09 December 2008






15 November 2008

Dixit's ode to Krugman

[Dixit] once told young economists that a good place to have ideas was in front of the shaving mirror. Krugman has a beard. Imagine, quipped Dixit, how much he could have achieved if he shaved!

Yes, Dixit as in the Dixit-Stiglitz model. And »here's how beardy Krugman is.

09 November 2008

Purvis Street

Falling prey to wannabe restaurants and furniture stores. Camera-phone series #5.

06 November 2008

Gracious defeat

Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant.
Congrats, Missy X for being proven wrong. And kudos, McCain for the elegance of your words.

"Thank you for coming here on this beautiful Arizona evening. My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly."

"A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him. To congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love. In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving. This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."

"I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound."

"A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States."

"Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth. Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer him my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day. Though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise."

"Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face. I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited."

"Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again. We fought - we fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours."

"I am so deeply grateful to all of you for the great honor of your support and for all you have done for me. I wish the outcome had been different, my friends. The road was a difficult one from the outset, but your support and friendship never wavered. I cannot adequately express how deeply indebted I am to you."

"I'm especially grateful to my wife, Cindy, my children, my dear mother and all my family, and to the many old and dear friends who have stood by my side through the many ups and downs of this long campaign. I have always been a fortunate man, and never more so for the love and encouragement you have given me. You know, campaigns are often harder on a candidate's family than on the candidate, and that's been true in this campaign. All I can offer in compensation is my love and gratitude and the promise of more peaceful years ahead."

"I am also, of course, very thankful to Governor Sarah Palin, one of the best campaigners I have ever seen, and an impressive new voice in our party for reform and the principles that have always been our greatest strength... her husband Todd and their five beautiful children... for their tireless dedication to our cause, and the courage and grace they showed in the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign. We can all look forward with great interest to her future service to Alaska, the Republican Party and our country."

"To all my campaign comrades, from Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter, to every last volunteer who fought so hard and valiantly, month after month, in what at times seemed to be the most challenged campaign in modern times, thank you so much. A lost election will never mean more to me than the privilege of your faith and friendship."

"I don't know what more we could have done to try to win this election. I'll leave that to others to determine. Every candidate makes mistakes, and I'm sure I made my share of them. But I won't spend a moment of the future regretting what might have been."

"This campaign was and will remain the great honor of my life, and my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude for the experience and to the American people for giving me a fair hearing before deciding that Senator Obama and my old friend Senator Joe Biden should have the honor of leading us for the next four years."

"I would not be an American worthy of the name should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century. Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone, and I thank the people of Arizona for it."

"Tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama - I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here."

"Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history. Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you all very much."

05 November 2008

Election Night

The first lesson I learnt while campaigning is also the saddest: that racism is well and alive in this country.
- Missy X in Ohio, Obama campaigner on TV

Afternote: After the defeat of Gore and the incredible re-election of Bush, I had become quite distrusting of the American electorate. I am glad my worries were unfounded this time.

23 October 2008





12 October 2008

Mikaela turns one

[Embedded slideshow - go to original post to view if you don't see anything.]

11 October 2008

Only Mars astronauts and the rich need apply

Architecturally speaking, Abu Dhabi is fantastic. I say this after a mere 30-hour stay, and significantly, without having had the chance to step into the magnificent Sheik Zayed Mosque.

But I cannot live here. This is a land of only-the-rich-need-apply and they are unapologetic about it.

Other than being unable to find a decent hotel under 100 euros for Mr A who was coming from Dubai for a night, the nail that drove it into the coffin for me was the taxi.

The problem is this: taxi-drivers do not stop for you if they are not happy, and that is 95% of the time if you are not a local or a white foreigner. By the way, the taxi is practically the only form of public transport since there are about four bus services that run.

