Sunday, September 30, 2007


Burma, or Myanmar, has been in the news recently when a pacifist rebellion led by political freedom fighters and Buddhist monks erupted. Shades of Gandhi there, and so far the international response has been

1. Talk
2. Let's sign a petition!
3. Diplomacy!
4. Talk
5. Let's form a committee for the empowerment of Burmese people!
6. Issue a strongly worded condemnation of the Burmese government!
7. Talk

Some people have been bashing others for their responses(or lack of) in this sordid affair in which nobody is going to come out smelling roses. I'm not going to say I'm taking the high ground and avoid smearing yet more people. In fact, I'm wading in with balls of mud ready.

Whoever thinks talk is going to help is delusional. Nothing is going to change. As long as nobody is willing to take up a gun, form an army, and go to Burma to depose their government, we're culpable for what's happening. Whoever has the guns, has the power. I remember this quote: “How many divisions has the Pope?” - Stalin. The Burmese military junta has the guns. Their people, disarmed sheeple that they are(we're not much better, to be honest), don't.

Gandhi could pull off a pacifist resistance because the British had a liberal mindset. The Burmese might be, and probably are, hard enough to drop the hammer, and decimate the resistance. I've heard idiots(yeah, that means you, John McCain) suggest economic sanctions, chasing them out of Asean. Pfffttt, like that's gonna made the ruling generals suffer. Oh, their cronies probably would take a few hits in the luxuries they enjoy, but trust me, the ultimate losers would be the Burmese people. Look at North Korea. Economic sanctions up the wazoo, the average Nork is barely filling his stomach, but Kim their 'Ultimate Leader', is still living it up in driving luxury cars, and probably having shark's fin soup on his table everyday.

Note: Etymology of decimate - from the term 'decimation', which was a form of extreme military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth." Loved that word.

If we want any change in the status quo, two things must happen. 1st, The Burmese must be willing to fight for their freedoms and not just sit there hoping for somebody else to do their fighting for them. That cheapens their freedom, and they'll probably throw it away just as easily when somebody promises them socialism and 'equality for all'!

2nd, we must supply and offer aid to them in this fight. By that I mean material aid. Guns, ammo, IEDs(time to make them work for us for a change!). Anybody up for smuggling guns and explosives into Burma? Oops, I guess not. Oh right, we Singaporeans can't have guns anyway, so nothing to smuggle, nothing to sell.

I'm not advocating a rehash of the Spanish Civil War, but damn, those lions who fought in it (Orwell, Franco, etc) for whatever reasons, on either side, are worth far more than us pansies nowadays.

For those who want a more studied and in-depth conservative/realist perspective, the Belmont Club is tops. Wretchard's understated manner makes it that much more scathing. Here's a sample.

Several countries on the United Nations Human Rights Council have begun making consultations to propose a special session to study the brutal crackdown this week by the military regime in Burma/Myanmar on young Buddhist monks and other demonstrators. ...

Yes, you read that right: 1) consult to 2) schedule a meeting to 3) study the "brutal crackdown this week by the military regime in Burma/Myanmar". That's a three step process undertaken so that they may someday/sometime soon figure out whether eclairs or petit fours go best with coffee at such meetings. And afterward they'll swing into action to consider whether to appoint a special rapporteur to study whether it is advisable to have a special meeting to consider doing something about the Burma/Myanmar problem. If anyone is still alive. The article reveals that in certain circles at least, when action time finally comes it should consist of yet still more talk.

I have to admit I'm sick of talking, but I also value my life a great deal. If somebody, however, comes up with a CIP to smuggle IEDs into Burma, well then... Who has ammonium nitrate?!?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tough Days

Today, I just finished setting the H3 Pharmaceutical Chemistry paper, questions, marking scheme, everything. 6 mind-numbing questions with equally mind-numbing answers. All on my bloody lonesome. Even the H2 paper required a team of teachers, each handling a facet of the syllabus, and here I was going it alone. Everything from mechanisms to drug testing methodology to physiological effects. Whew.

