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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Not just a culture of good customer service, but a more humane one as well

There was a news recently about an employee at a KOI bubble tea shop who was dismissed after a customer’s video complaining about service at one of its branches went viral. I have been thinking about the topic of customer service, and reflecting upon the prevalent ethos of good customer service that is sought to be promoted in society. I wonder whether this strife for making the standard of our customer service ‘good’, is actually in a way dehumanizing of those who work in the customer service sector. I wouldn’t deny that there are merits to promoting a better customer service standard, but my apprehension is that such campaigns can be taken too far, and devalue the humanity of those working as customer service personnels.

For example, take an oft quoted line that ‘the customer is always right’. Is this rhetoric really appropriate? I don’t think it is. There are times when a customer can be unreasonable, or even abusive, and I think that there are times when such treatment should not be put up with, and the customer service personnel is in his right to refuse the customer or tell off the customer. There are times when I think that the management of a customer-service company should help protect the dignity of their staff, and not acquiesce to every bellicose customer’s complaint about the customer service officer. Not every criticisms have their merits, and it is important for someone in management position not to unfairly punish them based on unfair criticisms or accusations.

I for one know how easy it is for a superior to simply ‘take his subordinate to task’ simply because of a complaint from an unreasonable customer, in a bid to wanting to be seen to be doing something. I am not saying that there aren’t times when the subordinate is to be rightly disciplined or dismissed, but I think that it is far more common in certain service industries for superior or supervising personnel to take the easy route and scold or dismiss the subordinate working in the customer-service capacity.

I also wonder whether the prevalent conception of what good customer service is needs some re-examination. For example, is it actually a customer service virtue for a customer service officer to serve with a smile? If we stop to reflect about our common humanity, we would realize that the customer service officer is very much a human being like any of ourselves, with his respective woes and worries, and things to begrudge. It could be that the customer service officer had just a rough patch with an unreasonable customer beforehand, or is experiencing certain difficult issues and trials in his family, or in his life. Is it not something to be empathized about if we see a customer service personnel in glum disposition, rather than something to be critiqued about as bad attitude which should be righted with the fixture of an artificial grin despite a wrenching heartache that could be simmering beneath?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tort Law and the issue of suffering

One of the saddest areas of law that one can study is that of tort law. Torts deal with issues involving injuries caused by one party to another party in civil society. This can be intentional, in the case of battery, or unintentional, in the case of accidents due to negligence of one or more party. The role of the court in such cases is to make the liable tortfeasor compensate the injured party to such an extent as to restore him or her to his or her previous unharmed condition. The way in which the law seeks to achieve this, of course, is compensation in cash.

While compensation in cash does have its uses, such as allowing the injured party to obtain the necessary medical treatment to cure him of his injuries, or to receive the financial support due to the loss in earning capacity from him being injured, it also has its limitations. There are some forms of injuries that no amount of money would ever resolve. Money cannot bring a dead man back to life. And the victims of torts sometimes have to live their lives with the pain and suffering.

What strikes me from reading the tort cases, is the realization of my own susceptibility and vulnerability to forces of incapacitation. I have been reading on cases of torts in aviation law. A man could be sitting in a plane in a section that is close to a non-smoking section, and because of the pervading second-hand smoke into his non-smoking compartment, die from the inhalation. A woman could lose a hearing after what is the normal occasional depressurization of the passenger cabin during flight. Another man or woman could simply be taking a flight from one destination to another, and suffer from the effects of deep vein thrombosis leading to stroke and paralysis a few weeks after. And if you think about it, such individuals could be anybody. It could be you, it could be me. There is just no reason stemming from a deficit in care by the individual to avoid his or her contracting such a condition. And the repercussions are serious, leading to loss of life, or pain and suffering for the remainder of one’s life. Sometimes, the compensation is not adequate as well, or are unrecognized by the court for one reason or another. Such was the case of that woman who lost her hearing from that plane depressurization episode, because the court found that it was due to her own internal predisposition that resulted in her deafness. It’s life affecting, but there is just no compensation to be had.

I also wonder how to think about my Christian faith in light of all these knowledge that I come across in my reading of tort law. Should I say to myself that I should trust God more because there is only so much I can do to prevent such injuries to myself, and I should appeal to God to avert such injuries to myself? Or should I say that there is no point trusting God in ensuring my well-being since he has failed to protect the well-being of so many other individuals as well? Indeed, I have suffered injuries to my health, and I don’t think I was in anyway dismissive of God when it comes to wanting him to protect my well-being then. Yet, I have to contend with the fact that I am living with these injuries to my health.