When I texted Mr A yesterday that I was sorry I was late and that I was trying to get a taxi to meet him at the hotel lobby, he texted back the following advice, sic:
Often the only way for UAE taxi is: take a private hotel taxi; promise driver big tip; jump into a busy taxi let the first person be dropped and continue; scream loud "airport!!!" so they stop.
One was not possible as I was outside our embassy and could see no hotel around; two and three I considered acrobatic acts since I did not know how, especially with a laptop and in a skirt suit, to get a taxi driving at 50 km/h to slow down sufficiently so that I can promise or jump in; four, aka random shouting on the streets, was something entirely out of my character and I had no ink marker with which I could have executed a written and more demure alternative.

The combined result of them all was that after 40 minutes of frantic waving, cursing under my breath and heating up under the bloody suit jacket, I hung my head in defeat and walked back to the embassy to beg for a ride back to the hotel.

Which happens to be a luxury that thousands of Pakistani and Iranian labourers, and Mr A who is Spanish and apparently looks like an Iranian, do not have. So whenever they need to go anywhere, they:
(1) walk, in 45 degrees heat if applicable;
(2) pay through the nose for a private taxi - e.g. 40 euros roundtrip for each of Mr A's tango class; or
(3) take turns to wave frantically while the rest sit on the curb and hope inshallah.

Mr A thinks he is now mentally strong enough to apply to NASA to be a Mars astronaut. I believe him!

04 October 2008

Hiroshima Mon Amour

In a few years, when I have forgotten you,
and other adventures like this one will happen to me from sheer force of habit,
I'll remember you as the symbol of love's forgetfulness.
I'll think of this story as of the horror of forgetting.

Je ne t'oublie pas.

19 September 2008

Tonight at Noon by Adrian Henri

»Stumbled upon when searching for Damien Hirst's butterflies.
Tonight at noon
Supermarkets will advertise threepence extra on everything
Tonight at noon
Children from happy families will be sent to live in a home
Elephants will tell each other human jokes
America will declare peace on Russia
World War I generals will sell poppies on the street on November 11th
The first daffodils of autumn will appear
When the leaves fall upwards to the trees

Tonight at noon
Pigeons will hunt cats through city backyards
Hitler will tell us to fight on the beaches and on the landing fields
A tunnel full of water will be built under Liverpool
Pigs will be sighted flying in formation over Woolton
And Nelson will not only get his eye back but his arm as well
White Americans will demonstrate for equal rights
In front of the Black house
And the monster has just created Dr. Frankenstein

Girls in bikinis are moonbathing
Folksongs are being sung by real folk
Art galleries are closed to people over 21
Poets get their poems in the Top 20
There're jobs for everybody and nobody wants them
In back alleys everywhere teenage lovers are kissing in broad daylight
In forgotten graveyards everywhere the dead will quietly bury the living
You will tell me you love me
Tonight at noon.


But (and?) such a beauty.

16 September 2008


I am fascinated by her hands.

And she is fascinated by my camera, which can immediately playback her hands.

Oh, and that charming rosary.

10 September 2008

Recalling crepuscular Venice

In some prologue, I remembering writing the phrase "crystal and crepuscular Venice". Twilight and Venice are for me practically synonymous words. Twilight for us has lost its light and is fearful of nighfall, while the twilight of of Venice is delicate and eternal, without a before or an after.

-Jorge Louis Borges, "Atlas"

02 September 2008

The riddles are three, life is one

In the dark night flies a many-hued phantom.
It soars and spreads its wings
above the gloomy human crowd.
The whole world calls to it,
the whole world implores it.
At dawn the phantom vanishes
to be reborn in every heart.
And every night it is born anew
and every day it dies!

24 August 2008

Rainy Kim Yam Road

Kim Yam Rd

Camera-phone series #3: en route to say hello to grandmas, grandpas and uncle before the seventh month ends.

It has been raining non-stop for two days.

Happy families are all alike and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

A scribbled thought from Brunei some weeks ago -

If happiness is already so elusive for one person, why do we express surprise when families are not happy?

