Wednesday, July 30, 2008

MOAR!!!111oneone!1!

The Analects of Confucius can be considered to be anachronistic at times, but there are two teachings in it that I consider to be of immeasurable value.

The first is the Ethic of Reciprocity, translated as:


The importance of this in matters of ethics goes without say, and is well worth studying, especially if you're religious and are under the woefully misguided impression that any scripture has any content of worth outside the Ethic of Reciprocity. I might have something to say about this in a later post, but not right now.

The second is that one should learn to love learning.

It's odd to think of myself at the age of 17. It's a lousy age for a guy to be. Too young to know, too old to listen. At 17, a boy's cognition is completely messed up by hormones, leading quickly to egotism and hubris. From what I observe, certain individuals never quite recover. At 17, a boy thinks he knows everything, that he can change the world with naught but a head full of ideals and his own two hands. On very, very rare occasions, such a remarkable individual may arise. But a wise man once said, "The common man believes he isn't." Hence, most will be bitterly disappointed.

I wouldn't say I'm old, but it feels like a long, long time since I was 17. Common sense tells me I know far more now than I did then. The swelling of my library and the contents of my hard disk are ample evidence of that. So why do I feel like I don't know anything?

Somebody famous once likened our lives to being in a huge cavern, pitch dark, the walls covered by an immense and beautiful tapestry. The search for knowledge is akin to shining a torch upon that tapestry, illuminating only a small part of it at any one time. Some of us will move the torch around, seeing more of the tapestry. Others will hold still, satisfied with the little they have, afraid of what they might see beyond. Others still won't even turn on the torch.

I believe that part of being human, if not the whole point, is to get that torch moving and see everything you can see. We have the capacity for it, why not use it? What's there to fear? I'm Malaysian Chinese! I've seen scarier things on the ends of my chopsticks*!

Perhaps that's why I feel such utter disappointment, bordering on revulsion, when I'm in KL, watching people living the rat race, untold thousands of minds who will never understand the epic story of evolution, the beautiful complexity of the mind or the sheer grandeur of the life of the Universe, from the Big Bang to the life and death of stars, to the formation of this scruffy ball of dirt and water we call home. So, so much to know, so very little time, yet so many choose to waste their lives chasing scraps of leather and metal. So caught up in their own meaningless desires that they forget who's drowning in the ripples they leave behind. So enamoured of the lives of the beautiful people, they forget to look for meaning in their own lives. Worst of all are the wilfully ignorant, who laugh off their inadequacy and treat it like a badge of honour.

Knowledge is power, simple as that. We live in an age where information and misinformation are more freely available than ever before, and as such, establishing a measure of intellectual rigour within oneself is a matter of utmost importance to the modern urbanite. To distill the information you find and extract genuine knowledge is satisfaction in its own right.

Well, it probably is, because I can only speak from my own insatiable thirst to know more, more, MOAR! I believe that one must lust for knowledge. One must desire it, pursue it, cherish it, like the sight of the perfect whale-tail. Some would dismiss this as intellectual high-mindedness, far removed from the realities of paying the mortgage. Some would ask, "What good is knowing these things? What good is knowing time and space beyond the immediate senses?" I think Benjamin Franklin replied best to a similar question when he retorted, "What good is a new-born baby?"

*More on this later, if I remember.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Screw you, Forrest Gump!

Ah done got me a box o' chawk'lits an' ah knew EZZACK'LY wut ah wuz goan'a git:


In fact, come to think of it, isn't it generally required by law that a label is present stating in no uncertain terms what is inside the box? So, life is like a box of chocolates... How, exactly? Sweet and bitter? Gone too soon? Brown and sticky?

Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie, and Bubba Gump Shrimp is actually kinda nice as a restaurant*, but "box of chocolates" is really one of the WORST metaphors for life I have ever come across. You want a deep, meaningful metaphor for life? How about:

Life is like being a pubic hair on a toilet seat... sooner or later you get pissed off.

We're all familiar with life as a container, a game, a journey, a war, an epic struggle , a story, a prison but a box of chocolates? If it was a case of "you never know whut yer goan'a git", life might as well be a box with a cat, whose life is dependent on the state of a specific sub-atomic particle. Or a glove compartment. NO-ONE knows what in blazes they've put in their glove compartments**. Or maybe that USB thumb drive you "borrowed" from the cubicle next to yours...

But life is NOT like a box of cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, vanilla extract and what-have0you. And so I say: Screw you, Forrest Gump. Screw you and your box of chocolates...

* But I might be biased here, coz the waitress at the one I went to was really hawt.

** And so I placed a pair of gloves in mine. Because my glove compartment WILL have gloves in it, goddammit...

Things you shouldn't read while eating

I was quite surprised to find Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel selling in Malaysian bookstores. I'd have figured a book like this would never have made it onto the shelves in a country where Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses is still haram*. But there you have it, I spotted Infidel in an MPH, grabbed it, and now I take every oppurtunity I can to read it in public.

Infidel is a singularly remarkable book, telling the story of a singularly remarkable woman. My respect for her knows no bounds, and hers is a story of a world far removed from what many of us know, surrounded as we are by the comforts of glass, steel and concrete. That having been said, I had the misfortune of reading this passage, telling of an episode in a refugee camp on the Somalia-Kenya border during Somalia's civil war, while having lunch in 1U:

One morning when I went to get water with all the throngs of other women I heard that a woman had been attacked in the night. She had been arrived alone, and she was from a small subclan; she had no men to protect her. Kenyan soldiers had taken her out of her hut in the night and raped her.

I went to see her in the tiny rag hut she had made for herself. She was one big wound. Her face was swollen and covered in dried blood, her clothes were torn, there were marks all over her legs. She was shaking uncontrollably. I touched her hand and asked if I could help her but she couldn't talk. All she could say was Ya'Allah, Ya'Allah, "Allah have mercy on me."

I went to get her more water, and all the people nearby told me, "You shouldn't be seen with that woman. She is impure. People will say you're the same." All I could see was a human being who was abused, who was on the verge of death, but to them, she was an outcast.

I knew she would die soon. I walked all the way to the UNHCR tent and found a Sri Lankan woman and told her, in English, that there was a woman alone who had been raped. I explained that Somalis would leave this woman to die. She came to the tent with some guards and took her away. I told Mahamed and the others about it and they said, "Of course it is not the woman's fault, but you know, there are so many problems. You can't save everyone here." I did know that, but we could have taken care of each other. Two days later, again there was another story of a woman who had been raped. It began happening all the time. Kenyan soldiers came at night to rape Somali woman who were alone and without protectors. And then all these women would be shunned and left to die.

This is what my grandmother had meant when she warned me: if you are a Somali woman alone, you are like a piece of sheep fat in the sun. Ants and insects crawl all over you, and you cannot move or hide; you will be eaten and melted until nothing is left but a thin smear of grease. And she also warned us that if this happened, it would be our fault.

It was horrible. Everyone in that camp called themselves Muslims and yet nobody helped these women in the name of Allah. Everyone was praying - even the woman in that hut had been praying - but no-one showed compassion.

I lost my appetite for quite a while after reading that, not least because the paragraphs before and after the above extract told, in ghastly detail, the horrors of a Somali refugee camp.

