Wednesday, March 30, 2005

photos, anyone?

a quick post of vacation photos to cheer myself up -it's turned grey again here in Chi-town, though it remains warm. spring is definitely on her way. there are more photos over at the LJ if anyone wants to see more pictures of sun, sand, sea, and perhaps even some rum...

here's me performing a rather lame attempt at a salute inside a guardhouse for the fort at the top of old San Juan --


look at how lovely the colours are! you should have seen them slowly baking in the sunshine...

spanish colours

proof, perhaps, that we were at the Barcardi rum distillery? drinking their mojitos or tropical punch? did you know they give you two free drinks just for showing up?

mojito barcardi

tourists, i presume, can't spell, which is why it doesn't matter if locals can't either!


Monday, March 28, 2005

spring break is over

hi y'all:

back from Puerto Rico, toasted the colour of toffee. and, of course, sunburned and peeling in spots, which makes me itchy and irritated, but still. =) it's worth it, to no longer be pasty white.

we spent a lot of time (read: three mornings in a row) lying in bikinis (or shorts, on alex) on deckchairs by the pool, slathered in sunscreen, wearing shades to block out the glare, and pretending to read books. there are photos, but not on my camera, so they are unlikely to be up for a while. there was jumping into an icy cold pool when the sun got too hot, which no doubt led to more sunburn, since there was no reason to go back indoors. alex taught me how to swim, in a vague fashion, the freestyle. i need more practice, which i guess means i gotta hit the pool more this quarter!

Old San Juan, where we spent the rest of our time, was also pretty cool. lots of trinket shopping, and many other tourists. we also climbed all over an old fort, with an honest-to-goodness dungeon, which oddly enough was located on the second floor. i also discovered that i would have been too short to be a rifleman defending this particular fort: i couldn't see over the parapet to fire!

a very short update, i know. but it's getting on to the time when i should fall into bed and/or look at the BA again in preparation for the spring quarter, which starts tomorrow. thankfully, my first class is at three on mondays. (just like JJM, last quarter.) but still. i can't believe it's school again...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

cool geeky pictures

a short, and very geeky, post: if you ever wanted to know what Tylenol, or Claritin look like under the microscope, go here. my personal favourite -of the ones i looked at- is the Tylenol. though Claritin is a close second. (mostly because i actually take these drugs!) and asprin is so spiky! i can see why people might get stomach ulcers from a regular asprin regimen.

all right, i'm going back to the origins of the Pacific war...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

there are times when i hate being Singaporean

March 10, 2005
Gay parties may have led to sharp rise in new Aids cases

By Leslie Koh
THERE was a sharp rise in new Aids cases last year and it could be linked to a popular annual 'gay party' on Sentosa, Dr Balaji Sadasivan said yesterday, quoting an unnamed expert.

Calling it an 'epidemic', the Senior Minister of State for Health told Parliament that the number of new cases of Aids infection rose 28 per cent last year, from 242 to 311.

Nine out of 10 of the new Aids sufferers are men and a third of them are gay. There are more than 2,000 Aids patients in Singapore now.

Dr Balaji said an epidemiologist - an expert in the spread and control of diseases - had suggested to him that the spike might be linked to the Nation parties held every August on Sentosa.

The Nation parties, which attract a predominantly homosexual crowd, could have allowed 'gays from high-prevalence societies to fraternise with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community', he said.

He added: 'However, this is a hypothesis and more research needs to be done.'

Started in 2001, the annual Nation parties - held on National Day - have drawn as many as 8,000 people from the region.

Dr Balaji's statement drew immediate fire from the party organiser, Its chief executive officer Stuart Koe called it 'irresponsible'.

Instead of making 'sweeping statements' that misinform the public, the Government should focus on education, he said. 'The Government has never targeted any of its Aids campaigns at gay men. Is it any wonder that there is a rise in the number of Aids cases in the gay community?'

