Anything That Interests Me! :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Anything that interests me - Cyril Takayama

Anything that interests me - Cyril Takayama

Anybody who knows me well would probably know that I have an interest in magic, and in particular, mentalism. Normally that'd be absolutely true - as I do indeed have a great interest in mentalism. However, this time my post is going to be on street magic and stage magic, which are apparently the two things that Cyril Takayama does.

There are different genres of magic, and of course, some of them cross over, some of them are similar and some of them infringe on each other. For instance, right off the cuff, there are stage magicians, card magicians, illusionists, mentalists, sleight of hand artists, hypnotists, street magicians who do close up magic, and so on - but note that each category could potentially include other categories. Sleight of hand artists could be street magicians, and street magic could have an element of mentalism, and so on.

Normally, my interest is quite limited in this respect to merely mentalism, because that's the thing that really intrigues me. I already know how most of the stage magic is done and sleight of hand has already been exposed by my ex-favourites Penn and Teller. Even the sacred cups and balls trick has been exposed by Penn and Teller so that makes my scope of magical interests, so to speak, more limited. But Takayama is different - some of his tricks are, to say the least, bizarre.

I was in fact not going to write about Takayama but about Michael Vincent, who really amazed me (till Takayama came along).

Michael Vincent will get special mention here: he is indeed one of the best classical magicians I've seen so far. He does classical tricks, like the cups and balls, and also card tricks, sleight of hand, and the like. What I like about him most is that he is very traditional and classical, and the tricks that he does are quite immortal. Michael Vincent wears glasses too - that alone is worthy of mention because a la Nana Mouskouri, most celebrities do not show that they wear glasses. He's quite special, in a sense.

Then I chanced upon THEM.

THEM stands for totally hidden extreme magic, which was a short lived TV show, where magicians basically punked people, and everything was recorded by CCTVs. Now the acts that really interested me were:

pretty lady Lisa changing her clothes very quickly (change artist) in the changing room and puzzling the heck out of other women in the store, and
Cyril Takayama's head falling off trick.

Now, call me old fashioned, but that was a funny trick - come on, his head fell off! I didn't know it was Takayama at the time, but later on I chanced upon his other skills, and those hooked me.

Takayama's strengths: he's handsome, he's cool, he makes magic look easy, he switches easily and excellently between street magic and stage magic, and in both of them he aims to shock and stun people. Michael Vincent's magic is more cultured, slow, traditional, and in many ways more mature, but Takayama's hip magic in Japanese and English is quite refreshing. Come on, he's Criss Angel and David Blaine - in Japanese and English! If Criss and David could speak German or Japanese, they might give Cyril a run for his money. However, Takayama currently seems to be the next biggest thing (take it whatever way you will) in magic in Japan, going at least by google and youtube.

By the way, I am an Economist and Historian by training, and one thing is that we are frequently wrong when we predict things. At least I'm honest.

I wrote about Derren Brown, Sos, Angela Funovits, and Morta Deller before, and now Michael Vincent and of course, our great star, Cyril Takayama. 

Angela Funovits hasn't exploded since then. I sort of guessed wrongly. Perhaps the competition among magicians is too stiff? Perhaps she is now famous, but I didn't know - and neither did you? Perhaps youtube is the better medium to reach out to people? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I don't know.

But what I do know is that these write ups on magicians and magic are all my own personal opinions. I also know that economists and historians make mistakes in prediction too. Hoho.

So, to end my long post on magicians and Cyril Takayama - watch him; he's interesting! And he's good.

Anything that interests me!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Anything that interests me - Against Holy Blood, Holy Grail

Anything that interests me - Against Holy Blood, Holy Grail
and all that crap...

When I was in the military, we used to have some time off for ourselves known as "nights off". That meant that you could get out of camp for a bit, and then come back at midnight. It was called "nights off" for the simple fact that the sergeant major would delay your book out timing until it was about 7PM, hence "night" and not "evening" off - I am just kidding. Kidding about the part about the CSM of course, but not kidding about the part about the nights off.

Anyways, I happened to be at Popular Bookstore during one of the nights off, and this book caught my eye - Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.

This looks mildly interesting, I thought. I read it and I was riveted. (Back then, I was.)

The book was absolutely badly written. The print was small, it was repetitious, and it was quite boring. But the conclusions that the writers drew were ground breaking. Bear in mind, back then I was grappling with both existentialist questions and also the fact that my reason was standing in the way of religious faith.

According to the book, Jesus Christ did not die on the cross but he lived on after the crucifixion. I know I am doing a hasty summary here, but please bear with me. The best is yet to be. That amazing claim was groundbreaking, at least to my mind in those days.

