Anything That Interests Me! :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Anything that interests me! Some excerpts from the Melian dialogue

Anything that interests me! Some excerpts from the Melian dialogue

Well, I once read the Melian dialogue in a newspaper (and yes, it was the Straits Times) and it was very interesting. I promptly left it to the dark recesses of my memory and turned to other interesting subjects in philosophy, till I suddenly thought about the Melian dialogue suddenly, on the eve of the philosophy exam.

Here are some excerpts from the Melian dialogue that I like. Basically, this is from Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War, in which he details the conversation, or more accurately, the debate, between the Athenians and the Melians - the Athenians want the Melians on their side in the war, and threaten to smash the poor buggers to the ground if they do not comply. However, the Melians argue about right and fairness, to which the Athenians say that "might is right" - the standard issue philosophical debate that we still have today. Sparta is involved as well, and that makes for an exciting story as well as a tragic end for the liberal, ethical Melians, who are eventually smashed to the ground by the Athenians (hey, who said that Greek history was all nice and fluffly and Plato-ish?).

excerpts from the Melian dialogue (philosophy)

To the fairness of quietly instructing each other as you propose there is nothing to object; but your military preparations are too far advanced to agree with what you say, as we see you are come to be judges in your own cause, and that all we can reasonably expect from this negotiation is war, if we prove to have right on our side and refuse to submit, and in the contrary case, slavery.

It is natural and excusable for men in our position to turn more ways than one both in thought and utterance. However, the question in this conference is, as you say, the safety of our country; and the discussion, if you please, can proceed in the way which you propose.

For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

As we think, at any rate, it is expedient- we speak as we are obliged, since you enjoin us to let right alone and talk only of interest- that you should not destroy what is our common protection, the privilege of being allowed in danger to invoke what is fair and right, and even to profit by arguments not strictly valid if they can be got to pass current. And you are as much interested in this as any, as your fall would be a signal for the heaviest vengeance and an example for the world to meditate upon.

The end of our empire, if end it should, does not frighten us: a rival empire like Lacedaemon, even if Lacedaemon was our real antagonist, is not so terrible to the vanquished as subjects who by themselves attack and overpower their rulers. This, however, is a risk that we are content to take. We will now proceed to show you that we are come here in the interest of our empire, and that we shall say what we are now going to say, for the preservation of your country; as we would fain exercise that empire over you without trouble, and see you preserved for the good of us both.

And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve as for you to rule?

Because you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.

So that you would not consent to our being neutral, friends instead of enemies, but allies of neither side.

No; for your hostility cannot so much hurt us as your friendship will be an argument to our subjects of our weakness, and your enmity of our power.

Is that your subjects' idea of equity, to put those who have nothing to do with you in the same category with peoples that are most of them your own colonists, and some conquered rebels?

As far as right goes they think one has as much of it as the other, and that if any maintain their independence it is because they are strong, and that if we do not molest them it is because we are afraid; so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection; the fact that you are islanders and weaker than others rendering it all the more important that you should not succeed in baffling the masters of the sea.

But do you consider that there is no security in the policy which we indicate? For here again if you debar us from talking about justice and invite us to obey your interest, we also must explain ours, and try to persuade you, if the two happen to coincide. How can you avoid making enemies of all existing neutrals who shall look at case from it that one day or another you will attack them? And what is this but to make greater the enemies that you have already, and to force others to become so who would otherwise have never thought of it?

Not if you are well advised, the contest not being an equal one, with honour as the prize and shame as the penalty, but a question of self-preservation and of not resisting those who are far stronger than you are.

But we know that the fortune of war is sometimes more impartial than the disproportion of numbers might lead one to suppose; to submit is to give ourselves over to despair, while action still preserves for us a hope that we may stand erect.

Hope, danger's comforter, may be indulged in by those who have abundant resources, if not without loss at all events without ruin; but its nature is to be extravagant, and those who go so far as to put their all upon the venture see it in its true colours only when they are ruined; but so long as the discovery would enable them to guard against it, it is never found wanting. Let not this be the case with you, who are weak and hang on a single turn of the scale; nor be like the vulgar, who, abandoning such security as human means may still afford, when visible hopes fail them in extremity, turn to invisible, to prophecies and oracles, and other such inventions that delude men with hopes to their destruction.

You may be sure that we are as well aware as you of the difficulty of contending against your power and fortune, unless the terms be equal. But we trust that the gods may grant us fortune as good as yours, since we are just men fighting against unjust, and that what we want in power will be made up by the alliance of the Lacedaemonians, who are bound, if only for very shame, to come to the aid of their kindred. Our confidence, therefore, after all is not so utterly irrational.

When you speak of the favour of the gods, we may as fairly hope for that as yourselves; neither our pretensions nor our conduct being in any way contrary to what men believe of the gods, or practise among themselves. Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it existing before us, and shall leave it to exist for ever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do. Thus, as far as the gods are concerned, we have no fear and no reason to fear that we shall be at a disadvantage. But when we come to your notion about the Lacedaemonians, which leads you to believe that shame will make them help you, here we bless your simplicity but do not envy your folly. The Lacedaemonians, when their own interests or their country's laws are in question, are the worthiest men alive; of their conduct towards others much might be said, but no clearer idea of it could be given than by shortly saying that of all the men we know they are most conspicuous in considering what is agreeable honourable, and what is expedient just. Such a way of thinking does not promise much for the safety which you now unreasonably count upon.

Some diversion of the kind you speak of you may one day experience, only to learn, as others have done, that the Athenians never once yet withdrew from a siege for fear of any. But we are struck by the fact that, after saying you would consult for the safety of your country, in all this discussion you have mentioned nothing which men might trust in and think to be saved by. Your strongest arguments depend upon hope and the future, and your actual resources are too scanty, as compared with those arrayed against you, for you to come out victorious. You will therefore show great blindness of judgment, unless, after allowing us to retire, you can find some counsel more prudent than this. You will surely not be caught by that idea of disgrace, which in dangers that are disgraceful, and at the same time too plain to be mistaken, proves so fatal to mankind; since in too many cases the very men that have their eyes perfectly open to what they are rushing into, let the thing called disgrace, by the mere influence of a seductive name, lead them on to a point at which they become so enslaved by the phrase as in fact to fall wilfully into hopeless disaster, and incur disgrace more disgraceful as the companion of error, than when it comes as the result of misfortune. This, if you are well advised, you will guard against; and you will not think it dishonourable to submit to the greatest city in Hellas, when it makes you the moderate offer of becoming its tributary ally, without ceasing to enjoy the country that belongs to you; nor when you have the choice given you between war and security, will you be so blinded as to choose the worse. And it is certain that those who do not yield to their equals, who keep terms with their superiors, and are moderate towards their inferiors, on the whole succeed best. Think over the matter, therefore, after our withdrawal, and reflect once and again that it is for your country that you are consulting, that you have not more than one, and that upon this one deliberation depends its prosperity or ruin.

I don't suppose that I have to say that Realpolitik, realism and political reality all led to one single outcome - the defeat of the Melians. Something to think about!

Anything that interests me!

(Informal) Sources/ citation: 431 BC HISTORY OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR by Thucydides
CHAPTER XVII. Sixteenth Year of the War - The Melian Conference - Fate of Melos

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anything that Interests Me! - How to learn Econometrics 2

Anything that Interests Me! - How to learn Econometrics 2

My friend DF replied to my earlier post on How to Learn Econometrics, and he came up with very good arguments and analysis on how I did not do a good job. Well, as that was my first analysis on how to learn Econometrics I must admit that I was sloppy with my language and pandering to my readers somewhat. I will now take a more formal and more academic tone, and I shall try to give some of the dry wit and humour that accompanied his thinly veiled rebuttals, or more accurately, criticisms.

How to learn Econometrics, part 2

His article has two main premises -

1. I do not separate between performance and actual learning.

2. My list of the relevant fields in econometrics is wrong.

These two premises lead him to the conclusion that I morph into a statistic geek, and this leads one to the inexorable conclusion that the only way to be good at Econometrics is to basically be good at statistics, and in particular, for higher levels, matrix representation.