If indeed happy families are all alike and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, then there is only way that a family can be happy: it simply means that they have found their coinciding pocket of happiness, and it is very large for them. And for the unhappy families? They roam around the vastnesss of their individual happiness, guilty at not being able to find their miniscule, collective pocket.

* * *

This is not suggest that we should give up looking for the pocket; on the contrary, this is one of those things where »the answer lies in the attempt. Like allegiance to a country, allegiance to a family has little to do with love, utility and happiness. We owe allegiance by virtue of the fact that this family has done its best (even when its best is not good enough) to make me into a relatively productive person, not wielding a knife in the streets, not screwing my siblings, children or father. Meaning: in a world where so many things go crazy, where no one owes you a living, it is a miracle that a couple of strangers who happen to go by the names of 'mum', 'dad', 'bro', 'cousin' bother to put in effort for someone who got plonked into their midst by a random choice of fate.

And for that, we owe this motley crew of people some allegiance.

* * *

There is not a cloud in the sky. It is blindingly bright.

The sea is infinitely wide.

I need a swim to clear my head.

18 August 2008

Only child

Daddy daddy, don't be angry
Mommy mommy, I'm hungry!

(My first time back in the zoo in probably 10 years)

16 August 2008

Irreversible mistakes

This past week, NYT has been doing an exposé on the plight of sick illegal immigrants in the US. The consequences of government mismanagement »in this case was so horrible that I could not bear to finish reading it.

Time and again, it seems to me that policy makers and implementers around the world do not understand enough that (1) they are dealing with people's lives; and (2) their split-second decision ("You're faking ill; I'm not sending for the doctor") can have irreversible consequences on people's lives.

I attribute this to the fact that no time is spent on discussing the art and ethics of decision-making when one first becomes a public servant.* Add on the ohh-so-fashionable imposition of KPIs, and you get people averse to erring on the side of humanity**. Alarmingly, I am not even sure if law enforcement and social services officers are given a rule of thumb such as, "When you are unsure and 'no' has severe, irreversible consequences, say 'yes (i'm sending for the doctor)'."

For a broader discussion on the difficult ethical issues surrounding healthcare for illegal immigrants, see »the story of Mr Jimenéz.

* Certainly not in my case.
** See also »this article. I used to say 'on the side of caution' »here, but 'caution' is too broad. The point is to prevent lethal mistakes.

10 August 2008

Dolphins diving into the belly of the green whale

Cake and coffee

The night before hatchday - I went back to my hotel room after nearly 12 hours of meeting and found a cake waiting, courtesy of »the hotel:

birthday cake

Hatchday morning - I sat out on my partially-sea-facing balcony in my bathrobe to have the last portion of the cake and instant black coffee for 20 queenly minutes... Mmm.

birthday me

26 July 2008

Night Festival at the museum

"Sky ballet", as someone behind me told someone over the phone.

By the stunning »Studio Festi.

18 July 2008

Gehry & the Sky

Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, gorgeously taken by »Daily Dose of Imagery. I looove the bronze flowing into the blue.

15 July 2008

Ethical problem-solving

A thought. In this day and age, branches of academic studies are getting so specialized that specialists are typically just focused on solving the (mathematical) problem at hand. They are, or at least I was, usually not sensitized to the ethics behind the problems they are tasked to solve. For instance, consider a mathematician tasked to solve for:

The most efficient dimensions of a gas chamber to gas 5,000 people with an average weight of 60 kg.

It is all too easy to "assume a gaseous flow of x cubic metre per second", solve the equation from there and get a nice promotion out of it. But what of the consequences behind the solution?

Could it really be possible to justify to oneself, "But I was just solving a math equation!', and sleep well at night?

12 July 2008

Great-grandfather's progeny

Two months ago on the inaugural trip back to our maternal hometown of Fuzhou, mama and uncle got excited one afternoon and started telling stories about great-grandfather, his many wives and the many hazy characters in the family. Great-grandfather was apparently a rich man who went around in a trishaw collecting rent from the shops in Sungei Road. I love the image of him going around in singlets and shorts with decked-out wife no. 3, being fully ignored by the jewellers until they find out who the real boss is.

