Sunday, October 31, 2004

Something from Canada

Not long after Eminem's effort comes another powerful new video; this time from Ms. McLachlan. World on Fire

Friday, October 29, 2004

Located prominently in the middle of the UWA website's frontpage is a 'news and events' box that describes what's on in school. I've never known that actually serves much of a purpose... Until today, that is. The frontpage screamed out a note that there's going to be a 1pm talk on clouds at the art gallery located a hundred metres from the last 'abnormal' lecture theatre at 2pm. This is to accompany the ongoing exhibit on clouds. I was floored. Is it befitting for a serious art gallery to have such fluffy programs? Passing this art gallery for 3 years now on the way to the bus stop without going in once, this was as good a time as any. From the romantic perspective, clouds are the intermediary between heaven and earth. Moses and his complaining group were led for 40 years in the desert by a pillar of cloud. In today's terms, it's probably a cumulonimbus; still, that was no ordinary cumulonimbus. It was divine. The Creator was personally involved with this one. I think clouds are the only things in nature that performs for people on a grand scale. Sure, other aspects of the natural word do that to a certain extent; birds fly in V-formation, Old Faithful geysers erupting every 2 minutes, whales doing their thing beside the tourist boat... But the performance of clouds is different. It's a canvas that stretches from one end of the earth to the other, it's one of the few things that is wider than the visual field of the human eye. And on this canvas comes the most textured of all paintings. You can have soft clouds, hard clouds, grey clouds, cotton clouds, rainy stratus, isolated cumulus, whispering altocumulus, fire stratocumulus, mushroom cumulonimbus... And the artist has lots of things to work with; humidity, light colour, dust density and so on. It's also a different performance at different times of the day, and some would say the final act is the sunset. Why is the interplay between the evening light, the sun, and clouds so enchanting? The answer is obvious; it's in our genes. I'm pretty sure in a century or so, someone will find a 'clouds' gene to explain the awe one has for sunsets and related phenomena. In the meantime, I'll try to get past the genetic basis of autism for the exam first...

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

You will do what I say

In the classic Asch conformity experiment, a volunteer sits together with a few other confederates to do a very simple task. Look at three lines of different lengths and decide which one most matches the length of a fourth line. It's straightforward. However, there's a catch. The conferederates will intentionally say the wrong answer, i.e., "oh, I think this line (2cm) is longer than this line (5cm)." The volunteer, not knowing that the confederates are in the loop, takes all the additional comments into account. It's shocking, but 74% of volunteers will waver in their convictions at least one time, abandon what they really know all along, and go along with the group just because it's the fashionable thing to do. This happens even in the total absense of explicit coersion and in the presense of total strangers. It's hard work not to conform. Mr. Asch manipulated the variables and found that the extent of conformity could be reduced if certain things happened, including, I think, a most crucial thing: if there was a dissenter in the group. This morning came the shocking news that Australia's top spy at ASIO (Australia's CIA equivalent) has decided to dissent. It's like this huge bubble that those hardliners are in, believing in something and taking lots of people in as well to believe that 'the war on terror will not increase the threat of terrorists striking back.' Howard, Downer and Bush has till this day decided to conform to each other and not admitting that simple fact.

ASIO Director Richard says, "it is Australian interests overseas that are at greater risk because of Iraq, especially those in the Middle East... the coalition campaign in Iraq has helped Al Qaeda recruit potential terrorists...Iraq has provided Al Qaeda with propaganda in recruitment opportunities and it only stands to reason that they would have some success... it has provided another justification or rationalisation for acts of terrorism... it has increased the threat against Australian interests in the Middle East."

This sort of assessment should have been made before the war began. But things are beginning to turn. John Kerry punched out of the bubble, and dissented in the first debate. That started the ball rolling...and I hope it keeps on rolling...because I think a 3cm line is not really longer than a 5 cm line... And oh yeah, I usually listen to country music, but Eminem has a new Bush-protest video out. It's very, very impressive.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Last essay yesterday, last presentation today. It's 7 days to the U.S. election, and 11 days to the exam. May the good Lord help us all...
I just went to the office to get some staples for the new BIG stapler chained to the table at G25, and I asked Collette how much it cost. "More than a hundred dollars?!" Oh my goodness! This is the most technologically advanced manual stapler I've seen, and probably the most expensive. Please, drop by the room to staple your stuff. It's quite wonderful.
There's no greater feeling of effortless flying when you've got the wind behind your back. Today, the conditions just fit together like a glove, 10+ knots easterly winds, glaring sunshine, sub-20 degrees, waves pointing in the direction you want. Hitting 30-37km/h for a considerable distance, with that 'no-chains' feeling, when the body is streamlined with the metal to create the most efficient combination-combustible engine Man/Woman has ever made...