The authors went on to claim that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdelene and they had children, and the whole of the Holy Grail was nothing more than a bloodline of Jesus, which linked him to the Frankish Merovingian dynasty. Jesus Christ was the father of a race of leaders, or more accurately priestly kings, and they established Christianity in Europe. Even better is that this secret was preserved by the Priory of Sion - an allegedly ancient and powerful organisation holding the secret of the Holy Grail - despite the Roman Catholic Church's various and numerous attempts to silence them. The Knights Templar and the Cathars were all killed in the Catholic Church's attempt to keep the secret hidden, until of course, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln - as well as other researchers - found out the truth.

I went back to the bunk in total confusion. The incredible book was groundbreaking, and mind you, many say that it led on to the Da Vinci Code by church-basher and conspiracy-theorist Dan Brown.

Last week, I went to look for the book. Somehow I got it into my mind to acquire a religious collection. I bought the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, and even a book that attempted to square physics (as we know it) off with religion! I was very pleased with my collection, but yet was disappointed when many a bookstore told me that Baigent et al's book was out of print, and they had no more stock. I must say that I regreted not buying that book when it was prolific, and I must also say that a couple of bad words arose in my mind... never mind.

Finally, after looking high and low and spending a little fortune, I found it at MPH. It was the very last one in that particular MPH. Holy Blood, Holy Grail - Holy Cow, I got it!

This time I read it not for ideas, but read it slowly and carefully, measuring every syllable and every nuance. I also read it in the light of what I knew by now (2009), that Pierre Plantard had fabricated the Priory of Sion and that the whole she-bang he orchestrated was a hoax, and that Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln had walked into a con. Was the latest understanding and information by Wikipedia, BBC documentaries, Google, and the best scholars from various fields around the world correct, or were the conclusions of Holy Blood, Holy Grail correct?

This is what I know and what I have come to realise:

1. The entire book was written in the form of a preconceived hypothesis. The authors found what they were looking for and did not follow the evidence. Most of the pages are rife with "perhaps", "maybe" and "it is our hypothesis". Therefore, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is not non-fiction and scholarly history, but speculation. Pierre Plantard himself, the man who fabricated the Priory of Sion and his own royal lineage, stated that he himself never put himself forward as a descendant of Jesus Christ.

2. The Priory of Sion was a hoax. Plantard admitted it. A reading into the text shows that the authors were initially suspicious but later gave in.

3. The Grnostic Gospels had long been in existence and Christianity had never been a place with a fixed and easy understanding. Yet, the particular Gnostic group that claimed that Jesus was human was one of a myriad other groups with various competing claims, some of which claimed that Jesus was a lesser God, and some of which gave Jesus incredible nebulous form and incredible pantheistic powers. In fact, Lee Strobel has demonstrated convincingly that most of the Gnostic gospels were not taken seriously by mainstream Christians because of their far fetched ideas, and in some cases, were nonsensical fabrications.

4. There are indeed myths about the Knights Templar and the Cathar heresies. But the thing to note is this: they weren't hiding any secret. There was none. And the heresies had persisted for centuries and this was no new secret.

The Knights Templar were rich because of banking and the modern invention of cheques is sometimes attributed to them - so it was "banking" that made them rich.

The Cathars were indeed heretics, so claiming that they thought they knew a secret vis-a-vis the Catholic Church turns out to be a non sequitur. Let's put it this way: if you are a criminal, obviously you do criminal things, for if you don't do anything criminal, you're not a criminal.

The Albigensian Crusade was also explained in terms supporting the heretics. I think a personal departure is insightful here.

Warren Buffett once said that if you don't know jewellery, know the jeweller. And I happen to be a nominal Roman Catholic and I know who St Dominic is. It is on record that he even gave up his favourite manuscript, which he spent a lot of time copying, so that he could donate money to the poor. In fact, he was an educated and learned man, who declared that proper religious argument and proper reasoning, as well as faith in the Bible and in the Rosary, would win over the heretics. He also spent a lot of time trying to convert the heretics and to win them over by argument, even submitting to their own methods of determining truth. Now, with this kind of man, kind and reasonable, is it likely that he would be the kind of mad, fanatical extremist willing to kill thousands? The question answers itself.

Now, it is perfectly natural for a Catholic to say that St Dominic was a good man, and perfectly natural for Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln to say that St Dominic was a religious fanatic. It is only expected.

But given the knowledge of the man's character, it is not possible to agree with the authors' portrayal of the Crusades. Mind you, the heretics killed Pierre de Castelnau, the pope's representative, thus provoking the war. Mind you, the heretics were the ones attacking villages where innocents were, and not St Dominic and his band of priests attacking villages. St Dominic didn't attack anyone. It's a small point, but if the authors didn't even get this one right, but used their ideology and their flawed historical method to colour their writing, then it's not honest - and it's not good history. It's just their prejudiced opinion.

