30 July 2004

Featured Link of the Day

The editors from The Poor Man are relentlessly funny.

"What if the Iraq war was a game of poker?"

The Editors: We'll take three cards.

Dick Cheney: Give me one.

Sounds of cards being placed down, dealt, retrieved, and rearranged in hand. Non-commital noises, puffing of cigars.

TE: Fifty bucks.

DC: I'm in. Show 'em.

TE: Two pair, sevens and fives.

DC: Not good enough.

TE: What do you have?

DC: Better than that, that's for sure. Pay up.

TE: Can you show us your cards?

DC: Sure. One of them's a six.

TE: You need to show all your cards. That's the way the game is played.

Colin Powell: Ladies and gentlemen. We have accumulated overwhelming evidence that Mr. Cheney's poker hand is far, far better than two pair. Note this satellite photo, taken three minutes ago when The Editors went to get more chips. In it we clearly see the back sides of five playing cards, arranged in a poker hand. Defector reports have assured us that Mr. Cheney's hand was already well advanced at this stage. Later, Mr. Cheney drew only one card. Why only one card? Would a man without a strong hand choose only one card? We are absolutely convinced that Mr. Cheney has at least a full house.

Like I said... the Poor Man is an excellent website! You should click on the link to read more.

28 July 2004

What do People Consider Weird?

An edition where I do not call for the impeachment of Bush II or MiniLee

I own a portable fifth dimensional bag. Things get lost once they're inside... (on occasion, they REALLY get lost there for months!)

This could lead to "wildly entertaining" scenarios.


Gets on the bus. "I remember my wallet's in the bag... It HAS to be!" Rummages in bag for an entire minute before locating wallet in previously unknown compartment behind the fourth zipper. OR: Finding wallet in PANTS POCKET after 10 minutes of searching bag.


At the queue to get into cinema. The tickets are with me and my portable fifth dimension!

Check in pants pocket. Wallet easily located. The ticket, apparently, is in none of the 5 pockets of the wallet. Darn.
5 minutes gone. Entire contents of wallet are emptied on floor, just in case.

Is it in the multidimensional bag? 10 minutes gone. The entire contents of the bag are arranged on the floor, but no luck.

Or the OTHER pants pocket? No.

Then, in horror, I realise the tickets are in my SHIRT POCKET.

26 July 2004

The Great Internet Firewall of Singapore

Officially, Singapore had migrated to server-side automatic proxies (aka "transparent proxies") more than 2 years ago, and no one needs to set the manual proxies on their pc.

However, about 4 months ago, Singnet subscribers complained that they were redirected to some very odd webpage whenever they tried to access any blogspot page. Unless of course, they manually typed in their proxy settings to proxy.singnet.com.sg.

I guess Singapore's ISP must be experimenting with more advanced censorship and usage-snooping technologies, causing a few very visible hiccups.

Singnet users, this is yet another chance to experience censorship technology from the Lee dynasty's favourite ISP.

Try this:

1. Disable your browser's manual proxy settings and change them to automatic or none.

2. You should be able to surf most websites normally.

3. Now, direct your browser to google or gmail.

4. Observe: no loading.

5. Change your proxy settings to the singnet-approved one.

6. Reload your browser to google or gmail.

7. Switch and repeat if insufficiently convinced.

8. Take bets on how long the 'hiccups' will continue.

And maybe, just maybe... wonder how to beat this very weird system.

25 July 2004

The War on Intellectual Honesty

A special "Remaking English" edition

"A Defining Moment - How Singapore Beat Sars" is destined to hit the local bestsellers list for fiction. Droves of Singaporeans are snapping up the 204-page coffeetable book and depleting stocks at major bookshops.

I say to them: save your money.

Let's backtrack.
A year ago, after the first SARS epidemic died down in Singapore, the Minister of Information, Communication and the Arts (read: Minister for Propaganda) approached Prof Tommy Koh to publish a book to document the story of SARS, under his Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) think-tank. The Prof is a rare PAP man who is accepted as 'neutral' and independent - something that the credibility of his think-tank relies on.

