Friday, January 23, 2015

Monkey market manipulation

This is an allegorical story told by one of my aunt’s husband on how certain players manipulate the market. A certain unscrupulous businessman sets up a company with the objective of catching all the monkeys in the wild. The catching operation is successful to the point of removing up to 90% of the monkeys in the wild. The businessman then advertises to the public that he would be buying up any of the remaining monkeys in the wild for a handsome sum if anyone is willing to catch these monkeys and sell it to him. Soon, there are people from the public who pay heed to the advertisements and set out catching the remaining 10% of monkeys in the wild. They are successful too and sells the businessman the monkey for the generously offered sum. Now, there are no more monkeys in the wild, and the businessman sends out another advert offering to pay an even greater sum for any monkeys in the wild that the public can get hold of. Concurrently, the businessman sets up another anonymous company selling the monkeys that his first company had caught at a price lower than what he had offered to buy the monkey from the public for. Certain greedy traders in the public decide to seize the opportunity to buy the monkeys at the lower price offered by the company, and resell them to the businessman at the higher price. They were in for a rude shock to discover that the businessman was nowhere to be found after they had bought from the company all the monkeys. These greedy traders found themselves with all the monkeys on their hands, but with no one else willing to buy the monkeys from them.

The fact of the matter is that the unscrupulous businessman had duped the public into buying the worthless monkeys by generating a false demand for them in the market, and then enticing the public to buy stocks of monkeys from a company linked from him.

The allegorical tale about market manipulation involving monkeys could similarly involve other form of tradable assets within the market, such as shares or commodities. There are probably syndicates in the real world who pull off more complex versions of the scheme. I wonder how authorities regulate markets to stem such unscrupulous practices. There are law books out there on financial regulation which I can read if I have the time.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughts about the abortion issue

I recently read a blog post by Ionsg where he gave his remarks on a debate on the abortion issue that has been going on in the Straits Times. The debate is about whether the 24-week limit for abortion should be lowered. One of the writer, taking a hesitant view on the lowering of the limit writes that such lowering of the 24-week limit could cause hardship for the parents of the unborn child. He was met with the response of a conservative writer who writes that characterizing child rearing as undue hardship is unhelpful as raising children is an important responsibility in life and can be a source of joy instead of being an impediment to it. The former writer qualifies his viewpoint by saying that when he talks about undue hardship, he is referring particularly to women who are unwilling or unable to carry a baby to term, but are forced to.

It got me reflecting about the issue of abortion. In particular, I was thinking about the issue raised by the writers in the debate. Does lowering the 24-week limit for abortion cause undue hardship for parents of the unbornt child?

I suppose in addressing this question, I would need data on the profiles of those who this abortion issue actually affects. It would be those people who actually have to consider abortion as an option because of unwanted pregnancy. The immediate impression of the people that falls into this category that comes to my mind are the likes of teenagers or young adults who caught up in the heat of sexual passion, find themselves with the scenario of unwanted pregnancy thereafter. I wouldn’t discount though that there are relatively late-aged adults who also find themselves in this scenario of unwanted pregnancy, especially if the pregnancy was caused in a relationship out of wedlock, such as an affair.

I am just trying to think of the nature of this hardship that can be experienced by these people who find themselves in the scenario of unwanted pregnancy because I want to understand how such hardship can be so difficult such as to warrant a decision to choose abortion. I mean, I could try to imagine such a scenario for myself where I find myself with a case of unwanted pregnancy. Personally, in my opinion, if I got a girl pregnant by accident, I would think that it would be pretty awkward, but not too much of a hardship for me. Well, for one, I am a guy, so I wouldn’t have to bear so much of the stigma of the unwanted pregnancy. Another reason is that I think that I have fairly supportive parents, and even though I am not working and drawing an income, I could receive an allowance from my parents so that I can support my child. As such, I wouldn’t be pressured to stop my education and go out and work to earn an income. My parents tend to be socially conservative on the abortion issue as well, so I think they would be more in favor of me keeping the child rather than aborting it.

