Archive for April, 2006

election madness!

Here are some alternative sources of information on the ongoing elections. Always good to have a well-rounded perspective on things. Most links courtesy of Mr Cherian George







High Browse also has recommended literature for you here and here.

update: Can find a good roundup on Wikipedia too.



17 Down, 35 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

There really isn’t much about Freakonomics that hasn’t been said by anyone else. Pretty much a book about everything; finding the relationships between things as disparate as sumo wrestlers and schoolteachers, the KKK and real estate agents. Suffice to say, it was an excellent read, littered with ‘wow’ moments and great anecdotes. Not a bar or line graph in sight, thankfully. High Browse already featured it here.

I’m not going into a review proper since reviews of this book are probably all over the internet anyway, but I just wanted to point out something that really amused me. Near the end of the book is a chapter dealing with the importance of names, how a person with an obviously black name, say, DeShawn, might not do as well a white one, say, Jake, holding everything else equal. Not that the name is responsible for a person’s life outcome, but rather that its an indicator of the person’s background. Income and education are strongly correlated, and the choice of a name, quite accurately reflects someone’s level of education. And I think this is a phenomenon quite rampant here in Singapore as well.

Anyway, what interested tickled me most was the names chosen by lowly educated white parents, sound like our ah-lian names in Singapore. Here’s a quick sample:

Angel, Heaven, Misty, Destiny, Brenda, Tabatha, Bobbie, Brandy, Destinee, Cindy, Jazmine, Shyanne, Britany, Mercedes, TIffanie, Ashly, Tonya, Crystal, Brandie, Brandi.

Check out the many permutations of Jasmine in terms of the mother’s ascending years of education.

  1. Jazmine (11.94)
  2. Jazmyne (12.08)
  3. Jazzmin (12.14)
  4. Jazzmine (12.16)
  5. Jasmyne (12.18)
  6. Jasmina (12.50)
  7. Jasmyn (12.77)
  8. Jasmine (12.88)
  9. Jasmin (13.12)
  10. Jasmyn (13.23)

As you can see, the low education names are usually mis-spellings – intentional or not – of more standard names. This seems typical of (mostly Chinese) Singaporean names as well. Tell me you don’t know any kids with names like Elvyn, Febii (pronounced Phoebe) and Lawrenz or shit like that. And all the crazy made-up names from god knows where, Brayden (Zoe Tay’s kid), Adoncia (a friend professed this would be her child’s name), and so on.

One favourite Singaporean trick is the adding of a ‘son’ at the end of everything. For example, Johnson, Billson, Davidson and the like. It’s embarrassing, man. I’m just waiting for the day someone decides to one-up everyone else and name his kid Johnsonson. Mind you, I think it’ll happen. So anyway, my point, is don’t give your kid a crazy name. Not only does it make your kid look stupid, it kind of infers that you’re not that sharp yourself.

So please read Freakonomics, you might find some ideas offensive, but what a read!

(ISBN No: 006089637X) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

for good

This is a little late, but still good.

Music For Good (MFG) and Aging Youth Records (AYR) have collaborated on the For Good! CD compilation, amassing 14 homegrown acts under an umbrella to raise funds for MFG, a charity organisation dedicated to using music as a delivery channel to help its constituents. The proceeds from the album sales will be channelled to fund MFG’s youth outreach programs and its operation costs.

You can have a preview of the album at our MySpace page at All tracks contributed by the acts are previously unreleased, ranging from outtakes to remixes to tracks from upcoming albums.

For more details on Music For Good and how you can volunteer, log onto:

The compilation album is proudly sponsored by Bar None. And the official launch of the album will be held on Monday 8 May at Bar None (320 Orchard Road, Singapore Marriott Hotel Basement) with Documentary In Amber and Stoned Revivals showcasing their talents.

The track listing is as follows:

1. The Observatory – This Sad Song (Remixed by Rennie Gomes)
2. Camra – White Hearts Lane
3. Stoned Revivals – The New Way
4. Electrico – Hello
5. MUON – Against the Grain
6. B-Quartet – Catwalks
7. Lunarin – Absolution
8. Ugly In The Morning – Carousel
9. TypeWriter – Enemy
10. Elise – Massive Earth
11. Astreal – This was Wallflower. (Remixed by MUON)
12. Phorous – The Glowering
13. The Love Experiment – Orbit Around Me
14. Documentary In Amber – Turnstiles

So mai tu liao. Go buy, please.

On a side note, my memberssss The Love Experiment will be playing KL this Friday. Fucking hell, how cool is that. Read an interview they did with the New Straits Times here. Sia lah, you all.

