Monday, January 25, 2010

Good albums with good songs - a casual top 10

New media is changing the music industry and songwriting must be at its best to capture the largest piece of the market possible. Albums don't normally fly in an age when singles are being downloaded. Musicians have to tour to earn in an era when album sales don't get you the millions you desire.

Gone are the days when we'll get an album/LP consisting a good set of songs and not one single shitty song. Sometimes, consumers are compelled to download a song from an album, because the rest are not worth listening to, hence the album is not worth buying. In this entry, I shall try to give my take on what I think are my top 10 albums (of guitar-driven music).

Every music fan has his or her own preferences (see biases). And here's mine in no particular order. (I wanted to put in Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, but the guitars aren't as prominent in the songs in that album.)

- Return to Saturn by No Doubt
- Night on Earth by Rialto (tough call with Rialto)
- Dog Man Star by Suede (tough call with Coming Up)
- Black Market Music by Placebo (tough call with Without You I'm Nothing, and Sleeping With Ghosts)
- Origin of Symmetry by Muse
- Revolver by The Beatles (tough call with Abbey Road, Sgt Pepper, Rubber Soul, all having good sets too).
- Vapor Transmission by Orgy
- Mechanical Animals by Marilyn Manson (tough call with Anti-Christ Superstar)
- A Place in the Sun by Lit
- Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World

What's your top 10 list of music albums?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Female objectification in Singapore

I am really glad Dana Lam, president of Association for Women's Action and Research, wrote the following. It is a pity on many levels that she is only given this small platform, and that many people still won't understand the importance of her message.

I shall reproduce it:

Wrong to promote women as sex objects

I refer to Monday's report ('Drinks based on bra size', Breaking News, ST Online) of a promotion organised by a bar, OverEasy, at One Fullerton. OverEasy is run by Lo & Behold, which also runs Loof and White Rabbit.

The bar invited women to enjoy free alcohol based on the size of their breasts. The event was reportedly well attended and women who had bigger breasts received more 'free' drinks.

There is nothing free about letting a room of people gawk at your breasts. Even if a woman is willing to pay the personal price of loss of dignity, there is still a cost suffered by other women.

The women who participated have contributed to the objectification of women, to reducing a woman's value to her breast size, and have helped reinforce the belief among men that this is not only acceptable, but welcome. Staging this event in itself is extremely distasteful.

Just because sexism is profitable does not make it right. For the organisers to say the event was merely for 'good fun and not sexist or sleazy' is insincere. The indignity is suffered only by one gender.

It is unfortunate there are women willing to make this choice so light-heartedly. The individual woman may view her participation as an act of empowerment. Perhaps she feels she should use whatever assets she has to secure favours for herself. In our sex- and youth-obsessed culture, it is not surprising some women would grow to be so cynical.

Yes, women have the right to choose, but individual choices are made in a social context. And in our current social context, women have a much harder time to be esteemed as individuals above and beyond their value as sex objects.

This event perpetuates the notion of women as sex objects and makes it that much more difficult for each woman who wants to be valued for her character and contribution, rather than how she stacks up to a distorted image of the ideal body.

The personal choice (of the participants) and the private choice (of the corporation) has had a detrimental social impact.

Choice works both ways. The organisers may have packed their venue that evening, but they may well have lost future business at OverEasy and their sister establishments.

Dana Lam (Ms)

My thoughts:

There have been theories and observations that the economy (more specificialy capitalism) perpetuates the oppression of women. Money and the objectification and exploitation of women seem to go very well together. Businesses latch on this, and people seem to demand this. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of supply and demand.

Take for instance the club/pub concept of "Ladies's Night". In the nightlife business, the presence of women brings in the male clientele. So "Ladies' Night" is a good strategy to get women to hang around your club/pub for a significant amount of time.