But I can imagine it differently for another person in different circumstances. Let’s say, if I were a teenage girl, and have parents who are disapproving of the unwanted pregnancy, and who perhaps even threaten to throw me out of the house if I don’t get an abortion. In addition to that, there would be the stigma attached if I were to walk around in school pregnant, and the possible ridicule and ostracizing that I would get from schoolmates. To top it all off, the guy who is the father of the child could renege all responsibility to support the child, and even disclaim parentage of the child. I would think that this nightmare scenario would qualify as the undue hardship for those in the situation of unwanted pregnancy.

Well, I guess someone from the conservative camp could argue that a lot of these hardship stem from societal stigma rather than means to support the child. I may agree with that, but I think societal stigma is as much a part of the picture which shouldn’t be discounted. Personally, I am hesitant on denying the choice for abortion for others because I think that there is the possibility of undue hardship, even though I wouldn’t choose that option for myself, and am discouraging of it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"My Grace is sufficient for you"

On Sunday last week, I had a chat with a few church mates over lunch after service. Our conversation came to a part where I was talking about the doubts I have about the existence of God these days because of my disappointments of God for not healing me completely of my headaches despite my prayers to him. I was lamenting to these church mates of mine how God seem to promise so many things in the bible, but seem to under-deliver in reality.

One of the church mates decided to share with me his experience with depression. He says that the epiphany that he had from God that keeps him staying strong in his faith is from the 2 Corinthians 12:9 verse where God says “my grace is sufficient for you”. He tells me that how he tries to overcome his own suffering is to focus on God and not his suffering.

I am appreciative of such testimonies and words of Christian encouragement from Christian friends. In part, I am glad that Christianity has provided a source of strength in their own hardship. Some of these illnesses like depression seems really dreadful, and I would be hesitant to trade tension headaches for depression if I could. I have actually reflected on the 2 Corinthian verse mentioned by this church mate of mine before, but have found myself asking more questions than finding answers. What does God mean by “my grace is sufficient for you”? It seems so unconcrete a thing to be capable of helping anyone. I mean, if I were to go up to a homeless person, or someone begging for money from me, and tell him “my grace is sufficient for you”, that is almost equivalent to a slap to his face in addition to a cold shoulder.

Perhaps God’s grace could have a more concrete connotation than what it appears on the surface. Perhaps God does take steps to ensure the well-being of a person even though he has a reason not to perform the desired request of a person. What I just feel is that grace alone is insufficient. It has to be accompanied with something substantial in order to be helpful. I am honestly not satisfied that God seems to take the “my grace is sufficient for you” approach most of the time. I guess this is where I am spiritually at the moment.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

On China by Henry Kissinger

I am reading On China by Henry Kissinger. The book on the history of modern day China from the perspective of former US secretary of state and National security advisor has been pretty fascinating. Reading On China adds depth to the knowledge on Chinese modern history that I had studied when I was in secondary school. I like for instance the exposition on the psychology of the Chinese leaders in their approach towards foreign policy, like how Mao borrowed the ancient Chinese stratagem of allowing barbarians to fight barbarians to in China’s rapprochement towards American in its bid to stem the tide of Soviet Union expansionism into its land.

The book also touched upon some highlights of early modern day Chinese history, such as its subjection to foreign imperialism during the Qing Dynasty. China lost the opium wars against the British, and was subsequently a target for unfair treaties by the military superior west and Japan. These historical background formed a certain psyche in China as being a century of humiliation, which the state of Taiwan being seen as the remnants of foreign imperialism upon Chinese civilization.

The book talks about Mao’s attempt to revolutionize Chinese culture away from its Confucian past, which is seen as the source of weakness of China in the past. In contrast to the doctrine of harmony and peace preached by the philosopher Confucius, Mao’s approach towards developing society was one of constant revolution and counter-revolution. These were exemplified in campaigns such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, some of which wrecked more carnage upon Chinese society than good.

Then there are the issues regarding China’s approach towards foreign policies. While a communist country, China sought to distinct itself, and perhaps even form its own identity as the genuine bearer of the communist ideology away from Soviet Union revisionism. Henry Kissinger writes that unlike many other communist states in eastern Europe whose leaders had come into power with assistance from Russia, China’s CCP party did not receive much assistance from Russia but came into power by defeating the Nationlist KuoMinTang party on its own. Thus it did not engender the same sort of allegiance that other communist countries had towards Russia. Its relationship with the Soviet Union was marked with a certain love-hate characteristics. The two were officially allies in the sense of their common idealogy. Yet, nationalistic interests such as border and territorial disputes soured relationship. For one, there was certain soreness at past unequal treaties that Czarist Russia had extracted from Qing dynasty China. It was at the height of Sino-Russian tension that Chinese leaders in the CCP began exploring playing the American Card by seeking rapprochement with America. This attitude was mirrored by America during the presidency of Nixon and his administration, of which Henry Kissinger was a part of.

I am not so sure what is the relationship amongst the various powers in today’s world. From an article that I had read, China seems to regard America as its principal enemy and ally, depending on the situation. A documentary that I had chanced upon the Chinese news channel CCTV had experts weighing in on the Ukraine Crisis in current times where western powers have applied sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Crimea. Russia has sought to counteract the economic impacts from these sanctions by developing stronger economic ties with China. What the expert opined that stuck out to me was how China would always wish to maintain good relationships with Russia so as to ensure its border security against Russia, as China shared a long border with Russia.

I suppose with strong and perhaps even antagonistic powers on all sides; Russia from the north, Japan in the east, India to the west, and American presence within the region, China is in a precarious position, and would seek to ensure good relationships with at least one or two powers in the region to ensure its safety.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Playing some computer games

I have been playing quite some computer games these days, especially after having bought my new laptop from the Singapore Sitex fair a few weeks ago. There are many games which I can now run on my new laptop which I previously couldn’t with my old one. I am indeed a computer gaming aficionado, this being so even during my childhood. Some of my favourite computer games are in the strategy genre, such as red alert 2, command and conquer generals, and Warcraft 3. Newer kinds of games in the similar genre which I love include StarCraft 2, Dota 2, X-Com : Enemy Within, and the Total war series. Recently, I bought a new game called door kickers, which features a group of swat police officers whom you are supposed to control to do various missions. It has an interesting edge to it in that you are able to pause the game, plan the moves, and execute them. You are allowed free pauses during the game during which you can plan new moves. It is game which concept I believe is long overdue, and brings with it a fresh air into the genre of strategy gaming.

Another game that I have been trying out Diplomacy. It is reputedly the favourite game of Henry Kissinger, and after playing the game for quite some while, I can see why this is so. Compared to the other strategy gaming genre, Diplomacy features a certain depth and intricacy to the way players on the board have to negotiate amongst themselves to achieve their objectives. In the midst of all the negotiation and scheming, there is the occasional backstab which players can pull on one another. It really exemplifies the concept of Realpolitik in the way international diplomacy is carried out. Compared to the more popular and widely known board game of Risk, I think Diplomacy is a more interesting and fun game to play, though it isn’t the kind of game that is conducive to playing with friends since backstabbing in the game can really cause unhappiness beyond the board!

I suppose for me, a good computer game can provide as much entertainment as a good movie or book. It can be pretty educational too, and provide a certain simulatory experience not replicable from the more passive receptive option of reading a book or watching a movie.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Reflection : Bruce Almighty

I watched the movie Bruce Almighty. Bruce Almighty stars Jim Carrey, who plays the protagonist, Bruce Nolan. Bruce, a television news field reporter, is given the power to play God for a period of time by God. The character God, played by Morgan Freeman, was tired of Bruce’s constant grumbling against him for the various misgivings that Bruce had about his job and his life. God challenged Bruce if he could make a better God than he does.

With his newfound powers, Bruce foremost sought revenge against various people who had wronged him or disparaged him in the past. This includes taking out a gang who had beaten him up, and embarrassing an arrogant colleague by making him speak gibberish as anchor on television news. He also flaunted his powers, using it to impress his girlfriend by pulling the moon nearer to the earth to set up a view, inadvertently causing a tidal flood in Japan from the altered lunar forces on the earth. When presented with prayers in the form of emails on his computer, Bruce simply replied 'yes' to all of the prayer messages. This resulted in many people winning the lottery, which diluted the winnings to such an extent that the payoff was a meager $17. These people were unhappy and went onto the street to riot. Bruce also made use of his powers to gain the prestige of having the most exclusive news coverage as field reporter. He was able to engineer events on the ground which he then covered and reaped the credit for. He subsequently earned a promotion to become news anchor on television.

However, Bruce’s girlfriend, Grace, felt more alienated by Bruce’s success, which also attracted him the attention of a female news colleague. Grace decided to leave Bruce after catching him being kissed by that female colleague when she arrived on scene at a party. Bruce realized that despite obtaining success in his own eyes, he had lost the thing that had mattered to him. He also realized that his actions had resulted in more harm than good when he saw the town being burnt by the lottery rioters. While feeling heartbroken while walking along the road, he exclaims his surrender to the will of God. He was momentarily taken up to heaven where he had a conversation with God. When Bruce’s consciousness returned to earth on the road where he had exclaimed to God, he was hit by a truck, and ended up in hospital where his girlfriend attended to him and they rekindled their relationship. Bruce returned to his job as a field reporter and to his normal daily life, this time finding a level of satisfaction of his role as field reporter covering the simple stuff, and an understanding and contentment of his life as it used to be despite things not turning out the way he wants them to.

What do I think of the film? I like it, although I wonder whether I can accept its moral of the story, and particularly about its depiction regarding the character of God. The moral of the story would reflect the common Christian saying that we should trust in God because our will might not be for the best of things, and God might have a better plan than what we think is right or good. As the movie suggests, it might probably more difficult to play God than one would realize. The movie depicts the role of God as having to deal with countless prayer requests. Some people may argue that God is supposed to be omniscient and not hindered in responding to prayer requests by the sheer amount of it. I would think that even if God were limited in having to respond to prayer requests one at a time, he should have invented a system of delegation for his angels or saints to handle them for him. I find it troublesome that the God in the show seem to prefer to take a hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with human problems, believing that it is better that humans find their own way to their own solutions. It seems hypocritical to me that the movie’s God would necessitate that Bruce handles prayer requests when he himself is quite laid-back about it. But perhaps I shouldn’t be nit-picky about the representation of what God is like in the film, but to get the gist of what the moral of the story is about. I do hope that the real God is more caring about people’s problems, and is doing something about them. There are problems in the world which I feel that no one else except God can resolve, and where his dire intervention is needed, especially when it comes to issues of evil and suffering.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Doubts about the function of the holy communion

I have been attending a Lutheran spirituality course at my church led by my pastor. The material used for the course is a book titled “The spirituality of the cross – The way of the first evangelicals (Revised Edition)” by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

The course so far emphasizes the viewpoint that grace and salvation comes from God, rather than it being the merit of good works by human individuals. Even the ability to have faith is deemed to be the work of God, as sinful human beings are unable to believe on their own accord. As such, no one should claim himself superior to his fellow human being, but should be humble and grateful for his belief and salvation.

The other point that is tied in is that of the sacraments. The sacraments seem to be a key feature in Lutheran spirituality on how God administrate his gifts and saving grace to believers. So rites like baptism of infants, and the partaking of the holy communion, are deemed to be essential practice for the salvation and forgiveness of sins.

I have some reservations though about this idea of sacraments, especially the part about the partaking of holy communion as being essential for the forgiveness of sins. For one, I don’t like the idea of the institutional church claiming for itself the key to forgiving people’s sins. I just have an aversion towards the idea that there needs to be another layer of ritual for the forgiveness of sins apart from the simple prayer for God to forgive one’s sins, and that the means of the latter is inferior to the former. The key bible passage for examination regarding the function of holy communion seems to be Matthew 26:27, where Jesus took the cup of wine, and told the disciples to drink from it, saying “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”

I suppose this saying by Jesus is open to interpretations. On the one hand, it could mean the partaking of the holy communion, which is representative of the blood of Jesus, is essential to receive the forgiveness of sins. On the other hand, Jesus could be referring to his crucifixion as the blood covenant that is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. The wine in the holy communion is simply symbolic and representative of the crucifixion, and Jesus intends it to be simply a reminder rather than having the function for forgiving sins.

I favour the latter interpretation. I just don’t see why it is that God would need the practice of another ritual to administer the forgiveness of sins. The death of Jesus on the cross seems adequate to me, and salvation stemming from this is freely administered upon petition via prayers.

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