I am not going to do that ever again, unless I get an assurance that my efforts are being appreciated by the leadership and that my heavy workload is being taken into consideration whenever the issue of ranking comes up.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Great Bank Robbery

A friend just asked me to participate in a series of training exercises in December for Cisco trainees. We'll be acting as the OPFOR i.e. the dastardly bank robbers, going against guards who may be armed with anything from advanced tasers to shotguns(loaded with rubber rounds, of course).

Sounded like a lot of fun, so of course I signed up. As a result, I'm also feeling kinda combative. Going for some pist0l practice in November, just to keep myself familiar with the motions. Draw, check safety, cock lever, aim, breathe in, let out 3/4 air, squeeze...
There’s a gun and ammunition
Just inside the doorway
Use it only in emergency
Better you should pray to god
The father and the spirit
Will guide you and protect from up here
-Silent Running by Mike and the Mechanics

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tremors again?!?

It was after another session of soccer with the staff team today, at about 7.10pm. I was at my desk finishing up some of my marking when I suddenly felt myself moving. For an instant, I thought it was hunger making me faint. Then the few teachers present asked out loud if the ground was moving. We all looked at one another, and thought, "Not again!"

Evidence was easy; some of the toys and flotsam in the staff room were moving slightly, especially the physics toys. It lasted for about a minute. We cleared out ourselves, the few canteen and janitors remaining, and the students ASAP once Mrs Lim and the OM were informed. Whatever happens next would have to wait for tomorrow.

Walking outside the school gates, I saw many of the good residents of Potong Pasir lounging below the blocks, obviously due to the tremors. The tremors were caused by the 7.9-8.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Sumatra in the late afternoon/evening.

As I was on the way home, one thought struck me.

What if we get another tremor during the prelims, or god forbid(I'm not religious, BTW), during the 'A' Levels?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Feeding the Brain

After the Btech game on Sunday, I had my other regular vice: soccer at Bishan Park.

It had been raining quite heavily for the past few days, so the ground was some sickening brown-black concoction of tar-like soup. Even the grass looked miserable. Yikes. Since both the mud and water have a distressing tendency to splatter every time a kick or tackle was attempted, I think I ended up putting on 3 kilograms from the additional weight on my socks and boots alone.

It didn't help I ran 21 klicks the week before, or that I donated blood barely 5 days ago. I was feeling dead by the 20th minute of action. Suffice to say, my side got slaughtered. And plenty of new bruises from being crashed into by a guy at least 30 kilos heavier. I ended up with mud in my face at least 3 times from overly late tackles, also caused by the muddy conditions.

The next few days, my left knee joint hurt whenever I sat down or during cycling, so I recalled what I had heard about knee injuries and a substance called glucosimide, or something like that. A quick check turned up glucosamine, which I'm now taking daily. Not scientifically proven to help with knee/joint ailments, unfortunately, but I'll take it for now.

In the course of my search for glucosamine, I also decided to see if I could find any information on drugs that are purported to enhance intelligence and short term memory, which I vaguely remembered reading about somewhere. Turns out there are such drugs in existence, though their effectiveness has also yet to be completely verified. There's even a collective name for these drugs, nootropics.

Actually, many people already take such drugs, though their effects are a great deal milder. Caffeine, for one, is a stimulant, and does increase the alertness of the user. However, the more advanced(for lack of a better word) drugs, like Vasopressin and Modafinil, are supposedly more effective. And there's been some studies that do suggest they work.

So what happens when a drug comes up that does work very well? Suppose it allows a student to be able to memorise the contents of a whole book in a single pass? And then offers the student enhanced clarity and calm to do the papers? Don't dismiss the importance of composure in exams. I have students who know their stuff very well during consultations who just cannot perform under pressure(you know who you are, if you're reading this).

Would we have to have mandatory drug testing for exam takers in the future? We might simply accept it as a fact of life, since odds are that if it's available to students, working professionals, and yes, even teachers, would probably be using them as well.

My own take is that exams should be a level playing field. Students with access to more money and resources would likely have such performance enhancing drugs, while students from humbler families would not. While it's said that richer students have access to more tuition and books anyway, that's before the exam, and they can't bring into the exam hall those advantages. In the exam venue, every student is equal. You, your pen, your calculator, and your brain against the paper. If nootropics are to be allowed, then every student should have access to them, if only to make things fair. And why should exams be fair? Well, the answer to that is too long and complex to write here...