Prof Koh agreed, on the one condition that "the author should have access to all relevant people and information, and the book should be intellectually honest".

From today's papers, it appears that the judicious use of that phrase has played an important role in the buying decision of the crowds. They see it as "objective and worth a read". After all, Tommy Koh is seen as an objective and fair person who is allowed to disagree with the PAP.

There are several problems.

1. The Author

So, after the Minister for Propaganda commissions Prof Koh's think-tank to publish a book, the IPS hires Chua Mui Hoong to do the research and write it.

Even though Ms Chua is a 'journalist', people SHOULD know that she is a "senior correspondent" who writes political analyses and social commentary on the op/ed pages. Most of the time, she defends the authoritarian system and the ruling party.

She also happens to be an ex-employee of the Internal Security Department. An ex-spook. In case you don't get the point, the ISD spies on Singaporeans, opposition parties and politicians, and recommends who should get detained without trial.

How would hiring Ms Chua ensure Prof Koh's clause of intellectual honesty?

2. The Context

So you have written a record on SARS in Singapore. The best way to keep it intellectually honest is to embed the book in the national-building discourse.

It is no surprise then, that the book is launched 2 weeks before Singapore's National Day. Or that the PM and all his cabinet ministers come out during the launch to say how important the book is.

Several forewords are written by PM and gang in the book itself, proclaiming that SARS is "a defining moment for Singapore", that "many (national) heroes emerged in the (national) crisis". During the launch, Prof Koh remarked that the book was also a "tribute to a leader who remade Singapore".

The point is, there is NO NEED to enmesh the record of SARS with a nationalist message. But they choose to politicize SARS, to escalate it into a National Event, a Moral Event, a Singapore Epic.

It's almost like how Bush II cynically uses 9/11 commemoration events for his re-election.


So one needs to ask... Was Prof Koh blindsided and coerced into making concessions on the appointment of the author, and did not have any control over the reception and his ruling party's publicity for the book?

Or was he complicit from the start?

Remaking English

The utility of the questions really depend on what we understand when Prof Koh said he wanted an "intellectually honest" book.

Suppose none of us are walking dictionaries and encyclopedias. If asked to consider the meaning of the phrase in its context, we might guess it means "unbiased", "truthful", or perhaps "ethical". And looking at the entire story thus far, we might further guess that being "intellectually honest" might not necessarily mean "emotionally honest".

This is how our leaders Remake English. Key phrases signifying important technical, philosophical, or academic concepts are regularly given the PAP treatment (read "bastardisation") and either mis-interpreted or completely refashioned to mean what our leaders want them to mean.

What does the rest of the world really think about "intellectual honesty"?

The phrase originates within the academy (examples here and here). It really has to do with avoiding plagiarism, using original work, proper citations...

It doesn't have anything to do with being objective or unbiased.

Let's look at Prof Koh's words again: ...the author should have access to all relevant people and information, and the book should be intellectually honest.

Did he use the phrase, knowing that it would be passed on from the Minister for Propaganda to the papers? that it would be misconstrued as meaning "unbiased and honest"? Because if he really meant what he said and nothing more... his sentence just means "the author should do proper research". Nothing more. And nothing profound. And nothing that boosts the credibility and unbiasedness that his think-tank needs, to be taken seriously.

23 July 2004

The War on Error

Creative Capital Edition

Cultural theorists - both American and international - tend to study and formulate theories that take for granted as a starting point that the US
1. wields cultural hegemony over the world (Hollywood, MacDonald's, but not Starbucks...?)
2. is at the forefront of global creativity

This leads to an embarassment of recent major research trying to find out what US educational policies, immigration policies, and urban policies contribute to the "Creative Class" that we assume is a uniquely American phenomenon.

Cultural/political theorists, please consider the following list, and then explain your creative research to me again...

(not an exhaustive list...)