Anyway, I must recommend this book. To anyone, really. Doesn't matter if you're atheist or not, hers is a tale well worth hearing and her life is a powerful and moving testimonial against ideological dogmatism.

*which really just further reinforces the image the local religious authorities have of being illiterate, delusional, anal-retentive, Quran-waving hypocrites.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The allure of Japan

If you don't already know, Japan absolutely fascinates me, on many, many levels. I write here from the point of view of a Malaysian. Well, having spent 8 years of my life physically somewhere else, and nigh every other moment of my life wandering the realms of the mind, the written word and the Net, I haven't actually spent all that much time here, come to think of it.

I stumbled on some lecture notes for a university course involving Japanese Culture and noted some interesting little facts. In 1952, the Allies ended their occupation of Japan. From that time until 1990, various Japanese luminaries had, between them, won the Nobel prize at least once in every category. From a country that was on the unhappy end of both of the two only nuclear attacks in human history*, Japan has risen to truly dizzying heights by the standards of any country.

Back when I was in white collar land, I did a little research on the steel industry. Ever since China started getting into the steel game, the industry landscape has never been the same, with China consuming about a third of the world's iron and producing about a third of the world's steel. This basically meant that the market was flooded with ridiculous volumes of cheap steel, and I can tell you for a fact, if not for the 50% import duty on foreign steel in Malaysia, Malaysia wouldn't even have a steel industry to speak of. By comparison, I tracked the profits of Nippon Steel and found it simply going from strength to strength, apparently unfazed by the glut of Chinese steel, where all over the US, steel mills were either closing, getting bought over or suffering strikes. Apparently, Japanese and South Korean mills churned out steel of a vastly higher quality than is common, and as such, were under no real threat from the tide of Chinese steel. It's also interesting to note that a critical component (I can't recall which) of nuclear reactors (outside of Russia, anyway) is only made by a specific steel mill in Japan.

The very name of Japan evokes images of technology far beyond the reach of South East Asian nations today - ridiculously advanced handphones, flashy robotics and arcane research pushing the limits of human knowledge. It was about 12 years ago that I read in New Scientist of the blue laser being discovered in a small lab in Japan, bringing with it the promise that would later become Blu-Ray. I wait with bated breath for the next small miracle to pop out of a Japanese lab.

Japanese culture has permeated every modern society today, through manga, anime, electronics, automobiles, sushi bars, music, literature, martial arts or even those wretched Pokemon and Tamagochi. Their world is beautiful to our eyes and ears, whether it comes through the timeless grace of geisha, shamisen and haiku or the passion of wadaiko, gambaru or massed ranks of workers doing jumping jacks on the factory floor in the morning. We can only look on in awe at the mile-a-minute life of the hard-working, hard-drinking salaryman, working 80 hour weeks, month after month, and still have enough energy for karaoke and copious amounts of alcohol after work.

And then I look at Malaysia. What does this country have? A law against sodomy. Really, as long as it's consentual, why should the state give a toss how people get their orgasms behind closed doors? The Petronas Towers. Paired phallic symbols, hailed as the tallest buildings in the world at the time of completion. Sorry, I'm just going to have to call bullshit on that one. As white elephants go, the towers are beautiful and impressive in their own right, but claiming to be the tallest buildings in the world, thanks to their antennae, of all things, strikes me as just a bit pathetic. A car that got an impressive reaction out of Jeremy Clarkson. Admittedly, that reaction was to attack it with a sledge hammer and blow it up with dynamite, but the intensity has got to count for something, right?

I am very much aware that comparing Malaysia to Japan is completely and utterly unfair, like comparing a lop-sided, rusty go-kart to the latest hybrid out of Honda's labs. But I think it's a worthwhile comparison and that it's worth asking the questions to understand how is it that a politically stable country (kinda) sitting on loads of mineral wealth and natural resources manages to be so meh.

Where are the differences? Is it in culture? Is it embedded forever in history? Is it in the system of government? Educational standards, perhaps? Linguistic homogeneity? Something in the water? The diet?

And where does one simply draw the line and concede that Malaysia is simply culturally inferior, clinging to useless paradigms and traditions that should have been discarded long, long ago? What would it take for Malaysia to stop making excuses for what is, at best, mediocrity, and at worst, unforgivable incompetence?

I'm not saying Malaysia could be Japan. What I am saying is that in examining Japan, one can identify ways in which Malaysia could do better for itself and perhaps learn something about reaching far into both past and future at the same time and making it look good. The abolition of racism (that is, Article 153 of the Constitution) might be a good start. It might also be nice if UMNO would stop with their childish fascination of where Anwar's tralala has been. I think reexamining the place of religion in society** might also be a positive step, but that might be unduly optimistic.

In sum, I ask: Is it really so hard to take a page out of Japan's book, look beyond our borders for good habits worth emulating and use them to replace our own bad habits?

* I'm really not convinced the 2nd one was entirely necessary.

** Which is to say, far, far away from civilization.

Nominative idkwtf....

I read somewhere that one of the things you could do to give your kid a head start in life is to give the poor bugger a dorky name. Apparently, the idea is to get him/her used to the notion of overcoming adversity as soon as possible, starting from the bit when schoolmates make fun of said dorky name.

I pondered the possibilities of this for a while, thinking of things like otaku dorks naming their kids "Ryu", "Alucard" or for true facepalm lameness, "Squall", Posh and Bex naming subsequent kids after increasingly implausible geographic locations, based on where they were conceived ("Kitchen Table Beckham"), or maybe just going crazy with something like Leeloo Minai Lekarariba Laminatchai Ekbat de Sebat*.

Then my sister shows me this fantastic article about some poor kid whose parents cursed her with the name "Talula does the Hula from Hawaii". Go see. Have a laugh. Or perhaps be inspired with diabolical new ways to torment your newborn...

* I have no idea WHY I remember Leeloo's full name, but I just do. Meet me in person and I could tell you the full name of Llanfair PG, too...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Diabolical new weapons: Levan's Polka

WARNING: Pressing the play button on these videos will very likely result in you watching them for longer than you thought you would.

I came across this clip a while ago on KillSomeTime.com, then stumbled on it again in Youtube:



I found out later that the song was by these people, Loituma:



The song has a massive following on Youtube and spawned more parodies than can easily be counted, some of which are actually kinda twisted:



And here's my favourite version, the Trance one, by Hatsune Miku:



As yet, I've NO idea what the hell is the significance of the damn leek.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Diabolical new weapons: The Wasp

What you're looking at here is the Wasp Injector Knife. What it is is a knife with a small canister of compressed gas in the handle. Go on, guess what it does. Here's a hint: Stab... boom. At 800 psi. Here it is doing its thing on a watermelon:



Here's the manufacturer's site. Apparently, the idea was to make a diving knife to deter the biggest, meanest undersea predators possible. It's only a matter of time before someone uses this thing on someone else. Can you imagine the chalk outline for a murder involving THIS thing? Ugh...

Progress in Tyranny?

