Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Domino's Pizza-Ploy

My dad was over for dinner and we ordered Domino's Pizza. I phoned the hotline, asked about the promotions and this was what I heard:
  • Option A:  2 Large Pizzas, plus this-and-that ($64)
  • Option B:  2 Large Pizzas ($50)
  • Option C:  1 Large Pizza, 1 Regular Pizza($50)
Look carefully at options B and C - now, who in his right all-screws-in-place mind would ever take Option C? Assuming I didn't mis-hear him, was this a promo typo by Domino's? Were the Marketing folks out to (chicken?) lunch when they designed this?

Or were they exploiting behavioural economics? Did Domino's set it up to make it virtually impossible to refuse Option B, thus sealing the sale asap? Did they anticipate that clients would be swaying between Option A and B and so built in a no-brainer to push the customer to B and ensuring their (instant!) satisfaction in the selection?

When you think about it, the answer's pretty certain. Domino's is an international pizza chain. The chances of them offering bad Marketing options (in the form of Option C) are close to zilch. Instead they have:
  • made a good and fast(!) sale ($50 for two flattened pieces of dough, tomato sauce, olives, cheese and some slices of salami and pepperoni is in a real sense a rip-off)
  • made the customer believe he's paid for great value, and most importantly...
  • made the customer believe he's a wise purchaser!
What, then, would be the chances of a repeat sale after this?

Serra's Temporalisation of Art

I'm delighted that Mark C. Taylor, in his dense About Religion, also talks about Japanese Zen gardens (I was first amazed by these in Simon May's book on Japan, Atomic Sushi). Unlike Western scultures, Zen gardens seek a balance between form/formless, continuity/discontinuity, balance/imbalance, etc.

Also, Taylor referred to the work of Richard Serra and how this artist sought to look past the 'opticality' of sculptures and remove the distance between observer and observed.

Minimalist / Literalist art - the kind which Serra helped pioneer - was about the 'spacing of time' and the 'timing of space'. It's about rendering art temporal and promoting 'bodily perception' as opposed to merely the visual.

In a word, simply looking at Serra's art wasn't enough. You had to walk around and through it. You had to a part of it, and if participating was a non-negotiable, this meant timeless didn't 'apply' here. The 'spacing' of art (i.e. the observer's journeying through its physical elements) entailed the 'timing' of space (i.e. the temporalisation of art).

Isn't this rich? In academic, shouldn't we be doing a lot more than just reading and listening? Shouldn't we be 'being and doing' what we learn, becoming a part of it? Shouldn't we be throwing aside that illusion of 'neutral observance' and plunging in? (Heck, we can always plunge out - or can we?)

Friday, March 27, 2009


When presenting slides with bullet-points, always let the points come out one by one. Don't show them all at once.

This enables focus on individual bullet-points as you speak on them. Suspense (however minute) is bestowed on those yet to come.

Better yet, transform each bullet-point into one slide (with an accompanying image). This ought to grab 'em even harder.

Emergent Learning?

I shared the principles with a pastor-friend and told him to apply it in his sermons. Guess his response?
View more presentations from Alwyn Lau.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jesus the Liberal

How could he not be?

1. He performed rather than preached some of his key 'messages' (e.g. the Temple-cleansing, the Cross). How many sermons today are designed to be evocative, symbolic, etc.?

2. His main preaching vehicle was parables, which are almost by definition metaphors containing a surplus of meaning and thus flies in the face of much 'systematic theology' and point-by-point preaching. Today we tend to state the parable and tell the congregation exactly what it means! (duh)

3. He pissed off the religious right!

4. He seemed to be deliberately vague and often answered a question with a question, seeking to elicit a response

5. He welcomed children, insisting that their faith was of a superior nature to that of the grown-ups'

6. Add to this?

A Grandmaster's Psychology

"Never offer a draw to a grandmaster, because you'll never get it. There was this game where I would probably have offered a draw, but when my opponent made the offer it became a matter of honour to win in."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why Socialism?

