25 November 2007

Thoughts on The Australian Federal Elections

After a lengthy campaigning that began long before I arrived in Australia, the federal elections here has finally concluded, with what the nationwide newspaper in Australia, The Australian, calls it a Ruddslide. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd, of the Australian Labor Party, swept off long time Prime Minister John Howard to ascend the throne.

Not that I have a particular interest in the elections, but being here you can't help not noticing the major headlines. And it is quite fascinating to observe several trends in Australia and see how they compare with Singapore's:

1) Everyone says it is a landslide victory for Labor and a devastating defeat for Howard's coalition. Base on projections, the seat count gives Labor 84 and the coalition (Liberal + National) 48. If I recall correctly, someone was not happy with a victory of 82 against 2.

2) Labor supporters appear to be everywhere, and support for Liberal is quite invisible. But that just means that Liberal supporters are more silent than the Labor opposition. Similarity in Singapore? Election rallies, remember?

3) Howard may even lose his own seat in Parliament, with the Labor candidate gaining a slim margin over him in his seat of Bennelong. Of course Lee Hsien Loong was nowhere clear in losing, but his 66% is... erm... not a very proud victory by Singapore standards.

4) The ballot here involves putting priority your preferences. That is to say, if there are three candidates, you rank them in order of your preference. I think what happens is that during the voting counting the one with the lowest vote will be eliminated, and the votes going to them in first priority will go to the voters' second choice. Needless to say, this kind of system is hardly necessary in Singapore. We're still looking at reducing the number of walkovers...

5) The voters have to vote for members of parliament and members of the Senate. With a 82-to-2, there's no absolute need for that in Singapore; it's all the same.

Ah well, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on this interesting event.

14 October 2007

Blog Migration

Due to some reasons, I will be changing the title of this blog and, because I want to retain all the previous posts in this blog, the URL as well. That is, I am moving this blog instead of creating a new blog.

However, a direct change of URL will cause many readers to be lost, especially those who do not visit this blog frequently. As such, I'm creating a transitional blog, which will house my postings for the time being and, in due time, announce the new blog URL. The transitional blog is at:


I will leave this blog up at the old URL for about three weeks before changing it. So please change your bookmark to the transitional blog, and then again when the new blog URL is up. I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience caused.

26 September 2007

The Feeling of the Present and of History

A drama is unfolding in Burma as I write. Monks and nuns, the most respected class of people in the Burmese society, are in open defiance against the ruling junta. Could it be just like two decades ago, when similar incidents culmulated in Aung San Suu Kyi's electoral victory? Right now, as it unfolds before the world's eyes, no one can guess where it will lead.

There is something that appears fundamentally different between knowing an event in history and an event unravelling in the present. In 1988, students took to the streets. Military suppressed them. Thousands were killed. It triggered elections. Aung San Suu Kyi won. The military refused to recognise election results. Their rule continued. That is history. It is as I know it. I was too young then to know it as it unfolded. I read it later in my life. I read it, as a piece of history, compressed and summarised. Time flowed in different beats: unimportant days were swept away in words no longer than a few seconds, and moments of importance were granted paragraphs after paragraphs that took minutes to read. The scaling of time when cast into words is twisted out of linear proportion.

But with the present, time is time. It is not scaled. It is not contorted. It is not shortened to slim boring periods and lengthen to fit critical events. One day is one day. One week is one week. One month is one month. The present becomes alive. Yesterday nuns took to the streets. Last week monks did so. Suppose a revolution were to come in a month's time. This month will not be a day long. It will not be a week long. It will be a month long. A month is a month. It is not like pages of a history book. Even if nothing goes on during this one month, time plods on unrelentlessly, unceasingly, unhurriedly.

That is, perhaps, why events unfolding as I read in the newspapers feel more real than events of the past. When I read an article about John Lennon's death there is a detached feeling about the whole incident. It is not as if I have not felt the loss of a great singer, but this loss feels muted. It feels as if the concrete of history has solidified. But when Luciano Pavarotti died, the concrete of history may have been laid, but it is still wet. Maybe this is the reason why people often say that times are getting more and more difficult.

Where will the events in Burma head from here? Will it be like two decades ago, a repetition of history? Or will a fresh chapter of democracy enter Burma's life? There is no flipping of pages to the important future events this time.

Feels so real, doesn't it?

14 July 2007

The Government's Forced Prostitute

(This post evolved out of my comments on a post entitled Silence is not always golden on theonlinecitizen. The post criticises the lack of scrutiny by Singapore's mainstream media on the government.)

In recent weeks, a chain of non-replies from the government concerning many issues, the termination of Alfian Saat as a relief teacher for example, has infruriated many bloggers. Even moderate bloggers like Bernard Leong advocated for more openness in the government's reply and letters to the media. And as inevitable as the Second Law, the mainstream media gets a beating for not scrutinising the government over these matters and not pursuing the non-replies.

With regards to the non-replies and silences of various government departments regarding numerous affairs, I believe it is something on which the government has to seriously change its attitude. Such attitudes, more than just make people lose faith in the government and the civil service, can propel others to believe in alternative (and not necessarily true) explanations. This may be dangerous as it propagates falsehoods on the government and undermine the trust between the civil service and the people. And with no official explanations, they can hardly be blamed.

However, I do not agree with criticising the media for not playing the role of the watchdog like in so many democratic countries. I do not deny - in fact, I strongly support - the concept of the media being the watchdog of the government. Being a proper, massive organisation with professional journalists to probe and analyse various aspects on and reports of the government and its actions, hardly any other is better at fulfilling this role. However, at this point I'd like to emphasize the need, if thus is the case, for more media organisations to emerge. Left to its own, a media organisation will inevitably adopt a particular stand or point of view, so a greater number means a greater variety, leading to a more balanced airing of different perspective on a single issue. It is as pointless as the current situation if the media turns from the government's lap dog to a mad dog which bites at everything the government has.

However, I can hardly fault the media for taking up the role it took. The rules and regulations governing the media - the Newspaper and Printing Act - effectively gives the government the control of information. The media, in my opinion, can only take a small portion of the blame, if at all. After all, which media would like to see its readership fall? Which journalist would like to work under a heavily scrutinised and censored environment? Blaming the media is like shooting the hapless messenger. Of course, there are always those who are truly sincere in their flattering of the government, but we must caution ourselves against a hasty generalisation just as much as believing everything the media prints.