La Femme Nikita (France) vs. Nikita (US)
Abre los ojos (Spain) vs. Vanilla Sky (US)
The Seven Samurai (Japan) vs. The Magnificent Seven (US)
The Office (UK) vs. the Office (US, in production)
Absolutely Fabulous (UK) vs. Absolutely Fabulous (US)
Whose Line is it Anyway? (UK) vs. Whose Line is it Anyway (US)
Iron Chef (Japan!) vs. Iron Chef (US)
Ringgu (Japan) vs. The Ring (US)
The Eye (Hong Kong) vs. The Eye (US, in production)
Queer as Folk (UK) vs. Queer as Folk (US)

18 July 2004

The War on Chess

The Searching for Bobby Fischer Edition

Fodon has beaten me to the announcement of the arrest in Japan, of chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, in accordance to the US-Japan extradition treaty.

In 1992, Bobby Fischer went to Yugoslavia for an exhibition match against an old foe, Boris Spassky. Incidentally, these two men are the most imaginative and creative chess players of modern history. Fischer, on account of having defeated Spassky in the 70s in the great US-Soviet chess showdown, deserves to be called the greatest chess player of all-time.

"Bush I had imposed economic sanctions on Yugoslavia at that time, and as a result, Fischer's involvement in the chess competition made him an internationally-wanted criminal."

We need to rephrase the previous line in order to bring out the true facts of the case, since many stupid, uninformed newspapers will be parroting this line for the entire news cycle, and claiming that Fischer knowingly broke the law and got what he deserved.

1. Bush I signed an "executive order" to impose economic sanctions on Milosevic's Yugoslavia. An executive order is not a law. Only Congress and the Senate pass laws that can result in criminal prosecution.

2. Bobby Fischer is a chess player. Ergo, a sportsman. Under US and international law, Sports events are exempt from economic sanctions, for example, the one Bush I signed.

3. Bobby Fischer did NOT become an international fugitive because he broke the law, and spent 10 years on the run.

4. Fischer went on the run because Bush I signed another "executive order" demanding the arrest of Bobby Fischer.

5. What is not known is that the US Chess Federation did break Bush I's economic sanctions, by importing $500,000 worth of chess books to Yugoslavia under a contract with the government of the day.

6. As far as we know, the USCF was not prosecuted for their actions.

What is happening to Bobby Fischer, is an entirely baseless and illegal criminal indictment. It must be stopped.

Fodon has a neat theory that Fischer is arrested by Judas Japan, in exchange for letting Jenkins walk free. Such a deal can only be hammered out and approved by the highest offices in both countries.

We must impeach Bush II now.

17 July 2004

Stem Cell Cloning in Singapore

The North Koreans have launched their very first national website! Be very, very afraid.

At least Singapore is still considered 'advanced' in setting up national websites, but I predict the Koreans will have their very own National Moblog soon.

Why should we view the North Koreans with such interest? Well, they've got a hungry look in their eyes that our leaders say we should have. And if you clicked on their national website, they have managed to achieve something Singapore's Billion-dollar Scientists haven't done yet: a successful somatic cell cloning of animals.

Yes. Be very very afraid of the North Koreans.

Iraq Now in Better Hands

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the US-appointed Prime Minister of Iraq is turning out to be quite a brutal dictator himself.

"Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings."

And we wonder about how 'evil' Saddam Hussein was?

15 July 2004

The Vatican's War on Error

A special faith-based edition

The Vatican initially claimed, 5 years ago, that there was 'overwhelming support in the scientific community' that condoms cause AIDS. No scientist stepped forward to back that claim, obviously. So, the Vatican conducted its own scientific study and got the result they wanted.

And STILL the scientific community at large refuses to recognise the Vatican's science! How dare they!

Let's get this straight once and for all. Condoms do not cause AIDS. They prevent AIDS and other STDs.

Latex condoms have holes in them (YES they do! That's how guys get them on, you know), but contrary to the Vatican's scaremongering, most viruses are too big to pass through holes in condoms... [Aki: I'm told that the average size of a AIDS virus is 150nm, while the holes in latex material are 100nm. Aki to Mr. Pope: Do you take Math? How many people are you trying to kill?] At a molecular level, condoms have holes in them. At a molecular level, EVERYTHING has a hole in it, even a sheet of solid metal.