There are basically three counter criticisms that I will make, and if he is reasonable, he will no doubt agree with what I say. However, if he insists upon having his erroneous views, it has more to do with the fact that we are both intelligent people and differ on the approaches to learning. Have no doubt, dear reader, that I am challenging someone of a high intellectual standing.

1. I don't separate between performance and actual learning. This is true, and I acknowledge that what he says is true. However, is there a real difference between performance and actual learning?

Allow me to state categorically that "how to learn Econometrics" means different things to different people. My opponent is assuming that I mean learn in his own way, however, learning for the purposes of my career and education, and for the purposes for many other readers who want to learn econometrics, has nothing to do with understanding Euclidean spaces, or even mathematical proofs, or the like. It has to do with performance.

Why then is it called learning? I chose the word learning because it appears higher in the search engines. Having made that callous joking remark, I now go on to state:

the only way in which you can tell if someone has learnt something is by performance, even though it does not follow that someone who performs has learnt something.

That is, in other words, the behaviour is more important than the intention, because we can see performance and then infer that learning has taken place, although this might not be true at all. The key is that my opponent believes in real learning, whatever that might be - and I am not prepared to venture as to what he means by that. Can one read another's mind? As a mentalist I can say the answer is no, but we can infer that another person has a mind by the remarks that the person makes. This is a complex philosophical issue, so I will just leave it as that - performance matters more, so that's why I wrote that.

2. The list that I offer is wrong - and this I can categorically say, that remains to be seen. I can in fact suggest that all he says is similar to mine:

"probability, statistics, matrices, linear regression and other regression models"

"philosophy of statistical inference
validity and accuracy of statistical inference procedures, in this case linear regression
limits and tradeoffs of statistical inference, of each of the assumptions, in a few different situations
limits and tradeoffs of cost of information, e.g. sample size issues, experimental control issues
matrix representation of linear models, datasets, and procedures"

Being of an argumentative bent, and also since I could have very well been a lawyer, what he says is not actually excluded from the general terms that I use. Yes, a technical distinction - but is not philosophy of statistical inference inferred from "statistics", and so on? Matrix representation seems plausible for linear models, and in fact it is. I have used general terms; he hasn't.

In fact, I will go on to argue that he is wrong that my list has no common purpose. They are all part of econometrics. From the outset, econometrics is not a single subject where the field is clearly defined. There are no single definitions for this, and the history is quite complex. Econometrics is but a tool in the hands of economists; how you define the tool is another matter.

3. The greatest joke of all is that I am a statistics geek. In particular, an econometrics geek, where our statistics is different from others (e.g. Psychologists and their ANOVA). He is totally wrong. The problem is that I am unable to convert from the type of statistics that we have trained for into the matrix representation, whereas mathematicians and statisticians have an easier time.

Having said that, the post was not to strategise, although that was indeed a possibility. The post had its ultimate purpose in SEO and other fiduciary considerations that I shall not delve into for fear of ruffling feathers.

How to learn Econometrics / how to do well in EC3304, part 2
All these are learnt from my detractor who posted those comments...
1. Complete proofs.

2. Learn the individual parts and then bring them all together.

3. Practise the problem sets.

4. Understanding truly, and real learning is better than getting the form right - i.e. don't do my performance method; use his real learning method.

5. Know your lecturer. In this case, he got this one right.

The fact of the matter remains that mathematics has taken hold of the social sciences and will not let go, and that is something that we have to deal with. At the same time, I will not hesitate to point out that my other humanities and social sciences skills far surpass my opponents (and this particular opponent in particular).

In terms of studying, academics: I am an Economist.

I consider myself a historian as well, and in fact, an educated person in general.

And as a former arts person, and a student from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


I feel a certain academic distaste when people outside my discipline attempt to reform it in ways that they see fit.

Economics always has the human factor. As Akerloff said, I believe and paraphrase: if in real life people are irrational, stupid and silly, then why do we stick to our assumptions that they are rational beings?

Because it makes the math easier. I say. Because we are slaves to the math as psychological and sociological answers are not mathematical enough, especially to my detractor DF.

I feel that it is far more productive in arts terms if we can consider Shakespeare's "neither a borrower or lender be" and ask why an economist would disagree.

Not what the stupid proof for some formulae is, when I can look that up in a book and besides I was among the best statisticians in NUS until that upstart, false economist, real mathematician, friend and good colleague DF popped along. And, also, until the mathematicians changed the rules beyond the scope of economics, for what is a Euclidean norm but a mathematical concept for distance, whereas linear regression regresses, as it were, to demand and supply and other beautiful academic things where I reside. That's the point.

Anything that interests me!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The education of Cyrus - Xenophon, Philosophy, and Education

The education of Cyrus - Xenophon, Philosophy, and Education

Anything that interests me!

Technically speaking, I was never interested in Xenophon's philosophy and his particularly pseudohistorical writing, but having studied his book the Cyropedia, I am now very interested in Cyrus, education and basically the rise to power of a wise and great king. The problem is that at first glance one would think that this Persian leader that Xenophon portrays is excellent, a real example that virtue and leadership can go together and that a virtuous leader, a philosopher king and stuff like that can and do exist.

Sad to say, but it's not true.


When I read Cyrus for the first time I was really impressed by his benevolence and kindness and how he always managed to make his enemies into his friends. He was a true hero in every sense of the word, and when he made his speeches about honour and glory, it really motivated me and I was really impressed, and mind you, I am one cynical person. I tried to find many reasons as to why he would be so virtuous but was unable to, and had to contrive to find anti-theses like Cyrus is doing things for his own profit, he was bluffing, he was lying and other stuff like that, but trust me it was hard, given Xenophon's portrayal of Cyrus the Great as really, truly and totally GREAT.

To take two examples, as a young man he managed to convince his grandfather's troops that he was an emperor and they followed him off to fight enemies. That was real leadership.

As for virtuous leadership, this man could invade another country, make the other king surrender with minimal loss of life, and then after that help to make peace with another country, such that his enemies became his friends! That is, he beat the heck out of the Armenians, and then when they complained that now they were weak and going to be bullied by the Chaldeans, he helped them against the Chaldeans and made peace between them. And to cap, he did not take loot, but only took what was owed him. Can you beat that?

A truly virtuous leader, and I really admired him.

And then I learnt in class that there was something fundamentally wrong with his virtue that led to the collapse of his empire at the end. 

Look, if he was truly such a powerful leader, why is it his empire collapsed when he died? If he was truly so good, why were there so many little doubts along the way to his rule? It's simple, really.

Ma'am's (that's my USP philosophy teacher) analysis was that he had linked virtue with rewards, and that was the problem - because now people did not do things for the sake of the things themselves ie. they did not do good because it was right to do so, but because of profits and the benefits that they could get.

The great Cyrus had set the example and the precedent because every good thing that he did led to his benefit, and he had tied virtuous living to earning money - that was precisely how he rallied his men and how he made friends! That is, the reality was that his enemies became his friends not because they were moved by his goodness (partly, I am sure, because he was such an inspirational person) but because he could benefit them. 

And precisely because he was good and virtuous, letting them be in charge of the loot and everything, and they could see that it was to their own advantage to hang about with a truly good man, that's why his empire collapsed once he died. 

Because... ultimately, it seems, there is no link between virtue and benefits. Cyrus, by his forceful personality, had forced the link between them such that virtue led to good ends.

What is worse, when I did my own research I realised that he was not even a pure virtuous leader either - and that Cyrus had winning the empire always in his mind. 

It turns out that Adam Smith was right. 

Cyrus was a really good man because he wanted to become king and emperor, and virtue made him rich and powerful and successful, and all his enemies did not want to fight him but to join him instead. Adam Smith 1, philosophies that deal with ethics and virtue o. I was told that Emmanuel Kant would never countenance lying. Well, Kant, you lose to Smith! 1-0. Cyrus the liar wins, because he had an empire, was rich, was famous and even better still, all his peers thought him virtuous and good! Whereas honest people like me and you, Herr Kant, are considered fools and naive. Kudos! I myself thought that Cyrus was virtuous, and it is very difficult to truly know whether he was or not, but one thing can be said - he was very cunning!