Of course, one could argue that the journalists ought to sacrifice themselves for their journalistic pride and freedom of expression. Yet, if these employees of the media can be kicked aside and replaced so easily, can we blame them for being concerned with their jobs and income? After all, if they are unwilling to write favourable or refrain from criticising the government, someone else would be willing to do the job, and the situation on the whole remains the same. Or, can we blame them for bowing down now, so that they can stay longer to push the boundaries of these regulations as far as they could go? Let's not forget that, these people are in the public, their faces known, unlikes the criticising mass of the netizens who are largely anonymous, and whose job is not directly affected by what he or she writes.

Instead of shifting the blame onto the media, I would instead focus my criticisms on these regulations that bind the muzzle of the watchdog. The media is not, as David Marshall once famously said, "poor prostitutes" of the government. If anything, the media is a forced prostitute of the government.

12 July 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the first movie I've watched in a cinema outside Singapore. A little on this: I went to the Dendy Cinemas at Canberra Centre on 110707, the first release date globally (and a day before Singapore). Yao rightly commented that this was probably the only moment you can see kiasuism in Australians; the queue outside the cinema was pretty intimidating when we arrived half an hour before screening time. This, however, can be understood as the cinema was free seating.

Back to the film, Phoenix is done quite well as a whole. In my opinion, it scores better than The Prisoner of Azkaban, which was too quirky and cliche to my taste, and The Goblet of Fire, which saw a very rushed pace and off-character acting. In terms of storyline, Phoenix did very well in building up the profile for Umbridge. It started off slick and smooth, and progressed at an excellent pace. But once it neared the end, things started getting too fast. I have read the book so I could at least follow what was going on, but Yao, who never, was quite lost at the end. It appears to me as if the director took his own time to develop the character of Umbridge and stew the plot into the appropriate mood, and then suddenly realised he was running out of time and flipped through the last few chapters. And suffering from the same flaw of GoF, the supposedly emotional and touching part was quite blundered. It just didn't fit into the flow, like a jarring rock breaking the surface of a smooth river. And there wasn't even the "mourning" part; it was as if Harry took a bowl of Forgetfulness Potion.

One of the major challenges that I thought would trip the filmmakers was building up Umbridge, but they amazed me: Dolores Umbridge was successfully ported to screen. Of course, there were some minor differences between the Umbridge from the book and the film, but the essence of her character was very well captured. Imelda Staunton, who plays Umbridge, brilliantly nailed the character's wickedness and provocativeness, sizzling with nastiness that would make one feel like stamping a boot into her face. Another excellent portrayal is Alan Rickman's of Severus Snape. Although he has quite limited screen time, he really did shine with what he was given. Undoubtedly, fans of Rickman and supporters of Snape will be thrilled. Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Bellatrix Lestrange was pretty good as well, but she could've gotten a larger slice of screen time. In fact, considering that the film is slightly more than two hours, the directors could've loosen up the pace of the ending which would, at the same time, give her more time on screen. Finally, whether it was because of irate fans or not, Michael Gambon's Albus Dumbledore was closer to the books now, and I think he did fine with that character.

For someone who has read the book, the story was adapted quite well; for someone who hasn't, he or she may be a bit lost at the end, but the movie is otherwise excellent. In fact, I would even say it is the best Potter movie so far.

27 May 2007

Movie Review: Spider-man 3

I have watched this super-hyped blockbuster about a fortnight ago, but has delayed a review until today because I needed time to think about the plausibility of the characters' attitudes and emotions. These twisting feelings, prima facie, appear realistic, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that it has been grossly exaggerated. But first, the other aspects of the movie.

The storyline sans the emotions has involved far too much of what a two- and a half-hour movie can handle. Many characters that play a rather important role had too little screen time, such as Eddie Brock a.k.a. Venom. (As a side note, some have commented that Venom was weak and defeated too easily, but I'm actually fine with that. In fact, I would rather have this than prolonged punching and throwing.) Flint Marko a.k.a. Sandman was another, having a powerful background story of a sick daughter needing money for medical treatment, yet has that part seemingly left hanging in the air (though I suppose future Spider-man movies will touch on this). The only part of the story I thought was nicely done was with Harry Osborn. In short, the storyline has too many branches and failed to develop most of them properly.

A consequence to this over-branching storyline (even if they were well developed) is its conclusion. Spider-man 3 suffers the same problem as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, i.e. too long an ending. (But you can hardly blame Peter Jackson: he inherited that problem.) I remember myself, while watching the end, wondering when the hell the movie was going to end.

Other aspects of the movie were good, such as the graphics and sound. The music didn't stand out, but it did its job in supporting the movie. The actions, in my opinion, were a bit excessive and at times I was bored with all those swinging and punching which never seem to end. The acting was okay... nothing outstanding, but nothing I am dissatisfied with. Tobey Maguire's portrayal of the emo Peter Parker was hardly convincing, but given the extreme contrast with the typical Peter Parker, I cannot really fault him. Then again, this could've been done on purpose.

So, back to the emotions, there are several parts to this: Spider-man's indulgence in his own fame and failure to comprehend the dynamics of his relationship with Mary Jane Watson; her reactions to his lack of understanding; and his actions and thoughts following the breakup.

Regarding the first, I think it failed terribly to convince me of its plausibility. Certainly, he can't possibly kiss Gwen Stacy without knowing that it will affect Mary Jane negatively. He would be too great a jerk not to realise this. But I think the other part - not fulfilling the role which Harry did instead - was quite possible, given Peter's responsibility and character.

As for her reactions to this, I think, with or without Harry's intervention, she would've acted the way she did. That is, her reaction is pretty much expected. So that's okay. But coming to Peter's emo state, I think it is again too far a swing. Sure, he would've felt angry, despaired and even vengeful, but for him to actually change his character totally, and seeking revenge in such a elaborate fashion is really going too far. But then, there's the symbiote to put the blame on.

So all in all, Spider-man 3 is pretty average as a movie, worth watching as part of a series, but on its own, it becomes those watch-it-if-you-have-no-other-movies-in-mind kind of movie for me.

