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Record My Mind: Banal Records of a Pedestrian Life

Suffering and evil overwhelm me and I stew in my own juice. 

Friday, February 25, 2005

2/25/2005 01:56:00 am - Lessons from Uganda

Like Uganda, Singapore adopts the A (Abstinence), B (Being faithful), C (Condom) approach in dealing with AIDS. The futility of emphasizing A in this three-pronged approach is apparent in these two news article here (registration required) and here.

I believe the emphasis should be on C since those who are most likely to spread the epidemic are those least likely to abstain from sex. That group that must be a first priority target of the health authorities.

Reducing promiscuity is a laudable effort but the odds are stacked against the government since this amounts to overcoming a person's DNA, especially those who are inclined towards promiscuity. There will always be promiscuous people and some of them will be connectors who give birth to the tipping point (Malcolm Gladwell popularised this phrase in his book The Tipping Point. Summary here.) in any epidemic.

It is far harder for promiscuous people to fight against their DNA than for them to use a condom. If our objective is to control the epidemic and not let HIV infections go out of hand, this seems to be the path of least resistance. If our objective is to reduce promiscuity because it's morally repulsive, then we need to decide which is more important, the moral issue or the public health issue.

Although reducing your promiscuity means that you reduce your exposure to HIV, it does not mean that someone who is not promiscuous will not be infected and that all promiscuous people will be infected. It really depends on the protective measures being taken. It's not what you do, but how you do it.

Even more unfortunate and disagreeable is that the emphasis given to reducing promiscuity will result in the stigmatization of those rare, unfortunate souls who got infected with HIV but are not promiscuous. When the general judgement towards an AIDS patient is "That person is promiscuous that's why he/she has AIDS", ignorance is perpetuated. The outcome is unfounded prejudice against all AIDS patients.

Digression: How do we control a public health issue without blaming its victims is an important though neglected question that is discussed here. How often do we clearly isolate the political, the moral and public health issues when dealing with AIDS and human sexuality?

The counter argument against emphasizing C is to prevent a false sense of security. The Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Balaji Sadasivan says here that "Condom use reduces the health risk significantly but it does not reduce the risk to zero. This is why the Ministry does not support a stand-alone condom use message for the general public."

Another concern is that young and impressionable people could get the wrong message, and promiscuity would become endemic in society, fuelling the spread of AIDS. I will only buy this argument if there is strong empirical support for it.

Also in the news last week: Fears of a mutant superkiller HIV strain that results in AIDS within three months of infection.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

2/24/2005 02:41:00 am - Chuang Tzu, Seneca and Yu Xuanji

Just visited MPH at Raffles City. Felt dismayed and agitated that there are more interesting books out there than I could possibly read. As Chuang Tzu said, "Human life is limited, but knowledge is limitless. To drive the limited in pursuit of the limitless is fatal; and to presume that one really knows is fatal indeed!". Fatal futility: that sums up my exasperation whenever I enter a bookstore and feel overwhelmed by the amount of books I want to read.

Still, if I had my way, I would spend the rest of my days reading, writing, and drinking, amongst other things...

Arising out of that visit to MPH, I have added Nils Ringal's Love for Sale to my wishlist and almost bought Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. I also want to read more about the life of Yu Hsuan Chi or Yu Xuanji. The chapter on her in Ringal's book was an absorbing read.

I was struck by this poem she wrote before she died, lamenting the absence of her lover:

Separated from you,
What can I offer?
Only this single poem,
Stained with my bright tears.
More information on Yu Xuanji can be found here (scroll down).

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

2/16/2005 11:46:00 pm - The idle philosopher on the importance of taking a good dump

While browsing in a Chinese bookstore at Bras Brasah yesterday afternoon, I bought Lin Yutang's Mingliaotse's Travels.

lin yutang

This is the picture of the author who "avoids having his pictures published because he says he doesn't want to spoil his readers' illusion of him as a grand old wise man of the East, with a flowing beard".

Besides his sense of humour, I also enjoyed Lin Yutang's writing style. He wrote in a leisurely way, with a rhythm that was as calming and natural as relaxed, unhurried breathing. Reading him was like enjoying a leisurely sip of hot tea. He had a way of charming his readers through his "let you in on a secret" way of confessing and unabashedly stating his views.

I was first drawn by his Importance of Living, which articulated many things I was very sympathetic to, such as his praise of loafing and idleness, which he called the idle philosophy of an idle life. In that book he also, ahem, reminded the reader how important it was to take a good shit:

All happiness is biological happiness...Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion. I have to take cover under an American college president to insure my reputation and respectability when I say that happiness is largely a movement of the bowels. The American college president in question used to say with great wisdom in his address to each class of freshmen, "There are only two things I want you to keep in mind: read the Bible and keep your bowels open." What a wise, genial old soul he was to have said that! If one's bowels move, one is happy, and if they don't move, one is unhappy. That is all there is to it.

