Tuesday, May 31, 2005

London Sculptor; Asian Values

Checked out www.londonsculptor.com just now. Some of the works must literally weigh a tonne!

Am lifting some bits out from a couple of papers I'm reading for class later today.

1) Jones (1997). Asian Values and the Constitutional Order of Contemporary Singapore, Constitutional Political Economy

'The capacity of the small city-state to volatize academic discourse is curious given its relative political and economic insignificance.'

'Indeed, its cadres of scholar-bureaucrats widely promote the city-state not only as a model for development elsewhere in Asia and Africa, but also for reforming the moral blight that vitiates the contemporary western cityscape'

'Commentators of a conservative disposition derive comfort fromSingapore’s bracingly elitist education and refreshingly retributive approach to justice (seeRodan 1996:340)'

'Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s economic planner par excellence learnt the significance of macroaggregate targeting at the L.S.E'

'In 1985, the government introduced the Social Development Unit (SDU) as a state-run matchmaker encouraging under-procreating graduates to “make a little room for love” in their overly academic lives.'

'However, the small size of the city-state, its technocratic addiction to planning and adjustingthe population to the latest macroeconomic target together with its preoccupationwith psychological defence against an external threat has actually fashioned a peculiarly anxiety-ridden national identity. Singaporeans knowfrom their socialization that the infractioneven of a minor rule evokes condign retribution. Singaporeans consequently display apreoccupation with the precise observation of rules.'

'The government, as Goh Chok Tong pointed out in parliament in January 1995, reserves a “right of reply” (Straits Times 1–24, 1995).5 In fact, the PAP has evolved a notably anti-individualistic construction of social contract theory, that grants government a right to be right.'

'The official ideology of total defense rests onthe contestible claim that the Party-engineered economic growth has transformed a fragile, resourceless island in Southeast Asia into a miracle of socially cohesive development.In order to maintain this illusion scholar-bureaucrats like Kishore Mahbubani (1994:6–8) officially promote a number of related incoherences:Singapore is a fragile Third World developingcountry, yet economically and morally superior to the fast-fadingWest; Singapore volubly promotes the WTO yet denies a free market in information; Singaporeans practice Asian values that uphold family and community yet applaud self-interested kiasuism;the Singaporean judiciary is not compliant, but to prove its case against The International Herald Tribune demonstrates that it is; finally, its “transparent legal system” systematically erodes elementary civil rights. Paradoxically, only by recourse to such irrational devices can scientific rule in pursuit of the always elusive common good be sustained.'

2) A review in Public Choice by Dorussen (1997) of Lingle's (1996) Singapore’s authoritarian capitalism: Asian values, free market illusions, and political dependency. Barcelona, Spain: Edicions Sirocco.

'Lingle is tempted to use hyperbolic language throughout his book. In light of his personal experiences this may be understandable, but it nevertheless undermines thepower of his arguments. A particularly worrisome example is his description of Singapore’s population as ‘loutish’ and ‘boorish.’ A striking sentence is:‘(e)conomic man is alive and well in Singapore, and he (she) is not a very nice person to encounter.’ It is best to reserve these nineteenth century stereotypesfor second-rate journalistic writings.'

Mysterious Skin

On Mondays to Fridays, movies at Odeon Covent Garden are £4.50. Not bad, innit?

Watched Mysterious Skin http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0370986/ just now. mmmh. Maybe a 6 / 10 for enjoyment value, and a 8 / 10 for quality of movie. Main thing I drew from it: DON'T accept a lift from anyone in NYC next month. *shudderz*

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Innocent Fraud & Northey Island

Am off to Northey Island later in the afternoon for a little camping trip and party. The family of one of the hosts (Jonny's brother's partner) apparently used to own the island, but it has since been given to the National Trust. Not quite sure about the location of the island as google does not seem to be very useful. According to http://www.wuffings.co.uk/WuffSites/Maldon.htm, the 'ancient causeway' linking Northey Island to Maldon was the site of the Battle of Maldon in August 991. Jonny said I could have a try at driving his car later at Northey Island. Should I give it a shot? :p

This morning's little read was Galbraith (2004). The economics of innocent fraud, London: Penguin. It's a delightful little volume. As Galbraith says on page 11, '(t)his essay is not a totally solemn exercise. A marker enjoyment can be found in identifying self-serving belief and contrived nonsense. So it has been for the author and so he hopes it will be for the reader'.

