Friday, April 19, 2024

Chinese goddess explained

I'm surprised that I didn't know about this particular Chinese goddess before.  (Although, I think it fair to say, there is very little general knowledge in the West about the complicated mixture of religions that has evolved over time in the East.)   

Anyway, as usual, another great video from Religion for Breakfast: 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

If you enjoy scathing reviews of political memoirs...

I can strongly recommend this review of short term British PM Liz Truss's book at the Independent.   

I also thought this sketch about her was very funny:

Full marks for effort, I suppose...

From CNA (but it's probably everywhere - I haven't checked):

Brazilian police have arrested a woman who tried to take out a bank loan for a man she was pushing in a wheelchair who turned out to be dead.

Employees at a Rio de Janeiro bank called emergency services on Tuesday (Apr 16) after becoming suspicious when Erika Vieira Nunes wheeled the 68-year-old man into the bank and requested a loan in his name.

Footage of the incident shows her holding a pen and moving his hand forward to no response. At one point in the video, the man's head falls back when she stops holding it up. 

"Uncle, are you listening? You need to sign," Nunes says in the security video, suggesting she sign for him.

"He doesn't say anything, that's just how he is," she continues, adding: "If you're not okay, I'm going to take you to the hospital."

When emergency workers arrived, they determined the man was dead, police said in a statement. His corpse was then taken to a morgue.

Brazilian media reports said that Nunes claimed to be the man's niece and sought to take out a loan of 17,000 reais (about US$3,250) in his name.




Various controversies

*     If only I ran the funding of research grants, Part 1: 


This is receiving a lot of mocking on Twitter, and when you go read the article at the link, it's thoroughly deserved:

“What the general public think of as mathematics tends to be whatever they learned (or, more likely, did not learn) at school. But in many Indigenous societies, mathematics is lived from when you are born to when you rejoin your ancestors,” Professor Ball says.

“It’s about formalised relationships within human society and with every element of the environment. Everyone is taught them. And the levels go up from birth to adulthood, as you are ready for more knowledge. This mathematics permeates every aspect of life.”

Numbers and arithmetic and accounting often are of secondary importance in Indigenous mathematics.

“In fact, as most mathematicians know, mathematics is primarily the science of patterns and periodicities and symmetries − and recognising and classifying those patterns.”

Indigenous societies often excel at non-numerical mathematics, she says.
Her big example of this is aborigines knowing how to signal with differing smoke spirals.   She gushes into a wild extrapolation that is, as with most guff of this type, pretty obvious "cope" for getting no respect for being hunter gatherers for 60,000 years by pretending they were not really hunter gatherers but technologists and engineers and farmers, just like the rest of the world.  (See "Dark Emu"):

“One interesting example that we are currently investigating is the use of chiral symmetry to engineer a long-distance smoke signalling technology in real time,” Professor Ball says. “If you light an incense stick you will see the twin counter-rotating vortices that emanate − these are a chiral pair, meaning they are non-superimposable mirror images of each other.”

A memoir by Alice Duncan Kemp, who grew up on a cattle station on Mithaka country in the early 1900s, vividly describes the signalling procedure, in which husband-and-wife expert team Bogie and Mary-Anne selected and pulsed the smoke waves with a left to right curl, to signal "white men", instead of the more usual right to left spiral.  

Mithaka country is southwest Queensland − Kurrawoolben and Kirrenderri (Diamantina) and Nooroondinna (Georgina) river channel country − and for thousands of years this region was a rich, well-populated cultural and trade crossroads of the Australian continent.

To create and understand these signals, you have to be a skilled practical mathematician, Professor Ball says.

“Theory and mathematics in Mithaka society were systematised and taught intergenerationally. You don’t just somehow pop up and suddenly start a chiral signalling technology. It has been taught and developed and practised by many people through the generations.”

At that time in the early twentieth century, British meteorologists were just beginning to understand the essential vortical nature of atmospheric flows.

“Imagine if the existing Indigenous Mithaka knowledge of vorticity had been recognised, nurtured and protected? In what ways may it have fed into the high performance, numerical weather forecasting capabilities that we all rely on now?” she asks. 

 Yeah, sure, Prof.   

She's an interesting case:  a list of her published papers to which she has contributed indicate a wide range of interests in various things that are pretty hard science-y.   But then again, she did much of her study at Macquarie University, so that probably explains a lot!

She seems to have a fair amount of money for this feel good work:

 Mind you, I don't know how many people share in that funding, but still...

