Thursday, May 31, 2012

May God bless all soldiers.

A friend of mine emailed these photos to me and they have put me in a mildly depressive state.  Each of these photos has a powerful tale of woe to tell.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Asia's Top Universities.

The QS Asian Top University Rankings are now out.  NUS takes second place.

Here are the rankings of the top 8:

 Source:  QS Asian University Rankings

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Traffic Incident - car burst into flames?

At about 6:30pm, I saw a strange scene: firemen were dousing a small car in the middle of a road with water from a large hose connected to a fire engine and there were police officers around.  Here is where the incident happened (see the green arrow):

Map: Thanks to my iPhone GPS and courtesy of google plus's fantastic geo-location. The green arrow is where I took the first two pics from but for the last pic, I moved closer to Queen Street.

I can only surmise that the small car must have caught fire and the fire engine came just in time.  Fortuitous?  No, this is Singapore, remember?

No swearing please, we're Chinese

Mandarin is probably the only language on this planet that you can't swear in.  "F___ you!", an expletive that is now so common that no movie is released for public viewing if it's not heard at least a few times, cannot be translated into Mandarin effectively.  There is simply no words in the entire Chinese vocabulary that are equal to the task of translating foul language.  It's not that Chinese people are generally gentle and slow to anger.   It's just the peculiarity of the Mandarin dialect.  All the other Chinese dialects are not so ill-equipped in their arsenal of swear words.  From the Gobi desert to the South China Sea and from the Great Wall on its Northern border to the southern island of Hainan, there are hundreds of non-Mandarin Chinese dialects, all of which allow their speakers to express themselves more meaningfully than the Mandarin dialect which reeks of expired antiseptic handwash in hospital toilets.

Last night, I fell asleep on the sofa just after playing a few pieces on my clarinet.  My playing obviously sends not just my listeners to sleep but the player himself too.  When I woke up, it was way past midnight.  I felt in need of some exercise and I took my bike out for a spin.  Somewhere in the shopping district of Singapore, I saw this push button at a pedestrian crossing that gives us an interesting insight into this quadriplegic Mandarin dialect.

This is not just a sticker mischievously placed above the button by a passerby.  It's very much a part of the button, installed by none other than the LTA (Land Transport Authority) itself.  It is of course very much to its credit that the LTA has shown itself to have a sense of humour but for those not familiar with Chinese, let me explain what the sign means.

It simply says "MY GRANDFATHER ONE".  The sign bears the scars inflicted on it by some prude who must have thought the sign inappropriate.  But what does it mean?

I have already explained that the Mandarin dialect contains no foul language.  In Chinese literature, whenever a character is furious with another, he says to him "Ta ma de".  That's as far as the Mandarin dialect permits.  A word-for-word translation of it would be "His mother one".  There is no genitive case in all Chinese dialects and the "de" or "one" is necessary to indicate possession.  Literally, it means "His mother's".  Notice that even in the height of anger, a Mandarin speaker is unable to direct the abuse at the person who is the object of his anger.  Instead of "YOUR mother one", the highly euphemized abuse still has to be deflected to "HIS mother one".  It's surprising we still read of wars within the Three Kingdoms in ancient China despite its sanitized language.

So, our prude who tried to destroy this sign probably thought "MY GRANDFATHER ONE" is meant to allude to a certain part of her grandfather's anatomy just as Ta ma de refers to a certain part of "his" mother's anatomy, whoever the "he" may be.

But what Miss Prude totally missed is the real intention behind this sign.  It's common to say in Chinese of someone who struts down the road proudly that he thinks his grandfather owns the road.  The intended meaning of the sign is this - once the green man appears, I will cross the road as if it belongs to my grandfather.  There is no vulgarity intended and Miss Prude need not have troubled herself to destroy the sign and incidentally in Singapore, any act of destroying public property is deemed vandalism which is an extremely serious offence.

EDIT: 2:25pm, 29 May 2012

By attributing this work of genius to the LTA and praising them for their sense of humour, I have certainly given credit to the wrong party.  As it turns out, LTA is up in arms against someone who has been pasting the stickers all over Singapore.  While I think the person ought to be given due recognition for his sense of humour, the LTA has issued a warning that those who place stickers may be prosecuted.  Thanks to a friend who alerted me to my error and gave me the link below, I now know I should be wiser than to think government officials in Singapore are capable of showing their funnier side.  This is what the Straits Times says:


The view from my bike

Quite apart from the fact that cycling is environmentally friendly, you get to see a lot more when you don't drive.

