Friday, April 29, 2005

the ST = the WSJ? i laugh in the face of absurdity

after all my griping about the ST Online charging money for access, i am reminded that there is one Grand Dame of the daily world who charges for access: the Wall Street Journal. but come on. on the one hand, the WSJ. on the other hand, the ST. in between, a bottomless, gaping -yawning, even- divide.

in any case, i pay for neither: i don't read the ST, and i read the WSJ headlines on tuesdays and thursdays when marcus brings it with him to our chinese history class. :)

anyway -- off to new york for the weekend, to see the wizard -janice, and ying, and nicki, and charles, and hopefully ryan and possibly cheetung if we can dig him out of the woodwork- so expect nothing until sunday night, and then possibly photos. (alex wants to go to MOMA, and i am inclined to go with him, though if i get bored i shall sit down at the cafe and study for my chinese history midterm.) til then, have a good weekend, my darlings --

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

falling like dominos

just a few days ago, Singaporean bloggers were up in arms about how Acidflask had been treated by his scholarship board, and other tangentially related public figures. and consequently, much discussion over what the future of Singapore blogging might be -whether it could develop from a bunch of online journal ramblings about the minutiae of personal lives to some form of public discussion about wider issues. today, i find that two of these Singaporean bloggers bit the dust: Acidflask, under the pressure of a lawsuit, and Nilsinelabore.

i don't really know what to say, other than to express my sadness that it has come to this -- that we cannot even keep this little corner of the world for ourselves to express what we think and feel without official censure. (not to say, of course, that it is a corner without criticism, as comments frequently demonstrate. but at the very least, criticism has been reasonable, argued -as opposed to 'you suck!'- and most importantly, non-threatening to my continued way of life.)

just a few days ago, because of this big fuss kicked up over the whole racist-comment affair, as well as Acidflask's upset with PSC, i was reminded in class of Habermas's theory about civil society and the public sphere, and how it grew out of coffeehouse associations. where people would gather and read the newspapers and discuss things aloud -in a most civilised manner- over tea (and presumably crumpets, or the crumpet-equivalent in Viennese coffeehouses). i mused quietly about the potential blogs have to be a new cybercoffeehouse, linked to one another by -well, links, and trackbacks, and responses to each other in comments and whole response posts. little communities of people discussing the same issues, providing different opinions and points of view, learning from one another. a little Habermasian microcosm.

oh well, she says. another dreambubble burst.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

two things

have accomplished two things today:

(1) booked hotel rooms at Yellowstone for my post-graduation trip, and am now feeling particularly broke; and

(2) printed out two copies of the BA thesis, ready to get them bound tomorrow, and turn them in tomorrow after class. at which point i will officially be done with my undergraduate political science career.

wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

kaching kaching!

it's official: we are going to get not one but two megadevelopments involving casinos in Singapore, worth 3 billion USD. not surprising, considering the economic advantages that having casinos on the island will bring. not just taxes, but increased tourism revenue, higher hotel occupancy rates, so on and so forth. so we will get one complex on the Marina waterfront, and the other on Sentosa.

i'm mostly surprised by their turnaround on the entertainment complex -i was under the impression that the government wanted these casinos to be casinos, plain and simple -none of the attendant hotels and food courts and eZones and family entertainment centres and cinemas. i wonder what caused the turnaround: the investors, whom i believe are a consortium of Vegas casino owners, and business sense; or the need to make casinos more acceptable to the 'moral fabric' of the Singapore public by making the casino 'less than 5% of the total space' involved in these developments.