But y'know, that's why the US is insisting that 1/3 of the money it donates to the WHO has to go to faith-based abstinence programmes, instead of developing AIDS vaccines, or even to help children suffering from AIDS.

Recently, the Vatican released another scientific study which claimed (from a survey of historical records) that the Spanish Inquisition wasn't really as bad as everyone thinks. No kidding. Pre-modern murderous regimes weren't really in the habit of keeping records of how many people they slaughtered (or "processed"), and which regime has been completely frank about its murders (by reporting the full numbers, or even refraining from referring to them in euphemisms)?

The New Scientist had a recent run-in with faith-based science this year, when it first published a scientific report which claimed prayers do work in increasing conceptions in childless couples.

It later published an entire article explaining its retraction of the report, on the grounds that actually the study was poorly conceptualised, poorly conducted (no proper controls or placebos), and questionable (not peer reviewed; 2 of the authors apparently DENIED writing the report; the key writer was a conman who had no medical background).

Faith-based Science: everyone's alternative to Science.
[note: minor correction and addtional info posted 17 July on actual sizes]

10 July 2004

NKF Charity Special

So the National Kidney Foundation wants my money (again)? I'm sorry, but they have to do better than that. For one thing, to people who apply their rudimentary knowledge of science or history of magic performances, the stunts appear faked and safe.

I'll donate money if let's say there's a Celebrity Russian Roulette stunt involving Jack Neo and Beatrice Chia. Or a Mediacorp All-Stars Battle Royale special.

09 July 2004

The War on Genetics

Your logic is faulty! edition

When politicians are convinced that genetics affect *everything*, and construct elaborate political, economic, and medical theories out of 'genetics', it will only lead to major embarrassments.

Following the directions suggested by our Great Leader Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore's Qin Shihuang), scientists in the Population Genetics Programme (I didn't come up with these Orwellian names, our Great Leader and his fake scientists did) of the Defense Science Organisation announced last month that millions of dollars, all taxpayers' money, will be squandered to further the Great Leader's intellectually bankrupt and faulty scientific theories.

In particular, given Singapore's huge short-sighted population, our scientists want to find the gene that causes myopia!

Well. Just this month the American Journal of Human Genetics (vol 75, p 294) publishes a metastudy that convincingly and overwhelmingly debunks the "genetic theory of myopia".

excerpts from the New Scientist:

The argument is about why the rate of myopia is so much higher in east Asia than elsewhere. The conventional view is that people from the region have genetic variations that make them more susceptible. But after reviewing over 40 studies, Morgan and Kathryn Rose of the University of Sydney argue that there is no evidence to support this.

Contrary to popular belief, people in east Asia are no more genetically susceptible to short-sightedness than any other population group. "The simplest explanation is that you have a massive environmental effect that is swamping out the genetic influence," says the authors of the paper. In other words, given the wrong lifestyle, everyone is susceptible to myopia

I do hope the DSO calls off their expensive, myopic genetic research programme soon.

On the next "Your logic is faulty!" edition of the War On Error, tune in to: The Race to the SARS Vaccine! Featuring Singaporean scientists trying to identify the genetic markers of SARS, vs. the American scientists developing the vaccine through traditional means!

Someone should tell them the Americans have won this race as well.

06 July 2004


Education is subsidised in Singapore's State-owned universities. In the recent years, the level of subsidies has been steadily cut back, forcing the debt share of local students to balloon after graduation. It is no wonder then, that they feel aggrieved about the level of educational subsidies foreign students receive.

In order to make the universities "competitive" (and frankly I'm not sure how that works), our leaders intend fees for local students to eventually be identical to the fees that foreign students pay.

Such moves will draw predictable and justified queries, such as:
Why are foreign students subsidised for their education?
Why are local students subsidising the fees of foreign students?

Even with the rabid privatisation of universities across the Atlantic, the common practice is still for national students or students the university's province to receive subsidies, and for foreign students to pay more. And even with the rabid privatisation, not even Blair's university reform plan demands that local citizens eventually pay the exact same fees that rich foreigners fork out.