Pics I took while on my bike:

Xiao Sa, the dog that ran 1700km.

Just read an interesting article about this wonder dog.

Here is the link to the BBC article:

Here are other interesting links on the same story:

The last link has a lot of photos of the dog.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why doesn't somebody correct me?

I am on good terms with many religious people, particularly those in the church.  I am friends with priests, monks, theologians, apologists, missionaries and all kinds of religious people.  Most of them knew me at one time to be a fervent and strong believer.  Most of them know too of the serious problems I have with my faith at the moment.  They are still very nice to me but not one of them has bothered to correct me.  If I am mistaken, why has nobody told me where I have gone wrong?  I have even taken it upon myself to be a bit of a nuisance on Facebook and in various gatherings by raising some of the problems I have with the faith openly but whenever I do that, they become strangely silent.  They would rather not talk about the faith with me.  Naturally, there can only be one reason - they haven't got a leg to stand on and they know I'm right and they're wrong but they want to just continue with the faith.  Might I hazard a guess that deep down, they too have the same problems that I have with their faith?

I was just going through an exchange I had with a theologian in my church on his Facebook wall in February last year.  Notice that some of them did try to "defend God" but notice too that they lapsed into a stony silence when they realized that I knew my Bible and you couldn't pull wool over my eyes.  Which leads me to wonder if religion is more suitable for young children and people whose eyes you can pull wool over.  For the sake of anonymity, I have deleted portions of all our names.  Surely if I am incorrect in my interpretation of the Bible, it's easy to point out my error?  After all, we all share the same Bible.  After years of seeing priests and other holy men running away from me with their tails between their legs, can I be faulted if I reach the conclusion that I am right and they know it?  What other explanation can there be?  When you've built your house on the sand, you will fear the storm of an argument.  So what do you do?  Be silent and hope the irritant will talk about something else.  Bear in mind always that I am only a lay parishioner, untrained in theology and the teachings of the Church and am most open to instruction and teaching.

These are screen captures.  They may appear uneven in size but I have arranged them so you can read through them easily.  It begins with a posting on the theologian's Facebook wall about "honour killing" common in some Muslim communities.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The ανωθεν problem

There are many biblical problems that have affected my faith adversely and naturally, I seek answers from faithful Christians who attempt to explain away these problems.  But I'm not so brainwashed that I would accept any flimsy explanation.  It's got to be reasonable and convincing. But biblical problems are so numerous that even if a few of them can be explained away, there are far too many remaining to tell us what a can of worms the Bible really is.  I'll ignore all the other problems of the Bible and just zoom in on what can be called the ανωθεν problem.

First, let me explain the problem briefly.

When we use the term "born-again" Christians, we are actually using the term supposedly coined by Christ in St John's Gospel.  It appears in Jn 3:3 in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus:

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Here is where Jesus uses a word play that can only work in Greek.  He is saying that unless a man is born from above (ανωθεν), he cannot see the kingdom of God.  But as is characteristic of Nicodemus throughout the passage, he seems to misunderstand everything Jesus says.  He chooses to look at the word "ανωθεν" as "again" which is possible in Greek although the context should have been obvious.  So, Christ, in answering him, has to be more precise and he specifies that a man has to be born "of the spirit".

You may ask what the problem is if it's Nicodemus who is being obtuse.  But you see, the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus was in Aramaic, not Greek.  There is no such double meaning in a word that can mean "from above" and "again" in Aramaic.  Scholars have known this for a long time but of course faithful Christian scholars don't tell the rest of us anything that can rock our faith.  It was Bart Ehrman, a born-again Christian Bible scholar who lost his faith after becoming an expert on the Bible who first publicized this fact to the world.

What Ehrman is saying is that this sacred verse of our Lord from where we got our term "born-again" could not have been said at all since he was speaking a different language.