but oh! i've just read the related article on measures that the Government is taking to make sure that gambling does not adverse affect said 'moral fabric' of Singapore. take a look:
  1. Singaporeans and Permanent Residents of Singapore will be charged an entry fee of SGD $100 per day, or $2000 per year. (that's roughly 1250 USD per annum, and somewhere between 60 and 65 USD per day, if my back-of-the-envelope/inside my head calculations are right.) Non-Singaporeans and non-PRs will not be charged an entry fee.
  2. A system of exclusion (not voluntary) will be put in place so that those in financial difficulty or receiving social assistance will be denied entry into these dens of iniquity. (of course, a voluntary exlusion system will be in place, but i have no objections to you banning yourself from doing something you think is harmful.)
  3. Operators of casinos in Singapore will also be barred from extending credit to Singaporeans, to 'make it harder for them to lose more than they can afford'. Again, of course, i can only assume that if you are a non-Singaporean, credit will of course be extended to you so that you can give us more of your (foreign) money.
  4. Advertising in local media will not be allowed. (ok, i'm pretty sure i don't have any objections to this point. but mostly because i dislike television advertising in general -it pays for my CSI and West Wing, i know, i know- so the less i have to tolerate the better. esp since casinos ads are so CHEESY! i've only seen ONE i liked, and it was for Crown in Melly.)
  5. And of course, in a classic Singapore move, there will be a new National Council on Gambling set up to advise MCYS on the effects of problem gambling; and social workers will be 'trained' to identify 'compulsive gamblers' and refer them to social services.
wow. i gotta go sit in the corner and think about these things for a while before i'm absolutely sure i can marshall a coherent argument about liberty and the freedom to choose and all that. i do know that i'm very indignant about the different restrictions applied to Singaporeans vs. non-Singaporeans. there are two implications of these restrictions vying for my attention inside my head, neither very appetising:
  • Singaporeans are babies and incapable of making responsible decisions for themselves, while foreigners (non-Singaporeans) are not babies and are perfectly capable of making responsible decisions. Therefore we must restrict the various freedoms of the Singaporean to ensure that he makes the 'right' choice (ah, the sweet scent of paternalism).
  • Everyone is a baby and incapable of making responsible decisions for themselves, but we don't care what foreigners do because they don't live here most of the year. (well, other than the expatriats.)
i am reminded of Ainsley in 17 People in the second season of West Wing:
"I believe that every time the federal government hands down a new law, it leaves for the rest of us a little less freedom. So I say, let’s just stick to the ones we absolutely need to have water come out of the faucet and our cars not stolen. That is my problem with passing a redundant law."

Monday, April 18, 2005

On Blogs

the recent furore over the PSC scholar who (rather unwisely) posted racist remarks (among other rather asinine comments) on his blog, and the consequences of his actions, underscores a rather fundamental point about blogging.

i'm not sure why some people seem to consider blogging -and by extension, internet presence- as some kind of alternate reality that is separate and distinct from the real world. after all, you would imagine that in a world of Google, Yahoo, and various other search engines, not to mention the increasingly interconnected (and organically growing) world of blogging in general, people would realise that nothing is really private. once you choose to put something out there, online, in black and white, it's fair game for comments, argument, debate, criticism, rebuttal, and any other form of response you can imagine. you might not imagine that simply posting random remarks about your day might be of interest to someone, somewhere, but if that's the case, why publish it online then?

part of the reason blogs have proved to be such a phenomenon over the last year or two is precisely their power to put people's words and opinions out in the public sphere, where other people can read them and respond to them. blogs are not just about putting the minutiae of daily life out there for a close circle of friends to read. blogging has created a new arena for public discussion and expression that previously didn't exist, by making it easy for people to publish their work without needing either access to physical media or arcane knowledge of computer programming languages and/or internet publishing tools. blogs have become one more way in which people access news, filter information, and read and write commentary on current affairs, and their audiences grow day on day. in a society that values checks and balances on power, blogging has provided yet another way to get the word out, and to test the information that is transmitted through the 'regular' channels. blogs have become a new means for investigative journalism that isn't, theorically, checked by editors and newspaper corportations' wider interests. instead, they are checked and balanced, neatly enough, by one another. (oh, free markets at work!)

so what i'm saying is, if you are going to say something online, you had better be prepared to stand behind what you say. don't say things on your blog that you're not willing to voice in reality, just because you think the theoretical anonymity of the internet can shield you. because if what you say matters to someone -if it inspires them, or if it offends them, or if it in any way strikes a chord in them- they are going to want to respond to you, to know who you are, and why you say what you say. it's human nature. we like to know who our friends or our enemies and opponents are. being online is not a get out of jail free card.

reading the New York Times Book Review

i have discovered a terrifying fact: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has been on the NYTimes best seller list for 107 weeks. at 52 weeks per year, that is more than two years on the best seller list, with no end in sight. this week and last week, it's been in first place.

Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie has been on the paperback best seller list for 121 weeks, while The Five People You Meet In Heaven has been on the list for 80 weeks. oddly enough, Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond has been on the nonfiction paperback best seller list for 135 weeks, which is more than Dan Brown's effort. i'm not sure if i'm reassured, because according to the Times, the book is "An argument that Western dominance is due to geographic advantages."

out of the 15 books reported on the Times's paperback best seller list, six of them -or a little over a third- are romance novels, written by honest-to-goodness romance writers like Amanda Quick and Julie Garland. in other words, being a romance novel writing in America is a very good deal, as well as being, say, John Grisham, or Mary Higgins Clark, or Sue Grafton.