Last year, police turned down an application to hold a similar Christmas party, deeming it contrary to public interest.

Yesterday, Dr Balaji said the Health Ministry was most concerned about the rising number of Aids patients. For every such case diagnosed, there may two to four undiagnosed sufferers - making for a possible total of 8,000 Aids patients here.

The ministry is looking into over-the-counter test kits that allow people to test themselves with their saliva.

Similar self-tests are used elsewhere, such as in America and Europe, but have also drawn criticism worldwide.

Action For Aids' executive director Benedict Jacob-Thambiah said: 'What if someone tests positive? How are you going to change his behaviour without counselling?'

He also believed such test kits might encourage risky behaviour as people become lax again if they find the results negative.

But Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) disagreed. Sufferers still needed to go to clinics to confirm the results, where counselling could done, she said.

Apart from self-test kits, the Health Ministry is also considering laws in the battle against Aids, such as ensuring spouses are told if their partners have the disease.

There is a need, Dr Balaji said, to 'de-stigmatise testing' and at the same time prevent discrimination against Aids patients.
yeah, quoted in full here, without a link to the Straits Times because they're making people pay to access their online content, and frankly, they aren't worth the money. (i'd rather give it to the Times so i can do their daily crosswords.)

before i even BEGIN the rest of my rant, let me point out to you that our Senior Minister of State for Health stands up in Parliament and quotes a fucking UNNAMED EXPERT source when talking about something that clearly Singaporeans have very little information about -the gay community and more specifically the health issues that may or may not pertain to the gay community in Singapore. it pushes every single button i have as an academic and a scholar that he cannot name his source publicly. why? is the source perhaps afraid that he will be stoned to death the moment he leaves his front door? does he not care to be associated with his research? or perhaps -wait for it, this is a shocker- his research isn't at the stage where he's ready to stand behind his conclusions, as he says in the very next sentence, and therefore SHOULDN'T FUCKING BE TALKED ABOUT RIGHT NOW IN PARLIAMENT, for crying out loud!

i have to say, this whole AIDS and the gay community in Singapore thing is a hot button issue for me. it just enrages me to see how poorly the ST reports anything that isn't mainstream news (well it pisses me off to see how poorly the ST reports ANYTHING, for that matter) but in this case it is even more than that. it's how terribly our politicians present themselves in public - i cannot believe a Senior Minister of State would stand up in Parliament and quote an unnamed source -how terribly, oh, i don't know, Soviet Union in the Cold War -spy-movie-esque - on something that EVERYONE knows is a hot button issue that Singaporeans both at home and all over the world have concerns with. debate. argue about. it's an issue that tears families apart. and it's an issue that many Singaporeans have no information about (despite having really fucking strong opinions. it's like banging your head against a brick wall.), and things like this article don't help matters. they spread misinformation, or the lack of information that then becomes speculative misinformation, and before you know it we will be the fucking Bible Belt of Southeast Asia. (ok, i'm exaggerating, but i'm angry.)

and hey, i have a POI question for the ST: do they mean new AIDS infections (AIDS all in caps because it's a fucking acronym, you morons, not a word) or do they mean an increase in HIV infections, and do they know the difference? do they care?

and the remark about not having an AIDS campaign targetting specifically at gay men: well, what are gay men, more stupid than the next guy? they can't understand that they are at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases if they are sexually active, regardless of the gender of their partner? it's not like the mode of protection they use is different, boys and girls. helllllloooo SingHealth.

how do i think we should deal with this AIDS epidemic, you ask? (well yes, of course i am willing to call it an epidemic. why shouldn't i? medical health professionals across the globe are willing to call it that, much less my very own bumbling fool of a Senior Minister of State for Health, who happens to be a doctor.) for one thing, i don't remember if it's part of health education or whatever the hell they are calling it in schools these days, but we need to get our heads out of our asses and realise that our children are no longer lily-pure innocents, and we damn well better be giving them the information they need earlier than we think they need it. so sex ed in school should include how to have safe sex, not just avoid the question of sex all together. you would think that our pragmatic little nation-state would be less prudish, wouldn't you. the more people -kids- know about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, the better their position to prevent contracting it.