Now I go back to my work. I am writing an essay on virtue and leadership and I have hit, not the famous and dreaded writer's block, but the famous laziness disease. You're been reading my philosophical and personal thoughts on Xenophon the Greek philosopher and soldier, Cyrus the great king and philosophical thoughts on Cyrus' education.

Anything that interests me!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Anything that interests me - how magic and mentalism work!

Anything that interests me - how magic and mentalism work!

Alright - to raise revenue by giving advertisers and readers a more focused content, I shall really talk about my interests ONLY - it just so happens that I have many interests and these are the ones that can pay me, so I shall be writing more about mentalism, magic, psychology, economics and philosophy, instead of anything to do with my personal life :) That should keep me safe and sound from the censors too (because I heard that some people got arrested just for wearing some t-shirts). Thus, two things: writing focused content is a very good practice, and also, the police won't come to my door and accuse me of something bad.

On that topic of censorship since I am a liberal conservative (or a conservative liberal), and as my ex-girlfriend said "you're too westernised", I must say that I don't agree with censorship, but I think that in Singapore's case we happen to need it, so as long as censorship is not overboard it's perfectly alright. We need to preserve racial harmony and so we cannot have irresponsible talk because that would hurt the fabric of our society, and as I am a historian I have no wish for my country to become another Yugoslavia.

OK - how magic and mentalism work. The real focus of this rambling, I mean, beautiful post.

Mentalism is a kind of magic, so I shall actually be just speaking about how mentalism works. My friends are sometimes amazed that I can do card tricks (just two actually) and they come up with all sorts of innovative explanations to explain how I do it. But it's very simple, really - mentalism and magic are nothing more than just bar tricks/ parlour tricks that play tricks on your mind and fool it.

For experts on magic and mentalism, don't hang me on this because this is my interest and in no way means that I am a pro or an expert in magic or mentalism:

Magic and mentalism are basically about showmanship. Sleight of hand magic is basically magic that fools the eyes into seeing things that aren't there, and the speed and the legerdemain involved are the ones that convey the magical experience. On the other hand, mental magic or mentalism isn't like that - there really is no sleight of hand, and everything is done right in front of you, and right in front of the spectators and their faces. Therefore, the real magic of mentalism lies in the fact that it is all about showmanship and presentation.

There really is nothing difficult in predicting what someone will say if you already know what they are going to say. The really hard part about mentalism that makes it work is the showmanship.

Let me give you an example - I did some magic tricks last week when organising the German society Stammtisch. Actually I just helped out, because the major organisers were my friends, so I just did the entertainment. Hence: the magic. I actually predicted a card wrongly because I saw it wrongly. The crowd went ballistic and started laughing as my magic did not work. I paused, had another look at the deck of cards, then said, "OK, then is it this card then?" And that silenced them. The thing about it is that showmanship is key - they do not expect you to make mistakes and when you do, they relax, but you can easily make it all part of the skill, you clever clogs.

Misdirection means to misdirect someone away from the real thing and go for the bluff. By deliberately making a mistake you can misdirect someone.

Thus, in the same way, when I do my magic trick of memorising lists, I usually try to make it seem that there's another way that I memorise things. But there really isn't must to this magic trick, because this is just some memory trick. To flesh out this example: when you misdirect someone using a memory trick, you try to suggest to them that you do it using some kind of thing, by touching the words, by using the atmosphere, whatever. That will misdirect them. Next, you pretend that to do this particular trick is harder than it actually is, and voila - you are an amateur magician and mentalist as I am. It works, trust me. Go try it our on your unsuspecting, I mean, your erstwhile friends.

So to answer my own question posed at the start: how does mentalism work? Or how does the magic of mentalism work?

It's all about showmanship and misdirection. Mainly showmanship because there really isn't anything hard about it.

I suddenly feel a bit like Warren Buffett's relative who wrote a book on fishing. Heck, how do I know whether people have the same interests as me - magic, mentalism, psychology, history, philosophy, academics and stuff like that? Simple, I don't know. But in a whole bunch of people and with a suitably large number of readers, there certainly has to be something that I write that will interest you because I have tonnes of academic interests. Alright, cheers!

Anything that interests me!

Post script: There is also something I must say - there simply aren't any good old movie reviews around. Nowadays people always seem to go for new movies, which is good, but some of the older movies or the old movies are really good, and people don't go for them, which I think it's a crying shame. At the same time if I start writing a review blog of old shows and old stuff people are going to hang me, and I will run out of time to write about psychology and philosophy, which really interest me. Economics comes to play here - trade offs, trade offs! Sigh.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A famous prophesy about the Prime Ministers of Malaysia

A famous prophesy about the Prime Ministers of Malaysia

Anything that interests me!
and in this case, a silly post about some trivia.

Isolated fact:

I was told by Ernest Chew when studying for USE2305 in early 2007 that there was a famous prophesy about the Prime Ministers of Malaysia.

Here goes:

Tun Abdul Rahman: Who will be the prime ministers of Malaysia?

Prophet: You just spell out your name: RAHMAN. Those will be the leaders, the first six.

And according to history (bear in mind I heard this story before the recent news...)

Abdul Razak
Hussein Onn
Abdullah Badawi

And the new prime minister of Malaysia is... *gasp*!

"KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Najib Razak, who is poised to become Malaysia's sixth prime minister, comes from a family of political aristocrats that produced two of the country's last five leaders."
News, correct as at 9 Oct 08, Singapore time.

Najib Razak.


What a good prophet!

I am amazed.

Anything that interests me!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How to learn Econometrics

How to learn Econometrics

(first written, erm almost millennia ago... whoops 2008 actually, but now edited, 4 Sep 2012. Edits are in italics, good luck!)

OK. This article is going to be an almost certainly entirely boring one, but one that is necessary because there are many people like me who want to learn how to learn Econometrics, but there "ain't no one out there" who can teach us how to learn Econometrics.

I actually went online to search for "how to study econometrics" and "how to learn econometrics" or "how to do well for econometrics exams" and didn't get very satisfactory answers, so here are my attempts at answering the question. (I guess that some readers might have gotten here by looking for "how to study for 'metrics at NUS", so here you are - right place for some advice from a former student!)

Do note that no prior knowledge of Econometrics is assumed. I myself only knew some basic maths and still managed to learn EC2303 and get A+ as well as Econometrics 1 at NUS and got A for that as well. Now I am struggling with EC3304 so I might as well try to help others. Oh well. Here goes:

How to Study Econometrics (and do well at it)

1. No one actually knows how to study econometrics and do well at it. I've searched the whole Net and asked countless people already. Those who know probably don't write about it online, and those who don't know are looking online for ideas and tips on how to do that. I was in that position too. That's why I am attempting to answer the almighty question for students worldwide: "How the heck do I study Econometrics well and do well in Econometrics exams?"

2. But there are indeed some things that you can do to study Econometrics and do well at it in examinations :)

3. The question fields/ sets are limited, so these are the fields that you need to know and master:

probability, statistics, matrices, linear regression and other regression models (log-log, log-linear, and so on)

4. You should do questions every day. The thing is that the field is limited, but the questions are vast in number.

5. Theoretically, you can learn the equations and formulae, then practise questions related to them. That is the best option, but the thing is:

Your teacher didn't give you easy equations right? He also didn't give you questions related to those right?

I know, I was there. So the point 4, which is more general, holds. Do questions every day. 

Do questions every day. 

You can actually learn the formulae and then apply them, but at higher levels, this method will not work. So just try to practise.

6. MATRICES turn out to be so important, but I didn't know that before. 

But now you do. 

To study Econometrics well, you definitely need more than a passing command of Matrices - you need to learn all the hard terms and methods immediately!

7. You need to learn a lot of important and hard words like heteroskedasticity, homoskedasticity, linear regression, multivariate normal distributions, variances, standard deviations, means, modes, medians, and more. Your command of esoteric language in the weird realm of Econometrics will improve. You have to know all that in order to do well, because questions routinely have those terms:

e.g. "According to the Gauss Markov theorems, with i.i.d., BLA BLA BLA?"

E.g. Do you know the law of iterated expectations?

E.g. Do you know how to study Econometrics? OK, the last one was a joke.