5. The writing in Holy Blood, Holy Grail was still as bad, poor, and repetitive as I last remembered it. Redundancies, misspellings, and lots of minor mistakes abounded, that it is hard to remind myself that these are professional writers.

In conclusion, Dan Brown's work which was based on Holy Blood, Holy Grail is demonstrably false. Holy Blood, Holy Grail is also demonstrably false and the hypotheses advanced are nothing more than flights of fancy that have no true underlying basis. The Nag Hammadi and the Gnostic gospels do exist, it's true - but the thesis that Jesus did not die, had children, and his heirs are kings, is totally bogus and nothing more than speculation. This book, in other words, is speculation and guesswork disguised as history.

The above are my personal academic views on religion, Catholicism, and a neutral book review about a book that interests me.

Anything that interests me!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Current GFC - Global Financial Crisis

The Current GFC - Global Financial Crisis

No, I am not going to talk about the GFC to explain it to people. That's not the point of this post. The point of this post is about themes. And the difficulties of my incredibly difficult ISM and the conundrum that I've faced, and also a bit about philosophies.

On Bullshit and the GFC (Ponzi schemes)

Anyways, the GFC is also evidence of the lengths that people would go to just to bullshit others, in terms of the Madoff case and the lax regulations that led to renegade money managers. I was thinking of proposing:

"Is the liberal financial regime in the US and Europe one giant Ponzi scheme?"

Other proposals that I have in mind:

Does the GFC mark the end of the liberal financial model, or is it just an aberration?

Effects of ... on the GFC

... include:

rumours, economic liberalisation, economic integration... and much more. Just imagine that to be a Satzklammer, where you can fill in any nice word you want.

Effects of hamburgers on the GFC (that would get me kicked out!)

The problem is that this is an ISM, and with a very important and clever professor.


I cannot do a literature survey or a simple analysis in words, because that would not suffice for a major ISM. In economics there is now a pressing demand for models and empirical studies or econometric studies at the undergraduate level, even for level 3000.

This is not a fact but a kind of trend. I have a friend whose professor just said that a literature review and simple analysis would do - because we are not trained to make models or to innovate models or conduct econometric studies at year 3. On the other hand, there is my professor, who is wise and clever enough to inform me of the pitfalls of "traditional economics", which is under heavy attack by mathematics. I am using such strong words, but basically the mathematisation of economics is an ongoing and continuous trend that will not abate, and in fact has been established as part of this field for ages.

SO the problem is THIS:

Building a model, and then doing empirical testing.

Another possible way is to have the empirical evidence and then do a model based on that.

Needless to say there are debates.

I am going to graduate with an Economics First Class here, so no matter what it takes, I'll do it (yes, that's not economic thinking - did not weigh opportunity cost). So one possible strategy would be to bite bullets.

Biting bullets

Mankiw claimed that he is not good at math. Yet he bit the bullet and became an Economist. I have bitten the math bullet.

In addition, the other intellectual bullets that I have bitten are:

1. Physics - at the level of concepts and hypotheses - models of course

2. Biology and evolution

3. Increasing mathematisation in Economics including abstract statistical concepts

4. Additional modules - including International Economics (which is not compulsory for me) - i.e. doing more work, in effect

5. Dumping History, my beloved subject... because I have to get Economics First Class and USP. Sigh. I will miss her, but then again, I can always study history and read stuff on my own, whereas Economics and USP are paying and metaphorically paving me the metaphorical road to metaphorical success. You know, I really loved Economics and History at JC, but now, when I do Economics as a "professional" subject, it is a bit dry.

But there are more bullets to come.

Now I go back to writing proposals.

One good thing about blogging is that it is a form of catharsis. And what do you know, you may actually think of better ideas whilst formulating your own ideas into words.

One last thing is that for you non-economists, this current global financial crisis is colossal and has far reaching repercussions, the likes of which the world has never seen. This is really indeed some catastrophe and I am not alarmist (i.e. I'm not that kind of DOOMSSSSSDAY IS COMINGGGGG!!! person). Francis Fukuyama predicted the end of history. Many predicted the end of finance (i.e. that finance was fully developed). Well, they were right and wrong - it was no end to finance, but now it seems that it is an end to finance.

The world is ending!!!

PS You will be pleased to know that economists are spectacularly bad at predicting. We are not dentists (Harford, of Undercover Economist fame).