Here are two perspectives, depending on your political persuasions:

Perspective #1: This immediately came up in my head when I read Dana's letter. With regards to Ladies' Night, I feel that women themselves are complicit in their own objectification and oppression. They choose to bite the bait of free drinks, and they would complain (and have complained) that it is their entitlement - all the more reinforcing themselves as a function of their own oppression. Another example would be that of a girl, who is well aware of the cultural norms of femininity and attraction, willingly chooses to dress "sexily" to attract men. This perspective centres on the woman, who makes the choice.

Perspective #2: Well, the "oppression" could be seen to be a lot deeper. Perspective #1 makes us think that women are complicit in their own oppression, while this perspective paints a picture in which women are already subjects produced in this discourse of oppression. Women were once girls conditioned by family, school and society to behave in a way, heteronormal and passive. So this "choice" to participate in Ladies' Night is just a function of this regime, and we cannot read women to be entirely guilty of their own oppression as in Perspective #1.

Essentially, the objectification and exploitation of women are ordered by the economy. Women are used as meat bait, because there is a (male) demand for it, and businesses are smart enough to capitalise on this social trend (and conditioning). The behaviour of some women (seeing its their entitlement, or even turning up for that free drink), on the surface, legitimises this economy. Scratch beneath that, (to use a perspective closer to #2) it is the economy that creates this conditioning and naturalises it.

I mean, we don't have (heterosexual) "Gentlemen's Night" because our society is ordered in a way that men are expected to be active and higher-earning. That business will not fly.

Women are definitely more than breasts. Businesses know that, but they happen to earn the money of men who do not know it.

Let us say we abolished the objectification/exploitation of women and their bodies in business for the sake of gender equality and respect. What happens to these businesses? What is a viable alternatives to attract and retain the same number of clients (or more) and earn the same (or more) amount of profits as in the time when they relied on the objectification of women?

If we push to remove something, what alternatives do we have in place for the existing stakeholders?

It might not be a fitting analogy, but I shall raise it nonetheless. If we eradicated child pornography and destroyed all the rings, are there measures in place for the relevant victims, children, families to earn a decent living? Do they get aid? The focus is on removing the identified "ill", that we devote lesser attention to the people/stakeholders affected by this "ill".

How do we balance feminism and the viability/survivability of businesses? I find it difficult to be equally sympathetic to both at the same time. This is not a straightforward situation.

Assuming female objectification is an "ill" and has to be stopped, what can we suggest to pubs and clubs to earn the same amount of money with the same amount of resources put in?

Women are the stakeholders in this story, and so are pubs and clubs and clients. It depends on your own political agenda, one you shouldn't be ashamed of, on whether you choose to prioritise one stakeholder above another. This is where it gets complicated.

Take for example, kissing booths with female vendors and bikini car washes for charity. Can you get the same amount of or more donations if you did away with the objectification factor? It is not about how wrong and unjustified objectification is here, but rather how are you going to raise the donations for the charity stakeholder.

In my opinion, the problem is not with the women or the bars/clubs/pubs, but with society. The objectification of women will only intensify and objectification will still continue even though more minds are educated on its implications. But for me, education is better than none at all.

At the same time, I am concerned about the nature of political correctness. While I am not implying that the stance against female objectification is a stance of political correctness, I would like to ask about its implications on how we treat/tackle humour, tongue-in-cheek comments, jokes, jokes of women made by women. What is the ideal? A thoroughly censored and self-censored society? A sensitive society or over-sensitive one?

I think as a feminist (don't know which strain I subscribe to), the central concern and point of departure should not only be on the oppressed (i.e. women) and actions made to alleviate the oppression, but also on the implications of these actions, their applicability and equally as important, the relevant alternatives we can come up with to address the concerns faced by other stakeholders in the equation. Mind you, men are as equally oppressed by this regime of patriarchy and the economy, as it is not something we expect past generations of men to dump on us today. The problem should never be looked as in isolation, but located with respect to its context and we should acknowledge the relevant relationships and their dynamics.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Responsible reporting and the use of "Ah Kua/Gua"

(Unpublished - Jan 11, 2010)

I refer to reporter Melissa Pang's article "Molested victim a 'he'?" (ST, Jan 8, 2010).