Friday, April 15, 2005

monkeys, typewriters, and Shakespeare, among other things

kwek just pointed me toward this rather startling CNN report, which calls to mind the whole giving monkeys typewriters and getting shakespeare thing: MIT Students Pull Prank On Conference. tres cool.

this is somewhat in lieu of a real post, since i spent the greater part of today tromping around downtown and getting all tired. (haul: one new blazer from H&M, which is the same blazer that both amanda and shum already own; and new moisturiser from Origins :) i am well pleased. oh! and we saw Freakonomics, but i decided Amazon was the better route.) the point of going downtown? getting my driver's licence unsuspended, which it has been since....oh, the end of second year, after my Louisiana Car Accident Adventure. (shows you how often i drive, eh?) it's all done now. yay.

all right. more now. because it's thursday evening and i'm browsing blogs and getting more and more upset by the minute. first, i am forcefully reminded of the racism, arrogance, and stupidity that runs rampant in the world -personality traits which i have grown accustomed to not seeing, oddly enough, here at the U of C- at least, not overtly, and certainly not in my face. this makes me madder than mad (i was shrieking my head off in my room) but i think i'm just going to leave this at "sometimes, people are just fucking idiots, and we should accept that". (i am reminded of Dr House, who was accurated described as wanting to believe the worst of people so he could never be disappointed. smart man, that one.)

and then i wander over to Bookslut, and what do i see but this nifty little piece of reporting on the RedEye and Red Streak. RedEye and Red Streak are the Trib and the Sun-Times's attempts (respectively) to capture the attention of the feckless, non-newspaper-reading Chicagoan youth. studies apparently have shown that young people -specifically college people- don't seem to read the newspapers anymore (hmm i wonder why.) which naturally scares the living daylights out of the newspaper industry. what really pissed me off about this article, however, is this:
Hartman's "convenience sample" consisted of 112 students in journalism or mass communications at two downtown Chicago colleges, Roosevelt University and Columbia College-Chicago. About half were the traditional college age of 17 to 24, while about 30% were aged 25-29 and a little more than 10% were 30 to 34. The students were 70% women, but the sample otherwise roughly reflected Chicago ethnic and racial demographics.
the sample was 70% female. it was 112 students in journalism or mass communications. you think it might possibly be a non-representative sample and your results might totally fall apart when you did do a study with a more orthodox random sample, mr hartman? it sounds remarkably like he just asked for a show of hands in journalism class: "how many people in the room have read the RedEye? which is, by the way, a newspaper. And the Red Streak? ah. yes, thank you. i think i'll go write a quick paper for presentation now." i think that if i were to write a paper with a sample as non-random as this, even calling it a 'preliminary finding' would not save me from flunking the paper as well as the class.

this remark from the Sun-Times, however, makes it worth your while to read the article:
Both papers had high recognition among respondents, though the much more heavily promoted RedEye scored higher than Red Streak, which Sun-Times officials acknowledge is published only to annoy the Tribune and confuse the market.
before any of you ask, yes, i read RedEye (or at least, encounter RedEye at least twice a week, when i am on campus). why, you ask? the answer is simple: they have a crossword. and it's a crossword that i can complete all week, generally speaking, in the time it takes to eat my lunch, and without access to Google, which i frequently require to do the NYTimes crossword by the time Wednesday or Thursday rolls around. if i read the rest of the newspaper at all, it's because the crossword has been completed (or alex won't let me do it, because he's saving it to do in class). i somehow don't think that the newspaper industry thinks that crossword puzzles will turn out to be their saving grace in the new millenium.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Levitt!

so most people who read this blog already know that one of my favourite teachers here at the U of C is Steven Levitt. no doubt many have already seen this, but Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have just put out a book titled Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. that link takes you to the book's website, which includes a blog written by Levitt and Dubner.

there are also various interviews with Levitt re: this book, at Kottke, and NPR. (with a nod toward Crescat for the links.) Slate is also doing a two-part excerpt from the book, for a little taste of what is to come.

it looks like Freakonomics is going to be somewhat of a survey of the various things he's done in the last few years -cheating in classrooms and sumo wrestling, studying gangs, that sort of thing. should be well worth a read, not in the least for a glimpse into the way economics can figure in areas outside those traditionally considered its domain. (like business, and union-management disputes, and interest rates...) i'll pop into a bookstore -57th Street Books is bound to have it prominently displayed- and take a look sometime later this week.