Friday, October 22, 2004

The computer I'm using now at G25 is working. It didn't use to. Or at least it didn't work for weeks and perhaps even months. It's weird because every computer in the room worked, except this one. It won't power up when you press the ON button. As usual, I've tried to see what could be done but I came away with the diagnosis that the power switch was spoilt. It's a reasonable analysis, except that it was wrong. That was quite a while ago. A few days ago, I decided to try again because it's just so incongruent to have a non-working computer. I remembered the old urban legend that quite a large percentage of tech support calls could be solved over the phone, with a simple instruction to 'please check the cables to see if any are loose, especially the power cable'. Could it be that simple? Apparently, that's what exactly happening. Although the cord was plugged in correctly, the switch wasn't switched on. Problem solved, but no one noticed it. I expected myself to catch this the first time, I didn't see it either. If the problem seems a little too difficult to solve, the answer is sometimes right under your nose...
6000 words down, 2500 words to go! Deadline is Monday morning. Thank you.

Monday, October 18, 2004

This past weekend I'd the opportunity to read one of the scariest pieces of journalism on the Bush administration in recent months from the New York Times (username: jefftest, password: jefftest). And why should I care? Because this guy has personally affected, and still is affecting, my and our collective lives. If terrorist wants to do something bad in Australia, the place that I often go to in the city is the ideal spot. And so, I'm angered by the things that the Administration has done and at the stupidity of it all. Singapore's ministry of foreign affairs is so slaved to the US alliance that their official statement regarding their stand on Iraq was such because "we don't want to see the US abandoned." John Howard's foreign policy is also tied to the US' agenda. Doesn't anyone dare to say 'no', any more? For many months now, I've wondered about the high opinion poll ratings that Bush has been getting, and it didn't make a lot of sense. It didn't make sense because it's plainly obvious that this guy is not fit for the job, then why are so many people still sticking with him? One of the main reasons is fear. The PR machine has very successfully ingrained it in the citizens of the war on terror and the need to be 'resolute', never mind the repercussions of current US foreign policy. Another reason for Bush's population is probably his conservative base, the so-called Christian Right demographic. The marketing is so good that Bush is the default 'God's man'. He has traditional family values, is pro-life, and is making the country safer. The concern is that Bush is hardly a Conservative in the traditional sense of the word. He's neo-right wing, way out of the mainstream. Back to the article at the NYT I was talking about. Now the reason this article is so scary is because it attempts to explain the appeal of Bush, and at the same time delineate why the Administration has lost its way. One obvious observation from most people who had watched the three Presidential debates with John Kerry is that Bush cannot see reality, or choose not to. What happens when one attributes this to 'faith'? The article describes how the voices of those around him who disagree with his views are systematically removed, directly or indirectly, to such an extent that there wasn't a reality check to be found. The management of the Presidency has turned into a 'faith-based' operation rather than one based on reality and reasoned argument. Iraq is going badly. There was no post war planning. There was a plan to win the war, but no plan to win the peace. No, I don't want to hear it. Your foreign policy is creating new terrorists, increasing hatred all around, and making the country less safe. That's not true. Everyone wants freedom, and we'll give it to them; that's the destiny of the United States of America. I have faith that the good Lord wants me to do this. And his conservative base love this sort of thing. What an inspiring and good man. Strong, resolute, never wavering, never faltering. But as Kerry reminded us, one can be certain, and yet, wrong. It's useful to compare this with the opposition. Al Qaeda, although a bad organisation made up of murderous monsters, works almost entirely on faith. I think few would volunteer to be a suicide bomber if he or she doesn't not have faith of the rewards/respect to be had later, among other motivations. In this respect, both the terrorists and Bush operate on a similar level: based on faith. And that's the most chilling part. Now, one would ask, isn't faith in God a good thing? That's a fair question. But I believe God not only gives us the ability to have faith, we are also given the rest of it, like reason, intellect, and wisdom, which Bush doesn't seem to have a lot of. I think there's a precedent to this sort of question about faith. When Jesus is tempted in the desert for 40 days, the last thing that the Devil tempts Him with is to challenge Him to jump from the top of the temple (Luke 4). "Angels will be sent to rescue you." the Devil suggests. Jesus answers, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God." I could be wrong, but I think what Jesus is trying to say is this, "You have a brain, so please don't be stupid." Jumping off from a high place is not a show of faith, it's actually an obscene act of defiance. Firstly, there are rules of physics that are indicative of the masterful work of Creation. You want to challenge that? You want to tempt that? Who on earth do you think you are? Reason, intellect, and plain old common sense thus come into the picture, not just faith, or as I'd like to think it, it's a different and misguided sort of faith. Bush knows he is a man of faith. I think he's sincere in his thinking, but so are the terrorists. When faith pushes out everything else, something's wrong. The biggest problem is, Bush doesn't see that yet. He has forgotten Matthew 5:9, "Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." And that's the saddest thing of all.