8. Even though Econometrics is tough, you can study Econometrics if you have the motivation and persistence.

9. Mathematics will be your friend and your neighbour. The good thing is, that when we study Econometrics, we unlike Mathematicians, do not need to have formal rigid proofs, but we can do easier stuff than they do. I know, I know, it looks Greek to everyone (which it is - most of the symbols are Greek!) but trust me, when you study Econometrics you learn hard stuff that is easier than what pure mathematicians do. So there. We have it good, in that sense.

10. To get the highest marks, get into your teacher's good books and get a lot of practice. I know, because I've seen it done and I've done it myself.

I hope I managed to contribute something major to the world - how to study Econometrics effectively and get good grades... this must be the only article as at 28th Sep 2008, because there isn't any article in the world that teaches you how to study Econometrics and do well in it, except mine. I know because I want someone to tell me how to learn advanced Econometrics well, and no one can, not so far at least.

Now I go back to preparing for my examinations. Work, work, work! Good luck and all the best!

Anything that interests me!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Comedy interests me - The Thin Blue Line

Comedy interests me - The Thin Blue Line

I am supposed to be studying now, which I should get round to, since my break has been long extended. But I was watching Rowan Atkinson on The Thin Blue Line, a very outdated and perhaps even ancient comedy, and one particular scene struck me as very interesting and something that I wanted to write about.

I am listening to Pie Jesu as I am typing this, and there is a sense of calmness around me as I write. Cool, huh :)

Well, in The Thin Blue Line, Inspector Grimms of the CID actually planted evidence so that he could catch a criminal, a famous drug dealer. This drug dealer was wrongly arrested and brought to jail. Rowan Atkinson, when he discovered that the criminal was wrongly accused, told the Defending Lawyer what he knew, and the criminal was set free. And then there was this very memorable scene, when Grimms came to confront Raymond (Atkinson) for actually giving evidence for the defendant (who was a dangerous criminal, wrongly accused) :

Inspector Grimms: A criminal should be put away for the safety of the public!!

Inspector Raymond (Atkinson): The public can be in no greater danger then when the police consider themselves above the law.

Better a criminal goes free, then the police become criminals themselves.

Grimms: A violent, disgusting drug pusher walked free because of you goodie, goodie.... @#))#_(!_(_@!(#_(@_!!!!

then suddenly, Grimms cries!

... I hate myself. There's nothing lower than a bad copper. It's just that I wanted that poor soul so badly. I'm glad you stopped it, Raymond...

This was so moving, that I didn't think it was comedy any more.

Sometimes there's so much beauty in comedy that it's really great stuff. There's a lot of philosophy, moral and ethical philosophy here in fact, that it's great stuff. The Plato, Socrates and Xenophon, and all the other philosophers that I study and read about now, are interesting, but not as interesting as a slapstick comedy which has occasional moments of great brilliance in philosophy, morality and idealism.

Did I mention that I am a fan of British comedy? Especially with Rowan Atkinson? :)

Anything that interests me!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes

(After that, I swear, I'll get back to mentalism, magic, Derren Brown, card manipulation and the like! For more on the paranormal and supernatural, you may want to visit Psychic Phenomena and Hypnosis, my other website dedicated to psychic powers and hypnosis, while trying to show a true believer's point of view and a skeptic's rational point of view... might be interesting, and the arguments and reasoning are all introductory for the unintiated :) )

Since I am writing about Anything that Interests Me, I am going to write about Calvin and Hobbes. Sloth has set in and nowadays I don't bother to check out the spellings, so if I spelt either Calvin or Hobbes wrongly, well, it's not my fault! OK, if I did, it is.

I was at the library waiting for my friend Mabel, when I decided to have a look at the comics section.

I was actually gunning for Batman, especially the Asylum Series, partly because I am "crazy" and I like asylums, and partly (mainly, actually) because the Asylum Series, which shows the Arkam prisoners and the madness of the doctors administering to the likes of the Joker and the Riddler, is the most interesting product line in the Batman merchandise.

Then I came across my old love Calvin and Hobbes and read it, and three of the best cartoons in the whole book are reproduced here for your leisure and enjoyment (and mainly because these are the things that interested me):


Mom (to Dad): You'd better think of something fast...

Hobbes: No worries, we tigers are naturally gifted.

Calvin: Well, here's a present from me to you. Hope it fits.
And then Calvin hugs his tiger.

Hobbes: The best presents don't come in boxes; I'll treasure this one forever.

Calvin had been spending a lot of time and effort earning some toy, and so, in conversation with his tiger...

Calvin: I can't believe every time I get my hopes up, it doesn't arrive. And then when it doesn't, the chance of it coming tomorrow increases, and I get my hopes up even higher, only to see them dashed. I have been disappointed so many times, I think I am numb to it.

Hobbes: Well, what happens if they manage to get it sent today, at the last minute, because...

And Calvin runs off.

Hobbes: He isn't numb!

and the best part of it is that when Calvin got his toy, he accidentally broke a part of it. And then he blamed his tiger.

Calvin: It's all your fault! (CRIES)

Hobbes: It's not my fault, and look, I didn't even touch it!

Calvin: I know, I know... But... Considering that my life is in shambles right now, could you please take the blame?

And my all time favourite, which breaks my heart every time:

Calvin catches a butterfly, and puts it in a jar.

Hobbes: If people could put rainbows in zoos, they'd do it.
(Or was it: If people could put rainbows in cages, they'd do it...)

And Calvin thought about it for a moment, and then released the butterfly. I found that very touching.

Alright, that's it for this post. Calvin and Hobbes is a philsophical cartoon and isn't all that slapstick and simple as some people think it to be. A real work of art and philosophy. I recommend it as compulsory reading... nah, just a good comic to read. Cheers!

Anything that interests me!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The inherent contradictions of capitalism?

The inherent contradictions of capitalism!

I was in the John Rylands Library at UOM one day when I thought I had found the secret understanding of the inherent contradictions of capitalism. I suddenly reminded myself that I am a foremost genius. Anyways, I am not Marxist or Communist, mind you, as a brief look at my bourgeois website should immediately tell you. (What with Google Adsense and all.) I was supposed to be studying for Economics and History, but ended up reading a book on American Imperialism and how the USA actually imposes its political and economic system on the world. Then I fell asleep. And when I woke up in the cold dank library, I finally managed to link all the pieces together and came up with a great theory and a great understanding...

Only to find a few days later that other people had already thought about that long before me.


Heck it. Here's my blog, and here's my understanding and theory of the inherent contradictions of capitalism.

The logical and rational outcome of letting a free market operate is that ultimately market imperfections set in. Monopolies and oligopolies arise and as we all know, these are not good for competition. Traditional economic theory suggests that government should take care of these problems and others, but the problem is that in the postmodern world, the real governments effectively go into cahoots with the largest corporations. They do not obey economic theory and regulate them; the state joins them. There are actually two ways of looking at this. One is that governments (states) go into cahoots with these MNCs willingly, and the other is that if governments do not go into cahoots with these MNCs, they can literally pull the government down. Hence a symbiotic relationship results rapidly.

Those who say that globalisation calls for the end of the state fail to realise that this is not always true. The state has now taken on a corporate form, and it is so obvious that Wal Mart screams USA and that Deutsche Bank screams Germany.

To press on with my case, with the rise of globalisation and the rapid spread of MNCs all around the globe, which is the rise of big business, the outcome is an inherent contradiction in capitalism. Capitalism is about the free market, but what happens when the free market is not properly regulated or when the firms in that free market join forces with the government is that capitalism's contradictions destroy it.

To put it simply, free market leads to oligopolies and monpolies who then take over governments and then imperfect markets arise and the free market is destroyed, which ironically created all these. That's the contradiction. That's the rub.

I thought I was a bloody genius. I thought of all that while sitting in the library reading a few books.

Then later I saw Stiglitz's new book, and watched his lecture on TV, and he had nailed it too. The same theory as me. I was flabbergasted... no, I mean dismayed.

If you think this inherent contradiction is just a diatribe against globalisation, and that Stiglitz and I are loonies, consider this:

After 1980, when the USA and the World Bank intervened in Brazil, the growth rate went from 5% to less than 2%.

