Saturday, January 28, 2006
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. ~Deuteronomy 5:20, The Nineth CommandmentI last wrote about the separation of Church and State eight months ago, and I wondered then whether Singapore would see a similar 'intrusion' of faith into the public space as what's happening in the States and to a less extent Australia. It now looks like this might indeed happening, but probably few people are aware of it. So it started with this person who posted a thread at the SPUG forums on what he experienced at a 'brain-washing' sex education workshop in school. I thought at first it's just one of those interesting ad-hoc workshops that are organised for students in junior college and secondary schools. But as I continued reading, I was quite shocked to find that these types of workshops were organised by religious groups such as a local affiliation of James Dobson's Focus On The Family. Did the Ministry know about the background of these groups? Maybe not. There's not one mention of religious affiliation at Focus' local website. It's not unreasonable for the folks at the Ministry of Education to not know what their activities are if they don't follow US politics. But there's more; it became apparent that some of the ideas presented at the workshops such as those conducted by the Catholic group Family Life Society, were quite disturbing. Among other things, students learnt that condoms are not effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases because the size of the virus is smaller than the holes in the material used to manufacture condoms. It took me 10 seconds to go to Columbia Uni's Ask Alice service to verify this claim. The thing they taught in the workshop was absolute hogwash. I was furious to later find that this sort of misinformation had been around since 2003 when the Vatican said basically the same thing, which was later condemned by UNAids. The FDA has more information about condoms. Was this an honest mistake? How could they lie to people about such things? I couldn't believe it! But then I remembered, if it's possible to adopt and market the same 'faith-based' community way of thinking that the political right wingers have so successfully done in the US, it's not that unreasonable for this fiasco to have occurred in Singapore! If you have one (inaccurate) research paper that talks about the size of virus molecules, it can easily be used to justify the argument despite the objections of health-care professionals. I'm thinking the rationale might work like this: Hey, we have this paper that tell us that condoms don't work in preventing STDs. We know that some doctors oppose this, but I think we should go ahead and promote this idea because we don't allow the use of condoms anyway. Yes, we might be misleading people, but it's all in the name of doing God's good work. And ultimately, we're saving lives if we scare people enough. Now, if this is indeed the rationale for gross misinformation to appear in the workshop, we really have an urgent and serious problem on our hands. The issue is far bigger than the original objection of faith-based groups teaching secular topics in public schools because it's become a matter of life and death. Why? Because this issue is really about trust. Who should young people turn to for accurate information on sexuality? We hope their teachers and folks who conduct sex ed workshops are their first source of information. Here's the rub: what happens when these young people later learn they have been misled and lied to, and have not been given objective information? You would lose their trust, probably immediately. Young people are not stupid. They'll eventually know whether their mentors are honest with them or not. I can easily imagine the following scenario. A young woman drops her blouse before a young, keen, male person. He's considering whether to take the next step. He remembers what his sex ed educator told him, and how some parts of the lesson are just not true. He says to himself, 'If his information about the virus molecule size is not correct, maybe other things he told us isn't really true too. He did tell us that the only 100% way of preventing STD is abstinence. Oh what the heck, I think he's just exaggerating, these guys always have a religious agenda, I don't trust him at all. What are the chances of getting infected after just one time? Screw it...' This guy gets infected with the HIV virus as a result. Too bad the misleading person who did the workshop happened to be right about the abstinence thing. Anyway, I'd present the lesson this way: condoms are effective against STDs (except for use during anal sex). However, there are such things as failure rates due to operator and manufacturing error. Therefore, to be 100% safe, practise abstinence. If that's not an appropriate choice, know the risks of condom use; the risks can be very high if they aren't used properly... More from Tomorrow.sg, and Han who has scanned pages from the materials used at the workshop. It's quite unbelievable...
Saturday, January 21, 2006
I think one way to be less stressed is to look at the skies and the stars. However in big cities, that's usually not very feasible due to the light pollution. So, an alternative thing to do is to look at your computer screens. I've a couple of astronomy simulators like the excellent Celestia and OrbitSim, but what I need is something that simulates what the scenery outside the window will be at any location on Earth. The traditional 'star charts' programs are usually just computer versions of the standard charts one finds in astronomy books; these are quite 'boring' and not like the 'wow!' feeling one gets with Celetia... So it's been a long time since I tried to find something like that on the web, and I just found this free new software called Stellarium. And my goodness, it's just stunning, and really classy... The wonderful thing is that you can accelerate the time, and see how the celestial bodies move. And the zodiac representations are so beautiful. In the morning, the sun rises and the scenery changes. It's magical... This seems to be the perfect starcharts program...