have a campaign to educate adults, if you like. we like campaigns in Singapore. after all, we don't see to be winning the war on heroin and cocaine and ecstacy and all the other fun drugs we see anti-drug posters for on the MRT. take them down and stick up some graphic pictures on what AIDS patients look like, and how to avoid contracting it. maybe that'll do something. here's something to think about: a campaign to remind people that everyone is responsible for his or her own sexual health. if your partner doesn't want to wear a condom, don't have sex with him. if your partner doesn't want you to wear a condom, don't have sex with him/her. don't put yourself in a position where you can't say no. (ie, don't get drunk out of your mind and forget/be unable to make the decision. because you can't undo it afterwards.) i think life -or at least sex and STDs- would be a lot simpler if we could just learn, as the human race, not to abuse alcohol. bloody drug.

and make it the law that if you have an STD, or at the very least, if you have HIV, you must inform your spouse and/or all other sexual partners. i don't know how it would be enforced. knowing the government it would probably involve people signing things. i guess if i were to venture a method i would advocate a policeman and/or a lawyer following said person ard making threatening remarks about jail and/or righteous shootings. (Pratchett's Going Postal comes to mind.) all right, this is going to cause all kinds of problems with people being willing to TAKE an HIV test in the first place. if i had it my way, and this being Singapore, hey, who knows, i might not be far off track here, it would be mandatory for everyone over the age of, oh, twenty-one, let's make it, to have regular blood work done. once a year is probably enough for most people. though for some people, once every six months is probably more prudent. (this is where i face my major conflict between my liberal side, which says the government shouldn't be allowed to regulate individual behaviour; and my megalomaniac-i-know-best side, which screams that my government shd use all its paternalistic power and instincts to stop people from being incredibly, wantonly stupid.) of course, if i really had my way, people would be a lot more sensible and responsible about their sexual (and other social) behaviour, and we wouldn't NEED to have mandatory testing and reporting, but we all know that's not going to happen, right?

all right, i'm no longer as angry as i was when i first read this article. i'm back to my default state of deep deep disappointment. i was right, when i posted a couple of days ago that --

you know,

people never do fail to disappoint.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

great scott!

so. today was the day of The Great Shooting-Range Expedition. it is, oddly enough, back to freezing temperatures here in chicago, so when i get to Stuart a couple of minutes earlier than the appointed time, we wind up standing around making random chitchat about how cold it is and how excited we are until...Professor Levitt shows up, and then suddenly we are on the move. :) nicole, liyana and i wind up riding with Prof. Levitt to the gun range (on the way, we talk about having never shot a gun before, and the differences between different types of guns, and being indentured servants of the government. it was an interesting ride.).

we get to Hammond, IN a little ahead of schedule, having not driven over the speed limit nor gotten lost along the way (at least, not too egregiously lost; we missed Summer St. but realised it as we were driving through the intersection, so were able to find it fairly quickly on the next pass), and wind up meeting up with everyone else and eating lunch at a little diner across the street from the gun range. it was an awesome little diner, and the prices stunned all of us chicago folk -being able to eat two eggs and what looked like most of a pig carved up into breakfast meats for a little under four dollars? wow! (i had pancakes, and my usual neverending stream of diner coffee. mmm-mmm.) Marie, our TA, ate with the three of us, and it transpired that no one at the table had shot a gun before, so we took a commemorative road-trip-virgin-gun-shooting photo. and then it was time...

