flat costing $100,000 can be owned on a $1,000/month income by attaining a combined grant of AHG + SHG that works out to be (up to) $60,000, thereby allowing the home-owner to service a 30-year loan of about $40,000 by paying $161 every month (maybe from CPF?).

Almost everyone else: The AHG and SHG are awarded only if a person with low income of $1000 is married, which implies a family. Assuming a family of two parents and one child (which is less than ideal according to our state planners) that eats $2 chicken rice for every meal, they will incur 3 x 3 x 30 x 2 = $540 cost on food. Taking transport into account, they may spend another $180 (which is a very conservative estimate). Even if the family does and buys nothing else and pays off the 30-year loan via CPF, the family has only a savings rate of $280 per month which, realistically, is very hard to get by with (considering inflation rates, illness, PUB bills, etc).

Once again the anger comes from a rather obvious disconnect between what the people believe they can get by with and what the government thinks the people should get by with, topped off with very poor public relations. At a more implicit level, another issue arises - is owning a house not simultaneously important as having savings? Most people would agree that the two are not independent issues; we don't think of owning a flat if we can't save, and at the same time if we do not have a place to live how are we supposed to start going about making ends meet? Yet Tharman's assertion implies that this is possible.

Those Were The Days, My Friend

I visited my locker to retrieve my evolutionary psychology textbook when I decided to take a good look at why my locker's so crammed, when I made a milestone decision: I took my TravelScrabble, my mini foosball set and my deck of cards out and brought them home.

Partly to clear up space, partly because I don't need them anymore, but all because school isn't the same as it was when I was a freshman.

Long gone are the days when hanging out in school and staying long hours around campus and in GSRs were commonplace and expected. I kept so many things in my locker in anticipation of late nights and even stayovers - disposable toiletries, travel contact lens solution bottles, a denim jacket (in case there were impromptu clubbing sessions), two windbreakers and a sleeping bag. As well as those games that I've taken home.

Year one came and went in that proverbial blink of an eye.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

For The Love Of Country(?)

What started out as silly late-night entertainment back in those days we used to hit the road across the highway and bunk in at Yins' has led to my fond interest in Namewee's personality and work, particularly on the political side. Negarakuku might have been pointless and crass racial humour to some, but I always can't help but feel, at a deeper level, the emotions that stir inside the heart of this man's Malaysian national anthem satire rap song as well as his other politically-charged productions.

Recently, Namewee produced this to attack the Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) after repeated black-outs in his hometown, Muar.

Over-emotional and brash, or passionate and idealistic? Whichever way he might be judged in the tools he employs to convey what he feels, I can't help but respect his bravery in baring himself in the fight for particular rights and against the ills of state and society, as well as his ability to throw a punchline with just the kind of force that commands conviction and attention.

Additionally, I like the sign offs of his productions in that matter-of-fact way.

The Star, a Malaysian newspaper, had this article published.

The bad boy of rap makes good

There is no middle ground. You either totally love or totally hate rapper and song-writer Namewee who has shot to fame, or notoriety as the case may be, with his controversial songs and video clips.

HE burst into the scene two years ago with his controversial song Negarakuku, an irreverent take on the national anthem, drawing both admiration and criticism, and even the threat of action from the authorities.

Since then, Muar-born Wee Meng Chee, better known as Namewee, has managed to stay in the limelight, steadily building up an iconic status among young Malaysians.

Wee, a rap singer, song-writer and video director commands a mixed following. While his supporters love him a lot, his detractors totally loathe him.

Those who support him appreciate that his songs and videos, mostly in Mandarin, convey their day-to-day grouses with piercing accuracy, delivering them with a real punch. On the other hand, his detractors think he is crude, obscene and uses vulgar words just to gain attention.

Before Negarakuku made him a figure of controversy, one of his other songs, Muar’s Mandarin, highlighting our trademark rojak language, was already being widely circulated through e-mail. Another, Teacher Chiew’s ABC Period, also landed him in trouble.

Namewee: ‘If one neither makes noise nor lifts a finger about anything, one does not love the country. I love it and that’s why I hope it can be changed for the better.’

In November last year, he again created headlines and courted trouble with the authorities with a video clip that lambasted Tenaga Nasional Bhd. In the five-minute video, Wee raps about the frequent power cuts in his hometown and his efforts at getting the powers-that-be to explain the situation.

To check out the popularity of this 26-year-old, just type “Namewee” on Google and you will get 321,000 results. On YouTube, you will find his videos hitting over 600,000 views, and on his official Facebook page, you will see more than 111,000 fans. And someone has even put him on Wikipedia.