While it's easy to marvel at the dizzying new heights we reach, particularly in communications, energy and transportation technology, culture and especially decadence, it's well worth nothing that there are some aspects of human civilization in which progress is sorely lacking. The following is an extract from Bertrand Russell's analysis of Aristotle's Politics in The History of Western Philosophy, in which tyranny is discussed:

There is an interesting section on tyranny. A tyrant desires riches, whereas a king desires honour. The tyrant has guards who are mercenaries, whereas the king has guards who are citizens. Tyrants are mostly demagogues, who acquire power by promising to protect the people against the notables. In an ironically Machiavellian tone, Aristotle explains what a tyrant must do to retain power. He must prevent the rise of any person of exceptional merit, by execution or assassination if necessary. He must prohibit common meals, clubs, and any education likely to produce hostile sentiment. There must be no literary assemblies or discussions. He must prevent people from knowing each other well, and compel them to live in public at his gates. He should employ spies, like the female detectives at Syracuse. He must sow quarrels, and impoverish his subjects. He should keep them occupied in great works, as the king of Egypt did in getting the pyramids built. He should give power to women and slaves, to make them informers. He should make war, in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader.

It's quite depressing to go down the list, comparing it with the behaviour of modern day governments. I think pretty much every sentence in that paragraph could apply to the BN government, except maybe for the one about war. Malaysia doesn't really have the stomach for an all-out war, and if the National Service curriculum is anything to go by, Malaysia certainly doesn't have the ability, either. Which is perfectly all right, truth be told, seeing that in the 21st century, war is simply a Bad Idea.

Bertrand Russell was the epitome of the intellectual secular humanist, and a great fan of democracy built on the premise that all humans should be treated as equals. I really do wonder sometimes what he'd have thought of the coming Singularity. Or what he'd have to say about Malaysian politics.

I for one have pretty much given up on reading Malaysian newspapers. These days it's like reading a cheap tabloid, with stories about some guy accusing some other guy of buggery, gossip about who's talking to who, random spouting of meaningless platitudes, and columns of such mind-numbing inanity there's simply no point in constructive criticism and one is forced to come to the conclusion that a Malaysian newspaper is best used to light fires, straighten out uneven tables, wrap nasi lemak or even use as emergency toilet paper. Just don't read the wretched thing - it's worse than Pokemon fan fiction.

But back on the subject of tyranny, could we not compare the tyranny above to, say, the US? Seems to me that the Bush administration meets most of the criteria listed, except for the one on "great works". Looking back, has the US, as a nation, done anything positive of note under Bush? Things being the way they are now, Obama's got a lot of work to do, cleaning up Bush's mess, and the Republicans have a hell of a lot more work to do, winning back back their credibility. Democracy at work, indeed.

But for all it's failings, it would appear that democracy is still the way to go. The social experiment of communism is clearly a failure, though from it's ashes, we now bear witness to the rise of the most ridiculously powerful corporation in the history of Man, that is, China. Monarchy is good for nothing except to fill space in a gossip magazine and highlight to the common people the dangers of inbreeding*. Dictatorship is only as good as the dictator, and even the most capable and (somewhat) benevolent dictators have only one life to give before the reigns are inevitably taken over by some woefully inadequate schmuck, with an accompanying cadre of unscrupulous, avaricious slime.

So it's with a twinge of regret that I look back at Malaysia's March 8 elections, because back then, having completely lost faith in the system, I'd been resigned to planning my escape from Malaysia to search for greener pastures and so did not cast my vote. Not for a moment did I expect my vote to make a jot of difference, and so I found myself greatly surprised by the result. On the morning of the 9th, I found myself thinking that maybe, just maybe Malaysia can save itself from the socio-economic timebomb it set in motion.

It's now been over 4 months since that day. The bickering in Parliament has only intensified. The Mongolian Murder is yet to be resolved, with overwhelming amounts of evidence being ignored for the convenience of the very, very high ranking culprits. Crime is up, fuel prices are way up and corruption is through the roof, with the only difference between a policeman and a triad member is that the triad member dresses better.

It ain't much, but hey, it's home!

* With the notable exception of Queen Rania of Jordan, who is the hottest royal since Nefertiti. She can rule me any day of the week.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Didn't know the Muslims were into it, too...

BBC News showed an article today which I thought was more in the realm of Mexican food. Anyways, some restaurant in Nigeria has hunks of meat spelling the word "الله", that is, Allah. See for yourself:


Not one to be outdone, the Zombie Lord, Jesus, decided to make an appearance in a chappati:


Ok, I kid, the Holy Chappati was from a story in 2002. But I'm guessing it won't be long before we start seeing some Allah Jerky on Ebay...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fun quirks of language 03

Here's something fun I noticed when comparing the entries for the word "Republican" in Dictionary.com:

re·pub·li·can
(rĭ-pŭb'lĭ-kən)
adj.
  1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a republic.
  2. Favoring a republic as the best form of government.
  3. Republican Of, relating to, characteristic of, or belonging to the Republican Party of the United States.

n.
  1. One who favors a republic as the best form of government.
  2. Republican A member of the Republican Party of the United States.
And the Urban Dictionary:

Republican - An individual who believes that the white male Christian God should be the only object of worship on the planet, that power and wealth should remain in the hands of 1% of the world's population while the remaining 99% starve, that health care should be privatized so the poor can't afford basic medication, that a rape victim living on welfare should be forced to care for a baby she didn't even ask for, and that America is the only real country on Earth while all those other countries they read about are just fakes invented by communists...oh wait, it's terrorists now, isn't it?

And listed among the related words: idiot, moron, redneck, hypocrite, nazi, GOP, racist, evil, hick...

Oh, and by the way, I just laughed out loud when I saw this.

Brought to you by the Party Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance...

This is the state-approved method of cheering for the glorious People's Republic of China*:

JDM080605cheer.jpg

Step 1: Clap two times (while chanting 奥运, "Olympics")
Step 2: Hands in fists with thumbs up, arms extended upward (while chanting, 加油, "Let's go!")
Step 3: Clap two time (while chanting 中国, "China")
Step 4: Hands in fists, arms extended outward and upward (while chanting 加油, "Let's go!")

I don't know, I just find it really cute that China even has a "Party Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance", a "Beijing Etiquette Institute" and has a state-sanctioned cheer which, in the words of Li Ning, head of aforementioned Beijing Etiquette Institute, "expresses the "Citius, Altius, Fortius" Olympic spirit and is in line with general international principles for cheering, while at the same time possessing characteristics of Chinese culture. Overall, the cheer unites both gestures and words into a smooth, flowing whole." Seriously, I thought people only write like that for those ludicrous Feng Shui books. And what on earth do they mean by "general international principles for cheering"? Are there International Cheering Standards that I should be aware of?

But hey, can't blame them for trying, eh? 奥运加油! 中国加油!

* Not kidding. Extracted from here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Universality and PDA

Outside of linguistics, most would know Chomsky as a ferocious critic of US foreign policy, and with good reason. What I find is highlighted most in his criticisms is the matter of the singularly astounding hypocrisy of which various US administrations have been guilty, of which I personally think the most dire effect is the complete disintegration of US credibility in the eyes of the international community.

In passing moral judgements, though morality itself is nebulous and debatable*, the bare minimum standard required should be that of universality, i.e. One should never impose moral standards upon others that you wouldn't adhere to yourself. In this respect, at least, the gang of inbred delusional psychotics known as the Westboro Baptist Church have something over the US government.