*      If only I ran the funding of research grants, Part 2:  

Yes, maybe I target poor old grievance vortex Professor O'Sullivan too much, but here's a tweet about an article explaining her work:

 From the paper:

The background to Queer As . . . is complex and focused on representation of gender, sexuality, Indigeneity and other intersecting complexities. In 2020, substantial funding was secured from the Australian Research Council in the form of a 4-year Future Fellowship in a programme called Saving Lives. The programme, staffed by the authors of this article, comprises component projects in service of mapping the impact of queer Indigenous representation, with Queer As . . . a deep dive into representation on TV forming a central part of this work. During the development of Queer As . . . audit, we narrowed to focus to TV rather than other screen forms for a few reasons. The first is the capacity for the development of long-form characters, whose arc has potential for greater complexity through the time they spend onscreen. In addition, television represents a relatively accessible availability, while noting that subscription services have limited access to these forms. Television has a long history of entering our homes and allowing individuals and families to engage and learn diverse worlds outside of their own, and despite other forms of screen-based engagement, still represents a high volume of drama and story-based representations. For Indigenous viewers, we were interested in the impact of learning of local and international queer Indigenous representation across this accessible form. 

And the waffle continues.  One of Sandy's co-authors has a CV that is pure arts woke of the kind which makes any lasting career outside of introspective academia (that's a nicer way of saying "sheltered workshop") rather improbable:

Han Reardon-Smith (they/them) is a flutist, electronic musician, improviser, radio producer, community organiser, writer, researcher, and thinker living on the unceded land of the Jagera, Yuggera-Ugarapul, and Turrbal Peoples. Their work and thinking are rooted in queer and feminist collaborative and contaminative co-creation with other “holobionts with history”—soundmakers and artmakers, physical and social environments, ecologies, histories, and narratives, exploring the emergent possibilities of making-kin and finding agency within community (soundmaking as kinmaking: musickin). After completing their doctorate at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University (2021), Han is now Postdoctoral Research Associate at Macquarie University, supporting Wiradjuri trans/non-binary Professor Sandy O’Sullivan’s Senior ARC Future Fellowship project, "Saving Lives: Mapping the influence of Indigenous LGBTIQ+ creative artists". They are an active experimental musicker in the Magan-djin/Brisbane scene, playing with Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra, It’s Science And Feelings, The Flowers of Evil, Rogue Three, and as a soloist under the moniker cyberBanshee.

Oh look, here is an example of the "soundmaking" she participates in:



*  Look, I'm really sorry my third example is also a woman: 

  Many funny tweets follow:

That is all.  For now.


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Conservative judges a worry

I hope this article at Slate remains un-paywalled - it reads as a pretty damning indictment of the self interested partisanship of the conservative judges on the US Supreme Court.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Monday, April 15, 2024

If you want some depressing reading, try this story!

Oh, good grief.

The New York Times has a story about its polling showing that, on most aspects, registered voters' opinions on Trump's time as president has improved!   

What I find particularly galling about this is that there is no analysis of how this could be - just a cursory "well, voters usually start rating presidents better after their presidency".

There's no mention of the incessant propaganda and lies of Fox News and social media, and how MSM such as the New York Times itself "two sides" and "horse races" itself into coverage that quasi normalises Trump and his gutless sycophant followers in the GOP.   I mean, you even get two sides-ing in this article itself:

“He’s horrific. He’s a narcissist. He’s dishonest. He’s a misogynist,” said Dodee Firestone, 74, a Biden supporter from Boca Raton, Fla. “I could never, ever, ever vote for Trump.”

But other voters said that while they disapproved of Mr. Trump’s inflammatory style, they wondered whether they had placed too much emphasis on his personality in past elections.

I think the article writers have chosen some quote deliberately to raise the blood pressure of the sensible reader:

Maya Garcia, 23, described herself as a former “Trump hater.” But now, she says, she has come to believe that Mr. Trump’s contentious style helped control crime and maintain order in the country.

“When he was first running, I was, like, what is this guy even yapping about? Like, what is he even saying? Like, he’s saying all the wrong things,” said Ms. Garcia, a restaurant worker from Canoga Park, Calif. “But to be honest, if you look deep into his personality, he actually cares about the country.” She added: “You know at first I didn’t like it. But sometimes we need that type of person in our lives.”
My eyes can't role far enough back into my head.

Or this one, another 23 year old female Hispanic:

Angie Leon, a 23-year-old Mexican American, said she never liked how Mr. Trump talked about Latinos. But looking back, she wonders whether Mr. Trump’s incendiary remarks about immigrants and building a border wall were just a political tactic to bolster his campaign. After backing Mr. Biden in 2020, she plans to switch her vote to Mr. Trump in November.

“I felt like it was just his marketing, in the way that he would get the attention of people,” said Ms. Leon, a human resources recruiter from Gilroy, Calif. “The country was better when he was running it, despite his comments toward the community.”

Anyhow, despite despairing here regularly of the Trump Cult, and being puzzled about why certain factors which are not being reflected in polls (the Republicans who supported the "never Trump"-ish Haley, the way some in the party are resigning rather than fight every day with the MAGA wing), I am still telling people he will not win.