Every day millions protest against SAP (Structural Adjustment Policies), which are "SAPping" the power of the poor.

The poor give more money to the rich than the rich give to the poor.

To maintain this economic superiority comes a whole host and plethora of economic, political sanctions and cultural dominance from the MNCs, not the USA government.

Inequality has been on the rise worldwide, not just in Singapore.

The point is that globalisation has its merits but the problem is that all the benefits and merits go to a select few who benefit like crazy, at the expense of the rest of the world. I happen actually to be someone who benefits, coming as I do from a privileged and rich family, speaking three languages (and now learning French, so that's four) and being a government scholar. I win in this new globalised world.

I am not complaining about my share, but it's the poor that I worry about, that I worry for. Capitalism must help them too!

Capitalism is about making people better off, but as it is, this is making people worse off and only some better off. It cannot last and something has to be done. I understand that Stiglitz has lots of good advice and suggestions, so I am going to read his book to find out.

Communism may have failed but sometimes you can see why so many believed in the Communist Utopia. For all its promises that it did not live up to, it was a great belief. Now we need something practical to handle this rising problem. The poor of the world are in chains, and we must release them ourselves with kindness and charity before they forcefully release themselves, and do something untoward. Charity and our self interest go hand in hand.

Stay tuned! More to come in future posts, when it interests me...

Anything that interests me!

Angela Funovits, mentalism and card manipulation!

Angela Funovits, mentalism and card manipulation!

Today I will be writing about Angela Funovits, mentalism and card manipulation! Even a casual reader who happened to chance on my writings should know, I have an abiding interest in mentalism and magic. One particular aspect that fascinates me the most is card manipulation, which is a really fancy way of saying card tricks, or card moves that are really cool. You know, where the magician pulls out cards from thin air. Or makes them appear and disappear. Angela Funovits is not just a card manipulator, but also a mentalist and magician, who ranks somewhere below Penn and Teller on my list, and you know, Penn and Teller are bloody good.

Alright, how did I get to know about Angela Funovits?

She is a new and rising magician, and there are lots of those around, so you might be wondering how I came to know about her in the vast sea of upcoming mentalists. Derren Brown, my favourite, is very much more famous and she is less famous than he is (as at 2008, because for all you know, next year in 2009 she might be the biggest star on earth).

Well, this is what happened: I was watching Uri Geller embarrass himself on The Next Uri Geller when I saw Angela Funovits. I shall watch her, I thought. This was after I had seen Sos Petrosyan, Morta Deller and the rest of them anyways.

OK, I will be very honest and say that I thought Angela was pretty, so that is why I carried on watching.

OK, OK, I have guilt pangs here, she was a model before, and she is pretty. That's why I watched her when I could have gone back to Derren Brown. Alright. Alright! I admit it, I admit it. Sorry! I'm shallow.


As far as the show went, she managed to read the mind of some German guy and managed to burn or imprint the name that he was thinking of onto her legs. Angela Funovits has nice long legs and I was so horrified to see her using flames on those, but what the heck, it was a great show and voila, the word magically appeared. (Rich Ferguson can do that too, though.) I was hooked, and so bothered to find out who she was. She had appeared on Phenomenon before, and so I went to watch that as well. Angela also appeared on other shows and even has a card manipulation clip on YouTube, so I watched all that and was hooked. She is good!

Angela Funovits managed to put her hand through many trials and tribulations and knives and still has them still. I especially enjoyed it because the knives made the trick seem more dangerous and very full of tension.

Angela Funovits managed to saw through a box with a man hidden in one out of four or five boxes... without killing the man, of course.

She also did a lot of card tricks and mind reading tricks that all mentalists are so fond of. Good stuff!

With regards card manipulation, I would say the little kid Sos Petrosyan is one of the best and most precocious in the world. Nonetheless Angela Funovits has many advantages over him: she's prettier, taller and more trained than he is (after all, he's a kid). I especially loved her on the YouTube video and on her websites. Angela Funovits has lots of websites and can be seen everywhere from facebook to myspace and more.

Alright, here's a brief summary: who's Angela Funovits? A good and talented up and coming mentalist and magician, and card manipulator.

Why do I like Angela Funovits? She's pretty, cool, and very talented as a mentalist. Apparently Angela prefers the term surrealist, whatever it means, but mentalism was the term I first came into contact with, so "mentalist" she is. She does really good card tricks and manipulations too! Clever, pretty, talented and charming - what more could you ask for in an entertainer? I love Angela Funovits.

I have been practising my card manipulation... for about 5 mins a week. And I still am really really bad it, bless my socks!

Did I mention Angela Funovits is really good at card manipulation?

Anything that interests me!

PS Added as an afterthought: I think Angela Funovits' determination to show the world that girls can do magic too is very commendable. Angela Funovits is definitely the best female mentalist in the world now, and I think that she will have more great times ahead and a sterling career. Angela Funovits will show the world that girls can do magic rather than just being assistants and, in some cases, be even better than the boys. OK, don't slam me. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Life is like a roll of toilet paper

Two contrasting views: life like a roll of toilet paper, or is life inherently meaningless?

My old man is now officially a gentleman of leisure, which means that my dad can finally enjoy his life entirely without bothering to work, and that he now has joined the landed aristocratic gentry. He sent me an SMS some time back saying philosophically that "life is like a roll of toilet paper; you only appreciate it when it gets to the end". That was very cute and very philosophical, and the kind of thing that Si, Sh and S love to speculate and ponder upon. Yup, you are right, we're all amateur philosophers. I actually bothered googling it and found out that the original and most common phrase is that 

"Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes." 

I prefer my old man's version, because gentlemen of leisure generally have more time to think and philosophise, and secondly, he is so right. And thirdly, he's been the family philosopher for a long time already.

At the same time, while appreciating life for what it is, I just watched Vanilla Sky.

I know I should be studying and not blogging, and not watching TV and not doing all sorts of other things, but my brother Shannon recommended it, so I did watch it.

The story was a psychological thriller about sex, dreams, and artificial reality with the protagonist Tom Cruise killing his girlfriend, having mistaken her for someone else, because every time he saw her, he thought of the person who tried to kill him. Very scary stuff. Won't spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet, and besides, since it's an old movie, you'd probably have seen it already and I'm like 7 years late. Na ja. But it's not the movie I'm talking about here, it's the philosophy bit, or the parts that aspire to be philosophical.

"What is happiness to you?" Aha, that came out of the movie.

It also came out of the philosophical mouth of my very philosophical and crazy recruit Victor when I was in the army. He asked Lieutenant See once, "Are you happy?" and it made her delirious with joy. She didn't think it was philosophy but a very charming chat up line. Perhaps. But to philosophers and philosophers wannabes like me, it makes us think.

That kind of question is near impossible to answer. What do you want, an existentialist answer? a normative answer? a Dionysian answer? a self-made self-philosophy answer? It's difficult. Philosophy, philosophy, philosophy.

And what made me think was this, in particular:

"What is happiness to you?" asked Tech Support.
"I just want to lead a real life," said Tom Cruise, in answer.

Now, that immediately makes us think of the toilet roll paper whatever philosophy. There is a real life that we can lead, it's great, and it comes to an end, so we'd better enjoy it. Without dragging Thomas Hobbes and his "life is... nasty, brutish and short" into the picture, we see that this kind of thinking is "the toilet roll thinking". It's better to live a real life and live it to the end, and appreciate it for what it is. There IS a toilet roll, and it comes to an END. I know I'm conflating a lot, but stick with it.

Then nihilism sets in... the ring tone in the movie, as well as an older post here on my Anything that Interests Me blog, is "Row, row, row your boat".

I started thinking...

1. Wouldn't we not know if we were dreaming?
2. I want to know the truth, but what if the truth is too unbearable to hear?
3. Why wouldn't it be nice to live inside a dream?
4. It wouldn't be nice to live inside a dream if it turns into a nightmare, as it did in the movie, but what about the real world? It is a nightmare, a living nightmare for many. I am one of the luckier ones.
5. Oh my God. I cannot fathom the other philosophical possibilities, which are of essence, more horrific than the ones I have just mentioned.