06 May 2007

The Thing About the Brotherhood

The Intelligent Singaporean was one blog aggregator that was born shortly after the mrbrown incident and evolved with amazing speed into one of the local blogosphere's greatest assets. Created by inspir3d, its aggregation style is a one-man (or possibly one-team, since its operations are not well known to me) effort in collecting and publishing relevant blog entries. This is a remarkable task, considering that it is a daily effort and one has to use his intelligence and wisdom to sieve out good entries. More information about the Intelligent Singaporean can be obtained from this Singapore Angle interview.

Its style has varied over time before settling into the plain links we see today, and it remains largely an aggregator except for some occasional posts by a mysterious "Brotherhood". The Brotherhood posts appear rather frequently, approximately once every two or three days - almost as common as the "daily reads" that publishes the aggregated entries. Their articles are long by blog entry standards, and I find them quite difficult to read because of the obscure way the articles are written.

The way they operate doesn't really make things clearer. The Brotherhood consists of several online personae, and they are usually the ones to post the first comments on these Brotherhood posts. These comments, written in apparent coded messages, are sometimes incomprehensible to people outside of the Brotherhood, and it does add frustration to one who yearns for transparent and clear arguments.

Usually, I follow everything on the Intelligent Singaporean, but after reading the first few Brotherhood posts, I decided to skip them altogether. Apparently, I am not alone in not reading the Brotherhood posts: in the comments of this entry by Mr Wang Say So, he said that

"I really don't know much about who these "Brotherhood" people are, and the way they write, I don't think I will find out.

And somewhere further down, a person signing off as "Rob" said,

"Can we move on away from the Brotherhood stuff? There's a reason why I don't visit IS anymore."

That being said, I must emphasize that the aggregator part of the Intelligent Singaporean is still a very worthy read as it is before the Brotherhood appeared. And since inspir3d has allowed the Brotherhood to publish their articles there, I presume that their articles are generating a reasonable amount of readership, so perhaps their posts appeal to some other people. People like me can just skip the Brotherhood posts.

However, I do wonder if having the Brotherhood posts is the best arrangement. Their articles are essentially blog entries, and thus quite a different nature from the "daily reads". Wouldn't it be better to separate them into two different sections? For that matter, why doesn't the Brotherhood get a blog for themselves? Certainly, this will make the main aggregator site neater. Just imagine a newcomer to the blogosphere being introduced to the Intelligent Singaporean as the best aggregator for local sociopolitical issues in Singapore; it is quite likely that he/she will be confounded by the recommendation.

I have no say as to how the Intelligent Singaporean is run, and I certainly do not know the relationship between inspir3d and the Brotherhood (I suspect they are personal acquaintances). But I think the Intelligent Singaporean will serve its purpose better if the Brotherhood articles are not featured so prominently. At least, it should be given the same "status" as the normal aggregated posts.

16 April 2007

The People's OB Markers

Out of bounds marker, or commonly known as OB markers, is a term derived from golf, a game our ministers (in particular Lee Kuan Yew) are fond of, where it refers to markers that designate the limits of area in play. First employed by Goh Chok Tong, the term is used to demarcate the kinds of topics which should never be brought into critical discussion in the public domain due to its sensitive nature. Perhaps at the government's convenience, the exact boundaries of the OB markers are left blurred. Traditional OB markers include politics, race and religion, though these, being vicissitudes of our evolving society, may have already changed.

Two major cases of overstepping these OB markers are the Catherine Lim incident in 1994 and mrbrown's satirical article last year. There were no legal actions taken against them, but both were strongly reprimanded by the government. More serious cases are dealt with a heavy hand, such as the three seditious bloggers that stirred up racist remarks. Essentially, there is this invisible line that one will cross if the degree to which the issues were discussed were deemed too critical, to public.

All this while, OB markers have been used by the government to draw an imaginary line for the people, but this ministerial hike issue has shed some light onto another kind of OB markers, one that has existed since any people have assumed governing power in a democracy. They are the unspoken OB markers from the people, for the government. The people's OB markers.

There are some issues to which the government must avoid at all cost, such as corruption, to which a parallel can be drawn to the racist bloggers. And just like the government's OB markers, these people's OB markers are also blurred and shifting. Incidents like the NKF saga and the graduate mothers scheme hinted to the government at where these markers lay. Just as in the case of the government's OB markers, these episodes invited scorching criticisms or even worse, loss of votes.

In response to this ministerial hike, the blogosphere, in its instinctive anti-establishment eruption, has blasted the government in all directions. Even the pro-establishment, nation building press sees letters to the forums enunciating the writers' displeasure. Many politically-neutral bloggers like Kway Teow Man, NMP Siew Kum Hong and even mrbrown (who, by linking to insanepoly's colourful post, hints at his agreement with it) are in general not supportive of the hike.

This is another case of the OB markers being crossed. The limit has been overshot. The tolerance of the people broken. Sure, Singaporeans can take a lot of shit, as this TalkingCock article sadly but correctly comments, but I think this time they had enough. The people are saying, "this is too much." The OB markers have been breached.

When Catherine Lim went beyond the confines of acceptable discussion, Goh Chok Tong issued a powerful warning. When mrbrown exceeded the limit, K. Bhavani dished out heavy criticisms. Now, the government crossed the OB markers, and the people are raring to let them know. What the consequences will be, how far-reaching it will go, what repercussions there are, and how it will be played by the Opposition in the next general elections, remains very much to be seen.

14 April 2007

Quantum Photosynthesis

According to Physorg (arrived via Slashdot), our understanding of photosynthesis has been wrong all the while. According to a paper published days ago in the esteemed Nature journal, the photosynthesis process actually involves quantum coherence.

From the Physorg article,

"We have obtained the first direct evidence that remarkably long-lived wavelike electronic quantum coherence plays an important part in energy transfer processes during photosynthesis," said Graham Fleming, the principal investigator for the study. “This wavelike characteristic can explain the extreme efficiency of the energy transfer because it enables the system to simultaneously sample all the potential energy pathways and choose the most efficient one.”

They aren't the ones to first propose the idea, but they provided the first direct evidence of it.

Said [Greg] Engel, "[...] While the possibility that photosynthetic energy transfer might involve quantum oscillations was first suggested more than 70 years ago, the wavelike motion of excitation energy had never been observed until now."

