Sunday, 30 October 2011

In the Summertime

It's summer, or nearly summer, with the first really warm days in many months lifting the spirits as well as the temperatures.

At such times the change of breakfast from the winter fare of hot porridge to the refreshing hit of a bowl of cornflakes is most welcome.

Being  a 'mine of useless information' my thoughts turned to how cornflakes were first discovered.  It transpires that an Adventist with a penchant for strict discipline was feeding the patients in his Sanatorium a diet that was designed to decrease libido.

Kellogg (for that was his name) believed that spicy or sweet foods would increase passions. In contrast, corn flakes would have an anaphrodisiac property and lower the sex drive.

Interesting he chose a rooster called Cornelius to be the mascot of his fledgling company; a bird that is renowned for its sexual prowess and clearly not a great devourer of cornflakes.

But advertising at Kelloggs was not all 'fowl' and the odd spot of violence was also promoted, as this 1908 poster depicts.

The late John Lennon counted cornflakes amongst his favourite foods and during the Beatles' reign wrote two songs related to the cereal.

"I Am The Walrus" had one line about "sitting on a corn flake", and the song, "Good Morning, Good Morning" was inspired by a jingle for a British corn flake cereal commercial.

I regret to say that no one was similarly inspired by a bowl of porridge although Bob Marley's hit song, "No Woman, No Cry", contains the lyric "Then we would cook corn meal porridge of which I'll share with you".

Just think what he could have written if he'd laid off the ganga and eaten cornflakes instead.

One final thought on the subject, if Singapore is serious about raising the fertility level of its population maybe NTUC needs to stop stocking cornflakes on its supermarket shelves.
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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lucky Or Not?

Today this blog recorded its 44,444th page view. Not a very auspicious number in Chinese numerology as"4" is considered an unlucky number in Chinese because it is nearly homophonous to the word "death".

How I wish I had had double this number of page views as this would have guaranteed me wealth and prosperity. The Chinese word for "8" sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth".

With Powerball being drawn tonight I am in search of a change of luck although I am not obsessive about numerology. The same cannot be said for someone in Chengdu who paid USD$270,723 for a telephone number with all digits being eights.

Even the pragmatic Singapore Airlines reserves flight numbers beginning with the number 8 for routes in China and Korea although I expect that is more marketing than luck.

One numbering tool I did come across was Singapore's retirement savings calculator which shows how big your nest egg needs to be when you retire. It is an excellent tool factoring in inflation, projected lifespan and desired retirement age.

The Retirement Calculator - CPF Board of Singapore
After trying this out there will be many others who will hope that they win Powerball as the results can be sobering, especially if you have only a few more years before retirement.

Luck comes in all forms, not necessarily monetary. Consider the case of two Singaporeans who escaped certain death by a mere five minutes. A cargo lift plunged three storeys to the ground, smashing their cars, which were parked directly below the lift shaft.

The old adage of being in the right place at the right time certainly holds true in this case; the right place being well away from malfunctioning lifts.
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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Today's Print - Idol

Roger Smith 10/2011
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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Keeping Occupied

With the Occupy Wall Street protesters figuring prominently in the news it comes as no surprise to learn that there are copycat demonstrations springing up like mushrooms.

While their concerns may be commendable, if not a little diverse, the enthusiasm does not necessarily translate from country to county.

In New Zealand notice has been given of a similar mass protest and one can expect the usual rag-tag and die-hard protest movement supporters will turn up and try to turn the rally for their own political purposes.

As there are general elections next month the whole "Occupy Aotea Square" scenario smells suspiciously like a political party hijack attempt.

Facebook Page
But it is in my recent home of Singapore where the "Occupy Movement" has aroused the interest of the local constabulary but few others.

There is a Facebook Page that someone has put up but it has failed to mobilise the masses and motivate them sufficiently to assemble at Raffles Place.