More on Lin Yutang:

According to this biography here (zipped word document), Lin Yutang was once an internationally popular writer who strove to explain China to the West and did it so well that according to a New York Times reviewer, "he made thousands of Americans almost regret that they were not Chinese and therefore members of the most truly civilized of all peoples". Lin Yutang also made American literary history when his My Country and My People topped the New York Times best-seller list, a first for a Chinese author. He also later became the Head of the Arts and Letters division at UNESCO. His idle idol profile is found here.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

2/15/2005 03:33:00 pm - Promises to myself

In 2005, I resolve to:

1 Understand myself better.
2 Simplify my life.
3 Manage my time better.
4 Manage my money better.
5 Treat my mum and close friends better.
6 Develop more empathy for others
7 Write more.
8 Know when to play the man, not the hand.
9 Develop better posture.
10 Keep better house.
11 Make decisions faster.
12 Find another means to the same end. (This makes sense to me only.)

13 Get a motorbike (Class 2B) license and a motorbike.

Visit the beach at least once in two months.

15 Complete section 3.6 of Enderton’s A Mathematical Introduction to Logic.

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Friday, February 11, 2005

2/11/2005 12:52:00 am - The Tanner Lectures on Human Values

Excellent stuff:
The Tanner Lectures on Human Values and the Reith lectures. Confession: I've only read one of the Reith lectures and none of the Tanner lectures.

But I intend to read the Tanner lectures here by Nagel (The Limits of Objectivity), Passmore (The Representative Arts as a Source of Truth), and Prigogine (Only an Illusion)....

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

2/09/2005 02:30:00 am - Aubade

My favourite poem is by Philip Larkin:

Philip Larkin


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.

Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.

In time the curtain-edges will grow light.

Till then I see what's really always there:

Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,

Making all thought impossible but how

And where and when I shall myself die.

Arid interrogation: yet the dread

Of dying, and being dead,

Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse

-- The good not done, the love not given, time

Torn off unused -- nor wretchedly because

An only life can take so long to climb

Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;

But at the total emptiness for ever,

The sure extinction that we travel to

And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,

Not to be anywhere,

And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid

No trick dispels. Religion used to try,

That vast moth-eaten musical brocade

Created to pretend we never die,

And specious stuff that says No rational being

Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing

That this is what we fear -- no sight, no sound,

No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,

Nothing to love or link with,

The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,

A small unfocused blur, a standing chill

That slows each impulse down to indecision.

Most things may never happen: this one will,

And realisation of its rages out

In furnace-fear when we are caught without

People or drink. Courage is no good:

It means not scaring others. Being brave

Lets no one off the grave.

Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.

It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,

Have always known, know that we can't escape,

Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.

Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring

In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring

Intricate rented world begins to rouse.

The sky is white as clay, with no sun.

Work has to be done.

Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

And this is me:


Larkin and I both put things in our mouths. But unlike me, he made the mundane magnificent, as this site will tell you.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

2/08/2005 08:20:00 pm - Heaps of Happy-Face Solutions

My immediate thought after reading this
review of Liars and Heaps: New Essays On Paradox a few nights ago was to co-author a paper on the Sorites paradox with Mark, a thought that has occurred to me before. It's also something that I brought up to him in the past. He was my supervisor when I wrote my Honours thesis on this topic and approached it from an angle he developed. One of my examiners had actually said that the thesis has the potential to become an original and potentially publishable (after major revisions and additions) article on the Sorites paradox. But then again, everything is publishable after major revisions and additions...

Executing this thought means I have to keep up with the literature from the past few years. Too time and energy consuming. Even worse would be the writing.

But I digress. What made that thought reappear in my mind was reading the following passage in the review:

Here is another point about the lack of meta-considerations. Some theorists have claimed, both with respect to the sorites paradox and with respect to the liar paradox, that a solution of the kind apparently normally sought cannot be had. Tarski said, (in)famously, that the liar paradox arises because our language is inconsistent. Michael Dummett has argued that the use of vague (or essentially vague) predicates is “intrinsically inconsistent” and that there can be no “coherent logic” of vague expressions”. More recently, Stephen Schiffer has argued that few, if any, genuine philosophical paradoxes have “happy-face solutions”, where a happy-face solution involves identifying the odd-guy-out and showing why this “now-undisguised-masquerader” seemed so plausible in the first place, doing so in such a way that the misleading impression is explained away. He prominently discusses the sorites paradox as one paradox that lacks a happy-face solution. Whether or not this type of skepticism is in the end justified, there appears to be a good question of what warrants the belief that the paradoxes have the kinds of solutions normally sought. But questions like this are absent from the papers in the present volume.