Posted by jeffyen at 11:27 PM
Sunday, January 15, 2006
A few days ago, George Soros was in town for an open dialogue about 'democracy, open society and Singapore'. Gabriel and HuiChieh have the details. In responding to someone's question about whether Singapore can be considered an 'open society', Soros replied, 'Obviously, Singapore does not qualify as an open society...The use of libel and financial penalties can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of speech and freedom of expression... Singapore is a prosperous society, and prosperity and openness go together...I hope Singapore will become an open society.' Now, I don't profess to be an expert on what an 'open society' really is or should be. Is it about openness in the sense that you can stand of elections without being sued or feeling afraid? Is it about the freedom to speak your mind without someone coming along in the middle of the night and dragging you away? Is it about a fairly independent media that isn't afraid to not toe the party line? I'm really not too sure. But one thing I definitely know is that in an open society, everyone should be able to wear any T-shirt that they desire, especially if the T-shirt promotes an Asian, endangered mammal, say, maybe, the great elephant. So in that regard, yes, I'd agree that Singapore is an open society, simply because people can wear whatever T-shirt they wanted, unlike some other less open societies. But today, I realise to my horror, that Soros might be right, that Singapore really might not be an open society after all! It turns out that folks aren't allowed to wear T-shirts with elephants printed on them. The following is my amateurish translation of the article from today's Chinese Zaobao newspaper;
for some reason, the English newspaper Straits Times is totally silent on this. [Ed.: This was reported in the Today newspaper yesterday. Tip hat: Wayne Soon]
This T-shirt Can't Be Worn At Buangkok MRT Station Today! by Pan Xing Hua Do you have this T-shirt? If you're planning to wear this to Buangkok MRT Station, or to participate in this morning's festivities, please be careful because you might just find yourself in trouble! The organising committee of this morning's Buangkok MRT Station opening ceremony celebrations (Punggol South grassroots leadership) has been warned by police that if people turn up for the festivities wearing T-shirts printed with 'white elephants', they might cause misunderstanding to others, and even contravene the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. A police spokesperson said, 'When the police receives any calls or complaints from the public, we will investigate as we've always done.' So, if you happen to have this T-shirt, should you wear it today, or not? Please think thrice. Applying for a fund-raising permit This 'white elephant' T-shirt was designed by 27 Secondary Four Raffles Girls School students last October. They told reporters then that they hoped that young people might be encouraged to legally express their views, and also to promote active citizenship. All profits that they received from the sale of the T-shirts would be donated to Youth Guidance ["a charity organization which works with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police in mentoring and reaching out to youths at risk"]. The organisers of the MRT Station's opening ceremony festivities have invited the girls to set up a stall and sell their T-shirts. Charles Chong, Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Pungol GRC [the constituency in which the Buangkok MRT Station is located at] confirmed that yesterday, the organisers received a directive from the police requesting the girls to apply for a fund-raising permit. Also, the police mentioned that if more than five people wear this T-shirt, the police would carry out investigations if they received any complaints. MP Chong said that it normally took three days to apply for the permit, but due to the cooperation of the police, the girls were able to get it in less than a day. An ex-RGS girl who's now in Raffles Junior College, Ms Chang said yesterday, 'We applied for the permit last night, and were given the permit this morning. So we can legally sell the T-shirts tomorrow.' Due to the fact that the police have advised the organising committee not to collectively wear the T-shirts so as not to break the law, Chang said, 'Tomorrow we'll have 20 students selling the T-shirts. We have all decided not to wear the T-shirts, so as to avoid unnecessary trouble.' RGS Girls 'home-made' T-shirt project This creative 'white elephant' T-shirt designed by RGS students costs $12. At that time, they printed 300, and they are still left with 60, which will be sold today at Buangkok MRT Station. Speaking of those who've bought the T-shirts, will they collectively wear the shirts to the celebrations today, and inadvertently break the law? Chang said, 'We don't have their contact numbers, and so we're unable to contact them.' MP Chong said, 'Today, 3000 people will wear a T-shirt that's designed by the organising committee. This purple T-shirt will not have any images of animals. We hope no one will make a complaint to the police.' A ticket for the opening ceremony festivities costs $3; 5000 people have already bought tickets. The event starts at 8.30am. A 240m long red sash surrounds the MRT Station; it's decorated to resemble a gift for the