we showed up at the gun range, and the lady who runs the place -Deb- introduced us to the process of loading a magazine, loading a gun, aiming a gun, and firing it. then she gave us strict safety instructions, handed out eye- and ear-protection, ammunition, and guns, and we trooped downstairs into the range. (only twelve people at a time are allowed down in the range; and only six shooters, because there are only six booths. so Marie assigns the first twelve by counting from the back of the room, on the theory that the further back you are the more nervous/less excited you are, and therefore you should go first. not coincidentally, all five girls are in the first twelve.) once we had all loaded up our magazines, the first six people stepped up to the booths, and the other six of us all stepped a cautious couple of steps back, and waited for the first explosion. and waited. and waited some more. the six in the booth all loaded up their guns, took careful aim at the targets, and...waited for each other to pull the trigger. it was a real-life game-theory-esque scenario. finally, someone pulled his/her trigger. all of us watching jumped like a mile into the air. it's really quite loud! even through the ear protectors. like having a balloon explode next to your face. after this first shot, however, all hell breaks loose. it sounds like (a very slow outbreak) of WWIII in there. then everyone is done shooting, and i get my turn.

so i grab my target sheet and my loaded magazine and step up to the end booth, where i promptly forget how to load the gun. i do however manage to get the target strung up and pushed out to twenty-five feet. then i remember how to load the gun, and get it all ready to fire. bring it up to line up the target. it's surprisingly heavy -it really doesn't look that heavy. i am, of course, nervous as all hell, which doesn't help in lining up the shot, and i'm almost afraid to pull the trigger. finally, i decide what the hell, line up the shot, and squeeze the trigger before i can change my mind. the bang is startling, the muzzle flash even more so, and the recoil, while not violent, certainly messes up my ability to take another shot right away. but every shot after that first one is easier. (mostly because now i know what it feels like, and what to expect.)

i can see the fascination, sort of. i mean, i fired twenty rounds today, and spent a lot of time trying very hard to hit a specific part of the target. (for those who are curious, i am very proud of the fact that every single shot hit said target, mostly clustered around the poor guy's torso. no wild shots next to his ear or anything. that, however, is easily explained by the fact that i am too short to take a head shot on the poor guy.) a great part of my fun came, i think, from getting things lined up and accomplishing what i set out to do. (perhaps throwing a dart into the bullseye would bring me the same level of satisfaction.) i have also gained a new respect for people who can fire multiple times, without pause, at a moving target, and hit it. or even hit in the vicinity of said moving target. it's hard! it's hard to hit a stationary target without stopping to reaim in between shots! (that said i am still proud of my accomplishment this afternoon. =p)

all in all, it was an interesting couple of hours. i got to do something i would never have gotten to do at home, and learned something in the process. i'm not sure what contribution that made to my understanding of the relationship between guns and crime, and the gun control debate, but i sure as hell had fun!

Monday, March 07, 2005

the end of ninth week creeps up

things i have found out this weekend:

(a) Texas-style chilli is very much like a spicy beef stew. it does not involve tomatoes, or beans; it involves frying lots of onions and garlic in spices, then simmering them gently in ale to pick up the burnt crunchy bits leftover from pan-searing chunks of beef; then simmering the whole concoction for three hours on the stove, while the apartment fills with the smells of slow-cooking beef. no wonder we were starving by the time dinner rolled around.

(b) roasted veggies do indeed taste wonderful (cover veggies in olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, then put in Very Hot Oven for twenty minutes to half an hour) but only if you remember they are in the oven and don't, oh i don't know, get distracted by a Very Hot George Clooney trying to save the world from nuclear disaster, getting himself all scratched up and dirty in the process. (wearing Kevlar and No. 4s, to boot.) ditto for pasta.

(c) you can't read very much about the German war economy in WWI without either falling asleep, or having all your economist sensibilities thoroughly offended (so of course you go off and read a few pages of Cosmo and dream about tinted lip balm from Neutrogena; what self-respecting female economist wouldn't, i ask you? -grin-).