In college we had a good time with C, S, I, M, X and Y. That's Consumption, Investments, and eXports which add to Income (Y), with iMports and Savings reducing it. 

Y = C + X + I - S - M

This was to say that if you wanted to stimulate economic growth (i.e. income) you needed to ensure there was less savings. It sounds like an ode to indulgence but is in fact the opposite. Why? Consider: Which income-groups saved more as a percentage of what they earn? The poorer or the rich? (Duh)

It was the wealthy who saved more NOT because they were more prudent and careful with their spending (how we wish), but because they had more to spend over and above the basics. The lower classes, on the other hand, needed to consume more of their three- (and barely four-) figure incomes.

In a word, it's the folks running Genting, as opposed to the folks cleaning the Gents', who get to make huge (and regular) bank deposits. Needless to say, if money money is in the banks, then less money is being spent(!).

And what, in truth, does a modern economy fear the most? Answer: A sudden contraction of consumption and investment. Translated, this means a sudden rise in savings i.e. an action falling firmly within the domain of the rich.

If the rich become richer and if inequality grows, the moment-by-moment inclination (or, in econs terms, the marginal propensity) to SAVE rises and that to CONSUME/SPEND drops. As the bubble expands, the likelihood of it popping goes up. 

When it pops, the story is familiar: Less consumption (more savings) means less profits, leading to lower wages, lower investments, creating even lower spending, ad infinitum depressiorum (smile). 

That's the diagnosis - what's the prescription? Devilishly straight-forward: Transferring more money from the rich to the poor, reducing the income-gap and replacing 'luxurious spending' (which can be easily turned off) with 'subsistence spending' (which, like water and power, needs to stay on most of the time).

This would ensure that - here we go again - the marginal propensity to consume, goes up and the marginal propensity to save falls.

Important: The free market by itself would NEVER 'recognise' the problem let alone work to correct it. In many ways, the market is like evolution - it has no purpose, no inherent meaning, no design, no morals and doesn't "prefer" a recession over double-digit growth. Market equilibrium can be obtained with both 0% and 90% unemployment!

The economy's only hope, in this case, would be its bigger spender and (at least in the past) its most powerful player, the government and its fiscal and monetary policies.

So there we have it. If governments don't intervene to keep the rich in check and the poor less poor, the economy will make us wish they did. Without socialism, capitalism dies.

The Cross in Colour

Affirmation class took a slightly different turn this weekend (smile). I thought getting the kids to draw the five metaphors of the atonement would be more effective than listening to the thirst-baked sound of my voice.

A Fair End

Many teachers make the mistake of seeking merely to 'cover the textbook' i.e. get across a pre-set amount of data. Instead, I'd propose our job is to 'copy the movies' i.e. give a Wow experience to those fortunate enough to be in our class.

One aspect of the movies - also something that the director simply cannot ignore - is a good ending.

Every great movie has an ending worth talking about (e.g. Dark Knight, Kungfu Panda, Slumdog Millionaire - you name it). Almost every failed blockbuster messed up the last tenth of the movie (e.g. the recent instalment of Indiana Jones, Next, The Day The Earth Stood Still, etc.).

Ditto with our teachings, presentations, preaching, etc. The ending matters. But how many of us make it a point to end with a (good) bang?

Unfortunately, I get a feeling that our listeners no longer expect high-quality presentations that almost any kind of post-presentation talk would be welcomed. I mean, wouldn't you love it if you knew your audience at least discussed something about what you talked about (apart from the colour of your tie)?

That said, ends should be of a worthy note. The last 5 minutes may not be as critical as the first 5, but nothing worthy of enduring ears deserves less than a well-planned finale.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alma Bravo's Story

Alma was shy by nature. So shy she was almost in tears when, during a Pschology class, her teacher asked her to tell a joke. Telling a joke was a method that Hal Urban - character education expert - used in his over 30 years of teaching, each time he started a class. He believed that making the class laugh was a necessary activity to 'clear the air' and get the class off to a good start.