Now by this stage, if you have no philosophical background or no bloody interest in philosophy, Vanilla Sky, confused and esoteric thinking, you're better off going elsewhere or reading my post on Derren Brown the magician and mind reader. If you stuck to the philosophy so far, the questions I was thinking of would be those that you have considered before?

Can it be that as a working philosophy humans adopt a realist approach, and then secretly think about what if life weren't real and that it was all a dream?

Can it be that I am, or am not, the only one who thinks about "Row, row, row your boat"?

My gentleman father is interested in philosophy - but his own homespun philosophy, reminiscent of Warren Buffett and Yogi Berra. I am interested in such philosophy too, but nihilism, existentialism and an inherent agnosticism are playing havoc with my mind. Like Tricks of the Mind does.

I am going off to study now. Enough about philosophy and in with some intellectual history (which happens to involve philosophy).

I think I should be writing about Angela Funovits in my next post; she's a famous up and coming mentalist who appeared on Phenomenon and The Next Uri Geller... I believe. She added me on facebook! :) As you know, I have an abiding interest not just in philosophy but also in mentalism, magic and in Angela Funovits' case - card manipulation. Card manipulation is my latest hobby!

(... and I'm bad at it. Shoot.)

Anything that interests me!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Morta Deller

Morta Deller is the Next Uri Geller!

OK, I am supposed to studying for my last two examination papers but I have decided to write about Oliver Pocher, who acts as Morta Deller. Morta Deller is the next Uri Geller!

I found it very excruciatingly funny and very cute that Morta Deller (Oliver Pocher's screen name for this particular character) went on the Next Uri Geller show and showed us how powerful a mentalist and magician he is. The Next Uri Geller was a programme show for the world's mentalists to compete for the title of the Next Uri Geller. Here came Morta Deller. It happened like this.

The doors opened and in came Morta Deller. Uri Geller asked him, as he always asked all his contestants, "What are you going to show us today?"

And Morta Deller replied: "Ich kann Gedanken lesen und ich hoere Stimme." Hahaha! He was a real joker and a comedian, and not a mentalist. And Uri Geller, with a straight face and as if he were playing real poker, said: "Morta Deller, the stage is yours."

Morta Deller (hahahaha) is such an incredible Mentalist that he can predict that when you pick up the phone you will hear something. Morta Deller went to the USA to exhibit his skills, and astounded critics and unbelievers alike when he managed to mind read the Americans easily.

Morta Deller (to a man who was smoking): You love to smoke.
Man: That's right!!

Morta Deller (to a Chinese lady): You are not from here, the USA. You are, you are, you are from Hong Kong.
Woman: HAHAHA... yes.... I told you that just now!

Morta Deller (to a postman): You are working for a German company... DHL!
Postman: That's amazing.

I don't know why, but every time I watch Morta Deller I still feel like laughing even though the joke is stale and we all know that his mentalist powers are fake. He's a fake psychic, fake mentalist, James Randi didn't even bother proving or disproving him... because Morta Deller is Oliver Pocher, the German comedian. FUNNY! With a capital F, and UNNY.

I love Morta Deller's magical powers when it comes to the main exhibition:
1. He can fly... up escalators.
2. He can lift up elevators with his hand movements. First he can close the doors of the lift without touching it, then he can make it move upwards.
3. He can open... automatic doors.
4. He can open car windows without touching them.
5. He can open car boots without touching them.
6. He can make a coffee cup disappear by covering it.

Morta Deller can do all that and much more! Hahahahaha!

I was watching Sos Petroysan (if I spelt his name correctly, and normally I'd bother to check it up, but today I'm feeling lazy and don't want to bother to check up his name) and he was incredible on the Next Uri Geller. Sos can do the usual spoon bending magic and Sos can also do the incredible mind reading and prediction abilities expected from most mentalists and most psychics. Sos is incredible and I love him pretty much, especially since he is such a young talent and can't be more than 14, 15 years old as at 2008.

But the funniest thing is that despite my abiding interest in magic and mentalism, I still think that Oliver Pocher, I mean, Morta Deller, is much better a magician and a mentalist than all the other mentalists on the Next Uri Geller. Hear me out. How can Morta Deller be better than Angela Funovits, the talented US magician and mentalist, and Sos the little kid who can bend spoons and read minds? Not possible.

It's because magic is about a relationship - a relationship between the magician and the person watching, and there must be something that binds them together. In terms of skill, Morta Deller knows nothing. It's true. But in terms of entertainment, Morta Deller is much much better a showman and a cunning trickster than the other mentalists. Morta Deller can make you laugh and make you think and he can hold the suspense in, whereas we all already know that the next mentalist holding a spoon has the psychic ability to bend it. Morta Deller is funny and refreshing.

For instance, I loved it when he could correctly tell a person's passport number. I was wondering how on earth he did it when he has no magic powers and he is a fake mentalist. Then Morta Deller said: "Das hat gut geklappt, Papa" and hahaha! It was his old man. Morta Deller can remember a person's Ausweis Nummer because ... it's his old man. The intense suspense and the amazement that a comedian is such a psychic... hahaha! Yup. Morta Deller is the better showman. I also kind of dislike the fact that some mentalists and psychics do their tricks to death. Spoon bending is fine for people who rarely see it, but all the time? A bit thick, ain't it? Try something new, like Derren Brown does.

Enough on Morta Deller, my favourite comedian and my favourite Next Uri Geller candidate. Remember, by the way, that he is a fake mentalist. So if you accidentally or deliberately came to my blog looking for Derren Brown, Derren is on the previous post. Also, if you came here looking for psychics, mentalism, paranormal, etc, they are all posts somewhere here on my blog. Here somewhere, you'll find them. This post is dedicated to Morta Deller the fake psychic and fake magician and fake mentalist.

Morta Deller is damn funny. And his alter-ego, German comedian Oliver Pocher is also damn funny. You can take my word on this one!

Anything that interests me!
German comedy and Morta Deller the crazy fella

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Derren Brown - a post on Derren Brown

Derren Brown

I was about to write a post called "Sixpence None The Richer", because, after all, this is my "Anything that Interests Me" blog and I write about whatever interests me - and Sixpence None The Richer is one of my favourites, and I am listening to Leigh Nash singing now. I was so going to write all about Leigh Nash and her incredible vocals, and how I love her songs.

There she goes, singing "There She Goes", crooning from my computer speakers now.

Then I clicked on my taskbar and the analytics devices (now you know, I somehow became technologically advanced after my stint here in England) and I saw that the most popular search term that almost returned my blog was... "Derren Brown". Not "Anything that interests me", the bloody title of my blog, and not Sixpence None The Richer (obviously, because I was just about to write about Leigh Nash and I hadn't done it yet).

So I decided that since people are getting interested in Derren Brown, I shall do my best to tell you what I know about this man and how I got to know and adore him during my stay here in England. I don't know him personally of course, but I was impressed by his book and TV shows, obviously. So here goes: a post dedicated to my current hero, talented mentalist, magician, mind-reader, and fake psychic, Derren Brown!

My first contact with Derren Brown and his brand of magic was by sheer chance. It was my second or third day here in Manchester and I was at Blackwells. For those of you not in the know, Blackwells is the bookshop here in England and apparently it's pretty famous. In any case, I walked in and looked around (because, I am a scholar after all and we love books).

My eyes wandered over Richard Dawkins (hmmm, not too good, and besides I am now Christian and I don't want to have anything to do with his polemic), then my eyes went over to Bill Bryson (hmmm not too good, I nearly died when I did Dr Shekelle's course back in Uni, and the recommended reading was Bill Bryson, so there's no chance in hell I'm going to buy this book), and then my eyes came to rest on this book entitled "Tricks of the Mind". There it was. Mildly interesting. Might be worth a look. I thought.

I opened up the book and immediately there was a barrage and a polemic against Christianity, just the thing I had sought to avoid by looking away from Dawkins. (Later I found out that Derren Brown liked Dawkins' works and appeared in some kind of show with him!) It was mildly interesting and I was rather interested. Then I flipped over to the next page, and I was hooked. A book on magic and mentalism, some kind of magic thing? Shall buy it and have a good read later. Who's this Derren Brown? No idea. Never mind, I'll give him a chance.