These however are not our concern for today.

I want us to commiserate with the foreign students and the trap they've fallen into.

It is evident that foreign students in NUS and NTU are subsidised, even though they (currently, but not for much longer) pay more than Singaporean students. The two universities offer the cheapest educations for foreign students in the Austalasian continent.

The terms of their bond basically states this: Your fees are greatly reduced. Upon graduation, you will serve out this bond/subsidy by working in Singapore for the next 3 years in a permanent job.

With the bulk of foreign students in NUS and NTU studying engineering and other courses that involve a period of internship, what used to happen was that the student will be offered a bond or a promise from the intern company to work there for the next 3 years.

Since 1997 and 2000, there has been something like a very bad recession. Local students who had bonds or scholarships with private companies and GLCs have had their bonds "forgiven" immediately after graduation.

I'm sure that they feel damned instead, since the "forgiveness" is phrased as: The company is currently experiencing major financial difficulties due to the recession. It cannot afford to take on new employees at the moment. We understand you have a bond with to work for us. We forgive that bond, and wish you the best in your job hunt.

This has happened since the recession first broke out. If our ministers are correct (i.e. not lying or not misinformed) in their assertions that the economy is recovering, why is it foreign students are beginning to fall prey to this phenomena, when they used to be immune to this 'forgiveness' stunt in previous years?

So foreign student loses bond from company, but is forced under the original contract with NUS/NTU/Singapore to work here in a permanent job for a period of 3 years. Not just any job, but a Permanent Job. Not a Contract Job. Not a Temp Job. And no, don't expect the Singapore Government to find you a job. The government does not owe you a job, and is not obligated to help you find one - not even if you're a foreign student on a bond.

You can be stuck here for much longer than 3 years. Meanwhile, you have a country to return to. A career and life waiting at home. And you're stuck doing temp jobs HERE that have nothing to do with your education, which will be irrelevant to the job you want to do when you return. Meanwhile, the reply of the gracious Singapore government to these foreign students is: Just settle for any old permanent job, serve and fuck off.

Why isn't the Singapore Government forgiving the bonds of foreign students, like what the private sector has been doing?

Personally, I'd advise foreign students stuck in ridiculous bonds in Singapore to do the right thing. Take a vacation, visit home, and don't come back. We understand the shit you're going through because we experience it too.

02 July 2004

The War on Economic Recovery

"A job recovery tends to lag behind the economic recovery". At least, that's what our politicians are telling us. Quit complaining about how hard it is to get a job, you'll get it easily in a few months!

For the most part, the general principle is correct: recoveries in employment markets tend to lag a quarter or so behind recoveries in the economy (i.e. Production figures, Inventories, Stock market bubbles).

What do you then need to do, in order to assess the strength of the Bush recovery? We just compare economic figures (job numbers, profits, labour wages) from previous economic recoveries, let's say... 12 or 24 months after the worst part of the recession has past.

And so you say, "Aki, that sounds so ridiculously simple. Why hasn't anyone shown us these figures? And if these figures exist, why isn't the US Dept of Labour or Singapore's Economic Liars... sorry, Economic Statisticians... publishing them?"

Oh well, the raw numbers ARE available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, but it will take an economist to put them together into a chart. Which the Economic Policy Institute has done, and you can see why no one dares to tell you the full truth:

The chart with full analysis is available at the Economic Policy Institute.

01 July 2004

One Day After Operation Iraqi Independence

Excerpts from the Guardian:

American commanders will risk launching high-profile military actions at targets in Iraq even if they go directly against the wishes of the new Iraqi government, a senior US general said yesterday.

Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, the second most senior American officer in Iraq and the force's tactical operations commander, said the US military was prepared to risk provoking "friction" with the new government in strikes against "professional terrorists".

His frank admission, just two days after sovereignty was handed back to the Iraqis, cuts to the heart of a likely source of significant political disagreement between the fledgling government and the US military in the near future.