He is being driven nuts by his litigation fights, and his (mostly) losing streak is likely to continue and put him under more and more pressure as the year progresses - psychological, financial, and keeping him from campaigning.    


"Trapped in a hopeless doom loop of misinformation" sums it up so well

A bunch of tweets of note about Trump's rally on the weekend:


Friday, April 12, 2024

Religion and politics/space and Elon

Another good video from Religion for Breakfast.  (Actually, they are all good - even if the title indicates its a topic you're not particularly interested in, if you start watching them they are engaging.)


And in other video viewing recommendations - who pays for this Freethink channel?  It's obviously got significant money behind it, as shown by the way this video is put together.   It's about the unresolved difficulties of space colonisation, and even though they don't mention him, Musk and his followers and anyone else who thinks we're flying off to Mars with a permanent colony sometime in the next 20 years need to pay attention:

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Random photo

 I just thought this one looked good in black and white...

Oh no.  It looks OK on my laptop, but not my phone.  Must work on that...

A real professional

Sandy, by the way, promised recently that she was pretty much leaving Twitter because it had become too toxic.

What a nut

In other "MAGA people live in a fantasy world and are supported in that continually by Fox News and other Right wing media", I liked this summary of one issue by the Washington Post's Philip Bump.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Transgender pushback continues

I see that a major review into transgender policy with respect to children and teens has just been released in England, and confirms a major realignment towards a more conservative approach to "gender affirmation" of children and teens with puberty delaying drugs and hormones.    This means Twitter is going to be flooded with comments about this:  many of them from angry trans activists and their sympathisers, and the rest from the pro-Rowling group crowing about vindication.   

Also, I see that netball has the latest sporting governing body to go "yeah, nah" to ignoring transgenderism:

World Netball has relied on “robust” research to determine a ban on transgender players from international competition with immediate effect will form a key plank of a new participation and inclusion policy.

The global governing body made the ruling after a review and lengthy consultation as other sports around the world tighten their participation rules for transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions.

There are no transgender players in the Australian Super Netball competition and therefore none in line for promotion to the Diamonds in the immediate future.

But the ban means they won’t be allowed to represent their country should a transgender star emerge.

It really does puzzle me that some people who I would call in most other respects moderate Lefties have a complete blind spot when it comes to this:  taking a completely dismissive (and basically, politically tribal) attitude to any and all criticism or reassessment of trends and attitudes towards a issue that is obviously complex and obviously capable of trends and fashions getting ahead of evidence and, well, common sense.   I mean, treatment of conditions with a large mental health component has always been like that - "reasonable" people thought for a time that lobotomies were a pretty good idea too, to take an extreme, but I think still valid, example.

Update:  Seems to me that this New York Times article summarising the current "state of play", so to speak, is pretty balanced.

What is clear is that the US official medical position is now lagging behind the reassessments underway in most of Europe.   I wonder if the aggressive legislative, culture war, pushback approach in Republican states might be a little counterproductive by making the professional bodies dig their heals in and take longer to admit reassessment is warranted. (I also wish, though, that Biden would defuse this culture war issue by also taking a neutral stance on it, instead of being something of a an apparent captive of "gender ideology".)

The very likeable Palin

The Guardian has a lengthy interview up with the always affable and likeable Michael Palin.   I always get the impression he's never made an enemy, or lost a friendship, in his entire life.  And he would probably be modest enough to deny it.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The problem is, if you ignore him, he doesn't go away

What, I haven't posted today?  Let me go back to a New York Times article from last week, about the increasingly obvious Christofascist nature of his rallies:

Long known for his improvised and volatile stage performances, former President Donald J. Trump now tends to finish his rallies on a solemn note.

Soft, reflective music fills the venue as a hush falls over the crowd. Mr. Trump’s tone turns reverent and somber, prompting some supporters to bow their heads or close their eyes. Others raise open palms in the air or murmur as if in prayer.

In this moment, Mr. Trump’s audience is his congregation, and the former president their pastor as he delivers a roughly 15-minute finale that evokes an evangelical altar call, the emotional tradition that concludes some Christian services in which attendees come forward to commit to their savior.

“The great silent majority is rising like never before and under our leadership,” he recites from a teleprompter in a typical version of the script. “We will pray to God for our strength and for our liberty. We will pray for God and we will pray with God. We are one movement, one people, one family and one glorious nation under God.” 

Some, but not enough, Christians do call this out:

But some Christian conservatives are loath to join their brethren in clearing a direct path from the ornate doors of Mar-a-Lago to the pearly gates of Heaven.

Russell Moore, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy arm, said Mr. Trump’s rallies had veered into “dangerous territory” with the altar-call closing and opening prayers from preachers describing Mr. Trump as heaven-sent.