I bought "Tricks of the Mind" at a discount and marched out of the bookstore happy.

That night I read it once through and found it very interesting. It dealt with magic tricks, showmanship, hypnosis, psychic powers, and psychology, the kinds of things that interest me, and besides, there was a whole section on how to have an incredible memory. It was a great read and I tried some of the tricks on my friends, and that was that. I put Derren Brown's book in the cupboard and promptly forgot all about it. That was how I was introduced to Derren Brown. I bought his book by sheer chance, read it once through that very night I got it, and then put it into my cupboard and forgot all about it.

How the heck did Derren Brown then become my hero, and how did I get hooked on mentalism and playing pranks on my friends then?

Youtube, man, youtube.

One day, I happened to recall the term "mentalism" as I was evaluating and criticising David Blaine and Criss Angel by watching them on youtube. I love to see how people debunk them, because, while their tricks are fun, I find it more intellectually interesting to see how the tricks are done.

I typed "Derren Brown" into the search function and, for good measure, did another search called "mentalism". And then I watched. And watched and watched. Derren Brown was fantastic. And then everything hit me at once.

A few years back, my brother and I saw a documentary on TV where someone could use sublimal advertising to make people choose his product. I found it very interesting, but not as interesting as some strange man who could make people draw things that he wanted them to draw, by influencing them ON THE WAY TO THE PLACE WHERE THEY WOULD DRAW THE PICTURE. That man, ladies and gentlemen, was Derren Brown.

Then I recalled the book rotting away in my cupboard and rushed to take it out. I read and read and read that book many times. It was brilliant.

Derren Brown is a bloody genius.

OK, so who is Derren Brown after all? I have been going on and on but have said nothing about who the man is. He is a mentalist. A mentalist is a magician who does tricks not with sleight of hand, but using mental tricks. He sorts of plays with your mind rather than your eyes.

Why do I like Derren Brown so much? More so than Blaine or Copperfield or Angel?

For starters, he explains most of what he does in simple terms, even though what he says may be lies, and sometimes they are lies. Some of the nonsense and bullshit that he says are totally crap, and I can't believe that people believe him. (The rest of the time, he tells the truth and talks about psychology.) But nonetheless, he wins me over because he tells us how the trick is done truthfully sometimes. He beat 9 grandmasters in simultaneous chess, and told us how it was done. But as a true showman, and a master mentalist, he did not tell us how he got the final numbers of the pieces left on the boards. Until today I can't figure it out, and I am an academic genius, mind you.

Related to this point about his telling of how the trick is done, I like the fact that Derren Brown is "honest about his dishonesty". I like it that he tells me clear in my face as I watch him on the telly: that no actors or stooges are used, and I love his line of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship". That's the way, Derren.

Second, he rekindled my childhood interest in the supernatural and psychic phenomena. When I was a kid I thought it was all real and that Uri Geller was the real thing. Derren Brown proved to me via his shows and his book that there is no such thing as psychic powers, and that rational thinking can explain such phenomena. Now I don't have any fears looking at ouija boards, ghosts, zombies and the like, because Derren Brown's method of thinking and reasoning appeals to me. Rationality is very important - thanks Derren. I knew that before, and I just needed someone to remind me of that. Thanks also for rekindling my interest in the supernatural and homeopathic remedies, ghosts, mediums, spirits, palmistry, astrology and psychics. Derren Brown gave me my childhood memories and interests back.

Third, his writing and speaking style appeals to me. Derren Brown's writing style is lucid, clear and very humorous. Sarcastic, sometimes. Ironic, even. He makes me love his writing. In fact, I sometimes write like him, and like him, we both get misinterpreted. For example, I loved it when he was quoted wrongly in the press and aha, this is interesting, he once "got into a brawl and mudslinging match" with Derek Acorah. That is sheer misinterpretation, if you get Derren Brown's side of the story. He never did anything of that sort, but somehow the media blew it up and made it all seem so much more exciting. Hahahahahaha! I had a bloody good laugh. Derren Brown writes excellently with very few mistakes and overall, Tricks of the Mind was an excellent read and had all my favourite topics inside. What more could I ask for?

As for his speaking and presentation style, I have somehow acquired an irritating London accent from imitating him so often. Derren Brown speaks very well and has a good style on TV, and the best part is: he is one of the few guys who can get away with swearing publicly on TV. And we love it. I love the fact that he swears. For example: "my big f***king expensive yacht" and who-can-forget-that-pun "lucky ladies will have a chance to get/ win a f*****ing from me". He is very cool and has stage presence, although I didn't like it much when he had a very overblown style on "Something Wicked This Way Comes".

By the way, for complete beginners and neophytes (neophyte means beginner), I have watched all his shows before the latest Channel 4 series showing now (May 2008) and they were incredible:

(Not in order) Waking Dead
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Trick or Treat
The Heist
Russian Roulette
The Gathering
Mind Control
The System
The series where he went to the USA posing as various psychic persons?

If you are scared of Zombies, don't watch the one where he hypnotises a man and makes him wake up in a room - full of Zombies!!!! Waking Dead scared the hell of out of me, the first time I saw it!

Alright. That's why I like Derren Brown. He is honest for a magician and he gives things clear cut and right to your face. He made me love the supernatural and the occult once again by exposing them for the cheap lies that they are. Rationality is key. His good, humorous, insightful and very elegant writing style as well as his good treatment of psychology, psychic powers, mentalism, hypnosis, and the supernatural in general make me love him. His stage presence and his clear speaking style (as opposed to the mumbling of Criss Angel, or the harsh sounds of Penn and the quietness of Teller, for instance) and his beautiful irritating London accent make me like him even more.

Also, Derren and I both speak German. I just remembered.

So many reasons to love Derren Brown and so many reasons to be hooked on psychics and mediums and ouija boards. Damn! That's why I got hooked on mentalism. It's all Derren Brown's fault.

PS I don't have anything against homosexuals, but I found it rather a pity for female British fans... because Derren Brown is rather handsome, seriously. Nonetheless, it's his life and inclinations.

PS 2 Derren Brown's on Channel 4 now still, May 2008, as his Trick or Treat is being broadcasted.

Anything that interests me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Manchester United are the Champions!!

Manchester United are the Champions!!

Manchester United are the Champions of Europe after a very long and very exciting final in Moscow! I have an exam in 12 hours time but I don't care - this is more important. Ha!

I went to Oxford pub today instead of the usual Varsity in Manchester, because Varsity now has a new rule that a driving licence is needed to go in, or some form of identification that isn't a photocopy. This is a new ruling because every time I went there in the past to watch Manchester United, I didn't need any identification. And I am too lazy to carry my Singapore passport every time I want to watch football here in Manchester. So Oxford it was.

(Oxford is near the University of Manchester and is the quintessential English pub with nearly all British patrons.)

In the first half, Manchester United dominated and Ronaldo scored our opening goal. With a beautiful cross after some great teamwork courtesy of Wes Brown and Scholes, Brown managed to get the ball to Ronaldo who headed it cleanly into the goal, leaving the poor Chelsea goalkeeper stranded.

However, later into the first half, even though Manchester United played well, Chelsea managed to equalise because of a goal mouth cock up by United's defence, sad to say. The ball bounced off Rio Ferdinand and Lampard opportunistically slotted it into the net, thus leveling the game.

In the second half, truth be told, Manchester United was totally dominated by Chelsea, which nearly won the game, but hit the post a couple of times. Manchester United seemed to have taken the foot of the gas pedal and things were looking bad for us, even though in the pub, the atmosphere was incredible and everyone was believing that we would be champions. A fat man and another thinner chap were singing and chanting madly the whole time along, and they still had their voices after 90 mins of the game, whereas I was sore after shouting for about 80 mins (quite good already, lah).

When extra time came along, it was very exciting because Chelsea came close to winning, but in the dying minutes, Drogba was sent off after a huge scuffle. Manchester United seemed to be down but not out!

When it came to penalties, it was our Argentine player Tevez who scored the first penalty for United. It was honestly a very nerve wracking period and the entire pub were on their toes literally and figuratively. All went well, with both sides scoring the penalties ... till Ronaldo.