Anyway, Jerry Pournelle had very interesting article on this topic, titled, "Overclocking the Brain". The scientific jargon in the article should be comprehensible to the average chemistry/biology JC student. BTW, one of the books mentioned in the article, Flowers for Algernon, is a must read for any junior college student.

Monday, September 03, 2007

CIP for what?!?

On Sunday, I had my first game of BTech in quite a while against Kenneth, who's an undergrad in SMU.

For the BTech fans, we were playing a BV-equal lance-on-lance engagement. He had a Longbow, Striker, Lynx, and a Fire Falcon D(the missile spotter config), while I had an Avatar C(with a useless C3 master), a Huron Warrior, a nifty Fire Falcon B(the sniper config), and worst of all, a stupid Naga!

I thought I've figured out how to use the Naga in a straight up fight. Pound enemy positions with the Arrow IV rockets, while charging forward aka CGR-1A1 Charger(yes, the infamous 80 ton assault mech with 5 frikkin small lasers; oh, I'm so scared!!!). My mistake. It does not have the same amount of protection as even the pathetic Charger. It got its teeth kicked in quite quickly by the Striker, so I have learnt my lesson and modified my tactic for using the Naga the next time it pops up in my force list: Pound enemy positions with the Arrow IV rockets, THEN charge forward aka CGR-1A1 Charger.

After the game, we chatted for a bit about Btech stuf, and eventually it segued into how he was doing at SMU. Then he mentioned the 80 hours of CIP plus 1 dunno-what-CIP-course required for graduation.

I was flabbergasted. You go to university/educational institutes to hone your mind. Everything else is a bonus, and they should be completely voluntary. I understand that CIP is now becoming the fad, everybody has to have done it. But do people commit to CIP because they want to help people, or for the black ink on their certificates? It's pretty obvious that in paper-obsessed Singapore, it's more the latter reason than the former.

So Kenneth, in order to fulfill his 80 hours, did some domino stacking this July. How that benefited society or made the students more aware of social problems, I have no friggin idea. I went online to find out more about this Dominoes of Dreams project, and while the search turned up only blog entries by SMU students, they were pretty interesting for what was said and NOT said. The common thread: I'm glad I've finished the 80 hours of CIP required.

Kinda tells it all. Oh, to be sure, there were some entries that spoke about the people they raised funds for, or the skills they used to sell the dominoes. But I was flabbergasted at the ignorance of some of the participants. Some of them were actually afraid to visit the home for the intellectually disabled. Understandable for secondary school students, but for undergrads?!?

I don't think most of this enforced CIP has changed anybody. People willing to do CIP in the first place would volunteer for it anyway for reasons other than being forced to do so by the people in charge. Those who had to be forced into it will probably never do it again unless something else comes along and changes their perception of the world. And most CIPs can't do that.

In the past, people helped each other voluntarily(well... more or less). No questions asked, it was just the right thing to do. I won't say it was the moral thing to do, because there could be hidden(subconscious?) motivations(Tit for Tat strategy) and rationales(iterated prisoner's dilemma) which we do not yet understand and scientists are still trying to figure out. But it happened anyway in a variety of ways, most notably, I might add, in the form of noblesse oblige.

The wikipedia entry has a very important nugget of information.
"Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens."
Is that what we're seeing now? I fear for the future.

BTW, John Ralston Saul is an interesting character in his own right, and his theory of how six important qualities(Reason, Common Sense, Ethics, Imagination, Intuition, Memory) serve us echoes what the science fiction writer Gordon R. Dickson in his Childe Cycle(philosophy masquerading as science fiction, though all sci-fi writers are more or less guilty of the same crime, especially Heinlein) thought underpinned human advancement, except Dickson boiled it down instead to three qualities: Courage, Philosophy, Faith.

I have absolutely no idea who is right. I'm going to seek out Saul's books sometime this week. Hopefully the library has them.