So Alma's turn was coming. She did not relish it. She begged Mr. Urban not to make her do it. She was in tears. She didn't want to fail miserably in front of the whole class, as telling jokes were simply not her kind of thing. But Urban stood firm and said everyone in the class had to do it.

When the day came, Urban went up to Alma and asked her, "Are you ready for this task today? Are you ready to make your friends laugh?"

To his astonishment, Alma replied without a breath's hesitation, "Yes. I'm ready."

Urban was somewhat concerned. What was happening? How come the sudden change of tone and mood? And what would happen if she failed to make the class laugh? Urban had even entertained thoughts of making her exception as he didn't want her to suffer an emotionally-scarring embarassment.

Well, the time came for Alma to do her joke. This was the moment of truth commingling with a moment of humour. But the end result may be seriously un-funny.

Alma got up from her seat and strode confidently to the front. She was wearing a blazer and looked very prefect-ish.

She turned towards the class and smiled at all of them.

Then she took out a Snickers bar - a huge Snickers bar - and in a calm voice which constrasted against the ERUPTION of laughter immediately after she spoke, said, "Whoever laughs the loudest - gets this."

Monday, March 16, 2009

The WatchMan

At 4pm I read about how, when groups of students for an experiment are asked to recall the 10 Commandments prior to the experiment, they end up on average not cheating in the task set for them. Conversely, when another group of students are asked to recall their ten favourite books (instead of the 10Cs'), their scores strongly suggest they were cheating.

At 5pm the Bible reader steps up and reads from Exodus 20:1-17, the lectionary for March 15th, 2009.

Moral of the coincidence:

1. Want to achieve high moral standards of behaviour? Think more about what's right and true and commendable.

2. God is watching.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Predictably Irrational

Better researched than Gladwell's Blink, filled with surprises the way Hartfod's The Undercover Economist couldn't be, thoroughly down-to-earth (and less cyber-esoterical) than Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous and more easily applicable in a way that even Gilbert's amazing Stumbling On Happiness can't match, Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational refreshingly raises the bar on pop-(social)-science writing.

Ariely surprises us even as he exposes the myriad of strange/wonderful programming which impacts our decisions. Whilst some of these were 'common sense' (e.g. feeling more attached to that which we owned as compared to that which we didn't possess), Ariely's numerous experiments drive home the realisation deeper than previously perceived.

Here's a quick part-summary of what the book reveals about us:

1. We are more likely to cheat when dealing with non-monetary items (e.g. we would almost unhesitatingly smooch a $2 pen from office, but when it comes to stealing $1 from the petty cash it's often a no-no)

2. We tend to enjoy our food if we can order 'in private' i.e. by, say, ticking on a menu-form which is eventually passed to the waiter, as oppposed to 'declaring' out loud what we'd like

3. We are predisposed to selecting an option with an obviously poorer close parallel i.e. if given Luxury Watch A which costs $50, Normal Watch B at $10 and Marginally Above-Average Watch C at $48, on average we'd go for Cup A. Why? Because in comparison with Watch C it's a better choice.

4. We determine what prices are acceptable based on initial purchases. Jack's cost of Chinese food for $20 and Jill's (for the same dishes) at $40 will decide their future valuations of said cuisine i.e. we 'anchor' ourselves to our initial price-experiences of goods, and these anchors can be completely arbitrary.

5. We are inexplicably attracted to "FREE!", often making purchases we wouldn't have on this basis. Somehow $0 creates purchase-waves where even $0.20 (a 'virtually free' price) fail.

6. We're obsessed with options and keeping them open, at the price of losing much needed focus and attention.

7. We 'believe in' goods that are priced higher, even when the substance of these goods do not differ much from lower-priced items (e.g. aspirin, bottled water, professionals, etc.).

8. We're suckers for presentation and form, and would generally feel a moderately prepared roast beef served on attractive china tasted better than excellently cooked beef on a plastic plate. Hence, our easy succumbing to branding which creates expectations which improves perception about the products we're getting.

