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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Scorpion and the Frog

In what has to be one of the least expected publications of the prestigious Princeton University Press, renowned moral philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt in 2005 came out with a little gem called On Bullshit. It’s a quick read—even an edifying one—and among the nuggets of wisdom is the following, which typifies the book’s delightful blend of highfalutin academic prose and outrageous subject matter: “The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who—with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth—dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right” (22-23). Perhaps it’s not that surprising that this comes from a moral philosopher, since he seems, at heart, irritated by the irresponsible use of words that he sees all around him in American society: words, words, words, all carefully chosen by very-well-educated and highly-paid graduates of very good schools: and to what ends? Thus, the focus on pulling the-wool-over-the-reader’s-eyes and concealing one’s ignorance of a topic or, worse, coercing a particular activity from readers by massaging truths into something a bit less nuanced than Truth, presents itself here as a moral question, one that alumni with an interest in English have no doubt grappled with on many occasions: now that I can express myself, is that really what I’m expressing? Am I, like T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, in the business of preparing a face to meet the faces that I will meet on any given day? Have I given up on asking the “overwhelming question” that life can force upon the thinking individual? Or have I committed myself to making a difference in a world of great injustice. In other words: what have I decided to use my expressive skills for?

Penned by my advisor in a quarterly publication, the questions in the quote above have been resonating within my head for the greater part of the year. Oh, in the beginning, I was young and naive — even pompous — deigning myself one to clear the cobwebs from the minds of the muddled masses and enlighten them through force of expression and clarity, sincerity and passion, even compassion. Then, sadly, I realized that many people do not wish to be enlightened — to be woken up. Happiness — or rather, the futile pursuit of — makes do.

Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
         (Bertrand Russell)

An acquaintance of mine has this for his signature line:

People do not change when they are offered a better option. They change when there is no other option.

I am not sure if I disagree.

What's left then is to profit from these fools. Profit how? Profit by "pulling-the-wool-over-the-reader's-eyes and concealing one's ignorance of the topic" like the example below?

In Ayurveda, the body is seen as a single integrated system in which all the parts work in tandem to create balance and health. The body’s ability to heal itself is its most significant quality, with healing defined as the process of the body returning to its natural functions. According to Ayurveda, the smooth operation of these functions forms the pillars of good health: effortless menstruation, regular elimination, restful sleep, and strong digestion.

Digestion plays a crucial role in healing, because our physiology depends on digestion for constant renewal. A holistic interpretation of digestion is to see it as the means of extracting intelligence from food and then processing it in a way that supports the inherent wisdom of the body as a whole.

[ . . . ]

9. Don’t eat until your previous meal has been digested.
Eating only when your stomach is calling for more requires a high level of body consciousness. For most people, complete digestion takes from three to six hours. If you have to snack, keep it simple—a piece of fruit or a warm beverage.

10. Favor meals made with freshly cooked foods.
Fresh foods are intelligent foods and contain the greatest life force. A delicious, freshly prepared meal stimulates the appetite and gets the secretion of digestive enzymes going even before you start to eat.

Or lending my quill to shady enterprises such as MLMs, writing gobbledygook to ensnare the greedy, and trick the stupid?

But, as my friends will (readily) attest, I hardly ever do things for money. I do things because I want to, or feel like it. Hence, I write to bash, and to stir; stir things up; stir people up; stir sh*t up (though, very rarely, for a chosen few, to comfort and inspire). Another reason why critics such as Bike Snob NYC and Iowahawk, with their sulphurous confluences of wit and vitriol, hold my ardent admiration:

[Bike Snob NYC's comments are in red]

Monday: You were riding your bike and stopped me to say "Hi" - w4m (East Village)
[original URL:]
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2008-02-27, 10:30PM EST

at the corner of 2nd Ave & 7th St. You asked me about my day. I was a little spaced out. Maybe we could talk some more sometime?

Sorry, life does not offer second chances. Unless your name is Mario Cipollini. But even then they rarely work out. It’s kind of like wrapping bar tape: you get one shot at perfection, and every time you unwind and re-wrap things just get messier and messier. Considering that this guy rides around town trying to pick up strangers, chances are he’s probably gone and wrapped his sticky underside around someone else by now. Let him go and look for a new roll.

Sheriff of Nottingham's Daughter - m4w (Chelsea)
[original URL:]
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2008-02-24, 11:53PM EST

I was walking West on 23rd Saturday night with my weary Portuguese friend with an empty propane tank on the front rack of my Swedish military bike.

You were charming and on a hopeless search for wine with your friend.

Anyway, I realized we rudely neglected to invite you both to the BBQ when it gets warmer.

"If you couldn’t tell from reading my post, every single aspect of my life is contrived and pretentious. In addition to having a weary Portuguese friend and a Swedish military bike, I prepare my coffee in a French press, relieve myself in a Turkish toilet, wear a West Papuan penis gourd in warm weather, and have an unpronounceable sexually transmitted disease with an indeterminate country of origin. Because having a Portuguese friend is not as charming and whimsical as having a weary Portuguese friend, I make sure he stays weary by arranging inconveniently early dim sum breakfasts, challenging him to regular squash games, and placing phone calls to him in the middle of the night. I do hope you will attend our BBQ this summer, which promises to be well-attended by weary people of various nationalities, all wearing penis gourds, sipping mojitos, and discussing the arts, exotic locales, and vital issues of the day.”

Speaking of bashing, one of my previous victims* has turned basher / stirrer herself:

I make fun of everyone - that’s my thing. Women, men, lesbians, gay men, Indians, attached people, single people, Chinese, Christians, dogs, bisexuals, law students, lawyers, homophobes, gay activists, judges, fundamentalists, anyone you can think of...

Inferno Ed is going to buy me a beer for having achieved this seemingly impossible feat. I always thought I was Mr. Thomas A. Anderson. It turns out that I'm Agent Smith instead. I don't know whether to be pleased, or feel insulted.

So, there you go. The honest truth. I love to write. I love to bash. I love to stir. And, I deeply admire individuals who are masters of all three.


Some people write to please, to soothe, to console. Others to provoke, to challenge, to exasperate and infuriate. I've always found the second approach the more pleasing.
         (Edward Abbey)

* = If any of you haven't figured it out by now, the debate over Section 377A of the Penal Code served to distract the general public from a fundamentally more important — and immediate — issue: the passing and implementation of the compulsory CPF Annuity scheme.

What percentage of the population examined the pros and cons of the CPF Annuity scheme while the debate over the attempted repeal of Section 377A raged on?

The same goes for the alleged escape of one Mas Selamat Kastari. Note the timing of the incident with the revelation of the wide gap between the Singapore government's projected $0.7 billion deficit and the actual $6.45 billion surplus. Rather curious, isn't it?

How many individuals clamored for the 2% GST hike to be reprieved in light of the $7.15 billion budget underforecast while the hunt for Mas Selamat Kastari goes on?

As Mr Brown observed, the lackadaisical manner in which details regarding the suspect were released renders this curious event even more curious:

we seem to be living in some time warp when it comes to this escape. Let's see:

1. The public knows about the escape only 4 hours later.

2. First you tell us limping, then days later, you tell us only if he runs.

3. We find out what he WAS wearing that day he escaped, after 6 days. And we are asked to look for his discarded clothes.

Maybe in next few days, they will let us know what colour Hello Kitty underwear he was wearing.

Anyone remember Wag the Dog?

Well, this is the cheap-ass, adulterated, Singapore version, folks.

Coming up early next week, the authorities reveal the tool with which Mas Selamat Kastari made his daring getaway with:

A 14-cm long Hello Kitty vibrator made of high strength ABS plastic.

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