I just think that the most prudent approach to take regarding such things in life is to take reasonable cautions when going about one’s life. It would be remiss to say that one should just trust God, and not worry about harm coming one’s way. Yet, one should also realize the susceptibility of oneself to such ills in life that may very well be caused to oneself through no fault of his or herself. I am not sure though what one can do about it. I pray to God, partly simply out of self-interest that I wish that God can control such circumstances to avoid such ills upon myself, but I am not truly sure whether God is doing anything or is effective at all. But then again, I can’t dismiss the possibility that God has been protecting me from various harms that I am just not aware of, even though he may not have prevented certain harms upon me. Yet, I can’t discount the fact that bad things do happen to good people, and God seems not to be doing anything to help. It is precisely because this is so that we have such societal measures as social security and insurance, and a legal system of tort to try to ameliorate the hardship of individuals. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Did Satan want Jesus to be crucified?

The pastor at my church was giving a sermon on the passage of Matthew 16:21-23 last Sunday. In that passage, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. His disciple, Peter, rebukes him by saying that such an outcome shall not happen to Jesus. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The message of the sermon was about how God’s plans may differ from the plans that we think God has. However, what caught my attention was the pastor’s claim based on the passage that Satan’s plan was always to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus and thereby avert the salvation of humanity that comes with the death of Jesus. This differs from what some other speakers I have heard say about Satan’s plan being always to kill Jesus.

One part of the bible that I think lends argument to that view that Satan wanted Jesus crucified is Luke 22:3, where Satan entered Judas Iscariot and made him confer with the chief priest on how he may betray Jesus.

One attempt at an explanation of this apparent incongruity that I have encountered is in this transcript of a sermon by John Piper who says that Satan saw his efforts to divert Jesus from the cross failing. Therefore he resolves that if he can’t stop it, he will at least make it as ugly and painful and as heartbreaking as possible. Not just death, but death by betrayal. I can’t say that I am too convinced by this explanation. It seems too petty a reason to me for why Satan would make this last-minute ditch at his attempt to avert Jesus’ death on the cross.

My impression of the matter has always been that Satan wanted Jesus killed, but was outwitted instead when Jesus’ crucifixion brought salvation and his subsequent resurrection instead of his eternal death. One view that I proffer is that Jesus was not really talking to Satan when he rebuked Peter. It was simply an allegory of how Peter’s plan is such an impediment to Jesus’ own plan to be crucified, that it is akin to something from the devil. I don’t think that Peter was necessarily being possessed by the devil when he said those words. Jesus’ words were only meant to be a stern rebuke to Peter. However, the real Satan does want Jesus dead, but just didn’t know that Jesus was making use of that plan to obtain salvation for humanity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Law of Evidence : Thoughts on rules of admissibility, and character evidence

The law on Evidence is really an interesting topic actually. There are all these concepts governing the procedural aspects of evidence in court, like whether it is admissible. The rule of thumb is that an evidence is relevant so long as it has probative value to the issues at hand, but may be excluded if the judge deems that the prejudicial effects of the evidence outweighs its probative force. So for example, a person’s bad character would not be admissible because it would prejudice the jury into assigning greater weight in their evaluation of the accused’s guilt than what might have been so should the evidence not have been admitted. But there are the catches. For example, prosecution is allowed to adduce evidence of an accused’s bad character if the defence raises arguments bolstering the defendant’s good character. The rationale is that the prosecution should be allowed to attack the accused’s character if it is part of the case of the defence that the accused’s good character makes it less likely that he committed the crime.
I have some thoughts about this. The first one is whether evidence in favour of the accused’s good character should be admitted in the court of law in the first place. Isn’t evidence of good character similarly prejudicial as evidence of bad character? So let’s say, a person accused of committing a crime has a record of being a good public citizen like participating in community works or things like that. How does this exactly help the defence case that the accused has not committed the crime in question? If it is going to be argued that it is less likely that someone of upright reputation or standing in his community has less likelihood of committing a crime, then why can’t it be similarly argued that someone of bad reputation has a greater likelihood of committing a crime.
Perhaps the rationale for allowing good character evidence in the first place is because it has indeed great probative force in the defence case that the accused did not commit the crime, whilst this does not apply so much to bad character evidence. No one is totally all bad or good. But if he is generally good, he will not do bad. While if there are some bad in a person, it does not mean that he is all bad throughout.
But if this is the case, then shouldn’t there be circumstances whereby a defendant should be allowed to adduce evidence of his good character, without entire records of his misdemeanor or mud-slinging allegations by any Tom, Dick, or Harry, to be casted upon him? As the law is, once the defendant decides to present evidence of his good character, the gloves are off, and either the prosecution or the co-accused can impugn the accused’s character.
There is a quality about how the law of evidence works which seems pretty ‘gamey’ to me, in the sense that how the case turns out depends on the strategies used by either side in presenting his or her case. I dislike the idea that law is simply a game between lawyers. But perhaps there is a way in which such intricate procedures are necessary in an adversarial legal system as Singapore’s, and ultimately beneficial to the objective of obtaining justice.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to School – Questions about the concept of the Bills of Exchange