9. When horny or angry, our propensity to do things we'd normally deny ever being capable of doing rises by a significant factor. In a word, we have a Mr. Hyde lying semi-dormant inside us.

The next step is to apply these to our work, our communities and our families. This is the exciting part as I feel there's so much that behavioural economics can contribute (another sign that this is great book, when the reader is inspired towards further exploration).

What I also like about the book is how Ariely reflects a deep passion towards the betterment of our society, e.g. when he proposed to banks to have a credit card which would stop a spender from charging above a predetermined limit.

Part self-help, part life-commentary, part research-report, all social-innovation(!), Dan Ariely's first book is one of those I'd tip for the "if you're only going to read one book this year" awards. Then again, I'd recommend you buy it - you're more likely to believe you've had a good read thus.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two Worlds of Difference(s)

I never tire of these contrasts, for there isn't a week gone by where I don't hear someone talk as if the qualities on the left columns are the only ones worth having, or that those on the right aren't slowly taking over.

On the way we think:

On the way we live our faith:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A/(S)hamed But Forgiven (Concluding Thoughts to 'Hidden Cameras')

It's surely safe to conclude that Elizabeth Wong was a victim of political manipulation. Against such tactics, all should take a firm stand. The body (both male and female) cannot - in Jojo Fung's words - be a battleground for political power. Part and parcel of a life lived abundantly has to be the sacralisation and guarding of personal privacy against malicious forces.

Having said that, even Wong's most ardent defenders cannot deny the partisan influences on their views and outrage. Hence, the absence of a similar intensity when condemning (if at all) those who filmed Chua Soi Lek in secret.

Whilst I personally don't think there's anything immoral preferring one political party over another (to me it's like preferring Manchester United over Chelsea - a deeply passionate affair, I know), I think too often the selectivity of our judgments betray the unevenness of our standards, easily inviting the arbitrary.

Secondly, the Wong affair further establishes the permeability of that hairline between public and private life. For someone of Wong's stature, this incident was a painful reminder that private life for high-profile individuals is a function of what the media does not know i.e. everything is potentially public. The cost of political status is a reduction of the private into the public sphere, from nothing so burdensome as a cam's click.

In light of this, barring the presence of photographs, the mere fact that Wong had a relationship with a married Muslim man constitute a ticking political PR bomb (not least in a place like Malaysia!). At the risk of sounding a hundred degrees below zero, PKR and Wong herself should've been more careful (or did they doubt such tactics may be employed?).

Thirdly, consistency requires me to say that if I've got a problem with my daughter (who professes Christ as Lord) seeing a married Muslim, then I can't say I'll be happily disinterested if my MP with a like profession is doing likewise. What I'm saying is that Jesus' firm (albeit tender-hearted and mercy-filled) admonishment, "Go and sin no more", is a consideration my conscience ignores in vain.

Is the idea of absolutes in sexuality taboo in our time and age? Are Biblically-oriented sexual norms anachronistic? I would imagine, given the pervasiveness of hidden cams, the volatility of the human creature (this 'mortal coil', all credit to Sharon Bong for this Shakespearean dash) and the importance of human dignity, sexual absolutes become all the more absolutely critical.

Elizabeth Wong was wronged - let's be clear on that. And yet there would've been no problem at all had that particular relationship not existed or another less questionable one been in place. Consider: Nobody (with a clear political motive) condemned the photographs per se. It was the illicitness implied by the pictures which called forth the storm.

Has her body been used as a pawn on a devious chess game? Yes. Those who cast stones (and even those who cast at the casters) need to look at the mirror of their own hearts. But, more than ever, so does Wong herself - and anyone seeking a healthy sexuality in (possibly) the wrong places. (Notice that the idea of a 'wrong' presupposes an exclusive kind of rightness, but if all forms of sexuality are right this implies no chance of trespass - which in turn renders all manner of trespass dangerously possible).