16 Down, 36 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Bruce Sterling’s Zeitgeist is one of those pre-Y2K creatures, rife with imagined paranoia and snide indictments of post-modern pop culture. Our protagonist Leggy Starlitz manages the G7 girl band, an obvious analogue for the Spice Girls, where the stars are known only as the French One, the American One, and so on. Certainly more dignified than Scary Spice or Posh Spice, methinks. The fact that they’re (mostly) talentless doesn’t stop them from selling millions of G7 merchandise to the world’s prepubescent population.

The band however, are only a tiny bit of what Leggy is all about. Abound with Turkish aristocrats, Russian junkie philosophers and lesbian eco-hippies, Bruce Sterling jampacks our brains with information, obviously using the extremely verbose Leggy as his mouthpiece, troubleshooting with the best and worst of the criminal underworld and military black ops before veering off into the surreal when Leggy comes across his long-lost daughter, Zeta.

On hindsight, the whole Y2K paranoia seems laughable now, but Sterling manages a twist on it, marking the era not so much with a technological but a metaphysical bent. Sterling (as Leggy) maintains that the 20th century is run on rails by a master narrative, signified especially by an unprecedented creation of a sun, or rather, the atomic bomb. While Leggy is the epitome of 20th century human ambition and invention, it’s Zeta who will be his successor in the 21st, but in an entirely new narrative untethered by the now obsolete atomic age.

While Bruce Sterling is full of superlative ideas as usual, he does tend towards verbal diarrhoea. Zeitgeist really has no plot to speak of, just a series of theories strung along by Leggy on his traipsing around the hidden places of the world. However, a sense of datedness notwithstanding, Bruce Sterling is still a prophet of the highest order today, it’s interesting to see how he navigates meaning of Y2K in the novel, and relate that to his idea of the new world order today. Check out his non-fiction books, I generally find them to be better reading than his sometimes overblown attempts at fiction.

(ISBN No: 0553576410) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakanomics.

zero point one

I’m upgrading myself to Billy Tan version 0.1 as of last Thursday – still in beta, mind – cos I’m finally re-entering the workforce. Yeah, I got a job. Yay.

I’m going to be an English teacher with MOE.

Don’t congratulate me yet, please. I’m still trying to get my head around it. Plus I’m not exactly the type who grew up wanting to nurture young minds. Au contraire, mon ami, I always thought I’d be the type to corrupt young minds. Damn.

I know I’ve been going on about becoming a librarian ad nauseum, but it’s just not happening. I fought the good fight, but I don’t think I can afford to sit around another 2 months sending out applications with the situation at home as it is. Much as I think I’d like to be a librarian, I don’t think I’ll have the chance to find out anytime soon. Bit of synchronicity happening, just came across this guy.

So if I want to pay off my debts, support my family, and eventually afford a Masters, I’ll need a good, well-paying, stable job. And teaching fits the bill right now.

Yes, I’m selling out and taking the one job that will take me on the basis of my not-too-bad results and a single 10 minute interview. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but it’s no wonder why there’s a stigma attached to being a teacher nowadays. Its almost like any fool off the street can be responsible for your child’s education. Granted, a year of NIE and the 3 year bond will definitely weed out the pretenders, but the selection process can hardly be described as rigorous. The stigma remains, and I’m sure as hell feeling it now. The interviewer asked me if this was a stopgap measure, I told him there’s no way I can give him a totally honest answer. How would I know til I’m in the job, innit? In any case, I’m committed to it, and I know I’m up to it.

Happily enough, kids seem to like me, and I get along with them fine. At least, it’ll be a nice change from crazy ad agency execs and publicity-mad jewellery designers. No more soulless corporate videos or vacuous style-documentaries. I might actually have a chance to make a difference of some kind in someone’s life. How’s that for a meaningful career?

So it really comes down to this:

Will I enjoy the job, I dunno. Will I teach the hell out of those kids, hell yes.

Don’t worry, my England not bad.

15 Down, 37 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated is not your average Holocaust novel. In fact, you don’t really realise it is one until halfway through the novel. Our (Jewish) writer hero – coincidentally named Jonathan Safran Foer – is in Ukraine to search for the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather during WWII. Aided by his translator Alex (with his peculiarly archaic brand of English), Alex’s grandfather (also Alex) is their driver, even though he thinks he’s blind, and finally Sammy Davis Jr Jr, their seeing eye bitch.

It starts out funnily enough as a comic farce, with all the attendant travails of a fish-out-of-water tale. Especially hilarious is the conversation they have Jonathan tries to explain that he doesn’t eat meat. But as we get closer to finding the mysterious Augustine, Foer deftly weaves in a different register and tone, gradually injecting pathos and poignancy we end with an almost entirely different novel from what we started with.