The report cited the molested victim to a Thai transsexual, and quoted various Straits Times STOMP! users as describing her as "Ah Gua"/"Ah Kua".

News reporting can be more responsible and sensitive when quoting or reporting words and terms that are considered hurtful, demeaning and insulting towards certain people.

I suggest that future reports that objectively present information be accompanied with some form of education, in this case, an advise that the terms "Ah Gua/Kua" are derogatory insults used against people who are either transgender or effeminate.

This way, such insults will not be legitimised.

Ho Chi Sam

Afterthoughts:

Imagine if the reporter objectively quoted other derogatory terms from people, such as "nigger", "abunehneh", "chink", and so on, without explaining (and in the process making a stand) that these terms are insulting to specific communities and demographies. Will that kind of thing happen?

Imagine if you're a reporter collecting Singaporeans' responses to Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's latest release. Will you report stuff like "He is a whacked out Ah Neh" without explain that this is a derogatory word? Of course, that comment will be removed in the first place. But you get the drift.

The Straits Times should be more responsible not only to some minorities, but to all. Objectively reporting should be accompanied by some sense of responsibility towards your readers. It's quite irritating when the media, charged by the government with the role of "nation-building", continues to legitimise homophobia and transphobia.

I guess this is why there are no journalists in Singapore, but reporters. Because reporters just copy and paste what they see and what they get. The newspapers not only have a role to inform, but play a large part in cultivating a society, in this case (the lack of) education.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cancelling your Pioneer Magazine subscription

Old news, but thanks to the Singaporean netizens and in particular, Alvin, for providing the following information, we now know how to cancel our Pioneer Magazine subscription.

Apart from wanting to save the environment, paper and money, I just simply do not want to have anything to do with SAF or MINDEF other than serve what I am threatened to serve, do what I am threatened to do (simply because not fulfilling one's "obligations" would land one in hot soup) and there are many things they could do to you that nobody will ever come to know. They can have my manpower, but I am emotionally, psychologically and spiritually divorced from their dealings. Saving paper and money is only a bonus here.

http://alvinology.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/how-to-cancel-your-pioneer-magazine-subscription/

I shall reproduce a bit of Alvin's blog and advice here:

"Just go to this URL, fill in your particulars; type in some reasons, such as: you prefer reading the cyber version to save the Earth or your family is receiving duplicate copies; request to unsubscribe; then click SUBMIT."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Group work: Work is fine, group sucks

I started my (supposed) final semester as a Masters student-cum-teaching assistant on Monday and found out that future term projects which involve team effort will see students preallocated to their teams by the instructors/lecturers/tutors.

This means, students will not be able to form their own groups. From what I heard, this is to prevent the formation of similar groups across other courses/modules so that the workload would be shared in this exemplary case of good teamwork/friendship.

It is all the more challenging for the students, and if I were a student affected by such a policy, I'll probably be crossed. There are so many undesirable characters out there. Let me list a few nasty folks I will probably never get along with:

1) Uber alpha male: This is the guy who will want everything to go his way, and pretends to listen to you, but in the end tries to control the project and the group. It would be a worse scenario if this person happens to skive and does not walk the talk or take any responsibility. This guy is holier than thou, and onus will always be on others to convince him their ideas are worthy of his consideration.

2) Tiger woman: Similar to the uber alpha male, but more dangerous because she possesses female privileges. You can't talk her down. And you can't punch her in the face. Her sarcastic non-verbal cues get well under your skin, and combined with her overbearing personality, she is a deadly groupmate to have.

3) The ninja: This person doesn't reply emails, calls and texts on time, or rather at all. You see him/her once and that's it. He/she will do the minimum and often times, there's no value added to the project on his/her part. His/her efforts usually require editing and reworking from other groupmates. In the end, with the ninja, everyone does more work than they should be doing.

4) The nice-when-they-want-something-from-you person: These goal-oriented folks are manipulative self-serving snakes who will want to get a free ride from those who usually have a better track record for term assignments. They'll sit near you during the first couple of tutorials/lectures and propose a union, before they wrap their tentacles around you and suck you dry.