Monday, April 11, 2005

who should decide whether we get trains?

so i've finally figured out how to make myself some cool new icons for my LJ page. (speaking of cool new icons, alex has revamped his LJ and renamed it "where's my jetpack?" in honour of one Leo McGarry. -grin-) that, my darlings, was the highlight of my evening -making CSI icons which i will have to bring into my icon-rotation. (seeing as i am cheap and am on a free LJ account, i only get three icons at a time!)

the main point of this post, however, seeing as it is pushing one am where i am, is to remind myself what i want to write about for my urban policies paper. tentatively titled "Should Public Transportation Be Public?", it recalls an argument -a rather heated one, as i recall- i had with leon over tea at Delifrance something like two summers ago. (kudos for the inspiration -grin-) points tentatively to be raised: should public transport companies be run like any other private company (seeing as public transport could very well be a public good -if left to the market we wouldn't get enough of it, particularly in the areas where there would be low ridership, potentially areas where people cannot afford to own alternative means of transport, like cars); how should government/city administrations regulate public transport; should public transport be subsidised (yes! crieth the bus-taker who doesn't pay taxes.); and how much competition is feasible in a single market (none? perhaps it is most efficient to have the people who own the buses own the trains and the taxis as well? integrated systems, anyone?).

if this is the paper that gets written, it'll wind up being a policy options paper ("how much should governments interfere with the market for public transport?") and of course the hardest part for me will be to remain "impartial" between different policy options. good ol' argumentative me will probably wind up backing one policy to the hilt anyway, and failing the class miserably, thereby failing to graduate with an economics AB and having my scholarship revoked, and owing PSC bazillions of dollars. let us hope not.

opinions would be much appreciated below. :) (as would any alternative paper topics for an 'Urban Policies' class.)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

scholarships, etc etc.

a recent furore in the New Paper (and probably other fora, but i don't follow Singapore news anymore, since ST Online has decided to start charging outrageous rates for second-rate -at best- news) about two PSC scholars breaking their bonds. some information here and here, from the point of view -loosely speaking- of the scholars. PSC's response is here.

discretion is probably the better part of valour. but i do know the scholar in question, so am unlikely to remain silent. so i'm limiting my remarks to these, quite simply. look at the PSC response, and tell me it's not stone-walling in the most time-honoured tradition of bureaucracies anywhere. (it's not even very GOOD stone-walling at that, but i blame that on the New Paper's editorial inadequacies, and quite possibly the abilities of the PSC spokesperson.)

allow me also to point out that 'conducting regular feedback sessions' means jackshit. i can conduct regular feedback sessions, then take the feedback and throw it out the window and merrily continue on my happy destructive way. (much like a herd of elephants in the bush, i imagine.) Singaporeans, of all people, should fully understand the difference between a gesture in the desired direction, and real change in a government organisation. and we should understand that the first is far easier and far more commonplace than the latter.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Of Poets and Poetry

for some reason, these lines from Yeats have stuck in my mind since i first read them, a long time ago. who had written them, and what poem they are from totally eluded me for the longest time -- thank god for google. =)


Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world


-- The Second Coming, W. B Yeats

Saturday, April 02, 2005

final run

rejoice with me, for i have completed a full draft of The Thesis. as of this morning. it's missing a bunch of citations (by which i mean there are sentences, lots of them, with (CITATION) at the end and no other explantory remarks) and i'm sure it is chock full of structural problems (that i hope will merely require a moving around of already-written sections with minimal adjustment, as opposed to complete rewrites of multiple parts at once), but hey, it's outside of my brain and onto paper.

i turned it in to my BA advisor to have a look over it today, when i went to see him to get some paperwork filed that will, hopefully, allow me to graduate in one piece in nine weeks. now i am sure that when i return on thursday to have a chat with him about the paper itself (as opposed to what we did on spring break, and why i don't seem to know how to fill in paperwork) he will comment that while it's great that i am 'ahead of the curve' in writing this complete draft, and it's great that i have a complete draft, the work itself is utter crap and he will be forced to give me an F for the course. =) but until then, i'm going to bask in the unadulterated glow of accomplishment.