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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A Book: American Gods

These are gods who have been forgotten, and now might as well be dead. They can be found only in dry histories. They are gone, all gone, but their names and their images remain with us.

These are the gods who have passed out of memory. Even their names are lost. The people who worshiped them are as forgotten as their gods. Their totems are long since broken and cast down. Their last priests died without passing on their secrets.

Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.

– Neil Gaiman in American Gods.

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Quite a few comic book writers have over the years tried their hand at writing novels, but none have achieved as much mainstream success and recognition as Neil Gaiman, winning the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel for American Gods. This is partly explained by the fact that Gaiman actually co-wrote a novel, Good Omens, together with Terry Pratchett, before ever venturing into comics, which he did in a big way, by taking up the mantle for Miracleman following Alan Moore’s departure from the series. Nevertheless, Gaiman is best known for writing the highly acclaimed Sandman series from 1989 to 1996.

American Gods features some of the same themes as The Sandman and deals with the subject of gods, in this case, once great gods whose powers have waned as their worshipers have died off and their religions fallen into obscurity. Set in contemporary times, the novel follows the adventures of Shadow, a recently released convict from prison, as he travels across the United States while working for a mysterious employer, meets with a large number of decidedly odd individuals and learns quite a few secrets along the way, including secrets about himself and the nature of America.

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2008 Recession

I just read these lyrics, to be sung to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody on QT3 and just had to post them here.

Is this the real price
Is this just fantasy
Financial landslide
No escape from reality

Open your eyes
And look at your buys and see.
I’m now a poor boy
High-yielding casualty

Because I bought it high,
watched it blow
Rating high,
value low

Any way the Fed goes
Doesn’t really matter to me,
to me

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RIP Arthur C. Clarke

March is turning out to be a bad month for geeks around the world. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died earlier this month and Arthur C. Clarke, one of few remaining writers from the Golden Age of science-fiction and the last of the “Big Three”, has just died today at the age of 90. These days, the media remembers Clarke mostly for his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, predicting the concept of geosynchronous communications satellites before the technology for them became possible and for the often used quote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

For me however, Clarke’s most memorable work was Childhood’s End, a novel about humanity transcending itself. It’s also the only one of my novels that my mother liked. Growing up, I had piles of science-fiction and fantasy novels lying all around the place and my mother would occasionally pick one up and flip through it. Most of the time, she never got past the first page. To my surprise, not only did she finish reading Childhood’s End, afterwards she asked me, “I liked that one. Do you have any more like it?”

Childhood’s End had captured my imagination ever since I’ve read an extract of it published as a short story in a collection edited by Isaac Asimov, another one of the “Big Three” writers, who died in 1992. It was collections like this that convinced me that the true soul of science-fiction, as the literature of ideas, lies not in novels but in short stories. I also remember the palpable awe that I felt when I first read Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. Nowadays, gigantic spaceships in space is an overused theme, but Rama was one of the first examples of it and Clarke’s words captured the huge scale of it in a way that no other author has been able to replicate since.

Clark’s later life in Sri Lanka was blighted by allegations of pedophilia that has been proved to be false and although he tried to continue writing, he never could quite keep up with the new crop of writers. Nevertheless, his place in the history of science-fiction is assured and he will be forever remembered.

U.S. War Memorial in Solomon Islands

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My wife and I visited the U.S. War Memorial here in Honiara over the weekend. We’ve been here plenty of times already but we didn’t take any photos. Guadalcanal Island was a major battleground of the Pacific theatre during World War 2, with many losses on both the American and Japanese side, so it’s not surprising that there is a well maintained memorial here. The U.S. military makes regular visits to the Solomon Islands, sending personnel and fighter jets in honour of their war dead. The film The Thin Red Line is based on the Guadalcanal campaign and is worth watching if you can put up with its 3 hours running length.

The U.S. Memorial is located along Skyline Ridge, on a hilltop that overlooks Honiara, so it’s a rather pleasant and scenic place to visit. The memorial itself is simply a collection of marble slabs with details descriptions of the battles and lists of losses. They make for good reading if you’re interested in World War 2 history, though in the case you should probably go read the Wikipedia entry on the subject instead.

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Forumwarz

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There are plenty of free web games around these days, but I dare say that none can match the cheek and humour of Forumwarz. Many of its mechanics merely replicate the familiar monster grinding for experience points and loot of traditional role-playing games, but everything else is hilariously different: instead of a generic fantasy world, you’re placed in a Bizarro version of the Internet with parody versions of familiar web services, Sentrillion for example, replaces Google, sTalk replaces instant messaging services like Skype and the game wiki is called appropriately enough the Spoilerpedia; instead of slaying monsters for xp, you’re given the job of pwning various Internet forums; and instead of slashing with swords or blasting with spells, the attacks in your repertoire have names like “ASCII Art Attack”, “Drool on Keyboard” and “Insult”.

At least these are the attacks that I learned as a troll. Other classes available are the Cam Whore and the Emo Kid. Anyone familiar with the dynamics of Internet forums should be familiar with these archetypes. To liven up your frequent attacks on forums, you also occasionally given the opportunity to perform some side missions including a gloriously retro text adventure minigame. The writing throughout the entire experience is fantastic and pokes fun at the full range of Internet culture though you might get tired of the admittedly simple combat pretty fast. If you make it a daily habit to visit one or more online forums, you owe it to yourself to at least check this awesome game out.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living