5) The overpromiser: This person gives a lot during the brainstorming session, but does shit to fulfilling a fraction of it.

6) The kancheong spider: This person worries about a lot of things, including what the lecturer/tutor will think, and how the group can craft the project in a way the lecturer likes. There goes the group's identity. This person also pushes other groupmates more than necessary too. They will demand the group meet regularly just for the sake of it, even though it doesn't translate to any substantial work being done. They will also breathe down your neck and be concerned with the process, rather than the outcome of each member's efforts.

7) The part-timer: Slightly different from the ninja, this person works part-time just to earn some pocket money, but it often comes at the expense of the group project.

8) The incompetent: There are so many of them. They don't know how to use the "page break" tool and use "enter" instead. Their written English is appalling and makes your essay look like a kindergarten kid's love letter. These folks also have no idea what is the meaning of deadline, and of course, what is the meaning of "incompetent". They do so many amazing things, you wonder how many people they had to sleep with in order to get a place in the university.

9) The clique: Sometimes, the mates you are with are already friends to begin with, and you are at their mercy when they decide (based on this fair thing called "consensus") the direction of the project and internal deadlines.

10) The not-so-serious: Sadly enough, you get those mates who are not very interested in a university education. The reason why they are in the course is so that they could pass it and eventually get a degree. All they want at the end of 3 years of campus sex, part-time jobs, networking and all that, is a degree, so that they can pay off their tuition loans or embark on a journey towards financial independence.

Well, that's all I can think of for the moment. I have had my fair share of ups and downs doing group projects, but the fact remains that I really hate group work. There is always a high probability you will meet someone who will either ruin the project or your day.

I have met my fair share of self-serving bottom-feeding snakes, pushy characters who talk too much and do too little and indifferent folks who are armed to the teeth with smoke bombs.

Sometimes, I wish the courses in the university were further divided into 2 categories. The first one would be for the serious students, interested in scholarship and intellectual inquiry; and the other one would be for those who are just there for the ride and grab their degrees and make a run for it. Of course, this world can do without that degree of frankness.

For a group project to work, you need the following:

1) Good leadership: Someone who is responsible, able to manage and disseminate the workload, and also manage the group according to the strength of each member - i.e. who writes well, who is more proactive in seeking information and research, who can design well, who is a good presenter. This leader is able to coordinate the frequency and duration of meetings and will competently aggregate the ideas of the group and decide the direction of the project. The work of the leader doesn't end there, as he/she also continues to consult each group member and get feedback pertaining to the project.

2) Good followers: A good follower is someone who firstly knows his/her role in the group. It is beyond taking order orders and executing them, but also believing that what he/she does complements the efforts of the other mates in a value-adding way.

3) Communication: Every member needs to communicate his/her goals and concerns. Members will appreciate if stuff like the following is communicated: "I'm going to be very busy for the next few days, sorry."; "I think you're not doing enough for the group,"; "You are not managing the workload well enough!"; "Ok, who is going to skive or smoke out, please raise your hand now, so we know how to manage this."; "I cannot finish this by the internal deadline, will be late by a day."; "Your idea sucks. No go!"

4) Pride: You must have pride in whatever you're doing, not matter how small the contribution is. For instance, self-serving people will only have pride in what they WANT to do, rather than the positions assigned to them.

5) Goal: It is important for the entire team to share the same goal. You may have mates who are just there for the ride and want to get their degree, and you have those who are pushing for a 2nd upper or 1st class honours degree. The bottom-line is that communicating your goal and sharing it is essential to the team's success.

I love team sports and being part of a team working towards a common goal, but the experience of working in groups for course/midterm projects has ruined it all, and left a bad taste in my mouth.

There have been 2 occasions when I sent an email to my groupmates shortly after our formation, asking when would be a good time we could meet to have some preliminary discussions. And none of them replied for almost 5 days. That is something I personally cannot tolerate. What is the point of working with these people?