It is back to school for me this semester, and it is the second week of the school term. I am taking Evidence, Aviation law, Banking Law, and Advanced torts. I find banking law the most confusing of all the subjects. In part, I am not that familiar with the rationale for the different method of business financing, and the legalese used to describe the various parties involved in a transaction can be confusing. There is this concept known as the Bill of Exchange which is purportedly used commonly in international business dealings. I believe that this video on youtube explains the concept well, although I am still a little hazy on the rationale for such a method for business financing. For one, I am not sure what is the advantage of such manner of financing over a simple bank loan. I might be missing something in my understanding of the Bill of Exchange, but my understanding of it is that the seller of goods allows the buyer to pay for the goods at a later date on condition of a promise written in a legal document known as a Bill of Exchange that the seller buyer would pay at a later date. The seller then takes his copy of the Bill of Exchange and trades it in with the bank for money. The bank collects the money from the buyer at a later date. I wonder though why the buyer doesn’t just loan from the bank to buy the goods and pay the bank back at a later date. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thoughts on the NLB book removal issue

I would like to write my thoughts about the NLB controversy that has been taking place recently in Singapore. The NLB is the National Library Board in Singapore, and it had drawn flaks from pro-LGBT and humanist circles for its removal of 3 children books featuring homosexual themes from its libraries. Just last weekend or so, pro-LGBT activists staged a protests outside the National Library by bringing the books removed and reading them there together with their children. Then there was the boycott movement by pro-LGBT writers to host their events under the premises of NLB. On the social conservative front, petitions numbering to about 26,000 or more were garnered to present support for the NLB decision. There has been many letters written in from both camps criticizing and supporting the NLB decision.

I suppose this NLB issue and controversy is simply a facet in a much larger cultural tussle that is happening within Singapore about the homosexuality issue. I just hope to be able to put some perspective on the issue by articulating the possible sentiments held by both sides, and proposing a way in which the issue can be dealt with in a more amicable manner.

Foremost, I think that the homosexuality issue is one that is not easily resolved, and is going to last for a long long time, perhaps even past the lifetime of people within this generation or the next few generations or so. Different people would have different sentiments of homosexuality and ideals on how it should be treated in society. A person with pro-LGBT sentiments probably sees homosexuality as an innate characteristic of a person, as much as is a person’s personality or preference. They thus view a person’s homosexual desires as something to be sympathetic about, and even condoned as a normal and acceptable aspect of human nature. A conservative on the other hand probably sees homosexuality as a deviant sexual orientation, as much as pedophilia or bestiality are considered deviant amongst the majority of society at this contemporary point of time. Even if a social conservative were to be sympathetic to the innate desires for same-sex relationships of a homosexual, such desires would still be considered as deviant and unacceptable for him or her.

I suppose the way in which conservatives and liberals view homosexuals is in part responsible for the vastly diverging approach in which they treat homosexuality. Conservatives view homosexuality as a reprobable lifestyle choice, as much as how they see people who would choose to lead a promiscuous or sexually licentious lifestyle. For conservatives, the ideal sexual relationship is a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Liberals probably see sexual relationships as something that is acceptable as long as it between any consenting individuals. And with regards to homosexual relationships, a liberal probably wishes to allow for such desires to be expressed without being disapproved as morally unacceptable. More moderate individuals will probably differ about their opinions on the matter depending on whether they identify more with the arguments sympathizing a person’s homosexual orientation, or those professing a monogamous heterosexual relationship as the ideal of a family structure.

With such vastly differing view on homosexuality, I believe that the best way that society can deal with it is to first of all acknowledge and respect the existence of the opposite view, instead of simply belittling the other view as unintellectual or bigoted. I believe those with liberal sentiments struggle with the need to be sympathetic to the plights of those with homosexual orientation. On the other hand, conservatives probably acknowledge such sympathies, but still feel strongly that there is an appropriate cultural norm to which society should preserve or aspire to. It is ultimately a difference of ideals of what society should be like.