Now, '(h)ow can fraud be innocent? How can innocence be fraudulent?' Galbraith says that the answer is of no slight significance, for innocent, lawful fraud has an undoubted role in private life and public discourse. However, by neither thos so believing nor those so guiding is there spoken recognition of that fact. There is, to emphasise, no sense of guilt or responsibility' (page 13). He also says that '(m)ost progenitors of what I intend to identify as innocent fraud are not deliberately in its service. They are unaware of how their views are shaped, how they are had. No clear legal question is involved' (page 11).

Examples of innocent fraud cited in the book: the renaming of 'capitalism' to 'the market system' to eliminate the negative connotations of the former and to disguise the power of management and corporations over consumers in the economy; the discussion of the private and public sectors as separate despite being increasingly mixed and indistinguishable, etc.

I think I will use term 'innocent fraud' in my dissertation: that school (or erhem, parental) choice policies are discussed by its proponents as if schools are free market participants, that they themselves have no power, and that parents have all the power. Is this really so? (Well, obviously not. Just read Gewirtz, Ball, Bowe, Gillborn, Youdell, Reay, West, Pennell, etc etc etc.)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Asian Values; The Sceptical Mind

Rather than start off today's entry with a whinge on feeling inadequate, I think (rather than feel) that I should talk a bit about a rather cute book that I found on the shelves of the LSE library yesterday.

Its height is shorter than the length of my palm. It is a funny red coloured book. It also aims to address Asian values.

It is ..... Yuen (2001). Sacred cows: a study of Asian values, Singapore: The Word Press.

The link to The Word Press is: www.geocities.com/thewordpress .

Now, since my class next week involves the Asian developmental states, and I recall that somewhere in the introductory paragraph of the reading for next week has the word: Asian values, I decided on the spur on the moment, to get it instead of a fat volume on school choice policies in the US. Should be interesting to read I thought. At any rate, it's such a little book, surely it wouldn't take more than an hour to skim through. And it just took around an hour to complete.

There were some nice paragraphs of things to think about or be amused by in there. :p

Page 7: '"Democracy" being one of the sacred cows of our modern age, all governments aspire to be popularly elected, and the immediate promise of every African, South American or Asian coup leader would be 'I will hold election soon". But democracy takes many forms and permits many kinds of hidden manipulations. Just as the leaders of China use "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" to describe their partial adoption of capitalism, "Asian Values" was the expression used to justify Asia's unwillingness to fully adhere to the Western democratic model. It is not our purpose here to either endorse or decry this, merely to understand what "democracy with Asian characteristics" actually means.'

Page 11: 'Far from being exotic and antiquated, Confucian principles, when stated simply, sound too obvious and common: the need for moderation and compromise; the need to follow well established procedures; the need for leaders to constantly reflect on their own conduct, take advice and seek improvements; the need to educate the people one leads;... The point is to follow these as a way of life, so that they come naturally.'

Page 56-57: 'This is not a simple standoff between good and bad; between democracy and dictatorship; not even between East and West. Lee's stance is discomfiting to the Western liberals precisely because it cannot be neatly labelled and then dismissed. If he were just an ignorant Asian dictator, on route to his inevitable downfall, like say, Ferdinand Marcos, then his ideas would pose no threat to the orthodoxy of the western nations. The fact is however that his policies achieve economic prosperity while ignoring many of the sacred cows of standard political thinking, a situation that cannot be taken in without a serious and painful reassessment of one's basic tenets; in fact, something that threatens the currently fashionable ideological paradigm....

But what exactly is Lee's so successful ideology? There is nothing special about a belief in education, hard work, family, social hierarchy and so on. These are not the particular inventions of LKY, or even particularly Asian...'