(d) if you are an unfortunate male in the company of three giggling females who have rented three movies: Enemy at the Gates; The Peacemaker; and Three Kings, you will NOT get to see the movie that does NOT have George Clooney in it. (esp if the three girls in question are Sheryl, Jeanette, and Amanda.)

now i really should go get some more work (read: reading) done. tomorrow, i shall have no time before class, no time at all. because i get to go shoot guns in Indiana! (supervised, of course, by Professor Levitt and his TA. damn, i love this class.)

(my BA advisor, Adria, says i put too much information in parentheses in my BA. i blame this blog for my bad writing skills. -grin-)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Anna Deavere Smith

we were at a performance tonight, a one-woman show by Anna Deavere Smith (who some of you may know as the National Security Advisor Nancy McNally on The West Wing -she jokes about being the first black female National Security Advisor, before Condi Rice) on snapshots of her America. and i was fascinated. (not so much by Dean Danielle Allen's very very long introduction beforehand. i know this is the inaugural presentation of her new brainchild series, but that doesn't really justify boring the bejeezsus out of us for fifteen minutes before the main act.) she did some very...what is the word i'm searching for...what i imagine to be accurate and sharp impressions of various people from various walks of life: a Korean shopowner talking about the aftermath of race riots in LA and the Rodney King trials; a woman, in prison, on the death of her child by an abusive male partner; a cowboy, from Utah, who talks about toughness and optimism in a way that is touchingly real and romantic and hopeful and innocent. and she became these people -you look at her, and she is Anna Deavere Smith in a black shirt and black pants (and sometimes, a black duster pretending to be a trenchcoat), but the words coming out of her mouth are enlivened by some other spirit, some other understanding. it's not her speaking. it's Maria, the juror on the Rodney King trials, talking about how people behave under stress; it's Studs talking about moral slippage, and how there is no defining moment of American history. it was great, and awesome, and i'm glad i got the chance to go and see her in action. now she'll be more than just Nancy McNally to me.

i have to say that two characters stood out the most in my mind. while the others were interesting, in their contexts, i was really touched by the darkest character, and the lightest one. by the woman who talked, in a low, dead monotone, about the night her daughter died of the physical abuse endured at the hands of a man she thought she could 'fix'. about the long-term abuse she and her children by some other man suffered, and how she stayed because -what else could she do? and she thought, she really thought, she could fix him. i guess it struck me because she said something about people not wanting to stretch their negative imaginations; people don't want to believe that such darkness exists in the human spirit. perhaps other people do have such an optimistic view of human nature. i sure as hell don't. i may never have seen -or not known i was seeing- abused women, or children, or men, for that matter, but i don't have any trouble believing that people are capable of doing such things. and that women, or children, cannot imagine leaving their abusers because what else do they know? (now you know why i am a good Hobbesian.)

on the other hand, the cowboy who talks -and swigs his Coors Light- about rodeo when asked what is beauty -why it's the rodeo, he can't imagine anything better than being with the other guys at the rodeo, eating and drinking and making merry and knowing what you want to do. sure, having a ranch is nice, but being at the rodeo, now that's living. his wife pokes fun at him -thinks that without a college degree he's not smart enough to talk to college professors who fly into Utah to talk to him and ask him questions- but his answers are spot on. what's toughness? she asks him, and he replies it's having his broken nose fixed without anasthesia so that he can go back to the rodeo and ride again right afterward. and as a bonus, he can breathe again, after they fix his nose, for the first time since he broke it the first rodeo he ever went to. that almost made me cry. it sure as hell made me smile.

i guess it's hard for me to hold both people in my mind at the same time. to remember that while there are bad evil nasty cruel animal-people in the world, there are happy optimistic cheerful tough and brave people too. it's hard to balance when to expect nothing or expect the worst; and when to take a little leap of faith and believe in the goodness of the human heart. (no prizes for guessing which route i usually take!) maybe it'll be a little easier for me to remember now, with a picture of a beer-drinking, broken-nosed cowboy in my mind.