Hiatus

I am travelling to Malaysia on Thursday and currently expect to spend one month there. Since my Internet access during this time will likely be intermittent, I will most probably not be able to update this blog very often.

Local Houses in Solomon Islands

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My wife got me to drive one of the local maids employed in the compound where we live so that we could go take photos of some of the local houses. We’ve already visited this area previously but we didn’t take any photos then, and since there is a slight possibility that we might not be returning to the Solomon Islands after we go back to Malaysia on Thursday, my wife especially wanted some photos as a memento.

This particular house is where Helen, a maid who has worked for us for many years now is currently renting. She is currently building her own house nearby, basically just appropriating the land without any formal paperwork, buying the building materials and having her family members help out with the construction. It’s haphazard, unregulated and messy, but that’s how things work in the Solomon Islands. It also contributes to the tribal tensions here in Honiara. Honiara is located on Guadalcanal Island, while Helen and everyone else who stays in this area are from Malaita Island. Complaints from Guales about Malaitans taking over their land and their attempts to form a militia to drive out the Malaitans were what prompted the Malaitans to mount a coup-d’état in 2000.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (Mar’08)

Four articles this month, one on the extremely exciting findings by the Cassini-Huygens mission to Enceladus, one on a somewhat weird life form found inside the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and finally two somewhat similar cases of emerging risks to people with medical conditions, one due to the use of implanted medical devices and the other due to exploits on Internet web browsers.

The Cassini-Hugens mission to Enceladus, the sixth largest of Saturn’s moons, not only confirmed the presence of liquid water beneath the icy surface of the moon, but also discovered, from a sampling of the brew vented out by a geyser the spacecraft flew past, that the moon is extraordinarily active and contains a surprising mix of organic chemicals. As the press release notes, heat, water vapour and organic compounds are the basic building blocks for life. As a science geek, I’m also impressed by the technical achievement of flying so close by a small moon at extremely high speeds, successfully intersecting a venting geyser without crashing on the moon with the whole thing carefully planned and coordinated on Earth.

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Fitna: Is Islam a Violent Religion?

So this video has been spreading around the Internet with astonishing speed. What really surprised me was when one of my housemates here in the Solomon Islands wanted to show me this video, even though I don’t think that she’s normally very politically conscious. I’d already read about it in Jed Yoong’s blog and had a bit of a spat over it there, so my post here is something of an elaboration of what I’ve already posted as comments over there.

First of all, I think that the short film is woefully amateurish. Collating video footage of the gory aftermath of terrorist attacks interweaved with quotations from the Quran and speeches by firebrand Islamist leaders does not a solid argument make. It’s a blatant attempt to arouse an emotional reaction in viewers instead of attempting to advance a reasoned argument and as such isn’t really worth watching at all.

Second, even if we were to take the central premise of the film seriously, the correct question isn’t whether or not Islam is a violent religion, it’s whether or not Islam is any more violent than the other great religions. Christianity makes for a good point of comparison. It’s shares the same fundamental roots as Islam, and yet is mostly accepted around the world as a peaceful, safe and moderate religion nowadays.

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A Game: Sins of a Solar Empire

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Getting to the top of the bestselling PC games list and beating out heavy hitters like Call of Duty 4 and World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, even for a few short weeks, is a remarkable achievement for a niche title by an independent publisher without the benefit of a familiar brand name or a worldwide marketing campaign. Yet this was what Sins of a Solar Empire managed to do, and its success, which came as to surprise even to its publisher Stardock and its developer Ironclad, is proof that innovative games with relatively small budgets can still stand out even in a gaming market that is saturated by sequels of familiar franchises.

Unlike most of Stardock’s previous games and in spite of marketing blurbs calling Sins of a Solar Empire a 4X game, this is ultimately still a real-time strategy game, albeit a very slow one with many elements reminiscent of turn-based strategy games. Combined with a nifty interface and a design that emphasizes strategic level decision-making rather than the micromanagement of many other RTS games, it’s a pretty unique beast in the gaming market and deserves every bit of the success it has won.

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How far should socialism go?

Check out this story about a family in the United Kingdom with three generations of people who do not work, live in a government-owned house and live only on government benefits. Apparently, between the lot of them they manage to collect benefits worth 32,000 pounds a year, which is a very tidy sum by Malaysian standards. The worst part of all of it that they’re perfectly content to live like this for the rest of their lives and more disgustingly, believe that it is their right to live like this and it is the government’s responsibility to provide for them. And, by the way, they’d like the government to give them a 10-bedroom house too, because they think their current 3-bedroom house isn’t big enough.

Granted, this story was published in the Daily Mail, which isn’t exactly a paragon of journalism, but if the facts stated in it are broadly accurate, it’s a good example of why socialism is a bad idea. I’ve railed a bit here and there over the populist electoral promises made by the DAP. All too many people, it seems, believes that the proper role of government is to distribute largesse to the people who voted it in, but where does government revenue come from if not from the people themselves?

The Tibet Question

Tibet has been in the news for two weeks now so I thought I should probably write a post about it. I’ve abstained from it thus far because it’s hard to write intelligently about what is undoubtedly a complicated situation with which I’m not very familiar and I’ve already had an argument with my wife over it. As someone with liberal views, it’s no surprise that I broadly sympathize with the Tibetans’ cause. I believe firmly in the principles of democracy and self-determination and strongly feel that no population should be forced to be ruled by what is essentially an undemocratic and unrepresentative government. Whatever progress China has made in the past few decades, there is no doubt that China is not a democracy and its government does not rule with the mandate of its people.

On the other hand, the historical evidence is that before communist China essentially annexed Tibet in the 1950s, Tibet suffered under an even more brutal dictatorial regime under the Dalai Lamas who ruled the country as priest-kings, so it’s arguable that the PRC has actually improved the quality of life for the average Tibetan by taking over their country, even if they don’t like to admit. In the same vein, the current troubles in Tibet is not a popular uprising against the PRC government but appears to consist of riots and acts of violence against the Han population in Tibet. There is no excuse for the disgruntled Tibetans’ taking out their frustrations on civilians even if it’s unclear what else it is they could do to gain international sympathy for their plight.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living