As one Facebook contributor said "Instead of going to Raffles Place today, everyone went to #OccupyBenJerryChunkfest instead".  Given the Singaporean love of a good food event this is hardly surprising.

Not that the police are taking such incitement lightly as unauthorised public demonstrations are banned in the Republic.

"Police received reports that a netizen is instigating the public to stage a protest gathering at Raffles Place on Saturday, 15 October 2011 in support of a similar protest action in New York," police said in a statement.
Police urge members of the public not to be misled and participate in an unlawful activity."

So the "Occupy Raffles Place" was, to put it politely, a bit of a fizzer.  To quote Mr Brown " At Zero Hour zero turned up".

Zero Hour at Raffles Place with not an "Occupier" in sight
Photo by The Online Citizen
There were by all accounts a bevvy of waiting journalists but no protesters. According to a recent Reuters report covering this global movement against capitalist ethics or lack thereof, 'Singapore leads Asian reticence in denouncing corporate greed'.

The satirical Facebook site "Occupy Bishan MRT" is of far more interest to those of us who have braved the madding crowds at rush hour.  Parody or not, there is little humour to be had  in standing in the welter of humanity at such an hour.

When I worked at NUS I used to take the MRT from Queenstown each morning which was an education in itself.  I wrote several short observations about what I saw and felt while traveling  - Happy, Happy Talk & Terminal VelocitySudoku Man and Architectural Revelations and was even inspired to write a short poem on the subject.

Taking public transport in Singapore is still the best way to take the pulse of the nation and observe one's fellow citizens - and not banker in sight.

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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Little Known Singaporean Exports

I have to be up front and state that I wasn't aware that a Singaporean had won the title of New Zealand's Miss Erotica. It was a story in The New Paper that drew this to my attention.

Apparently the surgically, well-endowed Ms Tan has ambitions to become a porn star, something she would struggle to achieve had she stayed on in the Republic.

She is currently an event manager at one of New Zealand's leading universities which no doubts gladdens the hearts of many students but does little for promoting gravitas within this esteemed institution.  She also has the distinction of being the first Asian to win the title.

When we signed a free trade agreement between our two countries little did we know what we were going to import.

Mother of two, Audrey Tan may be more pleasant on the eye than a container load of computer chips or a tanker full of refined oil but I can't see much growth potential, unless of course silicone implants are now being produced in Jurong?.

It has to be said that Miss Erotica does not figure highly on the New Zealand radar at the moment as the country struggles to come to grips with a major oil spill off one of its pristine beaches and the Rugby World Cup is nearing its conclusion.
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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Today's Print

Growth Rings
Roger Smith 2011
Click on image to see larger print

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Eat The Rich

Chef presenting a plate with a doubtful meat, with a cow with a barcode in the background — Franck Boston.
All photos courtesy of Shutterstock.
Eating and food are subjects very close to my hearts as they also are with most Singaporeans. So it was with great interest that I read the New York Times article on the shooting of food commercials - Lights. Roll. Action. Drip!

The role of the film director is well known but that of the commercials film director, less so. There are more than $4 billion in television air time bought by restaurant chains and food conglomerates each year so directing productions such as these are big business.

The tricks they get up to creating these advertisements remind me of a magician's sleight of hand. For example the steam wafting over the casserole comes not from the food, but from a stagehand crouched under a table with the kind of machine that unwrinkles trousers.

Alfredo sauce appears when the fork emerges from the pasta but this is courtesy of tubes hidden in the back of the dish and hooked to what look like large hypodermic needles.

Food is also used for satirical purposes. Take the example of Rich and Tasty: Recipes for the New Class Warfare which appeared on BoingBoing. As the writer sees it, this is the guide that 99% of the population will turn to when the opportunity to feast on the fortunate presents itself.