Buangkok residents. MP Teo Chee Hean will cut the ribbon with 400 residents at 10.45am. The station opens at 1pm.Seriously, I don't know what to think. Would someone make a complaint about the purple 'endorsed' T-shirts that 3000 people are going to wear? So what if someone does indeed make a complaint? A little background (as far as I've understood it) about this weird issue. Buangkok MRT Station is along the new MRT north-east route. The stations before and after it have all been opened, but I think the national train operator doesn't want to open Buangkok at the same time as the other stations because they felt there weren't enough passengers living around Buangkok station. So the station was built, and it just stood there, doing nothing. So one day, someone printed these very cute 'white elephant' pictures on boards and displayed it around the station. Now, this might be so trivial in any other place, but in Singapore, it created an uproar! Normally, people would not think of 'dissenting' but here is someone putting up 'protest signs' in the middle of night, and the message was unmistakable: the train station was a 'white elephant'. Some members of the public allegedlly complained to the police (because it was probably horrifying for that person that folks were protesting to the authorities), and the police promised a full investigation. I think (though I've forgotten the details) it was later found that the sign was designed by the constituency's own grassroots personnel, so the police just gave them a warning. Until now, I don't understand how those elephant signs had even a remote chance to break the law. So, what is there left to do? I'll congratulate the RGS girls for their bravery and ingenuity, to MP Chong for being behind the girls and his constituents , and the Singapore Zoo, for building the new Elephants of Asia exhibit a few years ago. It's really quite wonderful! More background reading: SingaporeAngle, SingaporeInk, Yawning Bread, Wikipedia entry on Buangkok MRT Station.
Posted by jeffyen at 9:24 AM
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
I am not really a fan of the advertising industry. Part of my discriminatory feelings may have come from something that physicist Richard Feynman talked about in his Caltech commencement address, Cargo Cult Science. There seems to be a lack of 'intellectual honesty' in the world of marketing and advertising.
"The easiest way to explain this idea [of intellectual honesty] is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will--including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with..."Here's another example. When I first saw this, I thought to myself, 'This is technically impossible and just ridiculous! In the first place, what family would bring a printer to the beach? In the second place, is there a power socket in the sand?!' Don't laugh now. There are other fundamentalists when it comes to interpreting advertisements literally. I was selling Palms for a few days at Millenium Walk some years ago, and this guy came by and bought an m505. The following day, he came back, and demanded a refund. 'Take a look at the screen!', he screamed at me. 'See how dim the display is?! It's unlike anything shown in the brochure!" I love dealing with folks like him, so I smiled at him as he kept on screaming, and explained, 'Yes sir, it's dim all right, but I think you'll get used to it soon enough.' The m505 was Palm's first audacious attempt to squeeze colour into a Palm Vx form factor, so I knew sacrifices would need to be made somewhere. I told the angry man that his expectations were unintentionally raised due to the brilliant colour screen seen in the brochure. I pointed out the asterix beside the picture, and if he was able to find the fine print with an *, he would have seen that the colour screen was just a 'simulated picture'. I also said, because I believed it myself, that he couldn't go wrong with a Palm, so he might like to try to get as much out of it as possible. From a certain perspective, the whole idea of marketing is to spin things, to make things appear better than they actually are. But if we take away the possible lack of honesty in ads, there's something I like about advertisements. It's the beauty of the advertisements themselves, that doesn't have anything to do with the products being sold. 30s of television poetry for its own sake. The latest advertisement I've found (hat tip: SPUG forums) that falls into this category is the new Sony BRAVIA LCD television ad. There's even an official website dedicated to it. that contains behind-the-scenes videos and other downloads. Essentially, they threw 250,000 bouncing balls of various sizes and colours down the slippery slopes of SF, and just filmed it. The end result, with the exquisite cover version of Heartbeats done by Jose Gonzalez, is just gorgeous. I don't really think I'd care too much about the BRAVIA after watching the ad numerous times, which is what makes the whole thing so wonderful. An ad that has transcended its usual objective: to sell things. If a lot of people are like me, and don't necessarily buy the BRAVIAs after watching the ad, the bean counters would probably pronounce the ad to be an expensive failure. Too bad they don't realise it's the best ad I've seen in a long time... More from sfist, Noe Valley Voice, shots.net. Amateur video, making-of video.
Posted by jeffyen at 9:17 AM