I think that as far as possible, a society affirming some degree of libertarian values of allowing individuals to lead life the way they wish to as long as it does not harm other individuals is the best and most peaceful approach to which people of differing views and sentiments can live amicably with one another. Homosexuals should be allowed to conduct their personal relational lives without fear of prosecution by the state, while conservatives should be free to express their disapproval of homosexuality without fear of being censured for hate speech by the state. There are the iffy grey areas where disagreements are to be expected, but as far as possible, we should try to be as amicable and congenial in the way we approach our differences. The proselytizing of views from either camps should be kept out of public institutions, such as our schools or our media. The matter is controversial enough such that should either a liberal view normalizing homosexuality or a conservative view condemning it be advanced in such public institutions where people of different faiths exists, it is bound to offend or incur the ire of another individual. So why not let’s agree to keep our moral views to ourselves, and speak of them only in appropriate occasions where people are agreeable to discuss and debate the issue. As much as one does not like it if someone from another camp forces his or her views down upon him or her, he or she should likewise not force his or her view on another person.

My view for the NLB matter is thus that libraries should be keeping away books professing either moral positions from either camps away from the children bookshelves. As much as liberals would not want homosexaul-condemining children books like Alfie's home on the shelf, conservatives do not want homosexual-normalizing children books like And Tango makes Three. If there is anything that is really discomforting to people from either moral ideological camp, it is that their children are exposed to and being indoctrinated with views from the opposing camp without their knowledge or supervision. Perhaps books pertaining to such controversial issues may be included in the adults section where readers are of more discerning characters. But when it comes to children, let’s keep our public sphere neutral to the controversy by agreeing to not allow books aimed at a children audience and espousing a certain position on the moral issue away from the children bookshelf. I think that if liberals or conservatives can affirm on a value to preserve this middle ground in our public institution, and take their cultural war away from the public’s sphere, especially where children are the subjects caught in the crossfire, it would make for a slightly more comfortable co-existence between members of the two camps in society.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Obligation to tell the hard Christian truth?

Last Sunday at church, a fellow church mate of mine who is quite active in the leadership ministry of the youth service gave his maiden sermon. The message of his sermon was about how we need to tell the hard truth about God’s punishment for sin to the world, even though this message is displeasing to people out there. He brought up the passage featuring the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke the bitter prophecy about Israel’s future exile, and contrasted this with the more optimistic sounding albeit false prophecy by Hananiah in the passage of Jeremiah 28. The point of this biblical passage is that the good news is not necessary the truth.

I wonder how I should relate to the sermon message for that day. The speaker was saying that if you talk to people about how they are in sin, and that Jesus is the only way to be saved, they would scorn you for being judgemental and exclusive. He then went on to cite the verse about how it is only natural for Christians to be persecuted for their message.

For the most part, I don’t see it as my business to tell people who are living sinful life to repent and turn to God. If I have the opportunity, I prefer to tell them about my Christian faith, and introduce them to a friendly loving image of what it is about, and then let them accept the doctrines on sin and punishment by themselves once they start attending church. I do acknowledge that we live in a sinful world with sinful people, and that I am myself someone who struggle with sin. I think that Christianity has a good message to preach in telling people to avoid living a sinful life. But I think I will just come off as an overzealous religious nut if I tell people that they are sinful and need to repent right in their face. And I don’t exactly like invoking the doctrine of hell and punishment as a way for people to acknowledge their sins and repent of them. I think sin should be avoided for its own sake, more than just out of fear of punishment.

I also am not sure how to carry out this Christian obligation, if indeed it is a Christian obligation, in a socially appropriate manner. For example, if I am sitting with school peers who are non-Christian and they are talking things which are lewd at the lunch table. I don’t join in with such conversation if it gets too lewd, but I don’t want to appear self-righteous or overly-holy either by telling people that such conversation is not something I like or condone from my Christian convictions

Updates about my life

I am feeling much better and calmer these days compared to when I first started suffering my anxiety attacks along with the tension headache. I guess the medication does help, and I shall stick to it for the time being. That said, it really isn’t an easy question for me to answer on how I should go about dealing with my tension headache problem. It still exists, albeit in ameliorated form. I wonder if I am indeed well enough to go back to school this coming semester. Every once in a while, I get this tingling or prickling sensation within my head. I am hoping that this is sign of nerve functions coming back again in the head, and I think it is because my tension headache seems to be less now as compared to before.

