Just Amleth

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Body Odour

17 Feb 2004 9:00pm. A middle-aged man sporting a gold tooth took the seat next to me. He wore a 60's style short-sleeve striped shirt tucked out and a pair of brownish-black pants that looked like it needed pressing. A foul-smelling scent (like a dead cockroach) wafted into my lungs. I held my breath, willing the smell to go away, but it would not. I could feel my life ebbing away as the foul smell continued to assail my nostrils. I had to make a choice. It was either change my seat, or die of asphyxiation. The choice was never clearer.

I cannot stand the smell of body odour, and it appears that the buses and trains are full of it. Every time I find a nice, cosy little seat on the bus, out of nowhere comes someone with terrible BO who would take the seat beside me. Not wanting to seem rude, I would pretend that I was getting off the bus and find another seat. Then I would enjoy several minutes of fresh air again until the next person with BO comes to my side again (which happened to me twice today!!). Yuck!! I got off that seat and made the decision to stand for the rest of the journey, although there were still a couple of empty seats around (as all the people occupying those seats appeared to have BO). It was a great relief to me when I finally got off the bus.

In the MRT, it is slightly different. Due to the availability of handrails, BO now often comes in the additional form of raised armpits. Just not too long ago, I had to stand in a crowded train, when a somewhat unkempt gentleman standing beside me switched from gripping the pole to holding the handrails. Although I had not made the slightest movement, I suddenly found myself staring face-to-face with an armpit. Without warning, the scent of his armpit assailed my nostrils. Gasping for breath, I turned my face away for some fresh air. It was pure pleasure when the smell of scentless air entered my lungs again. Alas, this moment of pleasure was not to last. For some inexplicable reason, the next person I faced also raised his arms to the handrail. Are these people trying to kill me with their armpits?? With two raised armpits on both sides of me, I had no choice but to move.

Alas, these are the pains that one must endure with public transport. Me? I think I smell great all the time. :D

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The William Hung phenomenon

To be honest, I have not watched American Idol, and thus have had to learn about William Hung's fame through friends and the newspapers (which is hard to miss, especially since he's given front-page prominence). However, it speaks a lot about how far and wide his fame has spread, when even people who have little interest in the entertainment scene (such as me) are acquainted with his existence. Having said that, I still do not intend to watch American Idol, and I hope my friends / newspapers will keep me updated on anything "interesting" that happens again. :D

It is interesting how the William Hung phenomenon has become so large that almost everyone in the developed world knows about him now. For a person that has been accused of being "unable to sing and dance", why is he so popular? Perhaps it is because most people feel that they are, in some way, real or imagined, better than William. In a society that rewards only winners, people want to see a "loser" win. It helps fulfill the self-delusion that one possesses some sort of unfulfilled potential, i.e. "if I had attempted it, I would have been able to achieve as much, or even better".

It reflects well on William that he is able to accept such criticism with grace and stride. Perhaps his Asian heritage had a part in it. Despite William's current popularity, becoming the next commercial "American idol" would most likely be elusive for him. Not because he is inferior to other people (which he certainly is not), but that is just the way the system works. Once the excitement dies down, the masses will simply forget about him, as they move on to the next sensational piece of news. Afghanistan is still in trouble, but it is no longer on people's minds. What is hot now is bird flu, the American election, and to a lesser extent, Iraq. The media has a very short attention span, and so do the masses. Still, until the next winning "loser" appears, William will probably continue to remain at the pinnacle of his fame.

At first glance, the title Hung up on money on the Straits Times website appears to suggest that William Hung wants money in exchange for interviews. However, after reading the article, that does not seem to be the case. It is a good thing the reporter had printed the reply given by William Hung, for we would otherwise have unwittingly made some not-too-flattering assumptions about his character. William probably does not want to provide "free" entertainment to nosy people like us at his expense.

Lesson learnt: be careful with what you say to members of the press.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The Search for Extraterrestial Life

Over the last century, humanity has been fascinated with the possibility of extraterrestial life. There are institutions in our world today like SETI (short for Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence) whose sole purpose is to seek out sentient beings in other worlds. In the search for intelligent life, some people even go through the trouble of informing the extraterrestials of our existence, so that they can perhaps, search for us. Personally speaking, I am curious about whether or not extraterrestial life exists. However, I'm far more interested in discovering aliens than to be discovered by aliens. It is good to know your opponent, but I would rather that my opponent knew little about me.

If the aliens are in anyway similar to human beings in nature, then there are two possibilities:
1. We are technologically more advanced than them;
2. They are technologically more advanced than us.

"I would put forward a law of social and political relationships," so says David Landes, a historian, "namely, that three factors cannot coexist:
1. A marked disparity of power;
2. Private access to the instruments of power; and
3. Equality of groups or nations.
Where one group is strong enough to push another around and stands to gain by it, it will do so."

He was referring to different nations, but his context could be applied to different worlds as well. Our world is far more peaceful today than in the past, because we have achieved an equilibrium of sorts. It took us centuries to reach the equilibrium we have today, to establish the institutions, rules, the legal framework, codes, laws and regulations that govern interstate relations. We will not fire nuclear weapons at other countries because we know they will fire them back at us. We cannot assume that any alien race would possess similar notions of government, or interstate relations as we do. Any contact with such beings will most certainly throw our paradigm into turmoil, and we would need to seek a new equilibrium that would govern the relationships between our races.

While the word "equilibrium" carries a positive connotation with it, the process of seeking equilibrium may not necessarily be a pleasant one. The new equilibrium may not necessarily be what we expect, and may not even be an outcome of our choice. A recent example that comes to mind would be the Native Americans, who did eventually find some sort of equilibrium with the Europeans. The process of seeking this equilibrium was to be hunted to near extinction. The final equilibrium was to live in reservations.

Picture an alien world that is rich in say, oil, a scarce commodity that has been the cause of many wars in our world. Let us assume that an alien species already lives on this world. What will the likely outcome of contact between our two worlds be? If the alien species is of a sufficient level of technology and civilization, we would trade with them for their oil. If the species were very primitive, say, with the intelligence of prehistoric cavemen, we would likely treat them as animals that are slightly more intelligent than monkeys. These beings will then be subjugated to our wills, owing their existence to our pleasure.

On the other hand, if the aliens are far more technologically advanced than us, there is every reason to expect them to treat us the same way we would treat our weaker brethren. We cannot assume that any contact between two different civilizations will be a pleasant experience for both. Thus, I am perplexed as to why we are sending messages out to the galaxy to let other intelligent beings know about our existence (and hope they will come and look for us). Surely, it would be better to discover these beings first, gather knowledge about them, and formulate a strategy to deal with them? "Know yourself and your enemy, and you will win a hundred battles," said Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist. What gain would there be for us to be discovered? All one has to do is to look back in history, and recall how the Native Americans were "discovered" by the Europeans.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Destruction of the Earth?

This article predicts the destruction of the earth due to particle physics experiments at the large collider being built in CERN. Will such an incident ever come to pass? Who knows.

Research in particle physics is infamous for generating lots of pure science that is rarely, if ever, able to be used for the benefit of mankind. Still, when the first studies on radioactivity were made, who would have imagined the future implications it would have brought to this world? I have no doubt that the creative genius of man will still be able to find a way to harness this science to his benefit, eventually. If mankind were ever concerned with so many "if"s and "maybe"s (as evidenced in the article), we would never have been where we are today. Thus, in the interest of mankind, it is probably a good idea to continue with the experiments. Even if the worst were to happen, look on the bright side! It's probably one of the most painless ways to leave this world. :)