So what I was thinking about, with respect to universality, was this silly little comic by Scott Adams, from Dogbert's Clues for the Clueless:


Going by Chomsky's view on universality, everyone, even the mingers, should have the right to PDA to the same level of intimacy without fear of reprisals from little old ladies with big sticks. But Adams does make a very pertinent observation here: Our morality is skewed somewhat by our aesthetic sense.

We gravitate towards things that are pleasing to the eye and ear. Natural enough, I suppose, but this also creates a habit of ignoring or stifling things that aren't quite so pleasant. I have only to walk in one of the countless gargantuan shopping malls that dominate the KL landscape to observe this utterly deplorable side of human nature.

"The beautiful people" strutting about in fine clothes, planning the next party, gossiping over the latest celebrity wedding/divorce. People who travel all around the world but whose minds remain trapped on the barren little island of their prejudices. "Living for the moment" they call it, without the slightest inkling of a thought for what it takes for society to sustain this hedonistic lifestyle. Being beautiful is everything, because when you're beautiful, you're right. That's the message the idiot box and the mass media sends us. Well, at least until someone like Miss South Carolina** shows up to give us a sharp dose of reality.

Of course, those of you who've been following the movements of the WWF would know this. It's MUCH easier to champion the cause of an endangered species if it's cute and furry. Endangered warthogs? Molluscs? Insects? Fuck 'em, not interested.

The fact of the matter is that aesthetics should not be a basis for making moral/ethical judgements of any kind. Aesthetics, like intuition, can still have a place in the empirical sciences as a source of inspiration, but should never be considered a criterion of truth. Any scientist worth a damn knows this.

But alas, consumerist society is not particularly known for it's intellectual rigour. And so the hordes of the gullible shape the world with their unbridled whims and fancies, sacrificing their mental potential in favour of the pretty lights and worthless baubles the market economy promises. The masses, trapped in a mental prison of their own making, are kept shallow and stupid, and intellectuals the world over lament for the fate of Man.

Well, if nothing else, it will be interesting to see how exactly we get out of this hole we're digging for ourselves...

* At least among those of us who actually think...

** Honestly, I really feel for her. It can't be nice knowing you turn up as a result when you search for "stupid" on Youtube.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Poetry!

It's a very, very rare thing indeed for a poem to grab my attention. I'm awfully old-fashioned when it comes to poems, that is, I generally expect them to rhyme. I will concede that, for certain individuals I'll make exceptions, for instance, Rives' performance at TED is well worth sharing:



However, this isn't really what prompted me to write this entry. I was enjoying Russell's History of Western Philosophy when this gem by Vaughan caught my eye. I've never heard of Vaughan before this, but these few lines struck me as being of such singular beauty that it would be a crime not to share them, so here they are:

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres
Like a vast shadow moved; in which the world
And all her train were hurled.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic in 5 minutes

I received a tertiary education in Physics and learnt about finance and accounting the hard way. As such, postmodernist philosophy is pretty much alien territory to me, though not for long, once I haul my raggedy ass through Russell's History of Western Philosophy*.

Anyway, I picked up and read Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic, under the foolish assumption that, being such a slim volume, I should be able to get through it quickly. 2 months later, I've finally finished reading it (though I've yet to polish off the appendix) and have decided to summarise my understanding of it here, in the hope that somebody with the m4d skillzorz to comment can indeed do so and maybe tell me if I'm missing something. So, here's the long story short...

Ayer's book champions the cause of logical empiricism, and so all human knowledge can be broadly divided into 3 types:

1) A priori truth. This comprises axioms that are, by definition, true, and the theorems that we derive from them. The only fields of human knowledge and inquiry that has ever offered this kind of truth consistently is maths and logic.

2) Empirical truth. i.e. Propositions that can be verified empirically. This is the foundation of science as we know it and all of the theorems and propositions we arrive at are assumed to have the qualifier "until proven wrong". For instance, the Theory of Evolution is an empirical truth and nothing has yet been observed to prove it wrong. The good scientist will accept this as true but must always keep his mind open to evidence against it. The criterion of how one verifies an empirical truth is codified in the verification principle, which is a bit heavy, so here's a link to the Wiki.

3) Anything which is neither an a priori truth nor verifiable empirically is in the realm of bullshit**. But it is important to realise that, limited creatures that we are, bullshit is in fact a necessary part of life. For example, we speak glibly of 'good' and 'evil' to get people to behave***, or we use bullshit as a sort of scaffolding with which we build our understanding of the universe. Like anything else, bullshit can be used for good or ill, but it's vitally important that we recognise it for what it is, that is, we remember to strip off the scaffolding when it becomes unnecessary.

Metaphysics, that is, "the branch of philosophy investigating principles of reality transcending those of any particular science" as stated by Wikipedia, offers neither a priori nor empirical truths. As such, metaphysics is useless bullshit. This conclusion drew much ire from philosophers who staked pretty much their whole careers on metaphysics.

The Truth - No such thing. Truth is a property of a proposition. i.e. A proposition can be true or false. Looking for the Great Truth of Life, the Universe and Everything is in the realm of metaphysics, and therefore useless bullshit.

The existence of God - Since most definitions of God fail to be either a priori or empirical, God is quite likely bullshit. Moderates and fundies alike seem to favour a definition of God that involves Him being outside our universe and therefore unobservable, so empirical verification is out. Hence any statement either denying or affirming his existence is useless bullshit. From this we can imply (though it's not stated in Ayer's book, coz he'd have been lynched) that all religion is in fact bullshit of the most meaningless and unnecessary kind.

The book goes on to use this framework of logical empiricism to scrutinize some of the major philosophical conflicts of the day, e.g. Rationalism vs Empiricism, Realism vs Idealism and Monism vs Pluralism. Seeing as the conflicts all occur on metaphysical fronts, it's quickly revealed that there is no conflict, and that said conflicts were in fact grounded in, you guessed it, useless bullshit.

I've decided I like Alfred Ayer. What he says is very much in concordance with my own outlook on Life, the Universe and Everything, and with my conclusions from my readings of Zen and the works of Bertrand Russell. A truly remarkable book, when you consider the fact that Ayer wrote it at the age of 23.

Comments particularly welcome for this post. Just don't come here with useless bullshit ;-)

* Which I thoroughly recommend to any student of world history, though only as a complement, not an alternative.

** Actually, the word he uses is 'nonsensical', but 'bullshit' has the right kind of umph to it, yes?

*** Or in some cases, to get people to do what you want.

Stuff I like 04: Simon's Cat!

It's great what you can stumble across on Youtube. Here's all I could find on Simon's Cat:







I'd forgotten about this one, but Hot For Words is quite possibly the oddest mix of hawt blonde and genuine educational content I've ever seen. Do check it out.

In other news, here's the Electro Gypsy, come to give Techno Viking a run for his money. And I might as well throw in Jibjab's latest piece of political satire:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Please... Make it stop...

I love Macross Frontier. I could die happily if I were given the chance to pilot the VF-25 for just a wee bit. And I'd be a bigger fan if not for her:



*sigh* If you've watched enough anime, you KNOW this girl's just too damned cute to get killed by the bad guys...

A little something for the Malaysians

A friend of mine just acquainted me with the works of scholar-hero Dr Farish A Noor. The more I read of his works, the more I find he fills in the yawning void in my head that was supposed to have been filled by secondary school-level history but, thanks to the Kementerian Pendidikan, was in fact filled with meaningless patriotic bullshit.