He did his usual stop and start run up to the ball, which to me is one of the stupidest ways to take penalties in the world, but if it works for him, that's his problem... and he missed. Scuffed the shot. Everyone swore and it was so tense... the atmosphere was very very depressed. When Chelsea's next player (I think it was Lampard) scored, it almost seemed that Manchester United was done and gone. But it ain't over till the fat lady sings, remember?

And so the fat lady started crooning. She was crooning for Man Utd.

John Terry fell and slipped, and mis-kicked the ball - and then it was all level once again!! It was extremely exciting and by this time I was totally hoarse. (The fat man and the thinner man were not hoarse yet, strangely - 3 hours into the game)

Manchester United had the chance of being the champions of Europe once again!!

Anelka stepped up and missed - and then Manchester United became the champions of Europe 2008!!! Manchester United are the champions!

The whole place erupted into loud and racuous laughter - it was like some gigantic earthquake. Manchester! Manchester! Manchester United! United! United! everyone was shouting and screaming and hugging, and all the ang mohs came over to shake my hand (as well as June Ang, Da Ge, Christine, Colinho, and Colinho's buddy's hands of course). It was such an exciting moment.

Rio, Rio, Rio! Argentina! Argentina! Argentina!

And when Manchester United lifted up the trophy, it was such a great moment. I was there when we won the match against Wigan, thus winning the EPL, and I was there at the pub barely 30mins ago when we became champions of Europe. Manchester United are champions of Europe! We are the champions of both the Premier League and the Champions League! It was great. Both times I watched the matches at Oxford pub and it was a great experience.

The cars outside were all honking like crazy and everyone was shouting and screaming (some drunk, I'd say) on the streets and everywhere. It was like the whole of Manchester suddenly came to life. I'm glad I managed to experience all these when I came to Manchester. My Portsmouth game, my Arsenal and Man City match, Manchester United becoming champions of both the EPL and Champions League and beating Chelsea twice was incredible, and here I was, at the heart of all the action. Right here in Manchester.

Right here in Manchester!

Anything that interests me!
- and right now, as of this moment, it's my Economics History exam for tomorrow, but once again... 21st May 2008, Manchester United have won the Champions League!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Psychic powers, mentalism and the like...

Psychic powers, mentalism, and the like...

OK, I know I am supposed to be studying for my examinations now, but I have a big confession to make. I am mental. I mean, I am interested in mentalism. Actually, I was considering whether to start an entire new blog on mentalism, psychic powers, psychic phenomena and the like, dealing with the supernatural and the occult, and everybody's favourite ouija board and stuff of that nature (or supernature), but right now I think I will just write down such stuff right here on this personal blog. Maybe I will indeed set up such a psychic blog after my examinations end and when I return to Singapore in less than 3 weeks.

Alright, here's the rub: Many many many many people believe in psychic powers and psychic phenomena. I will be the first to admit that I considered it quite realistic in my childhood days and used to read all about clairvoyants, mind readers, psychics, Uri Geller, and the like. However, the problem is that having come to England and seeing Derren Brown... I have reached the conclusion that psychic powers are basically... bollocks.

If I decide to set up a blog entirely devoted to psychic powers, I will just ignore all the mentalist things in my head and write about psychic powers. Here on my personal blog I will instead write about mentalism and hope you'll just bloody bear with me and believe me for the moment, that psychics are just people who bluff you.

Mentalism is a kind of magic, and this magic deals with your mind rather than with sleight of hand or trickery. In a sense, all magic is trickery; but mentalism is more than trickery. Mentalism is all about tricks of the mind. As the more astute among you will immediately know, and the *click* will just come right in your brain - aha - Tricks of the Mind, ain't that the book that Derren Brown wrote?

Yes, Derren Brown is a mentalist. And I am proud to say that I am going to be a mentalist. I am mental already, and so being a mentalist isn't going to be that much difficult. Kidding.

Using psychology, is it really possible to make people think in ways that you want them to think?

Using trickery and misdirection, is it possible to make some move deftly and economically into a state of mind that makes it simpler to suggest something?

Is Derren Brown even telling us the truth, or is he honest about his dishonesty and we don't know what is real and what is not, and we all descend into hellish nihilism? OK, that's me talking.

What I am trying to say is that mentalism is more believable and more explanatory in character than psychic powers are - there are phenomena that cannot be explained, but if we see them as tricks of the mind rather than true phenomena like spoons bending or card selections, then we will finally realise the truth that mentalists are the real psychics.

I wonder, should I set up a blog entirely for psychic phenomena and the supernatural, or should I just contaminate my private blog with the issues that clog my cluttered mind at present? This is indeed a cunning and tricky conundrum.

Anything that interests me! And currently ... it's mentalism!

Friday, May 16, 2008

At Rusholme again...

I just came back Rusholme, and it's 12 degrees outside with pouring rain... and I am totally drenched and wearing only one layer of clothes. And we zoom back to the burger store once again...

Maybe I should have a Rusholme and my fave burger store series! :)

Anyways, I was buying my burger when an Indian man asked me where I was from. I said, Singapore, and he said, ah, thought you were from Shanghai. He then remarked that Shanghai was going to be the next Tokyo, and I concurred. When he got his kebab and left the place, I waved goodbye to him and wished him all the best.

When I left the shop, there he was. He was waiting outside and accosted me, and asked me if there were businesses to do in Singapore, and we chatted for a while in the rain (I was freezing). He asked me about Singapore and also asked me if it was better to do business in Singapore than in Malaysia, which was actually a brilliant question. I had no idea, but humbly suggested my home country, of course, with due pride.

I then gave him my email and number and asked him to get in touch with me if he wanted to have any help. He was quite impressed and then even gave me kindly fatherly advice like drink more tea and have a nice long bath. He is after all a British born Indian. That was quite kind of him actually.

I now have promised an Indian man looking to set up a food joint and an advertising company in Singapore that I will show him around NUS... goodness. Maybe I had been Derren Brown-ed. Kidding. Or more likely I am madly helpful.

And I am still freezing!

Anything that interests me

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm supposed to be studying...

I'm supposed to be studying, but something touched my heart just now and I just feel like writing it out.

I was at Rusholme ordering my burger again (none too worse for getting mugged in broad daylight). It's kinda odd how England in spring has sun shining at 8PM at night and a sun rising at 4AM in the morning, but this is England after all.

The old man's friend, the other old man who sells the burger, talked to me and asked me where I was from. He never talks to me, but today he did.

I am from Pakistan, he said. I know about Singapore, he said. It's a beautiful and rich country, he said. I have been here 24 years, he said.

Then, here's the sad part: he started talking about home, his home.

You know we got independence in 1947? he said.

When we started we were richer and more developed than we are today! This is due to geopolitical situations and due to poor government. You guys have Lee Kuan (I know it's Lee Kuan Yew, but he is after all an old uneducated man and this is already very impressive general knowledge), I've read a bit on him, and so have good leadership. Singapore, very rich. Pakistan is beautiful, with resources, with oil, with lots of rice! Now very poor. Due to bad leadership. Due to the United States and what they do to our people! There is widespread poverty everywhere.

Then I asked him more questions and the sad reply was:

If we have health care and wealth like Singapore, we'll go back. No education, no law and order, no proper judiciary, no stability, how to go back home?

Then he drew a map on his napkin and said to me:

In 1990, Singapore 30 billion pounds trade surplus... and Pakistan, 160 billion pounds deficit! I failed my Economics A levels here but even I know that we are poor. And Singapore is so small and so developed. I cannot go home.

I have three children here... my country is very backward and many people die there. High levels of corruption, no law and order. I cannot go home to my beautiful Pakistan. Our people are hardworking and intelligent, but we are a backward country. I don't think I will ever see my home again - many of them want to come here to Britain.

Honestly, I nearly cried there in front of that old man, because it was so tragic and I was so touched. Human stupidity and politics. Shaking his hand, I left the store and went back to blog.

Should have studied, which I will do soon, but my mind was constantly on that poor man... and all his other comrades there at the burger shop, in a dangerous street in England that was nothing compared to the sad tale of his home country.

Anything that interests me!