Many may brand Wee a cyber gangster but he is undeniably a celebrity now especially among the younger generation.

But attaining such fame was never in his wildest dream, as Wee has always preferred to be behind the scene.

He is actually quite different from his video persona. He speaks softly, listens attentively and even drives carefully. He prefers quiet places and shuns clubbing. He says he went to the discos only twice during his six-year stay in happening Taipei.

His childhood ambition was to be a film director and that has never changed, he says, adding that he discovered his talent in music when he first learned to play the guitar. “To woo some girls,” he quips.

In the past 11 years, he has written a whopping 500 songs but only a handful of them are flavoured with social satire and sarcasm. The rest are about anything, ranging from family and friendship to romance.

No anger, only love

Looking at the work that has gained him attention, one may think his vocal side is motivated by anger and discontent. But it is quite the contrary; it is done out of love.

“I am not cynical, I love the whole world. A cynical person will not entirely understand and empathise with society. I was raised in a happy environment, my family loves me, society does not owe me anything. I am vocal simply because I care,” he says.

Muar’s Mandarin is a clear depiction of his love for his hometown’s unique, albeit not so refined, language. When he started to write the song, he had to resolve a number of issues. “Which language should I use in the song? Could I use my accent? Is Mandarin with a Malaysian accent embarrassing?”

After some lengthy pondering, he decided to just lay it bare.

“This is a recognition of my own culture and we can only feel a sense of satisfaction when we do not mimic or imitate other people,” he adds.

Likewise, Negarakuku, which was released in conjunction with Merdeka Day 2007, was created because he cared for his country, he says.

The song was intended to describe the local culture as he observed it, and he wanted to let the viewer decide whether it was right or wrong.

Instead, he came under fire for mocking the national anthem and using lyrics that many politicians deemed insulting and seditious with a tinge of racial slurs. In the end, Wee apologised publicly.

“I love Malaysia, I love each and every individual here and that’s the reason I am giving the best to change the unsatisfactory situations.

“If one neither makes noise nor lifts a finger about anything, one does not love the country. I love it and that’s why I hope it can be changed for the better,” he said.

He says that even at the height of the Negarakuku controversy, he remained unfazed as he had a clear conscience and really loved his country.

“If I think it is wrong, why would I do it? I am not a traitor as accused by some parties. I have never done anything wrong to this land and that was why I was calm when that happened,” he relates.

Last year, Wee made another gift to the country on National Day, a documentary titled I Wanna Go Home.

He made a plea for sponsorship through a clip posted on YouTube, saying he was worried that he could not find a job here. In fact, he was offered a vital role in a popular production in Taiwan but he insisted on coming home, he says.

The project he proposed was to travel from Hong Kong back to Muar by land, going through 13 cities in six countries (including Guangzhou and Kunming in China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia), and documenting the lives and feelings of Malaysians staying in these countries.
A few sponsors responded, and after enduring much hardship including floods and landslides, he completed the journey with an ecstatic gallop at the Muar bus station and a respectful salute to the Jalur Gemilang.

After the I Wanna Go Home DVD hit the stores, the popularity of this daredevil rose and he then ventured into the mainstream.

He’s been home for a year now and is doing well in song-writing, directing, sometimes singing, and acting from his bases in Muar and Kuala Lumpur.

Professional side

There are many organisations that like his work but are worried about the political and even legal complications.

“Those who worked with me have not encountered any problem so far, so hopefully they can stop worrying. I have my professional side, too,” Wee reassures.

Public comments do not seem to affect him much as he just accepts them with an open mind.
Among the projects that have landed on his lap are singing the theme song for Pepsi’s advertisement in China, writing the theme song for Singaporean director Jack Neo’s flick Money No Enough, joining Taiwanese celebrities in a fund-raising concert, and joining the 15Malaysia group of directors to the Pusan Film Festival in Korea.

Commenting on his TNB videoclip, an irked Wee says that he never experienced a blackout throughout his six years in Taiwan and he wants to tell Malaysians that they are consumers and they have the right to complain.

But he admits that the foul language and tantrums in the video were just to boost viewership so that the Government would take notice.

Well, he has succeeded as even the Prime Minister has noticed it. “The video is a success,” says Wee.

The year 2009, he says, has made him cross paths with many “strange people”.

A developer asked him to work for his company “because he was bold” and Malaysian laureate Pak Habib invited him to Bentong for a chat and came out with a few chapters on Namewee in his latest book.

“I am going to ask the Government for money to make a movie, I have the script ready,” he says of his plans for this year.