Anything that interests me

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nice stories I just want to share

Anything that interests me: Nice stories I just want to share

With the world in recession plus a whole host of negative things around us (fires in Thailand clubs, dead Singaporeans and live terrorists, Israel attacking Hamas yet again... et al), I think I would like to share some nice stories instead. Just for a change. For no apparent reason, psychology, philosophy, economics and history aren't in my head at the moment, although once school starts I will be studying all the philosophy, economics and history that I can lay my hands on, and memorising and learning and whatnot. I would like to share some nice stories.

By the way I realise that some people may want to contact me and to ask me things and talk to me. Do leave some means of contact, like a blog or an email, so that I can get back to you. I don't let people contact me easily on my Ideas on How To Become Rich and Get Your University Degree Online sites, but this is my personal academic blog and questions are always welcome. Thanks! The reason, of course, why I don't leave any means of contact around is that if you check things up, I have been flamed and attacked ad hominem by strange people whom I've never met (and in some cases, whom I've met for like 10 seconds). But for the rest of the world, just leave me some contact and I'll be glad to help you.

Anyways, stories, in my own words:

A rugby team was about to win the first championship in their lives. They were seconds away from victory and the crowd was already counting down. TEN! NINE! EIGHT! ... One of the quarterbacks, caught up in the excitement of the moment, threw up the ball, up into the air, just as the crowd counted THREE! TWO! ... He thought that the match was almost over and that he had won for the first time ever. At that moment, the other team's foremost player caught the ball and ran to the end and ... touch-down! The other team won.

Moral: it ain't over till the fat lady sings. That's my fave phrase!

During the Vietnam War, the Americans accidentally bombed a village and injured many young children. One little girl was especially hurt and needed a huge blood transfusion to save her life. She was rushed to hospital by her teacher, accompanied by friends and classmates. The Red Cross nurse who was tending to her asked everyone: "Will any one here in this hospital give her blood? She's dying!" However, none of the Vietnamese in the hospital responded, including the girl's friends. A little boy took a look at the dying girl, and then volunteered to give blood. The nurse took her syringe and started her work. As she did, the life started returning to the girl's face and she looked much better, and the Doctor said, "She's going to live, because of you. Well done, little boy." And the boy said, in a trembling voice: "Well, I am glad that she can live. When will I start dying? Am I going to die now?" It was then that the Red Cross realised that every one of the Vietnamese had misunderstood and that they thought they had to give their life to save the girl.

My thought: As Jesus says, there's no greater love than giving your life for your friends. I am touched every time I read this one.

A boss was hiring workers to sell telephone systems when a cowboy walked into his office. "Hire me, boss, I wanna become a success in beeness (business)," said the cowboy. The boss thought that he would never make it, but gave him a chance anyways because he thought that the cowboy would be out in a month. "Thanks sir, you won't regret it," said the cowboy, "how much do ya think I will make inna month?" The boss said, "Well, based on your lack of experience and your dressing, your accent, and your bad English, no more than 1000 bucks a month!" The cowboy said, "No problem; that's more than what I get back at the ranch anyways!" He got 400 bucks working as a cowboy.

He went on to make 6000 bucks on his first month and went from success to success. One day he even came into the office with bags of cash and said, "Hey Larry, I doing fine, no?" The boss was flabbergasted. He said, "I don't know if you take paper (a cheque - he didn't know what a cheque was), so I drove the lady to the bank and got her to give me the money in cash!" How did he sell the phones to her, to begin with? He said: "I just said to her, 'Ma'am, let's just say the phone does nothing but ring and you pick it up, my brand looks nicer than those that you already have!' "

The cowboy also wrote down his goals: "I wanna be a success in beeness." And he made hundreds of cold calls a day. He wrote his goals and went for it, and eventually did become a success in business.

"To Risk"
by William Arthur Ward/ Author unknown (I have found multiple attributions)

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out to others is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure

But risks must be taken,
because the greatest hazard in life is to do nothing.

The person who risks nothing,
does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.

Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave,
they forfeited their freedom.
Only the person who risks can be free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails.

And another nice, well, advertisement, in this case, that I want to share is:

Impossible is just a big word
thrown around by small men
who find it easier to live
in the world they've been given
than to explore the power they have
to change it.

Impossible is not a fact.
It's an opinion.

Impossible is not a declaration.
It's a dare.

Impossible is potential.
Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.

I remember that most people said that David Beckham was just fluff and not a real footballer, only an advertisement or some kind of walking merchandise or something like that. He sells shirts and perfumes and whatnot, you see. When he went to Real Madrid, they said that too. He was real unpopular.

BUT, I also remember that on his first match, he scored his very first goal for Real from a freekick - scoring his debut goal for Real Madrid, on his first match, on his first freekick. He won them that game. David Beckham never looked back, and his detractors were all wrong anyways. Go BECKS! :) Hah. I'm ancient.

Anything that interests me!