Pertaining to this preallocated grouping policy, I feel that if the choice is given to the students, they can team up with people of the similar sense of urgency. This random preallocation will only result in kancheong spiders teaming up with skivers. And who suffers? Students will complain and lecturers have to mediate. The folks at the dean's office just sit pretty and marvel at how well their policy has gone.

This preallocation does not solve the problem of skivers and self-serving snakes that populate NUS any way. I wonder if the administration actually told the undergraduates directly about the policy, or if they threw the responsibility of breaking the news onto the shoulders of lecturers and instructors.

Fee hikes, inflexibilities, project work, BAH! If only our transition into the rat race could have been more pleasant. Perhaps this is what is needed to turn us into rats in the first place.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sam cooks cheese-baked rice! And begins an exercise regime!

Welcome to a not-so-wordy edition of Sam's Thoughts. I will let the pictures do more of the talking. As you can see from the above picture, I cooked cheese-baked rice today, with Shanghai veggies and some fried Japanese chicken.

Cheese-baked rice is really fun and easy to cook. For my cheese-baked rice today, I boiled the rice in chicken stock, and later fried it with browned garlic and bacon bits. After that, I spread the rice out and wrap it in aluminum foil and sprinkle mozzarella cheese on it and put it in the toaster oven with the foil closed for 5 minutes.

This melts the cheese without browning it. After that, I open the foil exposing the cheese and rice and leave it in the toaster again for about 4-5 minutes. And you'll get the above. Nice stuff. Restaurant quality home-cooked food, and you can sleep with the chef.

Of course, sleeping with your significant other is not the only highlight of every marriage. We go out once in a while. Below are pictures taken during our foray into the monkey-infested lands of Peirce Reservoir. Singaporeans all pronounce it as "Pierce", but it really is "Peirce".


We later had dinner at RK House in Serangoon Gardens with the friends who were with us earlier at Peirce. We ate naan. Didn't know they had it, but it was worth the wait.
On the home front, it took me a while to get the cheese-baked rice thing going. When I ordered cheese-baked rice at a restaurant in early December, I finally saw the light. No, I was not touched there by any specific monotheist deity. I understood the purpose of aluminum foils! And they are just more than bling. Below is my first attempt at making cheese-baked rice, using cheddar cheese cubes (that don't really melt well) along with mozzarella. And you can see the oyster sauce chicken too. Nice stuff I might say (because I made it).
Well, cheese on rice is a refreshing look, because the kind of stuff we see is usually the below:
On Christmas eve, we invited 4 friends over. I made my signature mashed potatoes (with butter, milk, basil, ground pistachios, friend bacon bits), with oyster sauce chicken, broccoli, calamari and shrimp, and cheese-baked rice. The cheese wasn't browned, but my guest requested me to bake it with the foil opened. And here it is.
Here's me and the wife with our food. I can photoshop in our children next time.
Of course, to atone for the sins of cooking/eating unhealthy food, I've started out on a new exercise regime, which involves lots of pull-ups, push-ups, sprints and the occasional jog.

Below is a snap-shot of me doing sit-ups on the parallel bars. It's a 135 degree sit-up and it's painful.

Stretching.
Yes, I want to get into "shape" and look "good" again. In November 2009, I was weighing in at 75kg

Soon, maybe, just maybe I can do a shirtless shoot that won't draw too much negative criticism, and hopefully that can put food on the table some day too. But in the mean time, it's fun cooking cheese-baked rice and eating it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Enforcement issues and my plea to Dr Ionescu

If it is what the news appear to be piecing together or insinuating, I feel sickened at last month's hit-and-run accident that injured two and killed one, and that the prime suspect has fled the country.

The prime suspect was Romanian diplomat Dr Silviu Ionescu, whose black Audi A6 hit 3 pedestrians after 3am on December 15. Tong Kok Wai unfortunately succumbed to his injuries (reported to be brain damage) ten days later. He was only 30 years old.