As I understand it, it appears that there is coherence between the donor and acceptor molecules due to impinging photons, resulting in very rapid energy transfer. However, this is not my area; I believe this belongs to either the realm of biophysics or quantum chemistry. Nonetheless, from a physics perspective it is very interesting to see quantum mechanical processes manifesting all around us.

If this is indeed the case and the underlying theory can be worked out, it will be critical in our knowledge to build highly efficient solar cells. But this also means that the simple chemical interpretation of photosynthesis has to be thrown out of the window, as thus from secondary school or JC textbooks. Ah well, at least next time there's a need to cut the syllabus, it will be clear which one will go.

And as a last thought, if photosynthesis is a quantum mechanical process, then does that means that the leaf has both photosynthesized and not photosynthesized?

11 April 2007

Movie Review: Mr Bean's Holiday

I caught this movie last Wednesday, firstly, in hope that it can give me a good stress relief in this insanely stressed period and, secondly, because I think I deserve a little treat after a mad rush of deadlines and tests. The first Mr Bean movie totally blew me off: for a comedy it was first class. Three scenes in particular - the toilet incident, the simulator "enhancement" and Mr Bean's modification to the painting - stood out as those laugh-until-lao-sai kind of gags.

Unfortunately, this second movie is woefully lacking in those. If there's a funniest scene, it was when Mr Bean is trying to beg for money in the train station. But that hardly qualifies as hilarious when contrasted with the three mentioned scenes from the first movie. Looking back, this movie is perhaps geared for nostalgic purposes than for laughing: I remember more Beanish grunts and sniggering than quality Bean jokes.

The story is a simple plot but swung into a ridiculous curve. That is forgivable if it's funny; unfortunately it's only mildly so. Personally, I have the impression that this movie is based more on the cartoon series than the first movie or the TV series. And I have to say I find the cartoons a far cry from the TV series. This poor plot is probably because it was not written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, the writers of the series and the first movie.

Considering that, according to Rowan Atkinson, this is the last time he will be playing Mr Bean, it is quite a sad way to end the series. For a comedy this is not worth watching, but for that purpose of the series' end, it is. Rowan Atkinson is so much more talented than Mr Bean and it has given him international recognition for his comedic abilities; it's time to move on.

06 April 2007

Two Side Issues from the Minister Pay Hike

Sidestepping the debates on whether ministerial salaries are justified, I'd like to discuss two related issue instead. They are not so much as original ideas, but something that I had came across months back in some readings, and browsing through all the commentaries and opinions on the blogosphere reminds me them. They are the government's selection process for a minister and their strategy for unveiling unpopular policies.

How does Singapore select its ministers? This question is actually not as obscure as one might think. At this point, it is important to clarify, in case of confusion, that the selection of ministers is highly different from MPs. In [1], ministers are compared to as "generals", while MPs and party activists are "foot-soldiers".

Most bloggers are right to think that being academically talented scholars is a criterion, but it is not the sole yardstick for minister selection. Quoting from [2],

On the recommendation of Ministers, MPs, senior civil servants, corporate leaders, and party activists, prospective candidates are invited to "tea parties" in groups of six to eight to chat informally with one of three Ministers, who take turns in meeting over 100 potential candidates a year. Some of these are invited to a second tea session, and those found suitable meet personally, first with [then] Deputy Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong and then with the party whip. Those who clear the process to this point then appear before the selection committee of PAP Ministers, who probe extensively into a prospective candidate's character and motivation, and ability to be a "team player". After this, those still being considered are interviewed by Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew. If they agree to the selection, the candidate is then given a final interview by the party's CEC to ratify the selection.

This is just the identification of a potential candidate. After this, the minister will be sent out to the grassroots for political work. He or she may be fielded in a constituency for elections a couple of years later. That's not all. From the same source [2],

Those among the selected candidates who are viewed as having minsterial potential go through an additional stage. They are given one-and-a-half days of psychological testing involving over one thousand questions. The PAP has adapted the system developed by Shell for its prospective new executive. The tests focus on three qualities - power of analysis, imagination, and sense of reality.

Thus it can be seen that a minister is selected through a rigourous process. Whether this process works in the future, given the supposed problem of lack of political talents and shifts in the political landscape, remains much to be seen. In addition, this selection process is elitist and may risk creating a disconnect between the leaders and population, as some has claimed already happening [3].

However, I'd like to point out that in [2], I have no idea which articles was referenced with regards to this process because the bibliography was cut off (what I have is a photocopied compilations of the two chapters).

Also seen in this ministerial salary hike is Lee Hsien Loong's way of announcing policies that he knows will create a wave of dissatisfaction amongst the public. Taking from [1],

... the government policies, largely crafted by Lee [Hsien Loong], were implemented with close attention to minimizing opposition, using an incremental approach. The emphasis lay in cooperation between the government and the public to solve a puzzle; the "solution" was to be arrived at gradually by the government, as it were, taking people along with it, step by step. For example, proposals to reduce the employers' contributions to the CPF were not produced with a flourish, out of a hat. They were gradually unveiled as a hypothetical last-resort policy, which became increasingly perceived as inevitable. The initial step was for Lim Boon Heng, Minister without Portfolio and secretary-general of the NTUC, to introduce the issues involved at a seminar in Pasir Ris. Although the presentation had been carefully prepared, the reception was quite chilly. However, the idea had really been just to broach the topic. The real presentation was done through a large number of discussions in the party, at the grassroots, and with trade unionists. The policy was formally announced in November 1998. By this time, many had been convinced that the government's proposals made sense.

Following this, a few paragraphs down, the authors summarised their strategy well,

The lesson was that, if you have to change your policy, prepare the people early and explain why the change is necessary.

Eseentially, instead of dropping a huge and smelly fart at one go, they let the gas out slowly and as noiselessly as they can, so that the public anger can be spread out over time and thus thinned out. From past events like the quoted CPF cut to the recent GST increase, it can be seen that this strategy is widely employed and does work rather well.

Nonetheless, it will be rather interesting to observe how the Internet may affect this strategy. Previously, any grouse is spoken over the coffeshop table and diluted by the time of the next election, but with blogs increasingly pervasive in local politics (particularly the anti-establishment camp), these unhappiness are recorded in words (see [4]) and may resurface when the need arises.