“Claiming godlike authority or an endorsement from God for a political candidate means that person cannot be questioned or opposed without also opposing God,” Mr. Moore said. “That’s a violation of the commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain.”
There is precious little push back on the wild creepiness of this, not to mention the obvious comparisons that can be made to the tactics of 20th century fascists.   It just gets semi-normalised by media ignoring it (by and large).

Also, I tend to agree with most of what this guy says on Twitter:


Monday, April 08, 2024

An experiment leads to recriminalisation of hard drugs...

It seems that the Washington Post has taken a very active line in publicising research indicating that marijuana use can be harmful to health:  such that I wondered whether Bezos himself doesn't like its widespread use.  Yet now that I Google the topic, it seems that Amazon has been actively for decriminalisation, and no one seems to know whether Bezos indulges personally. 

Anyhoo, that's by way of background to this WAPO editorial that praises Oregon for changing its policies on use of hard drugs.  I mean, it does genuinely sound like it was a real disaster, and takes a line that sounds pretty sensible to me:

Oregon’s experience shows that compassion is important for addicts, but so are consequences. Responding to the social ills of drug abuse requires a mix of carrots and sticks. Just as many people with drinking problems won’t put down the bottle until they get prosecuted for driving under the influence, drug courts connect many users with help they need but might not otherwise seek.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of annual overdoses in Oregon rose 61 percent in the two years after decriminalization took effect, compared with 13 percent nationwide. Unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Oregon spiked from 280 in 2019 to 956 in 2022, according to the state health authority. A study published in the Journal of Health Economics concluded that the ballot measure caused 182 additional overdose deaths in 2021 alone. In Portland’s Multnomah County, more people died from overdoses than covid-19 during the pandemic.

Police could give people using drugs in public a $100 ticket, less than the fine for failing to signal a turn. The citation would be waived if the user called a hotline to get a referral for treatment. But more than 95 percent of people disregarded their tickets altogether, because there were no penalties for failing to pay. A state audit revealed last year that just 119 people called the 24-7 treatment referral hotline during its first 15 months. Given the price of running the hotline, that meant each phone call cost the state $7,000.

Oregon’s leaders deserve credit for reversing course — even if it required a taxpayer backlash and tragic stories of children dying from ingesting fentanyl. The new law, effective Sept. 1, will make possession of hard narcotics a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

And this:

Many people didn’t seek treatment even when it was available and offered to them, because the architects of the law neglected how addiction alters brain chemistry. Drug addiction is that rare disease that the sufferer often does not wish to be cured from. Fentanyl and meth feel good to use in the short term; withdrawal hurts. The criminal justice system plays a vital role in applying external pressure to push addicts into detox.

 One might ask - why was decriminalisation widely considered a success in Portugal but not Oregon?  There will be multiple factors to point to (Oregon not providing the treatment beds, Portugal being able to force users into rehab, and even a degree of myth making about how successful Portugal really is), but as I have taken to noting lately - there just seems something about American society that leads to a complicated and problematic relationship with drug use and drug use policy*, such that approaches that do work in some countries can't easily be replicated in America.

Some of the comments following the editorial are interesting, too, for showing what a bitterly divided country culturally it has become: plenty of Right wingers saying "yay for the end of liberal madness", and liberals saying "the lack of compassion and support for drug users is appalling".  

Meanwhile, we wait for the unifying centrist leadership to reappear.  (Not that I am dissing Biden - he is pretty centrist on most things - but we need younger figures in cultural leadership.)


* And not just now:  did any other country even try alcohol prohibition in the way America did?

Just in case you are missing your Singaporean esoterica of the day...

I mentioned in my recent post about the Peranakan Museum in Singapore that I hadn't realised that betel chewing had been a big thing in Singapore - and that in fact you can still buy the betel leaf and nut (and, I presume, slaked lime) in Little India and indulge legally.  (I've often wondered about the slaked lime bit - it sounds a gritty, enamel wearing thing to be chewing on.   I also am a bit surprised that Singapore hasn't just outlawed this habit, given it's a real risk factor for getting terrible mouth cancers, and surely the spitting that the chewing leads to can't be done on a Singaporean footpath without risk of a good caning.)

Now that I Google the topic "where to buy betel leaf and nut in Singapore" I have learnt a lot more about this practice:

*    the "nut" is actually the seed of a berry off a palm tree - and that particular palm tree is on the flag for the Malaysian state of Penang.  (The "berry" looks like the seed off many different types of palms - I wonder if more than one palm tree berry seed has this effect?)

*   The leaf the nut (and lime) is wrapped in for chewing is actually from a completely different plant.

*   The slaked lime is typically made from ground sea shell.  (People who use Sensodyne tooth paste need not apply, I presume.)  