It is unfortunate that so many of my generation, and of the generations after me, the ones who weren't there when Malaysia won it's independence haven't received the education in Malaysian history that is our right. Instead, we mostly fall into any of two groups:

1) The people who "studied" history just to regurgitate it in a meaningless exam, then forget it 5 minutes later; and

2) The poor bastards who actually believe the Ministry-approved textbooks.

There's a very famous quote by some guy who's probably very famous but I simply can't remember his name right now: "Why does history repeat itself? Because nobody ever listens." Or something like that. You get the idea.

As such, knowing that a majority of my readers are Malaysian or from somewhere nearby or at the very least used to be Malaysian, I consider it a matter of civic duty to do my part in disseminating the works of someone who can provide a fresh, unbiased insight to a very interesting part of this ball of dirt and water that we call home. The URL says it all:


Now go and see.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nominative determinism again

Was reading Al Jazeera on the Darfur conflict and this caught my attention:

"There is always going to be some sort of reluctance to demonise their own, the Arabs as they will see themselves," Opheera McDoom, Reuters correspondent in Darfur, says.

A journalist called McDoom. In one of the worst warzone hells on earth. That's just right up there with the dentist called Dr Payne and Dr Blood giving a transfusion to a patient whose surname is Body.

Since we're on the subject, here's an extract from the Wiki entry, quoting New Scientist:

"WE recently came across a new book, Pole Positions - The Polar Regions and the Future of the Planet, by Daniel Snowman. Then, a couple of weeks later, we received a copy of London Under London - A Subterranean Guide, one of the authors of which is Richard Trench. So it was interesting to see Jen Hunt of the University of Manchester stating in the October issue of The Psychologist: "Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname." Hunt's example is an article on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology (vol 49, pp 173-176, 1977) by J. W. Splatt and D. Weedon.[1] (This really does exist. We've checked it.)

Dunno about the rest of you, but I just laughed out loud at the sight of Splatt and Weedon. Recommend checking out the Wiki for more, but here's one more gem that I just had to highlight: The former Archbishop of Manila - Cardinal Sin.

Something I found on the RDF Facebook group...

There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just say it:

Prof Dawkins is actually kinda hot as a ch1xx0r.


But seriously, the resemblance did strike me as a bit too uncanny, so I dug up the most comparable photo of Ms Watson I could find:


Hmmmmm....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Atheist in the Foxhole

No, he's not the only one, but the story of Jeremy Hall is one worth knowing, so here it is:

Atheist soldier sues Army for 'unconstitutional' discrimination

  • Story Highlights
  • Army Spc. Jeremy Hall was raised Baptist but is now an atheist
  • His sudden lack of faith cost him his military career and put his life at risk, he says
  • Hall sued the Defense Department; claims military is a Christian organization
  • Pentagon official: Complaints about evangelizing are "relatively rare"
By Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (CNN) -- Army Spc. Jeremy Hall was raised Baptist.

Like many Christians, he said grace before dinner and read the Bible before bed. Four years ago when he was deployed to Iraq, he packed his Bible so he would feel closer to God.

He served two tours of duty in Iraq and has a near perfect record. But somewhere between the tours, something changed. Hall, now 23, said he no longer believes in God, fate, luck or anything supernatural.

Hall said he met some atheists who suggested he read the Bible again. After doing so, he said he had so many unanswered questions that he decided to become an atheist.

His sudden lack of faith, he said, cost him his military career and put his life at risk. Hall said his life was threatened by other troops and the military assigned a full-time bodyguard to protect him out of fear for his safety. VideoWatch why Hall says his lack of faith almost got him killed »

In March, Hall filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others. In the suit, Hall claims his rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment were violated and suggests that the United States military has become a Christian organization.

"I think it's utterly and totally wrong. Unconstitutional," Hall said.

Hall said there is a pattern of discrimination against non-Christians in the military.

Two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, after refusing to pray at his table, Hall said he was told to go sit somewhere else. In another incident, when he was nearly killed during an attack on his Humvee, he said another soldier asked him, "Do you believe in Jesus now?"

Hall isn't seeking compensation in his lawsuit -- just the guarantee of religious freedom in the military. Eventually, Hall was sent home early from Iraq and later returned to Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas, to complete his tour of duty.

He also said he missed out on promotions because he is an atheist.

"I was told because I can't put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn't make a good leader," Hall said.

Michael Weinstein, a retired senior Air Force officer and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is suing along with Hall. Weinstein said he's been contacted by more than 8,000 members of the military, almost all of them complaining of pressure to embrace evangelical Christianity.

"Our Pentagon, our Pentacostalgon, is refusing to realize that when you put the uniform on, there's only one religious faith: patriotism," Weinstein said.

Religious discrimination is a violation of the First Amendment and is also against military policy. The Pentagon refused to discuss specifics of Hall's case -- citing the litigation. But Deputy Undersecretary Bill Carr said complaints of evangelizing are "relatively rare." He also said the Pentagon is not pushing one faith among troops.

"If an atheist chose to follow their convictions, absolutely that's acceptable," said Carr. "And that's a point of religious accommodation in department policy, one may hold whatever faith, or may hold no faith."

Weinstein said he doesn't buy it and points to a promotional video by a group called Christian Embassy. The video, which shows U.S. generals in uniform, was shot inside the Pentagon. The generals were subsequently reprimanded.

Another group, the Officers' Christian Fellowship, has representatives on nearly all military bases worldwide. Its vision, which is spelled out on the organization's Web site, reads, "A spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform empowered by the Holy Spirit."

Weinstein has a different interpretation.

"Their purpose is to have Christian officers exercise Biblical leadership to raise up a godly army," he says.

But Carr said the military's position is clear.

"Proselytizing or advancing a religious conviction is not what the nation would have us do and it's not what the military does," Carr said.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to respond to Hall's lawsuit this week. In the meantime, he continues to work in the military police unit at Fort Riley and plans to leave as soon as his tour of duty expires next year.

Quick message to comrades who smoke



The moral of the story is: If you must smoke, at the very least learn to make it look GOOD.

Ok, I've got to get me one of these...

Stumbled on this on Wired.com:



And then, all I'll need is a decent Oddjob bowler hat to go with it and I'm good to go...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hall of Shame: Catholics

Before I continue, I would like to state up front that I've nothing personal against Catholics in particular. I stand against religion and superstition in general, and in good time, I will level the appropriate criticism towards all denominations of all faiths purporting to express a belief in the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Yahweh. For now, I'd like to show you a little something about the incredible absurdity of Catholicism. Well, not me, really, but I'd like to show PZ Myers, a hero of science and reason, showing you a little something about a little white cracker.

This is more or less what it looks like:
Doesn't look like much, eh? I've heard they don't taste like much either. For the benefit of those who aren't familiar with Catholicism beyond the occasional newspaper article on some paedophile priest, let me tell you a little something about this little cracker.

It's the body of Christ. No, really, that's what Catholics believe. Not just symbolic of the body of Christ, it IS the body of Christ, the great Jewish zombie god himself. It might look like a cracker now, but put it in your mouth and POOF! Zombie flesh! Mmm, does a body good... Transubstantiation, they call it. Not bad, eh? What better way to prove your divine power than turn yourself into little white crackers so that all your followers can engage in wanton cannibalism? Oh, I know... Make more zombies!

Anyway, back to crackers. What got me started on this entry was a blog entry from PZ Myers. Here it is in all its glory. Long story short, Catholics worldwide are OUTRAGED that a university student TOOK A CRACKER HOSTAGE. Now, I don't visit Pharyngula as often as I'd like, but I can tell you that Myers isn't one to use profanity lightly. In fact, this is the first time I've ever seen him seriously cuss. Anyway, the emotional intensity of the response aside, he has a very, very valid point: It's just a fucking cracker.

In other news, I just read a very interesting article in Skeptical Inquirer about holy relics. You know, bits of Christ and whatnot, like finger bones, teeth, bits of the cross and similar junk to sell to pious and gullible tourists. Apparently, you could build a ship with all the "genuine" fragments of the cross in circulation. And get this: There are no less than 3 Holy Prepuces out there, all recognized by Catholic Disneyland, that is, the Vatican. Yes, indeed, you read that right, Jesus H Christ, the zombie lord, has at least THREE FORESKINS. Mary Magdalene must've had some fun, eh?

You should check out Ebay sometime. I just entered "holy relic christ" and the search turned this up. That's right! You, too, can own "THE HOLY NAIL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST"! Note that only about halfway into the description do we see, in smaller print: "A replica of the Holy Nail of Our Lord Jesus Christ". The Skeptical Inquirer article mentioned that a grilled cheese sandwich with burnt crust forming the image of the Virgin Mary* sold for over USD10k. I wonder how much this cute little doggie would sell for:

Yea, the Lord moves in mysterious ways...

But to be fair, let's think, between paedophile priests, bogus relics, barbaric cannibal rituals and outright obstruction of science and reason, what's Catholicism got going for it? Well, as I recall, they're keeping Latin going pretty well, which strikes me as a fairly important cultural artefact. And it's left some pretty awesome architecture lying around. And my favourite part, their hymns aren't as painfully, facepalmingly lame as the garbage that certain Methodists I could name manage to regurgitate. But other than that, it shares the same curse as any other religion, meaningless worship of a Bronze Age invisible being who just isn't there and glorification of blind faith without question, a pitiful waste of human cognitive ability which, as it is, just isn't used enough.

In sum:


*That is, generic female face looking upwards.

Oooh, bad idea....

This is causing quite a stir on IHT:


I mean, really, what were your first impressions of this cartoon? I'm not a regular reader of the New Yorker, so my first thought was that this was yet another cheap smear attack on Obama by ignorant right-wingers who thought they were being witty, like that delusional savage Jack Chick. It was only after I read the IHT article covering it that I realised that it was meant to be "a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create". In which case I go, "Oh! Very clever!"

But what about the vast majority of the American public which doesn't actually bother to read between the lines? You know, the God-fearing Republican conservatives who would interpret something like that as a summary of valid objections against Obama?

Of course, the obvious argument against that would be, "Noooo, surely no-one is THAT stupid?" What, in the land of the free, home of Ann Coulter, Ben Stein, the Klu Klux Klan, MTV, televangelism, Westboro Baptist Church and the Scopes Monkey Trial? Can't imagine why anyone would think that...

Ok, sarcasm aside, it just seems to me a little more thought was needed before plastering something like that all over the front cover...

Too good not to share

Das Leben der Anderen...

... is a frickin' AWESOME movie of a completely different order of magnitude. I'm not going to waste your time with a review of it, not when there's perfectly adequate ones here, here and here. Frankly, there's no arguing with a score of 93% from a site as harsh as Rotten Tomatoes.

It's set in the totalitarian regime of the German Democratic Republic in 1984, that is, while the Berlin wall was still up. To give you an idea of the strength of this movie, here's an extract of a monologue central to the plot:

The State's head office for Statistics on Hans Beimer St counts everything, knows everything. How many shoes I buy per year: 2.3, how many books I read in a year: 3.2, and how many students graduate in a year with a 4.0 GPA: 6,347. But there is one number not registered, perhaps because such a number hurts even the bureaucrats: suicides.

If you called the Beimler St office and asked, "How many people between the Elbe and Oder rivers, between the Baltic Sea and the Ore Mountains were driven to death from desperation?", then our oracle of numbers remains silent, and probably writes down your full name for the State Security, those grey men who take care of our country's security and happiness.

Since 1977 our country has ceased counting cases of suicide. "Murdering oneself". That's what they call it. This act has nothing to do with murder. It knows no bloodlust. It knows no passion. It only knows dying. The dying of hope.

9 years ago, when we stopped counting suicides, only one European country had a higher suicide rate: Hungary. After them was us, the country of the living breathing Socialism...

Really, seriously no kidding, this movie is a work of art to put Hollywood for the past 10 years to shame. My vocabulary in every language I know would not give sufficient praise for this movie. You must watch it. Herr Weisler defines everything a true hero should be. And I think he kinda looks like Kevin Spacey...

Monday, July 14, 2008

A couple of Hiroshis

A friend of mine who was just at the Rainforest World Music Festival had the good fortune of seeing Motofuji Hiroshi* perform live and not 20 minutes ago recommended I watch him. I did a search for "Hiroshi" on that dear old friend, Youtube and was pleasantly surprised to find I had encountered Motofuji-san before, in this clip:



I generally prefer to listen to taiko in an ensemble, e.g. Kodo or Yamato, but Motofuji Hiroshi is one of very, very few drummers with the mad skillz to be an ensemble in his own right.

On top of that, the search also turned up this nice little talk by Tasaka Hiroshi:



I think he makes some very valid points, indeed. And I love the way he obviously doesn't believe in the letter "v". However, being Malaysian (here we go...) some thoughts crossed my mind as he stressed the "wisdom of the crowd". I will say this as succintly and as accurately as possible: Here in Malaysia, the "crowd" is pretty fucking stupid. I'd better elaborate. This is not so much a fault of the "crowd" as much as a hideous failure of government policy in achieving an adequate standard of education**. Yes, Malaysia can read, write and count, most of the time. But the "crowd" is, for the most part, a bunch of selfish consumerist zombies. Very useful for driving an economy in the short-term, but very, very costly in terms of sustainability. The long and short of it is, Malaysia has hell of a lot of problems to address at all levels of society before it can even begin to think of the word "knowledge-based".

But seriously, when you think about it, Malaysia is NOT a player in the game of world civilizations, which is no doubt what Tasaka-san had in mind when he spoke of knowledge-based societies. More like the annoying baby cousin which everybody else has to elbow away from the board.

* For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese names and language, a Japanese name is usually stated surname first. They do switch it round sometimes for the benefit of foreigners, so this may lead to some confusion if you can't tell a Japanese first name from a surname.

** I have been very, very fortunate in receiving 7 years of British education to cure me of the silliness that is the Malaysian education system.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Something weird I found on Encarta...

I was doing a little digging on languages when I came across this page from MSN Encarta. It lists Indonesian as being spoken by just over 17 million people in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands combined.

Is there something I'm missing here? Is this the right Indonesian we're talking about? The one which translates "oxtail soup" as "sop bontot*"? The one from the country with just under 240 million people, which is so pathetically insecure about their own cultural heritage that they had to outlaw the Chinese diaspora from speaking Chinese, having Chinese names or even allowing Chinese to be taught in schools? The Indonesia that, in addition to this slow cultural genocide, has seen fit to continue with the more direct ethnic cleansing still occuring in West Papua?

I mean, granted, the bottom of the table does come with the disclaimer "All numbers are approximate" but to be out by an order of magnitude is a bit much, even for a physicist! Not so sure how seriously I can take Encarta anymore...

* Literally, "butt soup".

Fun quirks of language 02

From the Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Pierce:

Witch
,
n.

(1) An ugly and repulsive old woman, in a wicked league with the Devil.


(2) A beautiful and attractive young woman, in wickedness a league beyond the Devil.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cognitive dissonance is your friend!

I was doing a little more thinking about cognitive dissonance today and a few things hit me all at once. Here's hoping I can make some sense of it.

It's actually quite hard not to be a hypocrite. As we grow older and, sometimes, more mature, our thoughts coalesce into set patterns, defining who we are. We'll settle into certain worldviews, adopt certain modes of speech, walk a certain way, hold our chopsticks a certain way, that sort of thing. It seems to me that the conscious mind (human, of course) does not actually take shape as a cohesive whole but comprises several "zones", if you will. I'm no neuroscientist, and I haven't done my homework on it lately, so all these jottings will have to be checked against the appropriate literature at some point. Anyway, back to the zones.

Because the conscious mind doesn't quite develop as a single, harmonious whole, which is to say, they are not necessarily closely connected to one another, we may sometimes find that the mechanism of cognitive dissonance is sometimes overlooked. i.e., 2 contradictory propositions may coexist inside the same mind as long as they are somehow kept apart, like the scientist who is a biochemist in the lab but a Christian at home. Anyway, that's one way of looking at cognitive development.

The other which occured to me is that the mind is very much connected, but cognitive dissonance is overcome by rationalisation. For instance, with the biochemist example, he may say that his roles as a scientist and as husband/father as so totally unrelated that he can essentially be 2 different people. The long and short of it is, either by the mechanism through which the mind develops, or through rationalisation, one can circumvent cognitive dissonance. But this strikes me as odd, and I have trouble empathising with this sort of behaviour.

Taking myself as an example, I require of myself that I be Me every moment of my life. Whether I function as store clerk, capoeirista, physicist, juggler, consultant, swordsman or googly-eyed geek at a laptop, I will always be Cheng, and I carry and apply my values and experiences with me in every aspect of my life. So when it struck me a few months ago that I simply didn't believe in my job as a consultant anymore, I knew I could no longer function, so I had to quit.

Others in my position may stay, rationalising that, no matter how much the job went against their beliefs, they'd stay, because a job is a job, and it's just something you do to pay the rent - Nick Naylor's Yuppie Nuremberg Defense. I don't like lying and try very hard not to, not so much as a result of upbringing as much as because I realised (far too late in life, alas) that I'm actually rather lazy, lies take too much effort to maintain, and everybody could save themselves a hell of a lot of trouble just by being honest all the time*. I think you can see how this attitude, coupled with a brutally skeptical empiricist mind, led to my eventual inability to function as a consultant in a Big 4 firm.

This is a trait I share with almost everyone I know, and certainly everyone whom I would call friend, seeing as I'm very averse indeed to spending too much time in the presence of vapid, consumerist hypocrites**. I suppose this is what they mean by "being true to yourself". We live in a very noisy world these days. It's becoming increasingly difficult to sort genuine wisdom from meaningless platitudes. As such, though it's increasingly difficult to maintain a skeptical mind, it's also that much more important, lest we lose track of what it is to be human and become what the marketing executive wants us to be: a walking wallet.

As for what it is to be human, I'm-a save that for another post.

* Granted, some feelings would probably be hurt, but I think happiness is drastically overrated anyway.

** Yet another reason I had to leave my previous employment.

Friday, July 11, 2008

xkcd has never been to Malaysia

I saw this on xkcd:



This would probably have been funny, were it not for the fact that I'm Malaysian, and have to navigate things like this:

Hall of Shame: Malaysian Police

Here's a gem I stumbled upon in today's paper, which I felt was worth copying and pasting for posterity:

Cop vs cops in Gemas station

By SARBAN SINGH

GEMAS: A policeman has lodged a report against all his colleagues including his superiors allegedly over dissatisfaction on how the monthly bribes from those operating illegal activities was being distributed.

In retaliation, one of his superiors, a sergeant, lodged another police report against the policeman, a lance corporal, for allegedly selling station property to scrap dealers.

A source said the lance corporal, in his 40s, was dissatisfied with his superiors for allegedly taking the lion’s share of the bribes while the rank and file received very little.

“In fact, the complainant claimed that he did not get a sen,” the source said.

The report was lodged earlier this week.

The sergeant, in an apparent tit-for-tat, lodged another report against the lance corporal alleging that he had sold some old wooden and iron furniture from the police station to a dealer.

“His colleagues even know where the dealer is operating from,” the source said.

State police chief Datuk Osman Salleh confirmed that a report has been lodged.

“We are investigating the claims made by the lance corporal. We do not want to make conclusions straightaway as the allegations are serious,” he said.

He said all the policemen were still on duty and have not been asked to go on leave.

He said action would be taken against his men if the claims were true.

It is understood that the Anti-Corruption Agency has also started a probe.


Now, all that having been said, I know how much these poor buggers earn, having had the oppurtunity on the job to review in great details their bank loans. Simply put, they get paid peanuts. As a fresh associate starting out in a Big 4 accounting firm in Malaysia, you will get paid more than double what your average boy-in-blue-for-the-past-3-years will earn.

Think about it: Fresh white collar warrior, qualified to do meaningless research, photocopy, sort files and generally handle the menial tasks that none of the seniors could be bothered to do, all from the air-conditioned comfort of an office tower deep in the city versus men and women in ill-fitting uniforms, patrols in the burning Malaysian sun, high ideals clashing with cruel realities, facing down knives, guns, parangs, cleaning up the filth society leaves behind because not enough people cared.

I've been the white collar warrior before. That paycheck really doesn't go very far in KL. I could ask that one spares a thought for that guy who earns less than half of what I did. Look at this article. Look what they've become. This is the world Malaysians have made for themselves. Malaysia boleh, indeed.

All the skyscrapers, bridges, highways and shopping malls Malaysians are so enamoured with are utterly worthless compared to the breathtaking triumph of society that is a few honest cops.

I think, I thought, I...

... thunk.

Ouch.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stuff I like 03: Doom!

Board games. I luvs t3h board games. I'm not a proper board game geek, mind you, that is, I'm not one of those connoiseurs who have sampled all the standard Eurogames named after some city or other (e.g. Panama, Peurto Rico, Carcassonne) and frankly, I'm not interested. I'm a total sucker for a boardgame with bling. As such, Doom (the boardgame) easily ranks among my favourites, largely because playing the Bad Guy appeals to my inner homicidal maniac.

Here's a short review of Doom:

- It's based on Doom 3. For the uncultured philistines out there who know nothing of the Doom series, Doom 1 and 2 were the games that pretty much defined FPS as a genre. Doom 3 was one of the most awaited sequels of all time, placing you in the role of a ruff and ready marine on a research station on Mars fighting hordes of bloodthirsty demons. Computer graphics had advanced a hell of a lot in the 10 years between Doom 2 and 3, so Doom 3's violence was very, very graphic indeed. Strongly recommend trying Doom 3 withs lights off and volume up. And a friend nearby who knows CPR.

- Quality of the pieces is top notch. LOTS of plastic figures, excellent moulding, very receptive to a little love with paint. If you've ever done a little table top wargaming, the kind of techniques used by Games Workshop will do very nicely indeed. Because everybody knows nicely painted minis equate to better luck on the dice, 'onest, guv.

- LOTS of little counters and bits. I bunged 'em all in a cheap plastic desk caddy with lotsa wee compartments. Saves hell of a lot of time sorting a health counter from an armour token from an ammo token from a weapon token from the keys...


- Average-ish complexity. It takes about half an hour for someone with reasonable math skills to get familiar with the rules. I mean REAL maths skills, not accounting. I played this with a bunch of accountants once and to be honest, all that bean counting seemed to have crippled their cognitive abilities.

- Each player takes it in turns to make their moves, with up to three marines against the Bad Guy. Each marine player controls one marine, together with his ludicrous arsenal of weapons and some randomly drawn skills and abilities. The Bad Guy controls teeming hordes of demons, has a handful of cards allowing him to play dirty tricks, spawn more demons and sometimes manipulate the board itself. Combat is resolved by rolling an assortment of prettily coloured dice. Yes, there's a BFG. Yes, the Cyberdemon is there, too.

- The cheat sheet summarising the creature and weapons stats is a completely bloody useless mess of meaningless glyphs. Understandable, I suppose, since it lets the game be printed in multiple languages, with only the rule book and scenario book needing changing. Doesn't change the fact that the cheat sheet is crap. So I made my own. Bug me if you want one. It's colourful.

- The game plays best with:
1) An appropriate soundtrack. Something techno-industrial-ish should do fine.
2) A very experienced player as the Bad Guy who remembers that the object is NOT to win, but to have fun.
3) Teamwork and fast thinking on the part of the marines. Mostly coz the lack of it makes for a very, very short game.
4) Painted minis! Coz they're just awesome!

- Long story short, this game's a damn good way to spend 2-3 hours with a friend or two or three. Fans of the computer game should be warned that it's a very, very different experience indeed. Mindless violence will not bring victory to the marine. And as a friend commented, it's got a really low refresh rate.

Of course, just one board game is far from enough to feed the diabolical urges of my inner nutter, so at some point I do hope to expand my collection, starting with Mwahahaha! No, really, I'm serious. The game's called Mwahahaha! and you play a mad scientist bent on world domination. Check it out.

True, true...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hurray for archaeology!

I remember someone on RDF once posed the question:

"If you could go back in time to assassinate Jesus, would you?"

I think it's greatly to the credit of the atheist community of RDF that almost everyone answered 'no' for various reasons. Of course, I went with 'no' myself, for 2 reasons:

1) I understand from various sources that at that point in time, so-called "messiahs" and "prophets" practically grew on trees, and Jesus just managed to draw the long straw. I have to concede that the Bible as it is now does in fact contain a couple of gems buried somewhere in there, and Matthew 7:12 is one of the more nicely-worded versions of the Ethic of Reciprocity that I'm familiar with. As such, I wouldn't want to risk snuffing Jesus only to have the beardy bugger replaced by some other schmuck who didn't manage to come up with something like the Ethic of Reciprocity.

2) If I were to go back in time to kill someone, it would have to be the inventor of either the necktie or karaoke.

But on the subject of many messiahs, I know how fundies are prone to believing that their beardy charlatan is the ONE TRUE beardy charlatan. So it was nice to open this week with this lovely article on IHT, in which a Hebrew tablet from before the time of Jesus describes yet another messiah. Of course, fundies will most certainly ignore this. They've managed to ignore evolution, radiocarbon dating, basic astronomy and geology quite thoroughly, so a stone tablet shouldn't be too much trouble. They don't even have to make the physical effort of plugging their ears and doing the "lalala I can't hear you lalala" mantra.

What I'm wondering is: Why do all their messiahs have to be zombies?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

In other news...


Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

Made in Malaysia

I'd heard about this clip a long time ago, but funnily enough I didn't get round to actually watching it until last night:



As someone who traverses the asphalt rivers of KL regularly, I totally sympathise with Clarkson on this. I cannot even begin to recall the sheer number of times some disgusting little wretch skipped about 100 yards worth of queue to squeeze that filthy little tin foil box of car 'twixt me and the car in front of me. Being a man of peace, I tend to keep my temper in check with liberal use of Hokkien, with a smidgeon of appropriate gesticulation for good measure.

Clarkson's got it easy, though. He only had to drive that monstrosity for a wee bit. There's hundreds of them here. The extremely low cost of production, total disregard for international safety and emissions standards and obscenely high import duties on foreign cars make the dressed-up go karts produced by Proton and Perodua the deathtraps of choice in Malaysia. You can catch Top Gear's coverage of the best of Malaysian manufacturing here and here. It ain't pretty.

But hey, at least here, on the great and vast and amazing internet, I can catch a glimpse of a Perodua Kelisa getting what it deserves. :-)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bursting a bubble

This article turned up in the Star today, following another just like it yesterday. Now, ignoring the fact that repeating the same damn story twice in as many days suggests a painful intellectual bankruptcy in the Star's content, the whole story is pretty much summed up in the opening line:

"The recent call by the government for its departments and agencies to reduce the number of events at hotels has hit the hotel industry badly."

To which I have to say: GOOD.

It's a travesty for a nation's hotel industry's revenue to materially comprise of income from it's own government. And, really, the Malaysian ego is in dire need of a damn good kick in the teeth! Malaysia Boleh, indeed! Visit Malaysia, my eye! What does it say about the nation when taxpayer money is spent sending government officials to our own hotels in such numbers that said hotels are dependent on the government for their income? These hotels are parasites! Let them sink like stones, I say! What they need is a good righteous dose of social Darwinism to cull the herd and leave behind the ones that can actually attract real tourists.

On a similar note, another article a couple of days ago revealed the results of the National Brand Index by Anholt-Gfk. Apparently, out of 40 countries in the Index, Malaysia came 35th. Just ahead of the likes of Israel and Iran. So it's official. Even the rest of the world thinks Malaysia is a dump. Meanwhile, the local papers (which are ALL owned by the government) continue to spout meaningless platitudes and fill their pages with the incredible amounts of dicking around by the so-called people in power.

There's no other word for it! These people were elected to run the country and here they are, happily buttfucking whomever they please, accusing each other of buttfucking and when they're not busy literally buttfucking, they're anally raping the nation with their "affirmative action", nepotism, racism, religious dogmatism, sensationalism, coercion and plain old flat-out lies. So if that's not dicking around, I'm not sure what is.

This reminds me of that old "Chinese" curse: May you live in interesting times...

Friday, July 4, 2008

w00t! Rin'!

Stumbled across Rin' completely by accident today. Though I've always been a fan of Samurai 7, I didn't know until now that they did the ending theme song. Anyways, they totally rawk and I definitely recommend them to anyone looking for something fresh:







And they managed to dislodge Suzanne Vega out of my skull, too! I have to say, though, that Noh mask in the 2nd video freaks the hell outta me.