[1] Diane K. Mauzy and R. S. Milne, Singapore Politics under the People's Action Party (London: Routledge, 2002), 'Chapter 9: The successors', pp. 123.
[2] Ibid, 'Chapter 4: The People's Action Party - the Structure and Operation of a Dominant Party', pp. 48 - 49.
[3] See, for example, Minsters salaries - lets have a re-focus by theonlinecitizen and Earth to YPAP: Is there life out there? by kitana
[4] See the comments of Beating the dead ministerial salary horse by Aaron Ng.

31 March 2007

A Case for Ministerial Salary Increase

The blogosphere has been blaring their discontent and frustration at the recent ministerial pay hike. And of course, any attempts to support the government's action, like this one on the Young PAP Blog, is like an ant being flushed down a toilet bowl. But these anti-pay hike bloggers could just be flogging a dead horse, couldn't they?

But I have been asking myself, is this pay hike justified, if we assume the Singapore Inc. line of thinking? This thinking goes along the idea that Singapore is run like a company, where its citizens are economic units. They are valuable as long as they can provide economic benefit to the country. Of course, with this comes a lack of true loyalty and belonging to the country. Not many will hesitate given a chance to leave Singapore and never come back. Not many will serve NS because "I must" but because "I have no choice". Not many will think of sacrificing for their homeland. Not many will feel deep attachment to this nation.

Now, like some impending storm approaching me, I see this dire situation as more and more of a reality, and if I assume so, then I ask myself if the pay hike is justified. For if people are not willing to sacrifice to be ministers, it is imperative for the government to attract talent with whatever means possible. Yes, there may be people who are willing to do it for low pay, but being a minister requires so much more than talent. It requires the excellent people, and if the country cannot get them to sacrifice themselves for it, then it has to hire them. A "why do they need so much money" kind of argument simply doesn't hold because the money is simply to "buy" them from the private sector.

So to me, it is logical to increase ministerial salaries so as to close the gap between their pays and their equivalents in the private sector, if we operate under the assumption that Singapore is being run like a company. Of course, a country should not be run like a company in the first place, and because I take this stand, therefore I disagree with the increase. But still, my opinions should not disrupt the logic of Singapore Inc. -> ministerial pay hike.

30 March 2007

Free Will (Part III½)

(This entry is some sort of a summarised version of my current thoughts on free will. The previous three entries can be accessed here: Free Will (Part I), Free Will (Part II), and Free Will (Part III). It is a comment to another blog entry, and it doesn't really add much new stuff, hence the III½ status.)

The following post is an edited comment to a blog entry in the PH1101E Reason and Persuasion blog. The original blog entry discusses a book review talking about the criticism of René Descartes' belief in dualism. Comments on the blog is part of the assessment for the module.

I am not going to comment on Damasio's criticism on Decartes, or Dennett's review on it, but my interest lies on its consequence - that is, the consequence of the inseparability of the mind and the body - more specifically, its effect on the arguments for free will, a subject which I have long been interested in.

One of the strongest arguments for the existence of free will is dualism, that the mind is separate from the body, and is not subjected to physical laws that our bodies experience. See, for example, anomalous monism. And the reason for free will hiding in dualism is due to the nature of science.

Our physical laws are either deterministic (such as Kepler's and Newton's Laws) or probabilistic (for example, quantum mechanics and theories of open systems) by nature. While we still do not know how our brain behaves, it is reasonable to assume that whatever laws that govern the physical processes in our brains has to be of this nature. In such a situation, how can we have free will then, if "choice" is either a victim of causality or total randomness? What is so special about our brains that admits free will? If the equations that govern the motion of our neurons is the same as those governing the electrons in my laptop, what is stopping my Windows from displaying a blue screen of death proclaiming "I think, therefore I crash"?

This is where dualism comes in a valiant attempt to rescue free will from the onslaught of science. If our choice-making mechanism is not subjected to physical laws, then perhaps we will then have free will, because our choices are not totally consequences of things we've done before or something so random that it is out of our control.

This dualism concept, however, does not sit well with me. On top of the "ghost in a box" problem described in the final paragraph of this post, I find that dualism explaining free will is just inventing something up to satisfy our need to have control of our choices. We can very well do away with it without sacrificing any knowledge of our world. This is an Occam's Razor approach to knowledge, but that is a philosophy I adopt.

I personally want to believe that I have free will, but I recognise that Nature does not care about what we like or not. She just is, and if dualism (and hence free will) does not exist, we do not have a choice.

16 March 2007

On Descartes' Scepticism

The following post is an edited comment to a blog entry in the PH1101E Reason and Persuasion blog. The original blog entry discusses a few general ideas about René Descartes' Meditations I. Comments on the blog is part of the assessment for the module.

I shall attempt to discuss the question

Is Decartes' skepticism interesting?

To me, his scepticism is certainly interesting. Considering the "what if I'm dreaming" part, it is indeed a question worthy of pursuit even if it may not ultimately fetch an answer. This "what if I'm dreaming" is just like the "brain in a vat" situation, or now also "the Matrix" situation. It satisfies man's desire to know more about himself and the world. Such scepticism challenges established notions and ideas most people have assumed to be true, and only by knowing that they may be flawed can we proceed on to find the "truth". (After all, if humans have never asked this "what if I'm dreaming" question, we would not have the movie "The Matrix"!)

Yet perhaps the level of scepticism Decartes is applying to his analysis may be too extreme. After all, not all knowledge can be attainable and not every question can be answered. For example, the simple question of "does God exist?" is probably one which cannot be proven concretely to be true or false. If one seeks to find answers in such a manner, throwing out an idea once there is something doubtful about it, then he or she may very well be heading towards nihilism.

A more important question to ask, then, would be "is Decartes' skepticism useful?"