The American bias shows through in the sample recipes included:

Peter Kellog Corn Flakes
Roast Perlman with Confit de Kerkorian
Braised Bezos and Soros tips
Round Eye of Icahn on a George Kaiser Roll
Walton Family Stew
BBQ Sumner Redstone w/Pickled Sam Zell
Ross Perot Tartare
Sergey Brin in Brine

The Wall Street protests may be drawing attention to the inequalities of the US-style capitalism and creating such commentary, but I doubt if you'll find any of these recipes at the Redhill Hawker Centre in Singapore!

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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mold or Miracle?

A priest holds a reliquary containing a dark spot
that appeared on a communion wafer
 in 2008
I've never been much into miracles, nor would I was to decry anyone their faith, but reports out of Poland take the biscuit (should that be communion wafer?).

"Catholics in Poland gathered on Sunday for a special Mass celebrating what they see as a miracle: the appearance on a communion wafer of a dark spot they are convinced is part of the heart of Jesus. The communion wafer in question developed a brown spot in 2008 after falling on the floor during a Mass in the eastern Polish town of Sokolka. Two medical doctors determined that the spot was heart muscle tissue, church officials have said."

Well sorry... but any such edible wafer coming in contact with a floor trampled by hundred's of worshipers will develop dark spots over time, and those spots are more than likely mold or bacteria.

Microbe Zoo has probably found the scientific answer and in doing so also debunked another  'miracle' that the gullible fell for in 1263 - the miracle of Bolsena. Serratia marcescens seems the likely culprit, a common microbe found in soil, water, on plants and in animals.

The dark-spotted wafer was carried aloft in a reliquary by a golden-robed priest in a procession and was put on display in the town's church of St. Anthony as about 1,000 faithful looked on, according to a report.

My faith in the medial profession is also severely dented by their apparent preparedness to confirm the 'miracle'.
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On Song

Is it possible to fall in love with a voice? If it is then I think I have done so, especially as this voice emanates from the vocal chords of famous Chinese singer Song Zuying.

I have always believed that the greatest music expresses the mood, time and place from whence it comes; the raw gritty power of the blues from the black south, the moody classics from the Russian steppes and Scandinavia or the Mersey Beat which became the symbol for a generation free from the constraints of post-war concerns.

Light or Classical Opera are not amongst my favourite musical forms; in general I find them too highbrow for my liking.  Voices such as Pavarotti's have the ability to transcend such preconceptions and in Song Zuying I have found another who can impart true emotion.

How did I chance upon her?  Our local television has two Chinese language channels and tiring of the Rugby World Cup menu that is dominating our media, I switched over to one of them.  On screen was Ms Song's concert in Taiwan which had been staged in the Taipei Arena on May 7, 2011.

The Diva also moves in political circles according to the media release as she was a representative to National People's Congress, China's legislature, and now is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the NPC's advisory body.

Clearly a lady of influence, she is also a non-combatant Rear Admiral in the Chinese Navy through here association with the Chinese People's Liberation Army Naval Song and Dance Troupe. It is also widely rumoured that Song was at one time the favourite mistress of Jiang Zemin.

But first and foremost she can sing with the voice of an angel, be it classical Chinese classics, popular ballads or the Mountain songs so beloved by many Chinese.  She is highly regarded as a singer of Chinese folk songs and is a descendant of  the Miao, one of China's 55 officially recognised minorities groups,  whose singing and dancing talents are well known.

Her supporting acts of popular Taiwanese male singers, such as Jay Chou, simply weren't in the same class and they knew it. Chou is a fine musician but his voice is weak by comparison.

According to her biography Song Zuying  was born in a place regarded as the most romantic and legendary in China.   Wulingyuan in the western Hu’nan has been eulogized by many poets in Chinese history for its scenic beauty, birth of outstanding talent and the beautiful women born there. It is also an area of China regarded as the living place of the immortals.

Song Zuying, Plácido Domingo: "Love Song of Kangding" with Lang Lang at piano (2009)

The Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra and hundreds of highly skilled dancers, singers and supportive artists from mainland China made this a memorable concert for those of us viewing it on a television screen, half a world away from Taipei.
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