Some Christian theologians have tried to counter Ehrman but so far, none of them has done so convincingly.  The usual way they go about it is to say that the Peshitta uses a word for that verse that is usually translated "again".  But that doesn't mean a thing.  No serious scholar believes that the Peshitta has the original Gospels or that the Greek Gospels were translated from the Peshitta.  The Peshitta displays obvious signs of a Western reading and one important feature of the Peshitta which no apologist will mention is that it tellingly leaves out 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation.  One important clergyman in my church has made it clear that he is of the view that Revelation is not rightly canonical and should be removed from the Bible but there are more books than Revelation that are not rightly canonical but that's a subject for a different blog entry.

All I want to say is that the presence in the Peshitta of a word in Jn 3:3 that can be translated "again" does not help us at all.  A pious Syriac Christian who translated the Gospels into the Peshitta will of course write "born again".  Neither does it help us even if that word in Aramaic has since acquired the  meaning of "from above" like its Greek counterpart.  We know the power of religion and the devout Syriac Christians will bend over backwards to accommodate what they believe to be the very word used by Christ.  Even today, "born again" has acquired a spiritual meaning in English.

Why then was there a word play on "ανωθεν"?  Obviously the writer of John's Gospel was a Hellenistic Christian who wrote the entire story in Greek.  He knew no Aramaic and employed all the puns and word-plays in Greek without a care in the world.  How was he to know that we will one day have scholars who will bother to point out that Jesus could not have said that because he spoke Aramaic and not Greek?  How was he to know that there would come a time when we would be bold enough to question his writing and expose its mistakes and inconsistencies to other believers?  For the first 1500 years anyone who tried to do that would have been burnt at the stake.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Twice a victim

I'm all for fun and pranks of all kinds but bullying and ragging are not fun pranks.  Bullying and ragging are the same except that ragging (I won't use the American word which is getting increasingly popular but is still relatively unknown where I live and I mean to keep it that way) is just an organised form of bullying.  A group because of its size and strength or hierarchical position asserts control and dominion over an individual or group by humiliating, debasing or even hurting them.  Ragging usually takes place in schools, colleges and organised groups such as the army.

Someone recently sent me a video of ragging in the Thai military (see screen shot above).  It seemed more like harmless play as the recruits did a circle dance and sang (very badly) Loi Krathong.  But what annoyed me in the video were the senior officers in the Thai military.  They were busy filming the recruits.  It then occurred to me that the video that was sent to me must have come originally from one such officer.

Why would any sane man film a group of recruits doing a silly dance? There can only be one reason - to humiliate them.  After the dance, the recruits were only allowed a few seconds to wash themselves and it was time to leave the bathroom.  It was obvious that their bath time had been used up by the officers who ordered them to do the silly dance.

It is true that the recruits appeared to be in good spirits and the ragging was more amusing than abusive and there was a group of them so it was all quite harmless.

Here's a pic which I screen-saved from a video, the source of which I'm not at liberty to reveal because it was taken in a military facility and for this reason, I won't even state which country the video was taken in.

The pic is of course self-explanatory and it really is a perfectly harmless activity even if it's childish.  The target ("victim" would not be the correct word here) reacted with a string of Hokkien obscenities.  There is no abuse of military rank here, unlike in the Thai army ragging.  The target is a friend, totally accepted by the rest of the group and after this incident, I have no doubt their friendship remained intact.  Bullying or ragging is hardly the word for such an activity. 

Ragging in its more serious form happened in Singapore a few years ago in the Singapore Civil Defence Force or SCDF.  Here's what Asia One says:



What I find shocking and totally unacceptable is SCDF's decision to punish all parties including the victim.  SCDF concludes that the victim was a willing participant in the episode.

Here's what SCDF says:


Anyone who has seen the full uncensored video is sure to come to the conclusion that the victim was not a willing party in the affair.  It's true that the victim waved at the camera at one point but you don't have to be an expert in human behavioural science to understand what must have gone on in his mind.  He wanted to be good-natured despite the humiliation and he didn't want to appear weak.  But he was no willing participant.  His hands and feet were bound and his bullies were nasty and malicious.  They zoomed in on his face and his genitals to maximize his shame.  And they posted it on the internet and it even went on international sites that host videos of serious crimes such as the beheading videos by Muslim extremists.  The victim was thoroughly humiliated and debased.  The others may have urged him to say he consented to the whole thing so as to get them off the hook and he may have done that because of his good nature.  But SCDF should have known better.  Of course SCDF was dreadfully wrong.  By the disciplinary action they meted out to the victim as well, they have made the poor chap twice a victim.