Following on this Christian perspective (and yes I know I've betrayed my norms), the key to enriching the public/private divide remains, if I may humbly submit, with that good'ol Biblical notion of love. As with the New Testament case-study on eating food sacrificed to idols (see 1 Corinthians 8), the private practice of eating has to be subordinated to the public concern with ensuring that our brothers 'do not stumble'.

For all potential Eli Wongs' (and this would include leaders of all stripes), this could be worth bearing in mind. It's not entirely about what we want to do with our lives; it's also of how those who love us and need us are nurtured by the way our lives are conducted.

Morality (public and private) must be determined by a godly agape care for one another. The community treats the individual lovingly, the individual behaves/responds in kind and the synergy escalates and, like the spirit all round, thrives.

When an individual loves only himself and values his freedom over the sensitivities of the people, immorality - almost by definition - is slowly birthed. But when a community, via its leaders, decides to tightly fortress the proclivities and desires of men and women, seeking its gains to the extent of the welfare of individuals, then fascism reigns.

(Having said this, one wonders if it's meaningful to speak of a community gone overboard with policing/control without highlighting the autocratic tendencies of key individual leaders. Doesn't the immorality of the many boil down to that of the few?)

I wish to end by saying, that in true Christian community fashion, we need to reach out to victims like Wong, restore them back to unashamed wholeness and by doing so tell those still holding stones that we are a forgiven and forgiving people on account of a cruci-shamed Forgiver God not shy to call us His friends.

Hence, we're once ashamed but never more.

My Shakespeare Blog

Don't ask (smile).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Against Corridored Thinking (Shamed But Not Ashamed, Pt.4)

Andrew Khoo's presentation was nicely timed, given its nature. After two on-the-ground, position-specific takes on religion, morality and sexuality (by Hamzah and Bong, both of whom were reasonably clear what they believed should or shouldn't be accepted as normal), it would seem appropriate to 'step back' and relook at the debate.

Khoo, deputy chairperson of a number of committees in the Bar Council, began by posing the 'big' questions (after amusingly issuing a 'health warning' that his views for the day do not represent the Bar Council's):
  • who decides what morality, let alone public morality, is?
  • if morality is begotten of religion, then whose religion sets the standard?
  • how would we define 'gender equality'? (here some of us were introduced to the acronym, "LGBTIQ")
  • what's the importance of sexual morality vis-a-vis other facets of morality? why is sex such a 'big deal' (and has it always been the case)?
  • how do we navigate between private notions of morality and public law?
  • should privacy legislation be practised, and what exceptions would there be?

I know my LLB-loving wife would've enjoyed the legal terms thrown out. I particularly took interest in the new knowledge that Malaysia had criminalised homosexuality under Section 377 of the Penal Code which, paradoxically, could outlaw male-male relationships but not lesbians (why not? check out the link). In the matter of sexual acts, we cannot ignore the question of what constitutes 'natural' and 'unnatural' activity (yet another bullet-point for the list above then).

Given the amount of reflection needed, to jump straight into condemnation, according to Khoo, would reflect 'corridored thinking' - and I agree. I also resonate with Khoo's method of focusing on asking the right questions instead of rushing to give knock-down answers cum arguments (which I suspect is what many have done, given their partisan loyalties - I've written my own confession in the previous post).

Khoo did, however, address the issue of the public's right to interfere into the privacy of others. This would be allowed in the case of hypocrisy i.e. when a politician's private life (e.g. he's gay) contradicts his public position (e.g. he pushes for anti-gay policies). In this case, according to this argument, the public should have the 'right to know'.

What's disturbing about this, though, is that it may make 'hidden cameras' more prevalent as how could the public be sure that a politician is not living/acting hypocritically unless his private life is an open book?

Khoo also (semi-provocatively) suggested that there could be another way to look at the Elizabeth Wong episode: Could it be a case of the media being concerned about public morality, thereby 'sacrificing' an innocent victim so the community could be warned? Who's to say, right? Who indeed.