Page 148: 'But a new protest movement had arisen, gaining sudden prominance when several thousand following of Fa Lun Gong (Law Wheel Power), a form of Qi Gong (Air Power) or breathing exercise....'

Page 160: 'Are religious people more moral than non-believers? We can only be sure that they subscribe to the moral systems associated with their particular religions, but have no idea how good the systems are and how closely the persons adhere to them. Furthermore, "God is on my side" is a belief that can provide a person with a ready excuse for any act, ...'

Page 174: 'The answer had to be socialisation: the electronic engineers, computer scientists, atomic physicists... are part of the same scientific community. We have the same basic education, and our individual fields share much of the scientific methodology and tools. We have faith in each other, and acknowledge the authority of specialists of other areas which we ourselves do not understand. The collective faith is passed on to the community at large, who are impressed by science's ability to deliver. Ultimately, this is not so very different from the socialisation process that supports religious faith: worshippers ... have their faith strengthened by expressing their common views together...'

Well, the book is not terribly exciting. Though claiming to be about Asian values, it seemed to be largely based on Confucianism. There is a significant portion of the book on the life of Confucius, and the plausibility of some of the legends. There are little bits on Singapore's Mandarin language policy (which would be useful as a perspective if I had elected to write on Singapore's language policy) on Singaporean rulebook bureaucracy, on Chinese Tiananmen, etc.

Re-read one of my favourite articles yesterday as well. Science and Pseudoscience is by Imre Lakatos, and was broadcast on British national radio in 1973. Both the mp3 and the transscript are available at: http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/lakatos/scienceAndPseudoscience.htm

Let me draw out some bits that I like:

'Many philosophers have tried to solve the problem of demarcation in the following terms: a statement constitutes knowledge if sufficiently many people believe it sufficiently strongly. But the history of thought shows us that many people were totally committed to absurd beliefs. If the strengths of beliefs were a hallmark of knowledge, we should have to rank some tales about demons, angels, devils, and of heaven and hell as knowledge. Scientists, on the other hand, are very sceptical even of their best theories. Newton's is the most powerful theory science has yet produced, but Newton himself never believed that bodies attract each other at a distance. So no degree of commitment to beliefs makes them knowledge. Indeed, the hallmark of scientific behaviour is a certain scepticism even towards one's most cherished theories. Blind commitment to a theory is not an intellectual virtue: it is an intellectual crime.'

'Scientists want to make their theories respectable, deserving of the title 'science', that is, genuine knowledge. Now the most relevant knowledge in the seventeenth century, when science was born, concerned God, the Devil, Heaven and Hell. If one got one's conjectures about matters of divinity wrong, the consequence of one's mistake was no less than eternal damnation. Theological knowledge cannot be fallible: it must be beyond doubt. Now the Enlightenment thought that we were fallible and ignorant about matters theological. There is no scientific theology and, therefore, no theological knowledge. Knowledge can only be about Nature, but this new type of knowledge had to be judged by the standards they took over straight from theology: it had to be proven beyond doubt. Science had to achieve the very certainty which had escaped theology. A scientist, worthy of the name, was not allowed to guess: he had to prove each sentence he uttered from facts. This was the criterion of scientific honesty. Theories unproven from facts were regarded as sinful pseudoscience, heresy in the scientific community.'

'I claim that the typical descriptive unit of great scientific achievements is not an isolated hypothesis but rather a research programme. [Science is not simply trial and error, a series of conjectures and refutations.] 'All swans are white' may be falsified by the discovery of one black swan. But such trivial trial and error does not rank as science. Newtonian science, for instance, is not simply a set of four conjectures - the three laws of mechanics and the law of gravitation. These four laws constitute only the 'hard core' of the Newtonian programme. But this hard core is tenaciously protected from refutation by a vast 'protective belt' of auxiliary hypotheses. And, even more importantly, the research programme also has a 'heuristic', that is, a powerful problem-solving machinery, which, with the help of sophisticated mathematical techniques, digests anomalies and even turns them into positive evidence. For instance, if a planet does not move exactly as it should, the Newtonian scientist checks his conjectures concerning atmospheric refraction, concerning propagation of light in magnetic storms, and hundreds of other conjectures which are all part of the programme. He may even invent a hitherto unknown planet and calculate its position, mass and velocity in order to explain the anomaly.'

'Marxism 'explained' all its failures. It 'explained' the rising living standards of the working class by devising a theory of imperialism; it 'explained' even why the first socialist revolution occurred in industrially backward Russia. It 'explained' Berlin 1953, Budapest 1956, Prague 1968. It 'explained' the Russian-Chinese conflict. But their auxiliary hypotheses were all cooked up after the event to protect Marxian theory from the facts. The Newtonian programme led to novel facts; the Marxian programme lagged behind the facts and has been running fast to catch up with them.'

hmmm. Just realised that the bits lose their meaning when taken out of the text. Do read the original article. It's argued rather intricately and delightfully!

mmmh. A tad of whinging now....

From Lakatos: 'Indeed, the hallmark of scientific behaviour is a certain scepticism even towards one's most cherished theories.' Am I too much of a scientist in this sense, and therefore ill suited for religion?

Have been feeling a tad inadequate of late. Apparently, my writing is too dispassionate and not worth reading. My admiration of a certain political figure seems to be discredited and deemed unworthy coz she doesn't feel for the people. The stuff I like to read apparently involve too much thinking and not enough feeling. Seemingly, I'm too logical and miss the point, since logic is not enough to understand the universe. (Yet to understand the universe, science is somehow taken to be truth?)

Am distinctly feeling like a giant heartless zit who doubles up as a maid to clean bowls left in shelves, vacuums the floor and does the laundry alone.

*disgruntled and isolationist pigletty zittified me*

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

US Trip

The following is the bare outline of the US trip:

17th June: London Heathrow - Boston - Providence
18th June: Providence
19th June: Providence and Boston
20th June: Providence and Boston
21st June: Providence - DC
22nd June: DC
23rd June: DC - New York
24th June: New York
25th June: New York
26th June: New York
27th June: New York - London Heathrow

Accommodation all arranged already. Staying at Ted's from 17th to 20th nights. Then 21st and 22nd nights will be the HI in DC, well situated near the White House. :p Then New York, will be the Chelsea International Hostel.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Am I proud?

Yay! :p

Guess what?

Booked a trip to the US next month! :)

17th June: LHR - Boston
27th June: NYC - LHR

11 days!!! GOSH. That's more days than I thought I was going for!

Should be fun tho. Going to visit Providence, Boston and New York for sure. Will look to see whether Washington DC and Baltimore are worth going for a visit.

Can't believe that I am going there. Rather unexpected, uh-huh uh-huh.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Daily routine

9-ish: wake up
10-ish: breakie and papers
11-ish: the practice
12-ish: tmf music videos
12.30-ish: institute 676 acorn room
1-ish: check emails

new addition to routine?: this ickle bloggie?

I've never exactly been one to stick to routines. Hence all the ish-es above.

Maybe I will use this space to plan for the day ahead. So here's the very tentative plan for today:

1300 hrs to 1430 hrs: research on possible paper topics for the comparative education module
1430 hrs to 1500 hrs: lunch of green bean salad thing that i just got from the cafeteria downstairs
1500 hrs to 1630 hrs: simple corrections for the returns to education paper
1630 hrs to 1700 hrs: research on computer games
1700 hrs: leave the computer lab
1930 hrs: ad. duncan for a drink with fergus and jonny
2030 hrs: maybe a quick drink at molly moggs
2200 hrs: desperate housewives

So that's the plan. Bet I won't stick to it. :p Tata.

Just got a warning about what I can post on this blog, especially in light of developments in Singapore. Sad, innit?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Attempt Number Two

Here's attempt number 2. Choped this bit of blogospace before going for class. Soviet influences in Central Asian and Chinese education. mmmmmh. Would it interest you?

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