I still wonder about the exact nature of my tension headache. Until now, I don’t really know what causes this strange pressure sensation within my head. It is like some nerves or muscles within the head are constipated or something. There is this hard sensation within my head, and it feels like it is exerting pressure within the regions of the brain. It used to feel much worse, such that the constricting feeling seems to permeate within the brain as well. Now the sensation feels more like a pressure sensation from the outer areas of the head exerting inwards, which is still uncomfortable, but much more tolerable.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Visit to Malaysia - Melecca, Tai Ping, Penang, and Ipoh

I just came back from another trip to Malaysia. This time, I travelled with my parents by car on our own to various destinations. We visited Melacca, Tai Ping, Penang, and Ipoh. I think I got to have myself time away from the computer, and from reading. Most of the time, I was in the car, and simply just relaxing my mind. I think the trip has helped alleviate my tension headache somewhat, although it still remains there. But this is the best I have felt so far since the tension headache started. I am hoping that it would completely go away before I resume school next semester in august.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Visit to Malaysia - Genting Highlands and Pulau Ketam

I just came back from a 3 days trip to Malaysia over the weekend, during which, my parents and I went with a tour group to Genting Highlands and Pulau Ketam. Despite having visited Malaysia quite a number of times, this was my first time to the two places. I like the food in Malaysia. It is definitely better and cheaper than what can be had in Singapore. There are many Chinese restaurants around Malaysia which you can visit for decent food at affordable pricing. It is more difficult to find good restaurants in the heartlands of Singapore, and they do come at a high price. I had plenty of seafood during my trip.

There is something about travelling in Malaysia that is quite stress-relieving. There are plenty of land, and the landscape is much less developed than what you have in Singapore, although I wish that Malaysia was a little more developed, somewhere along the standard of Japan or Taiwan where there are plenty of goods and services, and places of attraction. Malaysia certainly feels more spacious than Singapore. You can drive for miles seeing only forest and mountains on your peripherals. A Malaysian friend of mine who came to work in Singapore complains that Singapore is too congested for her liking, and that she intends to go live in Australia in the future. I am relatively comfortable with the way Singapore is, and don’t find myself being as stressed up about living in Singapore as my friend does. I like the area in Singapore where I live, which is relatively sub-urban in nature, and less populated than the more heavily resided areas. I just wish that there was better food around because I think that the food fares at the shopping malls or at the hawker centres can be pretty sub-standard. My complain is that food prices seem to be going up, while food quality seem to going down. I wish that there were more quality western and Japanese food stalls around, and at affordable pricing. I also wish that stalls serving Chinese mixed dishes served healthier and more palatable varieties. I usually find the Chinese stalls serving mixed dishes in Singapore too salty and oily for my liking.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Thoughts on the Christian comment - "Do not worry. Trust in God"

A oft-said remark by fellow Christians with regard to one’s sharing about problems in life is to trust God and not to worry. If there is any passage that is quoted, it would be Matthew 6:25-34.  Some Christians might even press on the point that it is a command by Jesus not to worry (eg: see this relevant magazine article). Just at church this morning, the pastor was giving a sermon in which he said that lack of trust in God is in part due to one’s sinful nature.

I have several thoughts about this Christian rhetoric. For one, I am not sure what it means to trust in God. Trust in God for what? For his providence? That things will be smooth-sailing? That ultimately, everything works towards good? But how does a Christian concile this trust in God for his goodness with the bad things that happens in the world, whether it is to people around them, or to themselves? Should he go away consoling himself that things could be worse? And if bad things can happen to one who trust in God, then what is the subject matter to which one should trust God in? Surely it can’t be then that one should trust in God to prevent bad things from happening to him or her, because there are fair well too many examples where such bad things indeed happen to good people.

I have settled with the answer that trust in God simply means trust in his will for ultimate goodness, no matter how ambiguous or enigmatic such notion of good may seem. However, does this mean that one should suspend his or her reasoning faculties, or capacity for evaluation when it comes to determining whether good or bad is indeed resulting in his or her life? I have always found it inconsistent that some Christians would say that one should suspend one’s evaluation of God’s goodness, but give thanks for perceived goods that they have received from God. How can you give thanks for something good if you are suspending your evaluation of whether it is good or not? A half-way house approach to this would be to not dismiss the use of such rational faculties in evaluating God, but to acknowledge that there are limits to how such faculties can be used to appraise God. After all, evaluations are subjective, and may be incorrect.

Secondly, what does trust in God entail? A fellow Christian I know would go so far as to suggest that making decisions or personal planning is contradictory to putting one’s trust in God. For him, as far as possible, one should rely on the promptings or direct revelation of God. A moderate like me would try to concile the function of personal planning and decision making as the responsible use of the intellectual faculties that we have been endowed with as human beings. But I have been countered before with the reply that if one makes his or her own decision, one has only oneself to blame if things go wrong for him or her. The mantra is that it is either God’s way, or your wrong way.