Some concluding remarks up next...as for Irene Fernandez's session, I left after about seven minutes so I really can't say much here. I look forward to hear what others report.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Flashing the Feminist Finger (Shamed But Not Ashamed, Pt.3)

In my view, Sharon Bong (a feminist and literary expert) gave the best presentation of the day. It dealt with a sensitive / scandalous theme in a way which forced her listeners to question their own assumptions about what was 'basic' and 'natural'. I've no ingrained affinity for feminism, but when someone can both hint at polarities and abuses of power and challenge cherished traditional cores, my ears (naturally) perk up.
Quoting from Martha Nussbaum's Hiding From Humanity, Bong first discussed the idea of public shaming: Why do people get a 'rush' from this? Why have our communities believed in, and thus propagate, its use?

Bong then shared her personal experiences about being a prefect in school and how the school authorities publicly caned a student who littered and made her wear a 'litter-bug' plaque.

She also listed the impact of the public shaming of sex offenders: the erode human dignity, create divisions and promote branding (not in the glamourous Marketing sense but in the ugly caste-like sense) and entrench social hierarchies.
At this point, I suppose almost everyone was nodding. We were tacitly all in agreement that 'public shaming is bad'. But hang on: How many of us feel that V.K. Lingam was not shamed enough? How many of us have cracked cute one-liners about our DPM's (alleged) back-door sexual preferences (and are hoping for more lurid details)? How many of us would LOVE to see certain members of the incumbent government publicly shamed? Or can we draw a fine line between 'illegitimate shaming' (master-minded by political leaders) and 'necessary exposés' (performed by subversive writers)?

And as Andrew Khoo remarked later, why the surge of anger when Elizabeth Wong was shamed but less so in the case of Chua Soi Lek's cam-corded romp in a hotel room? The elephant(s) in the room are that i. Chua was a member of the incumbent government and Wong was from the Opposition and ii. Chua was a man, Wong a woman. (I'll be straight-up here and say that's how I felt about it emotionally. Yes, it disturbs me).

Quite unexpectedly, Bong then suggested that the phenomenon of the single women in charge of sexuality was a threat to our male-dominated society. Why? Because it subverts traditional views of family and marriage with all the phallocentric(?) biases that these institutions reflect. The sexually active single woman, in a word, was a walking flashing feminist finger to male power.

How this 'plays out' in the case of Elizabeth Wong is uncertain yet (because of that?) bizarre: Does Bong mean to say that Wong's condemnation by the BN was in part a reflection of our male-dominated society striking a blow for traditional family values? Now, isn't that exactly what the likes of Toyo were saying? But would this mean that those of us who opposed Wong's condemnation are (somehow) against traditional family values?!

The plot thickens.

Throughout it was clear that Bong was making a hard pitch for the sexually marginalised. She half-challenged Wong defenders if they would've remained so if

  • Wong's photographs were taken with her consent
  • Wong did not have a good track record as a politician and
  • Wong was gay.
This, really, was to make us question the extent of our commitment to victims of public shaming and condemnation and how this commitment was bounded by our views of what's sexually acceptable, 'normal' and so on.

The recent episodes of OuYang Wen Feng, pastor of Malaysia's first openly gay church and trans-sexual Jessie Chung could prove insightful in examining the consistency and dependencies of our judgments. How would we feel if they were to say that, despite all the condemnations they've received (especially from traditional Christians and Muslims), that they too were 'shamed but not ashamed'?

Next - Andrew Khoo (or go to start of series).

Made-in-Malaysia Islam? (Shamed But Not Ashamed, Pt.2)

Masjaliza Hamzah (Program Manager at Sisters in Islam) shared some pro-human rights/dignity quotes from the Qur'an and Hadith which I'm sure many present were grateful to know. I for one had my (stereo)-typical concerns about Islam somewhat relaxed when I heard that the faith's holy books included verses like:
  • "He who conceals the nakedness of a brother concels his own nakedness" (and positive flip-side of,"He who exposes the nakedness of another exposes his own")

  • "Do not enter the houses of others without permission" (you're allowed to asked three times)

  • "Greeting precedes conversation"(!)