To that, my answer would be a "yes". At least, for myself being a scientist (or scientist-in-training), the value of scepticism can never be underrated. Throughout scientific history, old ideas are being overthrown by new ones - I would go as far as to say that discoveries in science is about overthrowing old ideas - and if scientists never strongly and unceasingly doubted established ideas, these new discoveries would never surface. Physicist Richard Feynman puts it most clearly when he said,

"Doubt is clearly a value in the sciences. Whether it is in other fields is an open question and an uncertain matter. I expect in the next lectures to discuss that very point and to try to demonstrate that it is important to doubt and that doubt is not a fearful thing, but a thing of very great value."
- "The Meaning of It All", pg. 28

Yet it must be noted that if one bears complete scepticism, throwing out everything that has a bit of uncertainty, then he or she will end up throwing the whole of science out of the window. There has to be a measure of "acceptability" of an idea, and in science this is often described by "beyond reasonable doubt through experiments". So scepticism is only useful when applied moderately.

Feynman left the applicability of scepticism in other areas of knowledge unexplored (at least up till before this paragraph), but I think it is also quite clear that doubt is very useful in many other fields. For example, one needs to apply a fair amount of scepticism when reading a commentary or argument, and when analysing messages from politicians and biased opinions.

In conclusion, the ability to doubt is important, but there must be a limit to the amount of scepticism one has. Decartes' scepticism is certainly interesting and probably useful as long as he has a reasonable measure of when to stop doubting.

12 March 2007

NUS Open House 2007

This year's Open House booth for the Faculty of Science was at the LT27 Foyer, which in my opinion is a much better location than last year's S16 Foyer, which was so lacking in space that it looked like the inside of MRT trains during peak hours. However, probably because of the larger space, the place looked emptier, but I somehow had a feeling that there were less people this year.

In any case, Physics Department maximised the use of the space and scattered our tables and experiments over the place. Here are a few selected photos of the events.

The booth by the Physics Department. It shows the three main tables and part of the astrophysics equipment. Another table is not shown in the picture.

Talk by Prof Sow in LT28.

Discussion among the brains of the department. First from the left is my supervisor Dr Yeo Ye.

Telescopes, posters and images (on laptop) from the astrophysics arm of the department. For the new batch there is an additional specialisation in astrophysics.

Mirage bowl. It's a new one as compared to last year's, which was full of scratches, so the image of the pig as seen here is clearer.

Resonance bowl. You can see the 内功 of the demonstrator from the jumping and vaporisation of the water. Just kidding... the vapour is a result of me adding liquid nitrogen into the water.

Taking advantage of the space, we had the angular momentum spinning chair this year. The spinning rate can slowed down or quickened depending on the moment of inertia of the person (adjustable by holding out or tucking in the weights respectively).

This year's theme is sponsored by Lego. And large Lego pieces were given to each department to construct various models. This is a chair I've constructed. It goes to show why I should not be in architecture or civil engineering.

Of course, the department's trademark show, the superconductor, is down at the centre stage of the show, but since I've talked about it extensively last year, I shall spare everyone of the repetition.

However, I had two thoughts about this Open House. First was a comment posed to me by a mother. She commented that "physics must be very hard". My immediate response then was, "not really, but as long as someone puts in effort, he will be able to do it well." That was the truth, of course, but thinking about it, I could've responded in a much better way, namely, that there is no "easy" or "hard" courses; any course can be easy or hard. What's more important is the interest in the subject, which will probably determine what is easy or hard more than any other indicators.

This led me further to ponder about why many people have the perception that physics is hard. Does it have anything to do with how physicists appear to the general public (i.e. the public portrayal of the likes of Einstein, Bohr, Feynman etc.)? Or is there some fault in the local education system that causes people to dislike physics? After all, there is a drop in the proportion of Singaporeans in the physics cohort, replaced by enthusiastic and motivated students from China and Malaysia. I think this question deserves to be addressed in more detail.

Another thought about the Open House was a diagram in the Science brochure (which I cannot find right now). It's like a three-piece flow chart, showing Singapore's economy developing from a labour-based economy to a technical-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. An era was attached to each economy, with the first being from 1950 to 1970, the next from 1970 to 1990 and the last being 1990 and later. (All these are based on my memory and can be wrong. But I just need an approximation to illustrate my point.) This is fine, but then with each economy was also attached a "qualification". I can't remember what was placed for the first (probably something like unskilled labour). The third was a science degree. For the technical-based economy, the 1970 to 1990 era, a "Engineering degree" was attached. While I understand what the brochure is trying to say, I think it gives an unfair description of an Engineering degree.

Firstly, what the diagram is trying to say is that the economy is moving from depending on unskilled labour to specialised technical skills in the earlier years, and now from technical skills to analytical skills. While a degree in Engineering equips one with a specialised skill, it hardly means that it is stuck with a "technical-based" economy. I could be wrong, but I think the Faculty of Engineering would've taught its students on being flexible with their knowledge, so that they won't be tied down to a specific skill.

Well, so that's for NUS Open House 2007 for Science!

09 March 2007

Gmail the Organiser

Even as I plunge into my ISM on open quantums systems, I am keeping a lookout for the latest journal articles published on the Los Alamos National Laboratory pre-print archive, which is where almost all the final drafts of articles to be submitted to journals are uploaded. This is so as to keep track of the latest developments in that field and get an idea of the kinds of project I can do.

However, the archive, being a site for pre-print, sees a whole lot of articles everyday. Even in the sub-section for quantum physics alone, there is on average ten articles a day, out of which I can usually find one or two that is related to open quantum systems. Add that up over days and weeks and months, I think I will have a substantial collection of articles at my disposal. Of course, the problem then comes: how do I organise all these journal articles and, especially, how to know what each of them discusses about? The abstract should give one an idea of what the paper discusses, but if you have a hundred articles, reading through all the abstracts can be quite maddening.

That's when Gmail comes in handy because of its features. One, it uses labels, which means I can attach different keywords to each article, making a search on a particular idea easier. Two, it has an amazing amount of space, so no worries that I'll max out the space given. Three, it's not housed in my computer, so unless Googleplex collapses, I can be assured that I won't lose the articles. Four, Gmail will be accessible to anyone who needs to search for articles in open quantum systems, e.g. my supervisor.

Right now, the Gmail account is still empty... because I have yet to go through any of the articles I've collected in details yet. But I cannot foresee any troubles with this plan. Yet.

24 February 2007

A Zeroth World Singapore

Splashed over headlines of today's newspapers is a story about Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's speech at the Tanjong Pagar Chinese New Year dinner, envisioning Singapore in "the upper half of the First World" in "10 to 20 years". A very bold prediction, but how likely is it to happen?

