Sunday, April 27, 2014


I don't understand why people bother to correct their myopia through invasive surgical procedures. I have perfect vision and I can't just make do with a pair of glasses. The white pair is necessary when I need to look at the fine print. As the years go by, the category of what constitutes "fine print" becomes increasingly larger.

The black pair is important to cut out UV light and blue light which are harmful to our eyes. They are glasses manufactured specially for use when we're looking at the computer screen and that's probably more than half our waking hours.

If I had myopia, I'd only need a pair of glasses for seeing everything I need to see around me. It can be coated to shut out UV and blue lights. To read, all a myopic person needs to do is to take off the glasses and everything is well.

The irony is the myopic person needs only a pair of glasses while the person with perfect vision needs two. Think again if you want to see your eye surgeon for a LASIK surgery. There may come a time when you might just regret your action.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Empty Tomb - as seen by women

Today, the Easter sermon was about, not surprisingly, the Resurrection of Jesus. The empty tomb is seen nowadays as the trump card that apologists have when they want to argue for Jesus' resurrection. The usual argument goes like this - the Gospels tell us that women were the first to see the empty tomb. If the disciples had concealed the body of Jesus and cooked up the story of the empty tomb, surely they would have told the story of the male disciples discovering the tomb? After all, as we all know, the culture then was not to believe the stories of women. The fact that the Gospels tell us that women were the ones who saw the empty tomb makes the Gospel writers more believable. Had the Evangelists wanted to tell an untruth, they would have made the discoverers of the empty tomb men who would be more reliable.

But is that really true?

What if the Tradition of the Empty Tomb (although an important argument for apologists today) only started some decades after Christ's crucifixion?

Scholars tell us that the Synoptic Gospels were written after AD 70 or around that time. All scholars are agreed that the earliest documents in the New Testament are the Pauline epistles and the Gospels were written many years after St Paul's death. As we know, St Paul is a great apologist so let's see how he defends the faith. In all the instances when St Paul wants to argue for our Lord's Resurrection, he does not mention that the tomb was discovered to be empty. Surely that would have been the first thing anyone would have said if he wanted to show that the resurrection probably did happen. In 1 Corinthians 15 (1 Corinthians is one of the earliest epistles of Paul and hence, one of the earliest books of the New Testament), St Paul wants to prove that Jesus did resurrect from the dead. He mentions how the resurrected Jesus was seen by the Apostles and by other people. He did not say the tomb was discovered to be empty. Not in any of St Paul's epistles can we find any declaration that the tomb was discovered to be empty.

From this, some historians are of the view that the Tradition of the Empty Tomb had not been concocted in St Paul's time but decades after, perhaps just before the writing of the Gospels.

If that is true, a Gospel writer who wants to introduce a new element, ie the Empty Tomb, has got to be very careful. He may be met by a storm of protests among church goers who will want to know why it is that they had not heard of the Empty Tomb for some 40 years since Jesus' death.

Mark 16:8 tells us that the women who discovered the empty tomb were too frightened to tell anyone. So, that's why our early Christian church goer and reader of St Paul's epistles didn't get to hear of it.

We learn from Luke 24:10, 11 that the women did talk about having found the empty tomb but their words seemed like "idle tales" and they were not believed.  Again, naturally, it's not so surprising if our early Christian knew nothing about it before reading of this new piece of "fact" in the freshly written Gospels.

Contrary to what modern apologists say, it would be in the interest of the Gospel writers to make the discoverers of the empty tomb people who were not reliable or credible or who were too frightened to talk about what they purportedly saw.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hemingway is wrong!

I always pride myself on my ability to tell a lot about a person by just listening to him or reading what he writes and when I come across a person who assiduously avoids the relative pronoun "which", I know immediately that he has been paying too much heed to his grammar checker. It does not matter what word programming software you use; these days, they all come bundled with some programme that purports to spot spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.

I used to think only ninnies used a grammar checker in a word programming software and since ninnies did not number among my friends, nobody I knew used a grammar checker but then, as time went on, I began to meet more and more people who exhibited grammar-checker symptoms in their speech and writing. While I condemn the grammar checker as a programme fit only for dolts and it's designed to make a dolt even more doltish, I must say I find the spelling checker in a word programming software quite useful. A reading of my old hand-written diary entries shows me that I didn't know how to spell "cappuccino" until I started to type my diary on the computer.

But let us be clear about one thing - no machine can teach you grammar and there are no exceptions. I initially titled this article "Who but a blockhead would use a grammar checker?" but I changed the title so as not to sound offensive but honestly, who but a blockhead would use a grammar checker? I admit there are people who just cannot write a single sentence without making some grammatical mistake and if you have read some of my previous articles in this list, you will see that some of Singapore's English language experts are included in this group of linguistically challenged people. My advice to these people is simply to go ahead and write in another language. Nobody puts a gun to your head to force you to write in English.