  • "Suspicion is akin to lying" (not the exact words but it amounts to something similar)
The verses seem clear. So what's up in Malaysia?

It would appear that either a) some people don't give a damn or b) some people interpret these passages 'in the light of' other perhaps more control-oriented ones (evangelicals shouldn't bat at eyelid at this, right?) or, Hamzah's next point, c) Malaysia's brand of Islam adopts a  more active role in the moral regulation of its members.

Unfortunately, women get a raw deal on this whole moral-policing thing. It was news to me that Muslim women participating in beauty contests could be arrested but not male body-builders!

A thought I was playing around with in this context: Is such skewed law enforcement a feature of Islam in Malaysia or would it be characteristic of the religion in most/all places its practised? Are the women in the Middle-East treated substantially better, for example?

It would also have been interesting to hear Hamzah's response to Khir Toyo's 'stone-casting' of Elizabeth Wong, "How can she (a single women) allow a man into her room?" - from an Islamic standpoint, was there anything 'wrong' with Toyo's remarks? Putting aside his (and her) partisan loyalties, how should a faithful adherent of Islam respond when a non-Muslim woman gets intimate with a Muslim man, and when this woman declares she has 'broken no law'? Also, what would be the reaction if it was a Muslim lady instead of Wong?

Sharon Bong would ask similar questions later (e.g. "How would Wong's defenders have reacted if the photos were taken with her consent and/or if she was gay?"), except her line of questioning was directed more towards the (potentially) unexamined sexual norms cum 'prejudices' of the public.

In the questions above, however, the spotlight is on the Islamic (and later the Christian) faith itself - what (agreed upon?) provisions and priorities are in place for dealing with a victim who may also have committed morally questionable acts?

Next up, Sharon Bong...(see start of series here)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shamed But Not Ashamed, Pt.1

There's a scene in the movie, Philadelphia (starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington), where Washington's character, Andrew Beckett, tells the entire courtroom that "sex is everywhere", that even as he was speaking his listeners were thinking about sex even whilst they attemped at 'objective' evaluation of the case.

What's Beckett's point? It's that nobody can deliberate on matters of sexuality without a bias, some predetermined prejudice about what's alright and what evinces an ewwwwwwwwe from us. The subject is way too personal and, whilst we may keep straight faces and look really 'academic', our minds are constantly 'in heat' when discussing sexuality (not least judgments about it)

In such discussions, we try not to snicker (until group laughter relieves us); not to blush (especially if an obviously attractive other is watching). In a word, we want to behave like asexual rational beings, which is to say we try to be non-human in the face of talking about something integral to humanity, sex.

All this made yesterday's Hidden Cameras forum worth remembering, as much for the experience itself if not for the ideas and questions raised.

Sivin jump-started the discussion with the Gospel story of Jesus handling the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery. This famous catch-22 and sand-drawing story with that time-honored solution, "He who has no sin may cast the first stone", set the tone for the forum (as no less than two of the other four presenters used it). There is probably no more accurate parallel in Scripture to the recent case of Elizabeth Wong, shamed into resigning her political position on account of private photographs of her being taken at home.

(What's noteworthy, though, is that for the 2 hours I listened, no one in the audience - including myself - or on the panel brought up the concluding remark to that story, what Jesus said to the woman, "Go and sin no more." - more on this later...)

Sivin also highlighted the fact that we were in the season of Lent (and how potato chips were NOT on his give-up list!). How ironic to be remembering Lent in a forum where words like 'anus', 'lesbian', 'gay', 'queer', 'eroticize' and 'playboy', were used. And yet maybe Sivin's counsel, borrowed from Richard Rohr, is timely: Lent is a time to let go of (not so much chocolate and high-calories goodies, but) our judgmentalism of others and our numbness to their pain.

So the tone was set, the mikes in place (the cameras unsheathed) and the pens unleashed - what did Hidden Cameras reveal?

