Does this look like a burning cross to you?

This picture has been making the rounds on the Internet. It’s a product being sold by the American Family Association for Christmas: a cross with lights on it. Unfortunately for the AFA quite a lot of people think that it looks like a burning cross, with all the Ku Klux Klan baggage that entails.

Personally it does look like a burning cross to me, and I think the AFA must be pretty dense not to realize how negative a message it might imply, but, hey, decide for yourself.

Why newspapers aren’t neutral (and shouldn’t pretend to be)

A long time ago, while I was working as a stringer for The New Straits Times during my summer holidays, I got into a heated discussion with a couple of my colleagues on whether or not the press should be objective and neutral. My position was, and continues to be, that newspapers always have a position and it should be explicit. Their position was that journalists should be objective and unbiased, reporting only facts and refraining from passing judgment.

This article published in The Economist makes a good case for why news outlets even in a free market are biased. It explains that what people really want aren’t objective, neutral newspapers, even if that is what they say that they want, but instead ones that reflect their own dispositions. According to the study cited by the article, analysis of the media in the U.S. indicates that even different ownership has next to no effect on the overall bias on the press. What does matter is what the targeted market wants.

As the article notes, ultimately the truth lies somewhere in between all these different points of view, and anyone seriously interested in the news should get it from a variety of sources. But allowing those different points of view to be represented is far better than trying to stick to some muddy standard of objectivity that fails to sufficiently inform the reader for fear of passing judgment, whether good or bad.

Playing GRID

Now I’m not much of a driver, whether in games or in real life. I’m dabbled in my fair share of racing games over the years, but I’ve never been a particularly enthusiastic fan of them until I tried GRID. Now I realize that GRID is really somewhere between an arcade racer and a true simulator, and until now I’m been playing with the realism dial turned “low”, but, damn, this game still beats every other racing game I’ve ever tried hands down. If the only racing games you’ve ever played are the Need for Speed series and its ilk, you really owe it to yourself to check out real racing feels like. You can just feel the wheels burning rubber on the asphalt.

The highest praise that I can give it is that whenever something goes wrong in a race, I know that it’s my fault and I know what exactly I should do to fix it. Constrast that with the NFS games’ tendency to up the difficulty level by randomly having traffic pop up at suspiciously convenient times for you to crash into. There’s no silly rubber-banding as well. If you’re that good, you are free to leave your AI opponents in the dust. Plus the replay that you get after winning a race is probably better than 90% of the car chases you see in movies.

Read Tom Chick’s list of 10 reason why you should be playing GRID if you’re still not convinced.

Vernacular Schools in Malaysia

This post grew out of comments that I made in a post on Jed Yoong’s blog which linked to another blogger’s post calling for all vernacular Tamil schools in Malaysia to be closed down. I think it’s worth taking the effort to explain that in this context, “vernacular schools” refers solely to primary schools that use Chinese and Tamil as the medium of instruction, while still receiving government funding, as opposed to those that teach using the national language, Bahasa Malaysia the so-called “Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan”.

There are a couple of obfuscating factors at work here that needs to be explained. One, the original call to close down Tamil schools cited the generally poor quality of these schools as a primary reason. As Jed Yoong quoted from the original writer of the post, Balan:

One of the contributing factors leading Indian youth to gangsterism and other criminal activities is their inability to excel in education, particularly when they enter secondary school.

The new environment and being not conversant in Bahasa Malaysia which is the medium of teaching in secondary school have resulted in students dropping out after their PMR and SPM.

The reason this happens is the poor quality of Tamil schools in the country. Most of the Tamil schools in the country are poorly managed, lack facilities and are helmed by substandard headmasters and teachers.

Continue reading Vernacular Schools in Malaysia

China Taxes MMO Gold Farmers

Anyone who plays MMOs will know how insistently gold sellers spam their services. Many of these outfits get their gold (or equivalent virtual goods) from legions of Chinese players for whom farming the virtual currency and selling it to more affluent players mostly from western countries at a mark-up has become their primary occupation.

Now The Wall Street Journal reports that the Chinese government is getting in on the action by imposing taxes, now set at 20%, on profits earned from such sales. I’d imagine that the move is less as an effort for the state to gain tax revenues from the growing industry than to dampen it and keep it under surveillance. If virtual currency can be freely convertible into Chinese yuan, it’s easy to imagine that it might one day cause problems in the greater financial system, given how tightly the yuan is regulated.

What will be interesting, as the article notes, are the implication this has for the legal rights of owners of virtual goods. If the Chinese government legitimizes the trade of virtual goods, does that mean that the players own the goods as opposed to the MMO companies?

A Game: The Witcher (Enhanced Edition)

If you’ve ever felt that every fantasy RPG always rehashes the same generic tropes over and over again, then you might want to check out The Witcher. The first release of the game last year by its Polish makers at CD Projeckt suffered from numerous technical hitches and a Polish-to-English translation that sometimes left players scratching their heads. Thankfully, the newly released Enhanced Edition of the game, available as free download for customers who had bought the original, fixes many of these problems and includes extended and fully voiced translations, so RPG fans have no excuse to put off buying this gem, even if it is still a bit unpolished.

The game is based on the Polish book series of the same name by Andrzej Sapkowski and as such is set in a medieval fantasy world with a distinctively eastern European twist. It is a grim and dangerous place where at night simple folk bar their doors and huddle safe in their houses while monsters roam at will. The player takes on the role of one Geralt of Rivia, the most famous of the few remaining witchers in the world who are tasked with defending humanity from these monsters, for a fee of course. As the game explicity states, witchers aren’t noble knights in shining armour, and as you’ll soon learn over the course of this game, there’s no unalloyed good in the world since everyone, and I mean everyone, has an angle.

Continue reading A Game: The Witcher (Enhanced Edition)

Why the USA is a great democracy.

I get frustrated whenever I hear people criticize the USA for being a flawed democracy or not being a real democracy. It’s true that elections in the U.S. cost a whole lot of money and that lobbyists representing special interest groups wield a disproportionate amount of influence, but for all that, the U.S. truly represents a democracy like no other and this editorial published in The Economist nicely sums up why.

The whole article is worth reading, but I’d like to point out this passage in particular:

But the best thing that can be said for the system is that it is so democratic. In most countries party leaders are chosen by political insiders. In America rank-and-file party members (and some independents) get to choose—and this year they upset all political calculations by rejecting the inevitable Mrs Clinton on the left and choosing the maverick Mr McCain on the right.

Every democracy is flawed, I don’t need to quote Winston Churchill again, but America’s version, with its open primary allowing the grass roots to push up the candidate of its choice, is probably the best of the lot and surely deserves recognition for that.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living