One problem I have with such an approach is that I don’t think most Christians actually receive instruction from God in managing their personal affairs. And even if God is speaking, it is usually very subtle, and might be difficult for the individual to discern correctly what is being said, or that it comes from him. I have learnt to keep this reservation of mine more discreet when talking to a “hyper-spiritual” Christian, because I know that saying out this reservation would only invite the sort of condescending perception that I must be some lower-spiritual Christian or even not a Christian at all, thereby not being able to discern God’s instructions.

I am not sure whether it is possible to still adhere by the instruction not to worry, yet deal with the pressure of problems and decision making. I am not sure how to circumvent this problem in trying not to worry as much as I do. There is always the lingering worry that I can be remiss or wrong in my decision making, and face more troubles. And I don’t think being told that I should trust God and not worry sound sensitive or understanding in any manner.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Visit to a Pentecostal church

I decided to church hop on Sunday and went to another church near where I stay. This church was a Pentecostal church that was built quite some years ago. I was asking another church hopping friend what church would be good to visit, and he had suggested churches along the same Lutheran denomination as the church that I usually attend. However, the other Lutheran churches were quite some distance from where I stay. I was wondering whether this Pentecostal church would be a pleasant Christian environment where I can find suitable young adult company.

I believe that I saw a number of people around my age group over there, but they mostly seem to be couples rather than social groups. And most of the people there were actually middle-aged couples with young children, or older generation folks. The sanctuary where the service was held was also quite dark as the lights were dimmed for service, so I couldn’t really see clearly the people in my surroundings. It was a large hall capable of seating about a couple hundred of people, although the occupancy for that Sunday was much less than full house. And after the service, I was hoping that there would some refreshment in the lobby where congregants can intermingle, but there was unfortunately none of that, and most of the congregant dispersed quickly by taking the shuttle bus that stopped nearby. I guess I am really not sure whether there is a young adult community there after all.

As for the service, well, you can pretty much guess how a Pentecostal service is like. If the service leaders are not shouting half the time, they are crying the other half of the time. Okay, this is an exaggeration, but you know how it that the people at Pentecostal churches are usually emotional people. I am pretty much staid in disposition, and would prefer a quieter, more peaceful sermon. But different strokes for different folks, I suppose. And I am still interested to interact with people in general, whatever faith, denomination, or religion they are from. I try my best to waylay the cynicism on my part, and to learn the positive things that I can from others. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cancellation of trip to Vietnam due to anti-Chinese riots; How should the South China Sea dispute be resolved?

The headline news on today’s front page of the Straits Times is about the ongoing anti-chinese riot in Vietnam, in which some Singapore factories were targeted by mistake by the protestors. I am actually scheduled for a flight to Vietnam next week, but I guess given the unpredictable situation in Vietnam at the moment, it is best to call off the trip. I had arranged with a friend on a holiday trip to Vietnam way back in February. I am not sure whether he would still be going though, but he still seemed keen to make the trip if situation does not get out of hand. For me, my parents are firmly against taking any such risks, in case the situation escalates any further.

I haven’t been to Vietnam before, and frankly speaking, I am not sure what to look forward in my expedition there. I was thinking it was going to be more or less like Thailand, a little less developed than Singapore, and a lot more chaotic. But I was thinking of going with an open mind, and hoped to enjoy the food and the culture. I do have Vietnamese friends who graciously introduced to me the various places that I should visit when I get to Vietnam, and they were quick to alert me on the ongoing situation that is in Vietnam and warn me of safety concerns. I wonder whether it would really have been a problem for me though. For one, even though I am officially recognized as Chinese for my ethnicity in my identity card, I look somewhat different racially. People have said that I look Malay, Indonesian, or even Indian. I was thinking that if I was caught in the midst of anti-Chinese protestors in Vietnam, all I have to do is pretend that I am a Filipinos or something. I can easily concoct up a Filipino-sounding English accent that I believe is not easily distinguishable by others save the Filipinos themselves. I once made a politically incorrect joke with a friend that if Singapore was ever invaded by Japan again, and they were conducting an ethnic massacre of Singaporean Chinese, I would dress up and pretend that I am a Malay. My more mature and geopolitically knowledgeable friend told me that a Japanese invasion of Singapore is very unlikely given the different inward nationalistic policies that they now hold. By the way, I don’t hold the Japanese today to the war atrocities committed by those in their countries’ past. Moreover, I love Japanese culture, and I think well of Japanese people.