Part 2 - Made in Malaysia Islam? (Masjaliza Hamzah)
Part 3 - Flashing the Feminist Finger! (Sharon Bong)
Part 4 - Against Corridored Thinking (Andrew Khoo)

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Set Induction

It's that 'thing' you do before the lesson begins. It's that (non)-lesson on the margins of the lesson, the (non)-teaching prior to teaching. It's the small storying to open up ears for the big story. It's the casual narrative which could decide the significance of the formal delivery. It's the pseudo-point that postpones, yet heightens the interest in, getting-to-the-point.

I've only heard about it an educational context, but it's surely relevant for:
  • a marketing presentation
  • a initial project briefing
  • a sermon!
  • a lecture to one's kids
  • a request (of any kind)
  • a business proposal
  • a piece of advice

Burning Ships

Am reading a wonderful book, Predictably Irrational, by M.I.T. Prof Dan Ariely.

In chapter 8, Ariely mentions how Xiang Yu - a Chinese commander in 210 BC - prior to attacking the Qin army, ordered all the ships and cooking pots destroyed. This was to ensure that the soldiers wouldn't be 'distracted' with thoughts of retreat, return or staying put.

Result: Yu's soldiers won nine consecutive battles, completely defeating the Qin armies.

Cortez would've been proud.

But not us. We love to keep our options (and bridges and ships) open and available. Does that reflect prudence and a healthy flexibility or plain indecisiveness and kiasu-ism? Is having multiple options always a good thing? Ariely (and Yu, not to mention Cortez) would beg to differ.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Two Songs

Something happened this evening which drove me towards these songs and the Comfort(er) they point to. I'll blog about that later but for now I hope you like these two great melodies from Singapore's New Creation Church:

The Tell 'Em Strategy?

"Tell em what you are going to tell em, tell em, tell em what you told em" - this is standard (because reasonably sound) piece of advice normally given during courses on how to teach, do presentations, etc.

What's wrong with laying out everything for the participants, being consistent with what you said you would say, then repeating it all over again at the end so they remember well?

What's bad about all this, right? Quite a bit:

1. Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em

What for? I mean, would you like to read a summary of the story before you get into the story? Would you like the Director to explain the structure of the movie before the show begins?

Suspense. Anticipation. Unpredictability. These, when manipulated well, are what make a great presentation great.

Do you really want to know the headings of all the sections from slide 1 onwards? Can't we be trusted with our ability to know what to do with the particular information/communication when we get to it?

Never tell the congregation or students or participants that you've "three points" to make. It's a waste of breath and the stage-setting doesn't help the mood.

2. Tell 'em

Of course we can't skip this part. Except I'd add: show 'em, sing it to 'em, get them to tell 'em themselves(!), or even DON'T tell 'em!

Also, for God's sake, tell them stuff they don't expect. Keep them on the ropes, one surprise after another - rock their states and make sure they never get the chance to believe they've heard (no, experienced) your presentation before.

3. Tell 'em what you told 'em

No no no. Get them to summarise what's just been presented. Get them to tell you more! Better yet, get them to compete to see who can do the final 'telling' in the most creative/coherent/content-rich way which i. summarizes what was presented and ii. expresses the participant(s)' unique perspectives of what's told.

Also, elicit tactics on how to use what's been told (this takes being told for granted, duh).

Devil's Politics

Sleazy hidden cams, flare-ups in and around parliament, frogger politics, gutter politicking, protesters charged and (supposed) protectors charging, and much more. In light of all the crapola happening in Malaysian politics since March 8th last year (including the latest crisis in Perak), that episode in the wilderness bears repeating:

"The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." (Luke 4:5-7)

Worldly authority (read: political governance!) is in some theological sense 'of the Devil'. Whilst we cannot take this theme uncritically, we cannot ignore the fact that Scripture speaks of political power being for Satan to give to whoever he wants to, at the (marked up?) price of worship.

Malaysia is, to put it mildly, one hell of a case-study.