Yesterday, there was an article on Netted about an app created by two men in their early 20s which they called Hemingway. It's an app that claims to "make your writing bold and clear". According to Netted, the app "makes language tight, clear, and free of unnecessary complexity and obfuscation (like adverbs, passive voice, and words like "obfuscation")." I find that puzzling. How can one consider adverbs and the passive voice an obfuscation? The English language is so much richer because of its adverbs and the passive voice. Writers who rail against the passive voice have been shown to use it quite often and to good effect in their works. But objection to the use of adverbs is ridiculous. An adverb embellishes the verb and gives further information to it the way an adjective does to a noun.

The New Yorker has an interesting article about Ernest Hemingway himself and about this silly app. What I find appalling about the app is it seems to take great pains to simplify a text to such an extent that it can be understood by a young child. But that is not, and it should not be, the motive of any good writer unless he is a writer of children's books. Simplicity may be necessary if you are talking to a young child or if you are addressing a village idiot but too much simplicity can only make a piece of writing inelegant and sometimes ludicrously so. No reader wants to feel like he's the village idiot you are addressing.

This app will probably find the works of all the greatest Nobel laureates for literature too obfuscatory and confusing.  Let's be realistic here. Ernest Hemingway is not the greatest English writer. He's only great because he's an American writer and there are so few good writers in America that when you come across a decent writer there, you toss the confetti and dance in jubilation. If Hemingway were born in India where all the greatest writers seem to come from these days, he'd be selling postcards outside the Taj Mahal.

I don't want to belittle Hemingway the novelist. I've read most of his novels although I must say I only read him because my literature teacher was a Hemingway fan and she'd set the unseen prose questions from an excerpt of a Hemingway novel. I confess I did enjoy reading Hemingway who of course ranks much higher than any other American novelists except Henry James who doesn't really count as an American. Hemingway's simplicity of style was a unique voice which exuded all the masculine machismo which the effete literati of the day severely lacked. The novelty went well with the general public.

But it's the height of folly to choose Hemingway as the role model for today's writing style. Of course this will appeal to anyone who doesn't think very much or who finds the coarse mutterings of a cave-dwelling savage attractive and elegant. It will appeal to those who already find the average commonplace sentence difficult to digest and who are unable to construct a single sentence that isn't riddled with grammatical errors.

And what about the grammatical errors of Hemingway the writer?  Just read that New Yorker article and you will see that the writer whom the app purports to emulate couldn't even write grammatically faultless sentences. And if you can't spot the errors, you really need to delete the Hemingway app and disable your grammar checker for a start.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Low Crime Has Its Consequences

Zoologists tell us that animals that live on islands that have no predators are usually unable to defend themselves when a predator is suddenly introduced. A mere rat that gets to the island from a vessel is enough to threaten extinction to an entire rare species.

The same applies to us humans. Singapore is a country with probably the world's lowest crime rate. Its laws are draconian, its government clean and incorruptible and its police force efficient and competent. I've seen how a thief made off with a camera bag of a Singaporean tourist in Spain. The bag contained not just his camera but all the precious photos he's taken. When I carry my backpack in front of me, friends ask me if I've got gold bars in it.

But it's not all that safe in Singapore. Recently, the Singapore Police Force has been waring the public of a rise in pickpocketing cases. There's now a growing trend of foreign pickpockets making a beeline for Singapore. They may stay here for a week or two and the loot they steal covers their trip and all expenses with a lot of money to spare. They usually steal wallets, mobile phones and cameras. Last year, a pickpocket from as far away as Brazil was convicted of theft in a Singapore court.

This morning, at breakfast, something happened that's best recounted with the help of photographs. Someone hurriedly left his table and I noticed something odd and took a quick pic.

Yes, he left his wallet literally standing on the table. I looked to see where the person had gone to and I saw that he was at a drinks stall quite a distance away from his table.

I didn't want to be meddlesome and he might very well be returning to his seat even though leaving one's wallet on the table is a rather unusual thing to do. I kept watch of his wallet from where I was seated just in case someone took it. I also kept an eye on him, for fear that he might just leave the stall and walk out of the food centre. Sure enough, he walked away from the drinks stall and was leaving the food centre when I shouted out to him.  He went back to his table and took his wallet after thanking me sheepishly.

Can such a person survive in Barcelona or Prague or Rome or any of the other major pickpocket cities of the world? I've been on the infamous Bus No. 64 and I took a lot of selfies and photos of my surroundings, much to the annoyance of the pickpockets who naturally didn't want to be photographed. I have photos of them looking shady and annoyed.

Singapore's phenomenally low crime is a testimony to the wisdom of its strict laws and the integrity of its enforcement officers. But every silver lining has its dark cloud and the average Singaporean is more likely to be a victim of petty theft when he is abroad.