What do I think of the tension in the region around the South China Sea by regional powers over the Spratly and Paracel islands? It is clear-cut example of why most wars break out amongst civilizations – Over resource. In this case, the interests at stake are the possibility of energy resources like oil and hydrocarbon hidden in the seabed around the South China Sea. I have attended classes for international maritime law before, and the module involved examining the issues surrounding the South China Sea dispute. As far as I know, there has been no discovery of any actual oil resource in the region. The law professor suggested that one solution to mediate the tension is to form a joint committee amongst the regional powers that would promise to regulate the sharing of resources discovered from the South China Sea. There were talks in the class about how disputes could be brought to an international court of justice for resolution. Of course, the strongest military power of the region, China, would be apprehensive of allowing an international court to settle its territorial dispute interests. And it would be a question at the international court how normative rights of countries over territories ought to be conceived. Should it be based on historical claims of ownership, in whatever form such ownership takes, like fishing rights in the region? Should it be decided upon a convention like the United Nation Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulating different rights based on varying proximity to individual countries’ land borders? I think these principles make sense to me, although they can conflict on how these respective land rights should be determined. The point is that any of such subscription to a common understanding of resolution of land dispute would be a more peaceful way of resolving them over war. But I guess that any such consensus would be difficult to develop, and military resort is ultimately the last but most straightforward resort.

I wonder whether there can be peace in the world if the people who are in leadership are simply just more reasonable. It would be good if each and every country own at least one or more resource which it can use to trade for another resource which it does not have. Otherwise, it would be good if resource were distributed in an equitable fashion to meet the needs and wants of individual countries. I just think that the world would be a better place if people learn to care not just about their own interest, but of the interests of others as well. The more difficult problem would be that involving scarce resources such as oil. Every country wants it, but there is only so much that can go around. I am sure I am not the first one to think of this, but I believe that the best way to resolve this issue is to find ways to make our economies less dependent on oil, and rely on other forms of energy sources. Not that this is the silver pill though. Alternative energy resources may be scarce themselves, or result in their own problems, such as pollution or risk of permanent damage to the land around it as in nuclear. Is there a point to be made for population control? Such policies are controversial as well. I wonder whether the world would be a more peaceful place if humanity were to find a cheap to produce and plentiful source for energy, like in air or water. Well, there are more reasons for people to fight wars other than just over resources, some probably for quite inane reasons like religion or race. But I think it would certainly help to resolve the issues pertaining to resource scarcity.

Monday, May 12, 2014

On skepticism

I believe that there is a certain virtue in skepticism. And as I mature in life, I begin to see that many propositions or assumptions that I hold can be questioned. Even those that I might have treated as inexorably fundamental truths are subject to different opinions or viewpoints. The study of law has also encourage this attitude of skepticism towards many things. The law student asks himself the question, should the law be the way as it is. Likewise, students of other disciplines probably also profess skepticism about the prevailing arts of their disciplines. I am not so sure about the student of science and math, but I think there are areas in their studies where so-called fundamental laws and axioms can be questioned. For example, in regards to the scientific law of gravity, different paradigms and calculation methodologies are used, whether this be Newtonian or Einsteinian, and I have heard a further quizzical line of inquiry extending from a scientific field known as String Theory.

Why, even the idea of skepticism is subject to skepticism itself, including the proposition that I have made in the beginning of my paragraph above – that there is a virtue in skepticism. Is skepticism necessarily a virtue? Must we discard all forms of assumption in trying to understand things? Some useful concepts that is employed in legal reasoning to come to a conclusion on issues pertaining to evidential burdens is that of standard of proof, presumptions, and rebuttability. That seeks to mitigate the utter fact-denigrating quality that is associated with absolute skepticism. The idea here is that even if we can’t prove something to an absolute certainty, can we say that there is some probative force to be inferred from the facts presented to support the case argued? Then there is the legal device of presumption that is usually coded statutorily to determine the prima facie weight that a court should accord to an evidence used to determine the issue at hand. This presumption is triggered should the conditions stipulated in the statute be fulfilled. For example, the Misuse of Drugs Act in Singapore  has a provision stipulating a presumption of intent of trafficking if a certain dosage of the named drug is found within the possession of a person. Is this presumptions definite? By no means, but it is rebuttable should contrary evidence be provided that vitiates against the proposition induced from the trigger of the presumption. So for the drug case, an intent to traffic drug can be vitiated by showing proof that there was reasonable belief on the part of the accused that the item in his possession was not a drug of the nature he is being accused of.

