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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