The whole article highlights, building on MM Lee's speech, the economical and infrastructural developments Singapore has achieved to move towards this direction, which I must admit is pretty impressive. There's the Esplanade to drive the arts scene in Singapore, to the residences inside the city area to diversify the character of the CBD, there is little doubt that, in these aspects, Singapore can reach the standards of New York, London or Paris - cities MM Lee cited as Singapore's goals.

But I think the greatest barrier to this dream comes not in the economic aspect but in the social part. Becoming New York or Paris means embracing diversity and allow nonconformities, celebrate mavericks and encouraging differences. Are we ready to let go of our "conservativeness", the oft cited reason for the presence of anti-gay sex laws? Note that it does not mean that people should not be conservative; it means that society as a whole should have space for both people with conservative thoughts as well as people with liberal ideas.

Are we ready to not look down on people who chooses a different path in life? That is, not the typical "study study study and get a degree" path, but one which sees people dropping their studies for their dreams, such as - or in fact, especially - in the performing arts, where it has been traditionally viewed as a dead end.

Are we ready to recognise people who does not have a degree? Are we ready to commend not just "degree-less" people who are successful, but also anyone else who tries to be? Are we ready to see failures as just another facet of life, something that everyone should have no qualms about making?

Are we ready to not just tolerate but welcome other religions - not just state-sanctioned ones - and beliefs? Are we ready to accept gays, lesbians and bisexuals? Are we ready not to laugh or make jokes about effeminate men or tomboyish girls? Are we ready for people kissing (heterosexual and homosexual) in the public without others getting offended and write to the newspapers to complain?

The answer to these questions, I believe, parallels that of the acceptance of revolutionary ideas in science. Max Planck has a quote which describes this very well.

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - Max Planck

Is Singapore ready? I think not in 10 or 20 years' time.

03 February 2007

The Oily Business in Global Warming

Yesterday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published their fourth assessment report, concluding that global warming is indeed occurring, and is likely to be the result of human activities. That's what environmentalists have been arguing for years, but now with some scientific heavyweight behind them.

But does that mean global warming will be the focus of governments around the world? It's not gonna be easy, judging by where the money lies...

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday February 2, 2007
The Guardian

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

(Click here for the full article.)

From an academic viewpoint, this is blatantly wrong (though this is probably the norm in politics and business). It's not wrong because it opposes an academic body. It's not wrong because "global warming is a fact and their activities are harming the environment", which is what they are trying to dispute in the first place. It's not wrong because they only care about their profits.

What is wrong with it is the fact that they "select" the results. That's not how things should be done. Academic research is not carried out like that. Yes, one can start with the hypothesis or proposition that global warming is natural (i.e. not caused by human, or at least oil companies), but if it turns out to be otherwise, one has to just accept it. If one doesn't, it can be considered academic fraud. Imagine the pressure on the scientist to do so if he/she knew that $10000 is appended to the equation.

But then, what I've described above is the ideal scientific method, a code in which all scientist should adhere to. In real life, however...

That's the sad fact in life. And I believe it won't be long before we see some papers on what ExxonMobil wants. Well, at least Shell acknowledges global warming...

16 January 2007

The Science of Procrastination

So, a new year has just started not too long ago. Made your New Year Resolutions? If yes, then here's some scientific excuse for yourself not to follow them.

According to this article from ScienceDaily (which I arrived via Slashdot), it concluded that

  • Most people's New Year's resolutions are doomed to failure

  • Most self-help books have it completely wrong when they say perfectionism is at the root of procrastination, and

  • Procrastination can be explained by a single mathematical equation

Heh heh, this is quite interesting. As the professor explained, "Perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more." Well, does that mean that we should not aim for a too well-rounded resolution or goal when setting one?

Steel says motivational failures such as difficulty in sticking to diets and exercise regimes -- frequently the focus of New Year's resolutions -- are related to procrastination because impulsiveness is often at the root of the failure.

So a resolution or a goal should be one which is carefully thought out, not one that is made over dinner or during a conversation. I think the typical goal-setting plan should kick in here. To avoid procrastination in a plan, one has to set many mini-goals within a reasonable timeframe to motivate one to continuously achieve.

Interestingly, the article points out that

The good news is that willpower has an unusual capacity. "The old saying is true: 'Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you're probably right'," Steel says. "And as you get better at self control, your expectancy about whether you can resist goes up and thus improves your ability to resist."

But what if a person doesn't believe in the existence of free will? Then there is no willpower to talk about, and if one is meant to procrastinate, one has to procrastinate. More motivation to find out if free will exist then? Oh well...

Procrastinate now without worry, for you have the backing of science!

12 January 2007

Nuclear Power in Question

In the 80s and 90s, nuclear (fission) power was greatly shunned by the public, with many advocacy groups called a complete ban of it. This was partly due to the proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as several disastrous nuclear accidents.

In recent years, nuclear power is back in the limelight, not as the object of criticism but as a possible alternative to the growing energy crisis. Considering that it is clean (no carbon emission) and its fuel not running out any time soon, it looks more and more promising as an alternative candidate with the rising price of oil and environmental concern with coal (for example, a coal-burning power plant releases radioactive products into the air, exposing people to radiation several times more than a fission power plant). Other promising alternatives like solar and nuclear fusion are still not practical.

However, not all is smooth for nuclear power. The journal Nature carried a recent news article (obtained via Slashdot) that demonstrated past methods in disposing nuclear waste is not as safe as previously thought.

Quoting from the article,

A fast-moving alpha particle knocks into hundreds of atoms in its path, scattering them like skittles. Worse still, the radioactive atom from which the particle comes is sent hurtling in the other direction by the recoil. Even though its path is even shorter than that of an alpha particle, the atom is much heavier, and can knock thousands of atoms out of place in the ceramic.

All this disrupts the crystalline structure of the ceramic matrix, jumbling it up and turning it into a glass. That can make the material swell and become a less secure trap. Farnan says that some zircons that have been heavily damaged in this way by radiation have been found to dissolve hundreds of times faster than undamaged ones. So if the ceramic gets wet, there could be trouble.

There are, of course, other concerns, such as how one can lower the chances of nuclear accidents like the Three Mile Island accident. And then of course there's always the controversy linked to nuclear weapons. I cannot, however, comment from a technical point of view, since my course on Nuclear and Particle Physics has only started, but I guess that even after that, my knowledge is still too insufficient.