I'm convinced that Mark can make a substantial contribution to the Sorites paradox by presenting his solution in the context of raising and answering this question: What counts as a solution to the Sorites paradox?

Most the articles I read for my thesis was based on the existence of a happy-face solution to the paradox. But why should this be so? As the review suggests, current research on the Sorites paradox seems to still suffer from this bias.

In the unlikely event (maybe years) that I get my act together, I've suggested to Mark to co-author a paper on the Sorites paradox together with me. I'll write and he edit.

Sigh, this is one of those unresolved intellectual endeavours I've wanted to resolve and that I dream about resolving but that I know I'm unlikely to resolve anytime soon. Argh!

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2/08/2005 01:01:00 am - Is the problem external or internal?

Read this story from the winter 2003 issue of

Years ago, when he was a wandering monk, living on his own on a mountainside above a village, he kept a strict meditation schedule. In Thailand they love outdoor, nightlong film shows because the nights are cool compared to the very hot days. Whenever there was a party, it tended to go on all night. About fify years ago, public address systems were just starting to be used in Thailand and every decent event had to have a PA going. It was blasted as loud as possible all through the night. One time Ajahn Chah was quietly meditating up on the moutain while there was a festival going on down in the village. All the local folk songs and pop music were amplified throughout the area. Ajahn Chah was sitting there, seething and thinking, "Don't they realize all the bad karma involved in disturbing my meditation? They know I'm up here. After all, I'm their teacher. Haven't they learned anything? And what about the five precepts? I bet they're boozing and out of control," and so on and so forth.
But Ajahn Chah was a pretty smart fellow. As he listened to himself complaining, he quickly realized, "Well, they're just having a good time down there. I'm making myself miserable up here. No matter how upset I get, my anger is just making more noise internally." And then he had this insight: "Oh, the sound is just the sound. It's me who is going out to annoy it. If I leave the sound alone, it won't annoy me. It's just doing what it has to do. That's what sound does. It makes sound. This is its job. So if I don't go out and bother the sound, it's not going to bother me. Aha!"
The author said that Ajahn Chah's insight was that "...most wisdom arises from the skillful handling of the world's abrasions...It's pointless to find peace through nullifying or erasing the sense world. " This seems true because escapism (into meditation or something else) or avoidance/withdrawal is rarely the solution to our problems.

However, my insight was this:
to a large extent, the source of many of our frustrations are ourselves and not something or someone out there. We consent to our own frustrations. As the cliche goes, "You need two hands to clap".

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Monday, February 07, 2005

2/07/2005 01:05:00 am - How to fall into a woman's arms without falling into her hands

Found Georges Bataille Electronic Library while googling "Georges Bataille". I clicked on PervScan, and chanced upon an article by Sebastian Horsley on his love for prostitutes, an article I had read earlier from Arts & Letters (a highly recommended site) .

Here are some controversial excerpts:
The great thing about sex with whores is the excitement and variety. If you say you're enjoying sex with the same person after a couple of years you're either a liar or on something. Of all the sexual perversions, monogamy is the most unnatural. Most of our affairs run the usual course. Fever. Boredom. Trapped. This explains much of the friction in our lives - love being the delusion that one woman differs from another. But with brothels there is always the exhilaration of not knowing what you're going to get.

The problem with normal sex is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you've got to talk to them. Once you know someone well the last thing you want to do is screw them.

What I hate are meaningless and heartless one-night stands where you tell all sorts of lies to get into bed with a woman you don't care for.

...The worst things in life are free. Value seems to need a price tag. How can we respect a woman who doesn't value herself? When I was young I used to think it wasn't who you wanted to have sex with that was important, but who you were comfortable with socially and spiritually. Now I know that's rubbish. It's who you want to have sex with that's important. In the past I have deceived the women I have been with. You lie to two people in your life; your partner and the police. Everyone else gets the truth.

...Of course, the general feeling in this country is that the man is somehow exploiting the woman, but I don't believe this. In fact, the prostitute and the client, like the addict and the dealer, is the most successfully exploitative relationship of all. And the most pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no squalid power game. The man is not taking and the woman is not giving. The whore fuck is the purest fuck of all.

What I want is the sensation of sex without the boredom of its conveyance. Brothels make possible contacts of astounding physical intimacy without the intervention of personality. I love the artificial paradise; the anonymity; using money, the most impersonal instrument of intimacy to buy the most personal act of intimacy. Lust over love, sensation over security, and to fall into a woman's arms without falling into her hands.

To pay for sex is to strip away the veneer of artifice and civilisation and connect with the true animal nature of man. Some men proudly proclaim that they have never paid for it. Are they saying that money is more sacred than sex?