The pedestrians were hit in Bukit Panjang. The abandon car was found in Sungei Kadut. Ionescu flagged a taxi at Sungei Kadut and called the police on his mobile phone to report his missing vehicle.

Fairly straightforward case. Ionescu, being named a suspect, or rather the prime suspect according to reports, could have stayed behind to assist in investigations. But he managed to take a flight back home to Romania three days after the accident.

If he is so important to investigations, why wasn't he made to stay in Singapore?

Is this a reflection of how the police handles cases which involve high profile persons or diplomats?

Could the police investigations have stalled because it had to be escalated to the higher rungs of authority given the implications of the case?

Why wasn't the law of the (Singapore) land efficiently enforced? This is after all a hit-and-run case, and all suspects should be available/detained for their assistance.

This speaks a lot about our enforcement. I don't doubt our law, although it can do with improvements and changes in time (and any way, to doubt it will probably get you into trouble, won't it? It's like a religion that cannot be questioned or criticised). Enforcement involves the necessary and consistent procedures and actions to ensure that the law of the land is abided by.

For very serious cases such as hit-and-run, enforcement is necessary for the gathering of evidence and information. You have to make sure your witnesses, suspects and relevant experts are available. Enforcement is beyond catching crooks and putting them behind bars; it involves all the other processes to contribute to upholding the law and prevent it from being broken (if possible).

And who has the authority to enforce this? The police. And there has to be many reasons why they let Ionescu leave the country. To speculate, I would say:

1) Given the magnitude of the case and its implications, and it probably having to be escalated (given lower ranking personnel probably did not want to be fully responsible for this), the police stalled. The police, for some reason or another, did not control/monitor the movement of the person that could help with the investigation. I wonder if this is a standard operating procedure.

2) The stickiness of diplomatic immunity stalled the police. But I highly doubt this, given that a hit-and-run case in Singapore is still a hit-and-run case. We can talk diplomacy after investigations.

3) Given the implications of the case, the car and who was probably involved, wasn't the case immediately brought to the attention of the police chief or any relevant Minister?

We should not immediately point the finger at Ionescu just because he fled the country, and that there have been the taxi driver's account. It may be even stickier and suspicious when there was a media blackout on this and recent reports only make us more suspicious of Ionescu.

My contention here however is the enforcement. All suspects should be made to remain in Singapore. Are the right things being done efficiently to ensure proper investigations can take place? Or have standard operating procedures been compromised? Enforcement is key to making sure there is justice. The law on its own, without any enforcement, doesn't bring justice.

In the Temasek Review's (a website with appalling journalistic integrity as they don't link to other blogs/articles even they expect you to do so when you refer to them) interview with the wife of the deceased Tong Kok Wai, investigations are ongoing and the "sensitivity" of the case has been acknowledged by the police. IT IS A HIT-AND-RUN AND A MAN HAS DIED. How dare the police say this is sensitive? There is nothing sensitive to you when you stand by the view that no one is above the law.

There is nothing too sensitive or sticky when it comes to making sure there is justice (unless you're a rich guy or a politician who can pay off the plaintiff).

Unfortunately, justice cannot restore health or bring back lost lives. But at least with proper and prompt enforcement, we can lower the possibilities of such recklessness and expect people to be a little bit more responsible.

===

I can't help but feel sad that Tong died. His wife, Yenny, may be distressed and angry, but she's still civil in my opinion. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I were in her shoes. No spouse deserves an untimely death of their significant other. And if that unfortunate thing happens, it would be fair to have some answers and closure.

Ionescu, you may claim to be innocent. I wish you well, and I hope you come to Singapore to help out with investigations because that will be a lot more helpful to all of us than you remaining in Romania.

Ionescu, do Yenny a favour and come back to Singapore to assist in the investigations and bring closure to this.

Ionescu, do the right thing. If you want to clear your name, do the right thing and come to Singapore. If you have something to say, come to Singapore and say it. If you want to say that you weren't the driver of the car, say it in the presence of the families of those who were hit. Come to Singapore and be there to answer their questions. If you really want to help, come to Singapore.