09 January 2007

Free Will (Part III)

(This entry is the third part of my train of thoughts about free will. The previous two entries can be accessed here: Free Will (Part I) and Free Will (Part II).)

This is an absurdly overdue entry. But there is a reason for the delay - the concept of free will has burrowed into the depths of obscure philosophy, and each logical step has to be taken carefully and examined thoroughly, and often ending up in a terrible blur. Since the last post, I've read numerous articles and had several discussions, and I think it's time to pull some meat slices out from the murky soup.

In summary, the previous two entries talked about how free will cannot be possible if our physical laws are deterministic (classical mechanics) or random (quantum mechanics). Since then I explored the various underlying assumptions of this view and how they can be made to be otherwise. One possibility Yao has highlighted to me was that there is a concept that is not subjected to physical laws, which is, for a lack of a better word, "reason", or the connection between cause and effect.

By this I mean something like, for example, the presence of a mass will result in a force - (Newtonian) gravitation. The presence is the cause and the force is the effect. The connection is the ability to see that the presence of mass causes the force. If I apply a force on an object, the object will accelerate. In this case, force is the cause and acceleration is the effect. To be able to understand that this cause "causes" the effect, is what I mean here by "reason".

But what does "reason" has to do with free will? Well, nothing that I know of! Yes, "reason", as far as I can see, has nothing to do with free will. But all Yao is trying to raise is the argument that there may exist certain mental process that are not subjected to physical laws, and it is there that free will can exist.

The trouble with this concept is that, perhaps, it's just inventing something up to satisfy our opinion. That is, there is no meaning in objectifying the bridge between cause and effect, because there is simply none! It's somewhat like saying, there's an apple in a basket and I put in one more apple. So 1 + 1 = 2, and now I have two apples in the basket. And free will hides in that equal sign.

But if we assume that everything is subjected to physical laws, then how can free will exist? One notion I've heard/read more than once is that although the basic laws, the first principles, the underlying equations... they're all deterministic (or random), when you add them up, you'll get something extra. So the equation becomes 1 apple + 1 apple = 2 apples + 1 free will. Putting it another way, if we can make computers as complex as the brain, then it will have free will.

But does it? Does a sufficiently complex mind have free will? Or does it have the illusion of free will?

The sad thing is, we may not even find out, because mathematically that is impossible, thanks to mathematical genius Kurt Gödel. Quoting from this article which touches on his theories on logic,

Another implication is there is no algorithm, or recipe for computation, to determine when or if any given computer program will finish some calculation. The only way to find out is to set it computing and see what happens. Any way to find out would be tantamount to doing the calculation itself.

According to this, it means that when a certain complex mind, build up by basic blocks of deterministic calculations, is presented with two options, whether its choice is fixed or based on free will, there is no simple formula, or a shortcut, to find out. The only way is to run through the algorithm of making the choice, which is the mind making the choice itself.

Zooming out, we see more and more experiements "infringing" on free will. From the same article, an experiment on making random actions showed that

brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.

Of course, this does not mean free will doesn't exist. As the article summarises,

the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing.

Which means we may not have control over the unconscious brain, there is still this glimmer of hope that we may have control over our conscious brain and hence our choices.

But that experiment was conducted decades ago. This more recent one has shown that, in an experiment involving fMRI,

the authors were able to successfully predict whether the study participants would decide to purchase each item.

Again, this doesn't mean that free will doesn't exist. What it has showed is that many other measureable factors play a part in decision-making. And these may even be undeterministic (i.e. free will).

But somehow, as science rumbles on, I'm beginning to feel that the arguments for free will wearing thin...

05 January 2007

Movie Review: Curse of the Golden Flower

It's not a movie I was dying to watch; it's not even one which I would consider watching. But since some friends have asked me to join in, I thought I might as well do so, since I haven't watched a movie some time, and I was pretty impressed by Zhang Yimou's Hero as well.

So how does Curse of the Golden Flower measure up? It's certainly not Heroic, but I do think it is better than Zhang's other film House of Flying Daggers. It has Zhang's trademark use of staggering visuals and colours in his scenes, but it also has (at least for his internationally successful movies) his trademark of a simple storyline spun into a confounding plot.

I'm not sure if that was deliberate... a choice of his... but I thought he could do better with a deeper or more meaningful story. This one is mainly about betrayal and assassination within the royal family, and once one strips off the confusing excesses, the plot is pretty straightforward. And this movie is a love story/soap opera, which isn't my genre of movies or stories.

As mentioned, Zhang's use of colours and breathtaking visuals are excellent, as usual, though this time most of the scenes take place indoors. The music, on the other hand, is rather crappy. There was consistent use of choir-like music (no words though, just singing of the tune) which seemed to be a blend of those Latin choir pieces that Hollywood likes so much nowadays and traditional Chinese orchestral music. I don't know what other people think, but I found it disappointing. In any case, I did not stay during the credits to listen to Jay Chou's song for the movie, so no comments on that.

Oh, if the music director did a bad job, the costume designer was even worse. Before watching the movie, I already heard complaints of scantily clad actresses in the movie (excluding those that are not supposed to look nice). And they certainly weren't exaggerating. Looking at the progression of Zhang's movies since Hero, I see a trend of females wearing less and less. I suppose in his next few movies we can expect ancient Chinese women prancing around in bikinis or nipple rings.

Lastly, the acting was disappointing. It had strong and experienced artistes: Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li, but I didn't see any brilliance in them. Okay, Gong Li wasn't that bad, but I was far from impressed by Chow Yun-Fat. For some reason, I doubt he is suitable for that role. As for Jay Chou, I think for a newcomer he's fine. Not unexpectedly, he's not very capable of showing expression (he somehow seemed to be stuck eternally in his boh chup (nonchalant) look), but if he puts in more effort in his future movies, he'll turn out to be a decent actor. After all, given his huge fan base, most movie producers would like to have him in.

Before I end, I must say that I currently may not be in the most lenient mood to judge movies. Having finished, from renting VCDs, certain critically acclaimed movies like The Constant Gardener and The Pianist, it'd be hard for movies to look good in my eyes. Curse of the Golden Flower is decent, but it could've been better.