And look, here is the .pdf of an information dense, 4 page magazine article from 2020 all about the history of betel chewing in Singapore.   Some extracts:

In Singapore and Malaya during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the betel quid was enjoyed by a broad swathe of society,  often transcending class and gender. It was consumed throughout the day, especially after meals due to the quid’s digestive and breath freshening qualities....

 I had no idea it was, at least in Singapore, seen as a more feminine than masculine habit:

Perhaps the most fundamental role of the betel quid was in promoting and strengthening social ties.16 Betel chewing served as a social lubricant, like communal eating or drinking alcohol...

 As in much of the Malay world, betel chewing in Singapore tended to have  feminine overtones. According to a 1951 Singapore Free Press article, among ethnic Indians it was mostly women who“chewed a lot”, and the typical image of a Tamil grandmother in the 1950s was of her “sitting with her legs stretched out at ease and pounding away her chew of betel in her little mortar”. Even well into the 1980s, Peranakan Chinese bibik were popularly portrayed as deftly folding sirih during card games such as cherki.  The Malaya Tribune reported in 1949 that many Peranakan Chinese women (known as nonya) were so attached to their chews that “wherever the nonya goes, the sireh set is sure to go”. Peranakan Chinese men (baba) who indulged in betel chewing were said to be quite rare, and those who did were perceived to be effeminate.

As for the practice today (remember, this article is only a few years old):

The betel quid trade in Singapore today is largely supported by migrants and visitors from countries like Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, where betel chewing remains widespread. A handful of vendors still operate in areas frequented by migrants, such as Little India and Peninsula Plaza. One may also encounter the betel quid in Indian restaurants. Green bundles are strategically placed on trays located near the cashier so that patrons can grab one for a post-meal chew while paying their bill.

I have no particular urge to try it, and I see that betel nut cannot be legally imported into Australia.

(Actually, now that I check,  I have posted before about the black market trade in betel nut here - I had forgotten.)

So yeah, I have turned up the rarest of things  - something that is legal to do in Singapore that is illegal in Australia!  Quite an achievement.


Nice sarcasm

Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times, has so many amusing zingers in his column on RFK Jnr running for President, it's hard to pick the best.  But here are some:

The hubris. The narcissism. The convenient and fraudulent anti-elitism. The out-of-his-mind theories presented as out-of-the-box thinking.

Many of us have noted how these fetching traits and tics connect Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is in some ways Trump with better manners, fewer lawyers and discernible pecs. 

Ha!  To continue:

But we underplay another commonality. Like Trump when he made his 2016 presidential bid, Kennedy has zero experience — none at all — in elected office, a fact made comically clear in his interview last summer with the New Yorker editor David Remnick, who did focus on Kennedy’s lack of preparation for the presidency, asking the candidate about his credentials.

“I’ve been around government and studying government since I was a little boy,” Kennedy said, not so subtly stressing his bloodline — he’s a septuagenarian nepo baby — and casting proximity as seasoning. It’s not. I’ve been “around” many physicians in my life. You do not want me performing your appendectomy.

Kennedy added that he has attended most of the Democratic Party’s conventions since 1960, that he has visited every country in Latin America and that he “began writing about foreign policy” as a teenager. I began writing about movies as an adolescent. You do not want me directing another “Manchurian Candidate” remake.

And more:

Kennedy’s naming of a running mate makes him potentially eligible for the ballot in states that require a two-person ticket, and that running mate — the fantastically wealthy tech entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan — promises to be the kind of cash spigot and fund-raiser that’s hugely helpful to signature collection.Her riches are her credential, though perhaps — I don’t know — she wrote a paper about vice presidents in the fifth grade.

Here's a gift link to the whole thing.

Dune Part Two: a lot of hot air (haha)

I posted here that I quite liked Dune Part One when I finally got around to seeing it at home, and I think most reviewers thought Part Two was better.   But I saw it on the weekend and had a somewhat cooler reaction.

It's not that I would say that it is bad in any particular way, and I'm happy to have seen it. It's just that, despite the spectacle, it felt oddly un-involving, and (to my taste) too relentless in its serious tone. 

You could say the same about the tone of the first film, I suppose - although I think there was more emotional connection between characters in that one.  Which is odd, given that Paul gets his love interest in this one.  

I think also that a big part of why I liked the first one was that, from a visual world building point of view,  it looked exactly as I thought the Dune universe should look, and sometimes that carries a lot of the appeal of a movie.  But in the second one, the novelty factor of the world building has worn off.   And, to be honest, I think some of the visuals in this one were too CGI looking.  (I refer in particular to the crowd in that gladiatorial scene - they seemed to me to be moving in too similar a way.)    But overall, that is a very minor quibble.