A clever piece of metafiction, Foer tells the story in flashback, structured as a series of correspondences between Alex and Jonathan, after they’ve gone their separate ways. Jonathan sends Alex chapters from his novel-in-progress, inspired directly by his own Ukrainian ancestry and family history, while Alex sends his opinions as well as his own hilarious attempt at writing – in his case, about their road trip in search of Augustine. Even though Alex’s English never really improves, Foer manages to perfectly communicate his mounting grief and growing courage.

Shot through with black humour and a genuine sense of loss, Everything Is Illuminated won the Guardian First Book Award in 2002, and deservedly so. A movie adaptation directed by Liev Schreiber and starring Elijah Wood is on the way. Hope it stays true to the novel, cause this really was a fantastic read.

Everything Is Illuminated
(ISBN No: 0141008253) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Bruce Sterling’s Zeitgeist.

14 Down, 38 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Kim Stanley Robinson is most lauded for his landmark work, the Mars Trilogy, in which he documents the centuries-long terraforming and colonisation of Mars. Based on hard science and rich understanding of anthropology and social behaviour, Robinson created a true sci-fi epic, albeit grounded firmly in reality. It absolutely blew my mind when I read Robinson’s highly detailed descriptions of everything from thin atmospheric rocket science to evolutionary biotech to er, polygamy.

Before this, the closest thing I’d read in sci-fi that vaguely approached hard science was Isaac Asimov’s positronic robots, which with apologies to Sir Asimov, were complete and utter bullshit (although his geosynchronous orbit theories turned out to be prophetic update: Oops, geosynchronous orbits’d be Arthur C. Clarke, innit? My bad.) Of course, there’re the usual Willam Gibson and Philip K Dick, but Gibson never bothered explaining the science, and Dick… well, let’s not even go there.

In any case, Kim Stanley Robinson gave me the first rush of optimisim about science and it’s role in our future. Which ironically brings me back to Forty Signs of Rain, basically a novel-length negative warning on our impending apocalypse as a result of now-inescapable climate change. But this is no Day After Tomorrow, mind. Rather, it’s about capitalism and politics, and how the current paradigm we live in needs to shift in order to survive. Global warming is a reality, but there’re still people in power who still think the Earth is flat. The US is throwing away billions every day in Iraq, while mere pittances (relatively) are spent on minimising climate change. Scientific breakthroughs are hidden as trade secrets to secure patent rights instead of released for research and discourse. Our entire way of life is structured around economic wealth, but then as Robinson mentions in the book, ‘economics has no mechanism for dealing with catastrophe‘.

One of Robinson’s greatest talents is the ensemble cast, approaching a massive problem from different perspectives. So here, we have environmental lobbyists, scientific grant officials and lab scientists all chipping away at the big, ugly machine that is politics (and its big brother, Big Business). I’m glad he doesn’t resort to Hollywood histrionics and huge CGI disasters but instead focuses on things like pushing conservation bills, drowning sea-level island nations and the allocation of scientific grants. Instead of scaring people into merely reusing a plastic bag or two, he’s outlining realistic macro solutions to a macro problem. I mean, you really can’t get more macro than the end of the world, can you?

Again, I find it incredibly ironic that he made his name writing fiction about terraforming Mars and now he has to write not-so-fictitious fiction about terraforming Earth instead. Personally, I’m already biased, so he’s preaching to the converted, maybe you should pickup the book and decide for yourself. Don’t take too long, we don’t have a lot of time left.

Forty Signs of Rain
(ISBN No: 0553585800) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.

she bangs the drums

As some of you might or might not know, I stole my 52 books idea from Largehearted Boy. But his 52 books project is just one of many super interesting exercises, not least of which is Book Notes, where he gets authors to talk about the music they were listening to while writing their books.

Here's one for us indie kids – Author Alex Green writes about the Stone Roses' eponymous classic debut in The Stone Roses (33 1/3). Not a Roses song in sight, but an invigorating setlist of proto-Britpop standards and punk anthems. Go read it here.

I wonder if any local authors have playlists of their own?

Here's a sample:

People have been talking about London Calling for years and I hope they keep doing it, but for all the adorational chatter it elicits, no one ever mentions “The Card Cheat.” Not only is this my favorite track on the album, it’s my favorite Clash song of all time. It’s got this kind of desperate speed and throbbing urgency and the line “If he keeps on dying slowly/He won’t be alive for long,” makes the mater at hand sound positively crucial. It’s not a song about knowing you’re running out of time—we already know we are–it’s a song about knowing you’re running out of time and not doing anything about it. Every time I hear it, it reminds me that life has to have energy in order to be vital. Not that deep, I know, but to me it always sounds like it’s trying to make a point about me personally. And that’s when I turn off the TV special Great Moments In Danish Soccer, wash the dishes, put on a headband and go out searching for a revolution.