..So you see, I have always been a prostitute by sympathy. As for the rest of society, prostitution is the mirror of man, and man has never been in danger of becoming bogged down in beauty. So why don't we leave it alone? Or learn to love it, like me? Sex is one of the most wholesome, spiritual and natural things money can buy. And like all games, it becomes more interesting when played for money. And even more so when it is illegal. Hookers and drunks instinctively understand that common sense is the enemy of romance.

Yes, yes, I know. Prostitution is obscene, debasing and disgraceful. The point is, so am I.
I've never quite heard it put this way before. As this post at PervScan puts it:
If you're a john, go read it for the fun of seeing somebody say in print the things you've thought to yourself but wouldn't dare to admit. (Try this one: "The problem with normal sex is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you've got to talk to them. Once you know someone well the last thing you want to do is screw them.") If you're not a john, go read it to question why you're not. ("Some men proudly proclaim that they have never paid for it. Are they saying that money is more sacred than sex?") If you're a woman who's never been a sex worker, go read it for a glimpse of the male psyche — if you dare. And if you're a woman who's been involved in the flesh trade, don't bother — because you already know.
I would love to know how people feel about this. Comments anyone?

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

2/06/2005 04:54:00 am - Updated Wish List

I've updated my Amazon wishlist. If you are feeling generous or would like to buy me a present for any occasion, you won't go wrong with the books
here. It may also be cheaper to go through ResearchBooks Asia if you are in Singapore rather than ordering directly from Amazon.

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2/06/2005 01:10:00 am - Maxims of Blog

I came across an old but brilliant post on Language Log. Needless to say, I don't follow any of the maxims of blog

Nonetheless, the tongue-in-cheek post made me laugh. Here is an excerpt that simultaneously explains and demonstrates the maxim of digression:

Maxim of Digression:

Digress. (Especially (auto)biographically. Note that Gorky was born Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov, and "Maxim" derives from his Father's name, the "-ovich" being a patronymic ending. Thus does one Maxim beget another. Hopefully, more on Russian and other naming conventions in a later log. And perhaps someone more literary or political than I will have something to say about "the father of Soviet literature and the founder of the doctrine of socialist realism," and the reason Nizhny Novgorod was for many years hard to find on a map. The Nizhny Novgorodites are still proud of Gorky as far as I can tell, but not enough to have their city bear his name. (Beaver, Utah is not named for me (or vice versa (note the embedded parenthetical - these are good)), but it is apparently the birthplace of Butch Cassidy, ne Robert LeRoy Parker. So why "Butch"? Well, he once worked as a butcher. His most famous partner in crime (aka Harry Longabaugh) was nom de guerred in a reverse Gorky manoever: as a young horse rustler the Kid spent two years in jail in Sundance, Wyoming. Not much going on in my name, except that Beaver is supposedly a case of very poor translation by English officials helping my ancestors anglicize their Polish family name, "Kaczka", which means "duck". David Duck.))

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

2/05/2005 01:29:00 am - 1000 year old lost city found in Johor?

Interesting news: Kota Gelanggi or Perbendaharaan Permata (Treasury of Jewels), believed by researchers to be the first trade centre of the
Srivijaya empire may have been found in Johor by Raimy Che-Ross.

If verified, this discovery would mean that Johor would replace Malacca as the city where modern Malay history started. Raided by a Chola conqueror in 1025 A.D., the ruins of Kota Gelanngi, could predate Angkor Wat in Cambodia and may be as old as Borobudur in Indonesia.

More information can be found here and here. The latter link has a map of archaelogical sites in South East Asia.

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Friday, February 04, 2005

2/04/2005 01:30:00 am - Psychics Debunked: The Art of Cold Reading

James Randi, the famous magician, debunks psychic readers
here. For those who, like me, are rather interested in fortune telling, remind yourself that this debunking applies equally well to fortune tellers.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

2/03/2005 11:55:00 pm - To read: Pragmatics and other stuff

Chanced upon this
site. I've always wanted to learn about Pragmatics. I'm being ADD as usual. Besides that, today I also read a bit of Deng Xiaoping's biography here and printed out the first chapter of this Chinese Swordfighting novel by Jin Yong. It doesn't help that I'm also trying to learn how to recognise the most commonly used traditional Chinese characters here while reading my Gandhi book.

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2/03/2005 09:12:00 pm - I'm back

I'm back to blogging even though I had decided to stop and simplify my life (New Year resolution). Another reason is also because I've started a notebook to record my life (another New Year resolution) and I saw no need in spending extra time to censor and put stuff up on the net.

However, the stuff out there on the net is just too exciting for me not to give my two cents worth or share it. But this time, I'll blog only when I feel like it so it won't feel like a chore to constantly update.

I've put up some backdated entries.

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