I did read a review that said it was strangely emotionally cold for what was basically a revenge story.  I agree.  And I hate to say it, because  I feel guilty about dissing one of the few directors who likes making a genre I like to see made (serious science fiction), but I feel the film has sent me back to my old criticism of Denis Villeneuve - he does spectacle very well, and isn't scared to make movies about big ideas: but somehow he just doesn't manage to make me care enough about the story or characters.   Here's what I wrote before:

In fact, having watched  three of director Denis Villeneuve's films now, I recognise this as a constant theme in my reaction to his work - he's visually stylish, but always leaves me cold in any emotional connection to the material.   I'm not entirely sure how he achieves that, but despite liking visually what I saw on screen for much of Sicario, Arrival and now this one, by the end of all I felt I had not really been convinced by the human story in any of them.

By the way, I know there is an interview out there that he did recently with Steven Spielberg, who apparently gagged over how great he thought the movie was.  But Spielberg's a nice guy who is always praising other director's work.   For me, Spielberg's science fiction has exactly what I find missing in Villeneuve's - an emotional and empathetic connection to character.    

Anyone agree?

Friday, April 05, 2024

Something pretty

Back to my recent Singapore trip:  one of the new places I visited was this - 

That's the new Peranakan Museum, housed in a old private school building, which makes for a very nice interior too:

As for the term Peranakan, one site explains:

In Singapore today, the term “Peranakan” generally refers to a person of mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage. Many Singapore Peranakans trace their origins to 15th-century Malacca, where their ancestors were thought to be Chinese traders who married local women. Peranakan men are known as baba, while the women are known as nonya (or nyonya).1 From the second half of the 19th century to the mid-20th century, Peranakans were also known as the Straits Chinese, as they were born in the Straits Settlements.While some Peranakans have retained their cultural practices, many have assimilated into the larger Chinese community today.

Peranakan in Indonesian and Malay means the uterus or womb, or someone from a mixed marriage between a local and a foreigner.3 Not all Peranakans are of Chinese ancestry.4 Non-Chinese Peranakans in the early 20th century include the Bugis Peranakans, Arab Peranakans and Java Peranakans.5 In the Straits Settlements, there was also a small but significant community of Peranakan Indians known as Chitty Melaka.6 The origins of the Peranakan Indians were said to have traced to around the same time as the Peranakan Chinese, when Tamil merchants began marrying local women.7 The Jawi Peranakan community was another notable Peranakan group of non-Chinese descent, comprising Straits-born Muslims of mixed Indian (especially Tamil) and Malay parentage.

The impression one gets from the museum is that a lot of what was distinctive about Peranakan culture was to do with the aesthetics of how they lived:  their sense of style in relation to furniture, ceramics and dress, as well as their food and things like marriage traditions.   Without wanting to sound sexist, this makes for a museum which I reckon has a particular appeal to women.  Certainly, the guided tour group I was with had about a 4:1 ratio of women to men.   But that's fine - I can be very impressed with exquisite detail in things like old hand crafted furniture, and ceramics in particular.   (The love the Japanese have for ceramics is also one of the most appealing and distinctive things to look into when visiting there.)

I mean, how can you not admire the detail in these Peranakan pieces:

This one, we were told, is a (particularly large) spittoon that women playing cards would use while chewing betel nut (I didn't realise that habit had been a thing in Singapore, and you apparently can still buy betel leaf in Little India):

There is something I find very pleasing about the colour and patterns typical in this style, even if it tends to feature pink and pastels and feel somewhat feminine because of that.

As another site explains:

This distinctive type of pottery, unique to South East Asia, typifies the blended culture of the Chinese Peranakan communities in Penang, Melaka and Singapore.  Once underrated by ceramics experts for its inferior quality and over-gaudy style, Nyonya ware has finally come into its own and is now considered highly collectible – with a hefty price tag to boot!

Nyonyaware uses the famille rose enamelling technique, although its decorative features are exclusive to the Straits and are quite distinct from other examples of Chinese ceramics of this style, which were usually more ornamental pieces.  Straits Ceramics were intended for use at the family dining table on special occasions, and the pieces are entirely functional: bowls, teacups, teapots, spoons, plates, and lidded containers such as the kamcheng and katmau. They were commissioned from China by wealthy Peranakan families on the occasion of their daughters’ weddings; many contain specifically requested motifs or incorporate the family name, making them unique pieces of family history. Although blue and white Swatow ware was used for everyday purposes, the highly decorated famille rose ware took pride of place for fine dining.

Most ascribe Jingdezhen as the place of production for Straits Ceramics because that was where the finest examples of Famille Rose pottery were made, but experts have challenged this view. Shards of Straits-style crockery have never been found in the area. It is more likely that Peranakan families ordered their porcelain wedding sets from humbler kilns in Fukien province, and that these are actually examples of coloured Swatow ware (now usually referred to as Zhangzhou ware) using the enamel famille rose technique, but of inferior production....