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Although I've created my blogger account for quite a while now with the initial purpose of getting a Gmail account, I've never really used it to actually blog stuff. So maybe I'll use it to talk about fluffy stuff. For example, I would like to report that I'm doing my essay now and there're only 1300 words to go. Assuming a speed of 100 words per hour, I'll be able to finish it by tomorrow morning. Thank you.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I was just reading this comment from someone at the dailykos, the person said something like, 'if Kerry is still unable to capitalise on the utter incompetance of Bush at this stage of the game, he doesn't deserve the presidency', or something to the effect. And I thought to myself, hmm... reminds me a little of Optimus Prime. Optimus is a man (robot) with a huge dilemma. He's the leader of the Autobots. Being a leader means you need some qualities befitting of a leader in a cartoon series. He needs to set the bar. Because he's tall, I reckon he has no choice but to set the bar pretty high. He is therefore constrained by his own moral considerations. Why on earth did he not finish off Megatron in that episode? Why did he let him go? From the point of view of the scriptwriters, this is necessary for the show to go on. From Prime's point of view, it's the only thing he can do if he wants to sleep soundly at night. It's called taking the moral high ground, even if it means the cartoon series would continue as a result, with Megatron still alive to fight another day. John Kerry is similar in many respects. This guy embodies the qualities of a leader utterly different from the usual politician. The planners for the Democratic Convention had watched too much of Transformers and decided they would take the moral high ground. They would end the cycle of trash politics by sticking to the issues. No more attacking the Repugnanticans. Not even mentioning the word 'Bush' in their speeches. America would embrace their sense of nobility, and they would win a landslide in November. The cartoon scriptwriter forgot to tell them cartoons don't necessarily reflect real life. A few weeks later at the Repugnanticans' Convention, the mood was entirely opposite to the positive message that the Democrats brought to the table. Full of anger, hate, and fear, Bush and Cheney attacked Kerry's character relentlessly. A 'plausible deniability entity' attacked Kerry's Vietnam record. It was dirty and disgusting. Kerry's advisors' position was not to respond to those attacks. The mainstream media and the citizens would see through the ploy and ignore it. That didn't happen. Ratings for Kerry sank so much most predicted Bush have already won the election. Are Americans so shallow? Evidently they are. But one consolation is that everyone can be shallow, even you and I, when push comes to shove. (When push comes to shove meaning that the political spinners have an upper and subconscious hand in the perceptions of the voters.) So the Kerry people regrouped. Changed the advisors. Strengthened their talking points. Kerry totally demolished Bush in the first debate. In the second debate, he had chances to attack even more, but he held back. Why did he hold back? As Prime would say, "Because I'm an honourable person." Can an honourable person (or at least someone who seems to be remotely honourable) win the White House? The answer is clearly yes, if the voters pull the wool out of their eyes. But one consolation is that even if Kerry was just being Kerry, and didn't do anything spectacular, he's still able to demolish Bush with his intellect, reasoning, common sense, calmness, humility, courage, sense of civic duty. He can do all that just by being himself. Bush needs all the spin he can get from his handlers to pull it off. That might be the reason why he didn't attack Bush hard enough thus far. He wants the voters to see a polite person challenging the President with obvious, reasonable answers to the problems that he is not willing to see. He doesn't need to lift a finger to do that. It's just not something he does, the angry, petulant, scowling, bullying attitude that his opponent is forced to adopt. It would be wonderful if Kerry decides to pound Bush into pulp in the third debate. There's a time to be Optimus Prime, and there's a time to finish the job. That's perhaps the strategy that he has in mind all along.

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Thanks to the live webcast from the BBC, I was able to watch the presidential debates between Bush and Kerry. The bottom line: Kerry totally demolished Bush. The latter was simply out of his league, he was tired, angry, repeated himself repeatedly, and just plain...helpless. Granted, Bush had an inherently much weaker argument for going to war, and that was already bad enough. To be unable to defend against the intelligent reasoning of his opponent is just too cruel to watch. Most of the major networks had online, non-scientific polls. Kerry got like 60-80% of the vote for the winner of the first debate. The pro-Bush Fox News was the only main network without an online poll; it was just too embarrassing to put up one. Bush didn't look presidential; I don't think he ever was presidential. Kerry, on the other hand, not only looked presidential, he appeared calm, reasoned, professional. The power of the GOP's spin made sure people didn't see through Bush's facade. But when you strip away all that in a face to face debate, the contrast of stature between the two men is just so apparent, it isn't even funny. Bush didn't think he was funny too, exhibiting all sorts of weird facial expressions seen in the split screens shown on some networks here. In his 4 years in office, he hadn't really needed to stand up to any opposing viewpoint. Today, he had to. And he was simply stunned. NBC has excellent videos of the proceedings. (Topic 7: a gem) And by far the best analysis I've seen so far, from Mr. Stewart.