Last night finally, I sat down and organized the scribbled notes of my maternal family tree from that afternoon:

Sabbath at Haji Lane

10 July 2008

Nous aimons femmes et carottes

From the scarily deadpan teacher yesterday -

Aimer means love or like. In French, we use aimer for everything - we use it for women, for carrots, everything.

A few minutes later -

We love discrimination in French. Everything is either male or female. There's no logic... Like women, you know. [Continue deadpan look] You ever tried understanding women? DON'T.

I wanted to reply -

No, don't understand... Just love!

06 July 2008

Dark humour

Discovered »White Dog Bobby at »MAAD just now with Ms F. I liked the dark humour so much that I bought it.

A sample:

dark humour

Another one:


Florence received a star
for every good deed.
When she died, she redeemed
a tall latte in heaven.

17 June 2008

Considering meritocracy

It's nice to reflect on how comparatively just society is today. In the distant past, when you saw a rich or successful person, you could reasonably assume that he or she attained advantage through some unfair means ' by killing someone, or inheriting privilege or being in a monopoly. But for the last few hundred years, politicians have been striving to build a society which we in the west nowadays call 'meritocratic.' That is, a society where if you have something to say, if you have talent and energy, you'll be able to achieve on a more or less level playing field.

But this sense of social justice has brought one big problem with it, for if you genuinely believe that the successful merit their success, you have to believe that the unsuccessful deserve their failure. In a meritocratic age, a sense of justice enters into the distribution of poverty as well as wealth. Low status comes to seem not merely regrettable, but also deserved. The rich are not only wealthier; they could also be plain better.


The great cruelty behind the idea of meritocracy is that it's crazy to imagine that we'll ever build a society where you'll be able to rank everyone in order of goodness and reward them accordingly, the rich being the best, the poor the worst. A wiser course might be to be inspired by the traditional Christian idea that the merit of others is in fact so hard to judge that only God is up to the task, and even He can only start work on the Day of Judgment with the help of a thousand angels and a large pair of scales'. A crazy idea from a secular point of view but a useful corrective to the view that you can just look at someone's resume and judge how good he or she happens to be.

None of this is to say that merit is equally distributed or indeed theoretically immeasurable, but simply to insist that you or I are in practical terms unlikely ever to know how to do the measuring properly and hence should display infinite care before acting or thinking in ways that presume we can.

Source: Alain de Botton interview by »Editred, via Mr C

Thoughts from my 40-minute commute -

  • Meritocracy is to be used an ex ante tool to guide the allocation of limited resources. It cannot be reasonably used as an ex post explanation to account for a given state of affairs (why you are rich and I am poor), for far more is at play in bringing about the latter. Highly disagree with his premise [in bold].
  • The decision of our society to rely on the resumé as a proxy for measuring 'merit' is unfortunate, but is one that reflects poorly on the choice of proxy rather than on the idea of meritocracy itself. Since we will never be able to have a thousand angels or large enough a pair of scales at our disposal, every proxy remains a proxy and we must bear in mind de Botton's strong caution. Agree with his conclusion [last paragraph].
  • I appreciate that in this world, luck, intellectual endowment, inheritance size and history differ. Correspondingly, meritocracy is destined to be an imperfect solution for such a world and we should not deceive ourselves otherwise. But I find it difficult to believe that meritocracy is more cruel or deterministic than a caste- or pedigree-based system, especially if we consider that meritocracy does not have to be implemented exclusively of other socialist concepts. So let's have meritocracy with a good dash of compassion* please.

*But without systemizing incentives to slack. Maybe it is an Asian (Singaporean?) concept, but effort matters - I cannot help you unless you help yourself. Your best might not be good enough and life might be unfair, but try and we take it from there. I »still take as my premise that humans have a natural propensity towards the path of least resistance, which is only restrained in some people by honour and morality.