Even the Japanese made some:

Some Straits porcelain was even Japanese made, for there was a time when Japan supplied these colourful ceramics to South East Asia. Japanese potters made exact copies, even down to Chinese stamps, and are difficult to distinguish other than by their softer shades of pastel. It is unclear whether Japan was trying to break into the overseas ceramics market or whether they were filling in the demand when wars in China disrupted production. No doubt it was probably a little bit of both!
Apparently, given that it is no longer produced, the antique trade in this style of ceramics has taken off.  It was only produced in a relatively short window:

As the window to Peranakan culture was open for only 150  to 200 years, Wong says only its ware that was made between 1856 and 1945 is identified as such. “These wares are generally identified on the basis of their period and origin of production, distinct motifs, colour combination and areas of distribution in Southeast Asia.

“The earliest Nyonya ware was generally thought to have been made in the era of Emperor Tongzhi (April 27, 1856, to Jan 12, 1875) in China. And production is thought to have ceased after World War II (1939 to 1945) due to the declining demand in Southeast Asia, particularly in the former Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore, where the main Baba Nyonya communities were established.”
How's this for a nice dining set:

And how is this for a fancy bed for the wedding night:

The guide said that wedding customs included putting a hen and rooster under the bed, and the first to emerge indicated the sex of the firstborn child. Also, the page boy would roll over the bed three times, to encourage the birth of a son.   (And that Lee Kwan Yew counted as Peranakan, and was of an age where he had probably performed that role as a boy.)  

The Museum is not huge, but particularly with a guide, it was an educational and interesting way to avoid the daytime heat for a few hours.  Recommended.

Chicken dinner noted

I haven't tried this recipe, but the combination of flavours sounds like it might be OK?  Although mint leaves at the end?  The trouble is, my wife doesn't much care for fruit with meat dishes - whereas I quite like them.

Maybe dark energy is evolving?

A lengthy article here at the New York Times about recent observations indicating that dark energy may not have been constant - which has big implications for the future of the universe.


Thursday, April 04, 2024

A reasonable pushback to "sex assigned at birth"

This article in the New York Times (gift linked) argues cogently (and respectfully) against the use of "sex assigned at birth".     

I should also note that I'm pretty sick of seeing the vitriolic back and forth on the JK Rowling and Scottish Hate Crimes on Twitter.  (Mind you, more and more people are leaving Twitter for good reason - watching Elon Musk stupidly endorse multiple Right wing conspiracies - and removing Community Notes when it suits him - is both irritating and kind of depressing.  If it weren't for a handful of holdouts - David Roberts, Noah Smith, etc - I would stop reading it too.   I am at a loss to understand why a competitor that works as close as possible to the old Twitter hasn't taken off.) 

Something to look forward to (sarc)

A story from the ABC:

New climate modelling suggests Australians should be preparing for the possibility of megadroughts lasting more than 20 years.

Research from the Australian National University, published in a special edition of the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, has indicated future droughts in Australia could be far worse than anything experienced in recent times — even without factoring in human impacts.

Climate scientist Georgy Falster said while megadroughts occurred naturally, climate change would make them more severe.

"We have this situation where on the one hand, there's the possibility for naturally occurring megadroughts that can last multiple decades and might come along every maybe 150 to 100 years," Dr Falster said.

I posted in 2012 about about evidence that severe droughts are very much part of the pre-European colonisation history of America:

A 2004 paper by Schubert and others looking at the causes of the drought side of the 1930's starts off by noting that there is long on-going cycle of drought in the mid West:

Drought in the Great Plains is not unique to the last century. A number of proxy climate records indicate that multiyear droughts comparable to those of the 1930s and 1950s are, in fact, a regular feature of the Great Plains climate, having occurred approximately once or twice a century over the last 400 years (Woodhouse and Overpeck 1998). Looking still further backin time, there is evidence for multidecadal droughts during the late thirteenth and sixteenth centuries that were of much greater severity and duration than those of the twentieth century (Woodhouse and Overpeck 1998). For example, tree-ring analyses in Nebraska suggest that the drought that began in 1276 lasted 38 years (Bark 1978)!

So, yeah, doesn't surprise me that the same thing may have happened in Australia.



Wednesday, April 03, 2024

A late "my trip to (Chinese) Hell" post

Back in January I made a quick trip to Singapore, because I could, quite cheaply.  I've only posted once about it, but I said I would make a separate post about Singapore's most unusual semi-touristy site to visit, Haw Par Villa.

Wikipedia confirms that it's only moderately famous now - there was an attempt to make it into a "theme park" but that didn't pan out, so now the large grounds are just open for free, with only one paid section, the cheerily named Hell's Museum, which is discussed below.

For the uninitiated,  the grounds are the site of a former mansion and gardens built in the 1930's by the rich family which came up with Tiger Balm - a product still very much associated with  Singapore.