Back to my topic of skepticism, I would like to address the question, what kinds of skeptical questions may be asked regarding a proposition or a set of information? Let’s say, one reads on the news containing a certain reported event. Well, one straightforward question that I thought may be asked is whether the event really indeed took place. Was it true that there was a case of kidnapping in Nigeria where 300 girls were kidnapped by a militant group? We can question the specific facts of the case – Were there really 300 girls? And then, we can express skepticism at any statements in the news articles that can be rightly categorized as opinions or commentaries instead of reportage of facts. So in relation to the Nigerian kidnapping case mentioned, there was an article that I just read on why the militant group would kidnap those girls. The author writes that the militant group is afraid of the transformative force that educated girls would bring along with them to the social idealogy of the extremist groups. Whether this opinion be true is something that I think one should ask. Is this really the reason why the militant group kidnap those girls? Another article writes that these girls were kidnapped because they believed that they have the right to go to school. Is this again true? Parallel this argument given with the address made by former US president George W Bush following the 9/11 attacks that the reason the terrorists hate Americans was for their freedoms. The more plausible answer would be probably be that they were in opposed to some American foreign policy in the middle east, especially with respect to their attempts to exert control over the oil reserves of the nation. I think that skepticism is rightly to accorded to any attempts to provide a singular explanation for why one human, or a group of humans, do one thing or another. Human psychology is diverse, and different human beings can perform the same action with different reasons, or with a combination of reasons. When I was in my first class for a Tort law module, the professor asked why we chose to study law. Some replied that they believe that law is a noble profession in pursuit of justice and order in society. Others say that they want to have a hand to play in making sound policies for Singapore. And some others straightforwardly replied that they did so for the money. I used to think that the first answer was the only legitimate answer why anyone should study law, but I now figure that the various reasons provided by others in my class also made sense. We probably just differ in terms of the priority we accord to our respective reasons.

I have discovered another area open for a line of skeptical inquiry, and that is the language that is used to frame the proposition itself. For example, in relation to the mention of terrorist and extremist in my passage above, one may ask, what exactly is a terrorist or an extremist? There is a common saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. The notion of a terrorist probably doesn’t make much sense unless we identify some qualifying traits to be associated with it. Is a terrorist one who resorts to certain means that is violent in nature? Is a terrorist one who take up a cause that is antithetical to national interest? And I am moreover skeptical that any individual can be categorized by a single label. People often describe individuals according to the profession they hold, and associate characteristics on that person based on their idea of what people of that profession is. You can see an example of how such stereotyping is rife in casual interfaculty debates such as that between the law faculty and the medicine faculty in the law-med games on the motion “This House Believes That Doctors Make Better Spouses Than Lawyers”. It can get a little antagnostic in such debates, although I believe the intent of the debate is to stimulate some good casual witty fun. But I really find it incredible that anyone should frame a motion as such. I actually know of some girls who actually think in such fashion when it comes to picking a suitor. As if there is nothing more to an individual other than his or her profession. Guys are usually more simple. It is the looks that count. Not that this is in anyway more ideal as a way of picking suitors actually. Then again, maybe such gender stereotyping have to be put under skeptical scrutiny as well. Hmmmm…….

That’s that for me in my rumination on the topic of skepticism. Frankly though, a totally skeptical person can be somewhat irritating in conversation, and I think I irk a few people in my life due to my skeptical nature. It can be seen as a challenge to authority to those unfamiliar with it, or a sign of a lack of trust. I suppose there is a room for accepting statements at face-value without question for some forms of casual conversation. We can keep our skepticisms to ourselves sometimes in order to be more pleasant company.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Short metaphoric description about my tension headache

If I can use a metaphor to describe my tension headache at the moment, it is that it feels like frayed nerves entangling themselves within my head. Yup, that’s the best analogy I’ve got, and I think it is quite appropriate too.  I can imagine the internal structure of the head being like one mega biological computer linked up with bundles of nerves acting as the equivalent of wirings. What you have right now in my head, are these nerves fraying up in splices, and then entwining over themselves within the head. That is probably what causes the tension headache, as these entangled nerves pull one over another in various directions from movement of the facial muscle, causing pressure on surrounding elements within the structure of the head.

I wonder what would be the solution of the human body to resolving this ailment. If my imagination of the wiring analogy is appropriate, I think what the body needs to do is the form new wirings, and melt away the spoilt entangled mass of nerve endings. If only my body does realize that there is indeed a problem with itself that I am consciously aware of.

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