Here's a photo of the mansion which, in a feat of poor timing, was finished in 1937:

The Japanese took it over after their invasion, ruined the place, and it was demolished after the war.  Given it was such a distinctive modernist/art deco-ish design, I wonder if anyone has the internal floorplan: it would be extremely cool to see it rebuilt.   Now, there's just some concrete where it used to stand:


The surrounding gardens were filled with a large number of somewhat eccentric looking dioramas  mostly about Chinese and Buddhist folklore and morality - said to have been made to entice the builder's younger  brother to come live with him in Singapore.   So some of it dates back to the 1930's, although other parts (including I think the most famous part - the garish and luridly violent depiction of the 10 courts of Chinese Hell) was built after the war.

It's these weird and wonderful sculptures and dioramas, most of which are in reasonable repair, which people - although fewer over the years - come to see:


The Monkey King is at the top of that one:

There are many dioramas showing vices with a 1930's flavour:

Some sculptures (more modern ones I think) are just wacky for the sake of wacky, it seems:

But as mentioned above, the most famous section is the Chinese Hell part, which is now incorporated in the relatively new Hell's Museum, for which there is an $18 entrance fee.

To my pleasant surprise, this smallish but well curated Museum deals in a very erudite fashion with the whole question of belief in an afterlife in history and various cultures.  It was obviously created with detailed input from one or more academics in the field of comparative religion.   This is right up my alley - it felt very compatible with the Youtube content on Religion for Breakfast which I like watching.  It's worth waiting for the free guided tour, which saves a lot of reading of quite extensive notes on the walls.   

The tour ends in the enclosed area depicting various parts of Chinese Hell.  Most scenes are graphically violent, but in such lurid way it's hard to take offence.  From memory, it starts with a preliminary trial:

then the good proceed to Paradise via the Silver or Golden bridges: 

 but for the sinner, it's a look into the Mirror of Retribution:

and onto the various courts overseen by various Kings, with punishments designed for different types of sin.  There didn't seem any particular rhyme or reason for the types of punishment to matching the sin, though:

Some court examples:

I think one of the above was for cheating students, and said to be the most popular for parents to show their kids (!).   Oh yeah, it's in the one involving dismemberment.  



Here we go - I assume this woman "caused trouble" for her parents?:

After (I think) 3 years of trouncing through Hell, the soul is given a herbal elixir in the Pavilion of Forgetfulness that causes them to forget everything about their past lives before they are reborn, as animal or human (or something else?), again depending on past karma.  

I'm not sure how canonical this depiction is, so to speak.  I think other versions have 18 courts, and I see on some website that the 10 courts are given these titles (which don't match up exactly with the Haw Par version?):

 I'm particularly amused to see the "Office of Fair Trading" in there - although the "Sixteen Departments of Heart Gouging" also sounds amusingly bureaucratic.   

Anyway, it seems clear that the downside of no internet, TV or cinema back in the day was too much time for people to imagine horrors.  Although, I have to admit, there is a high degree of - um - entertaining elaborate adventurousness? about a lot of Chinese supernatural folklore, isn't there? 

I didn't know about this Buddhist character, for example (see the sign following):


Yeah, yeah, I suppose Christians have St Michael slaying a dragon, and Jesus himself doing something ill-defined during the Descent into Hell:  but if it were written by the Chinese, it would have been with a glowing sword with which 10,000 demons were slayed...or something more elaborate.

Finally, one of the oddest (and surely most photographed) sculptures is this one, which the guide said was intended to illustrate a folkloric story about the good young woman and mother who forsook her own hungry child to feed breast milk to her ill and hungry mother:


Yes, a heroine for filial piety:  but a bit extreme for Western tastes.

So, as you can tell, I was very happy with this visit to a pretty uniquely eccentric, and actually educational (if you go into the Museum) place - I hope it manages to survive well into the future.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Some videos with unusual stories

First, the poor Nepalese have been preyed upon to sell kidneys to Indian surgeons.  (Not sure if the typical customer is a rich Indian - but it wouldn't be surprising if foreigners seeking a fast and cheap option did this too): 


Next, Sabine Hossenfelder seems impressed with a recent paper that argues quantum gravity would affect causality.  As she says at the end, some might argue that this means gravity can't be treated that way, after all.  Who knows?


In other sciencey news, I think I might have seen this aircraft before, but it is deeply weird looking. Apparently, the company is only selling a system for testing hypersonic flying devices - it's not even about launching into space (AFAICT):  


And finally, the All Knowing Algorithm put me onto this guy for the first time, who has been taking a decade or so to provide geographical summaries of every country in the world (and as he is up to Vietnam, that's about to end.)   This video is not one of his formal summary ones, but just a tavelogue of his trip to Ho Chi Minh City.   He seems quite interested in the same things I am - he likes visiting temples and considering the nature of local religion and spirituality.   It's very likeable content: