Thursday, January 27, 2005

Laibach and take it

These kittens may not frighten the enemy, but they certainly frighten me. On the other hand, my fiancee thinks they're cute. She's even been showing her friends. Then again, she's the lass who just discovered my Joy Division CDs - hitherto uncommon in the region. She's been putting them on heavy rotation. How hardcore is that?

I didn't even know Laibach had a new album. This place really mucks around with your musical credibility...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Uprooting those Nazi weeds

Australian Racism has never died - and it has enjoyed a little resurgence with that Pauline Hanson. (John Howard's refugee-baiting didn't hurt here either.) But it is disrespectable - and not even in an entertaining, Les Patterson kind of way. In some cliques, you would be abused for racist remarks. In others, you would just be quietly held in contempt. Sometimes people try to get away with the weaselly "I'm not a racism, but..." (and then throw on their own stereotype). But racism is not cool. Being racist will not get you the fast-track in life. It is not a route for social climbing. It is quite the reverse. It can even cause you to lose your job.

So who are you going to get in hard-core Nazi parties like the Patriotic Youth League? Not many self-serving careerists, methinks: membership won't help you up the greasy pole of life. (It's when the timeservers and yuppies start joining that you start to worry.)  It's not a feel-good organization like the "Wilderness Society", so that scratches out the young and the enthusiastic. This goes double for young women. So who's left? From these simple facts, you can state that almost any modern Australian NaziSymph is a crank or a loser - and more likely both. They're unable to get ahead in life, and they're looking for someone to blame. And what simpler way of distinguishing your friends from your enemies than their melanin levels, or the folds around their eyes?

Fortunately, they are small and their enemies are great. Darp Hau has been doing a bang-up job of organizing the opposition from his blog - protests, community activism and so on. Goodonya. Others act in their own way. From his site:

As you can see, I've added a new link button to the left. I urge you all to enjoy the Patriotik Yoof League.

You'd be surprised at the calibre and variety of people from the arts/advertising/media/entertainment industry that put this together. It was knocked up in a very short period of time and though I don't expect anyone to believe it, I DIDN'T contribute the bulk of the material here. All shall be revealed in due course.

Racists are easy to take the piss out of, and the "Patriorik Yoof League" is a good laugh thoughout. (The Hitler-Goebels slash-fiction they threw in gave me a giggle.)

But it's not all hijinks. There's a link to Survival of the Species by one C. Stewart - a real racist handbook. To save you the effort of wading through this crap, I will quote from the last chapter:, "The Mangalore Virus":

In just a matter of a few months, the racial virus was decimating non-White populations worldwide; no country was free from its effects. While the full blood non-Whites were obviously being affected by the virus, it also affected half-breeds (mulattos), quarter-breeds (quadroons), and eighth-breeds (octoroons) (while the technical terms for miscegenetic offspring were originally coined with regards to Negro intermixture, they had begun to be used in relation to Asiatic miscegenation as well). While the virus even affected many who were one-sixteenth non-White, and those who had an even lower proportion of non-White genes in them, these people weren't as badly affected as the others, and many survived. Apparently there was a rough cut-off point as to what proportion of non-White genes enabled the Mangalore Virus to kill its victims; this may have been Nature's way of determining at what point someone's DNA was sufficiently "White".

Think about it. The author wrote 34 other chapters of prose before finishing up with his own private Götterdammerung. And with only one hand, I judge. Sick is too easy a word to describe them.

And how do I feel about the other modern-day Nazis? As you've probably guessed, I pity them, with a large part of contempt thrown in. Sadly, they do not don't realize that in a real Fourth Reich, they'd be the first to go. (Look what happened to the S.A.) I do realize they're my enemies. They are the sort of folk that would brand me a "race traitor" for my betrothal to Ms. Down and Out, my fiancee. After all, she is Vietnamese. They are the sort of people who would try to scare her or hurt her. I don't want anyone to think these can get away with this. Damn them and all their works, I say.

Too long at my PC?

Bit of writer's block, I'm afraid. I think I need some Webxercise.

(Adult content. Strong images. You have been warned.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The 2005 Bird Flu.

I haven't been that worried about the latest bird flu epidemic. After all, I've lived through one already. Last year we had one, with 31 humans dying of the disease. The government's response was to cull infected stock, and they did a good job of it. Sài Gòn had to do without chicken for a couple of months, but I don't think anyone wanted to buy any.

Now the original strain was bird-to-human. A lot of kiddies got it from playing in bird faeces. Others who caught the disease worked with these animals. As a city-slicker, I reckon I was pretty safe for this round of the disease. But now I'm not so sure. From New Scientist:

Bird flu on the rise again in Vietnam

Two more people in Vietnam have been confirmed to have contracted the H5N1 bird flu virus, as the known death toll in the country since the start of 2005 has risen to seven. There are at least seven more cases suspected.

Worryingly, two cases now in hospital might have caught the virus from another person, not from an infected fowl. Overall, these cases also suggest that many human infections with H5N1 may not have been diagnosed, partly because tests are not reliable or widely available.

The more people that have the virus, the more chances it will have to adapt to humans and possibly unleash a pandemic, warned Hans Troedsson of the World Health Organization in Vietnam. The WHO's biggest bird flu fear is that the virus will evolve to spread from human to human. Troedsson called it a "disappointment [that] the international community is not responding more adequately to the threat".

Now according to Just A Bump In the Beltway (where I got this link from):

H5N1 is not a normal influenza. It's a mad one and a bad one. It makes the 1918 influenza, that put 50 - 100 million people below the sod, look like a head cold. Normal influenzas have a lethality of about 1%, and still kills "only" 36,000 Americans every year. The 1918 influenza had a 2% - 5% lethality. This little puppy has, to date, a 70% lethality. Ponder that figure and do the math.

As long as it stays in a poultry-to-human transmission mode, I'm not too worried. But human-human transmission is worrisome. Thankfully, nothing in this story indicates truly airborne transmission. A mother nursing her child is pretty intimate physical contact.

At this stage, I can only predict another round of chicken culling. More news will be forthcoming.

UPDATE: I was right. According to VietNamNet Bridge:

The outbreak has spread to 22 of 64 provinces and cities in Vietnam, and has resulted in the culling of more than 331,000 poultry since the beginning of this year.

I've heard they've stopped selling chicken in the supermarkets. Well, whatever helps.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The MSN Atlas on Việt Nam

I found myself at the MSN Atlas, and decided to check their representation of this country. My observations:

  • Microsoft should be commended for trying to represent names "as is". They have not decided to anglicize names by removing diacritics - well, not all of them. Anglicization removes information, which is not what you want in an atlas. So you see Biên Hoà as "Biên Hoà", and not "Bien Hoa". Good one for Microsoft.
  • Unfortunately, the font is too small. The "ẵ" in "Đà Nẵng" looks like an "a" with an indeterminate squiggle on top. This does not help people who are working on a school project.
  • I wonder if the compilers got their information from a pre-1975 atlas. For example, they use "Tan Son Nhut Airport". (In Vietnamese, that's Tân Sơn Nhựt Airport"). No-one uses that nowadays.  It's an old term dating from when the South rose up. According to my Vietnamese teacher, the proper name was, is, and always will be "Tân Sơn Nhất". Back when Ngô Ðình Diệm ran the country, literacy levels were lower than today, and many Vietnamese confused the "Nhựt" with the "Nhất". It doesn't help that "â" sound similar to to short "u" in "cut". So many of the military "advisers" took that funny transliteration back home with them.
  • There are no province names. Instead, they use pre-1945 names like "Cochin China". Nobody, and I mean nobody, uses that either. It's an archaic remnant from when the country was run as three separate satraphies by the French.
  • Finally, there are some bad mistakes. There are mistakes in capitalizations ("Xóm MớI"), there are mistakes in writing diphthongs foreign to the language (such as "uơ") and there are really egregious mistakes that would be laughed at by anyone knowledgeable of the country, such as "Ba Truưoờng". This makes this project typically Microsoft. They're good at using vast resources of manpower and money to make a project work. They're not so good at quality control.

It would not be hard to subcontract some locals for error checking. Nor would it be expensive.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

On the Airbus

John Quiggin, as an economist, find the recent development of the Airbus A380 quite interesting. His article is worth reading:

The unveiling of the Airbus A380 raises a couple of thoughts (not entirely new ones, and pointing in somewhat different directions). First, this is another example of the US loss of dominance in manufacturing. Boeing has ceded the jumbo jet market it created with the 747 to Airbus, betting everything on the proposition that airlines will want medium size planes like its forthcoming 7E7. Even if this turns out to be true (and limp early orders don’t support the idea) Airbus has an entrant in this market as well (the A350). Meanwhile, by abandoning the 717 (the old DC 9 inherited in the merger with MacDonnell Douglas), Boeing has abandoned the small jet market, the winner here being the Brazilian fimr Embraer. All of this parallels Detroit’s loss of dominance in the car market. And all this despite the big decline in the dollar-euro exchange rate. This suggests that winding down the US trade deficit is going to be a painful process.

However, what interests me is whether the Airbus is more comfortable - say, than the Boeing 747. Most economy sections fit  10 passengers into a row (in the 3 + aisle + 4 + aisle + 3 configurations). This allows more passengers on the vehicles, but the result is not the most comfortable, especially if you are tall or overweight. Such cramped conditions leave you more susceptible to thrombosis. Then there's the business of unlatching the food tray without spilling your orange juice on someone else's lap. And what's the pecking order on the armrests, anyway? Stop hogging it! In such circumstances, I spend more time going to the toilet than usual. It's not that I need to go. It just gives me an excuse to stretch my legs.

Now the A380 looks like it could be more comfortable. Two levels? Woo-hoo! From Wikipedia:

The Airbus A380 manufactured by Airbus S.A.S. is a double-decker, four engined airliner capable of flying 850 passengers in a high density format or 555 passengers in a typical three-class configuration. The aircraft is scheduled to commence flight tests in March 2005 with deliveries to start in 2006.

Not so fast. Skim to the end of the article:

Initial publicity, particularly from the airlines which have ordered it, has stressed the ability of the A380 to provide increased room and comfort, with open space areas to be used as relaxation space, bars, duty free shops, and the like. Historically, the same type of prediction has always been made when a new, larger aircraft is announced—the 747 is an obvious example—but the economics of airline operation are such that the extra space is nearly always used for additional seating. (One exception to this rule is Virgin Atlantic, which has a bar in Business Class on most of its newer airliners and has announced plans to include casinos on their A380 models.) Given the history of the air transport industry to date, the key change that the A380 will bring to travellers is not extra comfort or lavish in-flight facilities, but more of the same difference that the 747 made—more seats and lower seat-distance costs. It should however be noted that, at 555 passengers, the A380 represents a 35 percent capacity increase over the 747-400 in standard three-class configuration, while the aircraft has almost 50 percent more actual space in the cabin. This should at the very least translate into a more spacious economy class, something which will be well received by the travelling public; however, aviation economics may see this be either a hypothetical or at least short-lived configuration.

Meet the new sardine can. Same as the old sardine can.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Comments for Cash for the Tsunami

Please visit John Quiggin's site:

I haven’t managed to come up with a creative new idea for helping the tsunami aid appeals, so I’m going to copy Michele Agnew. From now until midnight Sunday, I’ll give one $A to the Australian Red Cross tsunami appeal for each comment1 I receive on this post, up to a maximum of 1000.

The day's just starting in Oz, so it's only about 2 hours in. In this time, various people have added their own pledges. Now it's $3.10 per comment. Just Do It. And tell your friends.

UPDATE: John Quiggin asked about 400 posts in:

Now I’m appealing for some risk-tolerant types to cosponsor the remaining comments, starting at number 501. Why don’t you put in, say, 50 cents a comment. There’s a small risk that you might be hit for $250, but in the absence of a last-minute surge, it’s more likely to be around $50.

I took up the offer. Unfortunately, comments topped out at 470, so my contribution was zero. (What a way to feel useless.) So I'm going to chuck in $50 dollars anyway.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Arrested Development

WasArrested.Com. Worth a visit. Just don't try it too much at work. Neither my boss nor my coworkers would appreciate being portrayed as a sheep molester. Would yours? (Note: if you are living in Singapore, please do not enter "Lee Kwan Yew" in any of the fields in public. He may be getting on, but he's still sharp with the the libel suits. You have been warned.)

Hackers would love this site. That's a good thing, as anyone offended could easily break the system. I found a security hole on my first try. Any guesses? (Hint: think linguistically.)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

IE and its discontents

At home, I use Firefox for browsing. I prefer it for:

  • Tabbed browsing. Have 12 sites open? Click "Close other tabs" to clean them all up. Internet Explorer opens them in separate windows, so you have to close them all by hand.
  • Unicode support. A site uses a certain font. The HTML code contains characters unsupported by that font. What does the browser do? Firefox substitutes a font that supports that character, and only for that character. IE gives up, and displays little meaningless blocks. (This problem often happens with Vietnamese characters such as "ệ" in blog comments.)
  • Security: IE is shit at security.

The last reason is why I am very, very firm with everyone using this machine for browsing. In my best simplified pidgin English "Don't use IE. Bad for Viruses! Bad! Spyware! Use Firefox. Don't use Internet Explorer. Bad! Use Firefox." I may be stretching the truth with viruses, but it's a possibility. Now everyone has heard of viruses in this country. I add "spyware" for honesty. When I first used the machine, the guts were entangled with functional faeces such as "PurityScan" and "DoubleClick". I cleaned it up. I used IE for a while after we got ADSL - and the problem kept occuring. Finally I went to Firefox and the problem stopped. Don't use IE if you can help it.

That partly explains why there are a lot of people down on IE. There's the Browse Happy advocacy site, which shows lots of smiling people willing to share their horror stories of IE with you! They can tell you what alternatives there are - which is useful by itself. But when they ask "Why is Internet Explorer unsafe", it shows a series of article quotes without any overwhelming structure. It's a quick way to lose interest. To be honest, I found the whole site underwhelming. Now if they had provided a good security advisory about IE, that would be sufficient advocacy by itself. Via Securia:

Some vulnerabilities have been discovered in Internet Explorer, which can be exploited by malicious people to compromise a user's system, conduct cross-site/zone scripting and bypass a security feature in Microsoft Windows XP SP2.

Read the whole thing. It's a nasty vulnerability too. For example, the bad guys (and gals!) could open files from your "C:/WINDOWS/" directory and do no end of mischief. Securia even got a test for it. Give it a go. With Firefox, I found I was as safe as houses. By contrast, Internet Explorer left me more open than the freeway to Baghdad airport. (By the way, I am running WinXP SP2 by the way - an OS that should have been cleared of nasty vulnerabilities.)

The test may come in handy later today. At work, we've got a small LAN network for the teachers. It accesses the Internet - but the only browser available is Internet Explorer. I've requested the installation of Firefox, but our IT want to hold back until they've tested it. I think they're being overly conservative, but what can I do? All I can do is run the Secunia test, document the results, and if a vulnerability occurs, tell them about it. Full URL will be attached to the chit. It's IT's business whether they install Firefox or not. But I'd rather not lose the files I have.

("Browse Happy" found via Royby.Com. The ever prolific Tim Lambert - who celebrates his second anniversary of blogging today! - gives us the Securia page.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

No Thank Your For the Music

I know little about presidential inaugurations. I do know there's one due this month. I reckon there's going to be a parade in there somewhere, involving lots of marching bands. I think it's traditional that the president chooses someone rockier or poppier to wrap things up. For example, Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac for one of his, and Bush senior gave the nod to the Beach Boys. I remember the following couplet from that event: 

I've got Bush vibrations
He's the one to lead the nation.

That's probably as good an explanation as any for why he was a one term president.

Now I like a lot of American music - rock, pop, country (if it's Johnny Cash), blues (especially if it's Tom Waits) soul, funk, jazz, and even industrial and hardcore. Marching bands - one form of music that American has made its own - isn't one of those genres. There's nothing wrong with them. It's just that I don't relate. I wasn't brought up in a culture where they were common - like say, high school football matches. They're extremely appropriate for Anzac remembrances, but that's just one day in the year. The sad thing is that I KNOW this country - with it's so-rich-it's-stinking musical tradition - is going to be represented at the inauguration by the the safest, most controversial, and (dare I say it) most boring musical style it has. It's tradition, I guess, and any move away from it would frighten some of the more impressionable people from the Red States. But still, it's a shame.

(Oh, it would be lovely if a president chose music that I really liked. For example, they could reform P-Funk and paint that White House Black. But life is pretty bland in the middle of Chocolate City - George Clinton's name for Washington, D.C.- and attempting such would be "courageous". In the Sir Humphrey meaning of the word.)

Still, there was no harm in learning, so I did a bit of searching. There's the Inauguration Website, although I found the "Biographies" page nauseating; I think it should have been called "Hagiographies". I also disliked the way they hijacked every semi-patriotic buzzword in naming the Balls. For example, we have the "CONSTITUTION BALL", the "FREEDOM BALL", the "INDEPENDENCE BALL", the "TEXAS WYOMING BALL", the "LIBERTY BALL", the "DEMOCRACY BALL" and the "PATRIOT BALL" - caps in the original. Or in Newspeak, "Conball", "Freeball", "Indeball", and so on. Wouldn't naming them after deceased presidents be a move of humility and decency becoming the event? Mind you, I'm curious about "AMERICA'S FUTURE ROCKS TODAY". As if they have a time machine build specially for basalt and granite.

Better coverage (both for the mind and the stomach) can also be found at The Guardian. But the thing that piqued my interest was this snippet on MSNBC:

Guy Hovis, a vocalist from Tupelo, Miss., who performed on the Lawrence Welk show, will sing, “Let the Eagles Soar,” a song written by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Now, I've been curious about the song even since I heard about it. It's been the subject of praise and scoffing (in unequal measures) for the best part of a year. I musn't judge without observation, so the first thing one does is to start with the lyrics:

Let the eagle soar,
Like she's never soared before.
From rocky coast to golden shore,
Let the mighty eagle soar.
Soar with healing in her wings,
As the land beneath her sings:
"Only god, no other kings."
This country's far too young to die.
We've still got a lot of climbing to do,
And we can make it if we try.
Built by toils and struggles
God has led us through.

Now, it's too easy to scoff. The metaphor of America as an "eagle" is a standard cliche. "Soar with healing in her wings" would be true in 1945, but not in 2005. Some of the atheists in the U.S. would be happier with the line "No gods nor other kings". Bonus points accrue to him for self-deception beyond the call of duty.

But it is heartfelt. Watch to the music for yourself. I admit, I was half dreading the pomp and bluster of a John Philip Sousa-wannabe. But to my (pleasant) surprise, it sounded like it would go down a treat in Vegas. The clip shows Ashcroft crooning along - eyes half closed - to his song. He can carry a tune, hold the notes, and there's enough projection to make it work. He was really getting into it.

Maybe I'm too easy on Ashcroft. Maybe my musical nerves have been dulled over the years. Or maybe they're under strain at the moment. As stated before, I had a promise of marriage ceremony last month. For the event, they produced a ceremonial VCD. And the producer decided to mix Richard fucking Marx into the soundtrack without asking me. The song he chose for this was the atrocity known as Right Here Waiting  - with more syrup than all the maples in Canada, and more oleaginous than Saudi Arabia's entire oil produce. It's the worst fucking song in the world. Maybe under the stress of it all, I am being too easy on Mr. Ashcroft.

But you must admit: he's a better singer than attorney-general.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


One of the few nice things to come out of the tsunami disaster was the World Cricket Tsunami Appeal:

The centrepiece of world cricket's efforts to support the victims of the tsunami is a two-match one-day series between a World XI and an Asian XI. The first of these games was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia on 10 January 2005. The second will be held in either India or Sri Lanka in February or March. The matches were telecast in at least 122 countries.

Travelex sponsored the first match, which was a 78,000 sell-out, for AUD 1 million.

According to the BBC, the score was 344 (World) - 232 (Asia). Cricinfo reveals the match alone raised AUD $14.6 million. A hearty "Goodonya!" to everyone involved.

Those coming out of Foggy Bottoms should not complain about turds

Do Third World countries smell? Think about it. Firstly, let's read Diplomad - an anonymous U.S. diplomat in (I presume) Aceh:

Many years ago, as we prepared our return to a tough posting in the Far Abroad after leave in the States, our son asked, "Do we have to go back to the 'turd' world?" That phrase, "redolent" with the wisdom possessed only by children, has stayed with me over these passing years. My son was right about the 'turd' world. What tips you off that you have arrived in a poor country, a truly, genuinely dirt-poor corner of the Far Abroad, is the smell. As you leave the airport, you notice a special "exotic" odor of rotting vegetation, garbage, and feces combined with a slight whiff of smoke. Once you're there a bit, you no longer notice. When you leave and come back, it slams you all over again. The kid was right: we had been and still do live in the "Turd World."

Maybe I've been in this country too long, but applying it to Việt Nam would be an inaccurate slur. Firstly, the smell you notice stepping out of the airport  - whether it be Sài Gòn, Đà Lạt or Đá Nẵng (the three I've experienced) is jet fuel, plus what ever air pollution is available locally. Fucking obvious. To smell garbage, just stand close to a bin - an axiom true from Melbourne to Manchester. And I don't know what Diplomad has against "rotting vegetation". Rotting vegetation is a perfectly natural thing that you get in rainforests. I've just visited the rainforests of Cát Tiên national park. It smelt nice. I want to visit Cát Tiên again. Nope, I don't know what he meant by "rotting vegetation". Oops, I think he meant "rotting vegetables". Now I've done my share house living. I've cleaned out 3 month old Bok Choi from fridges. It's a bad odor. It's not an odor present in great amounts here, unless you visit the local markets. Then you get a big whiff of it. But markets aren't everywhere, and there are big spaces free of them, and their stench of rotting vegetables.

Yes, sometimes you do get the stench of faeces in your face. I've blogged about the local cloacas that pass for canals. Things are also whiffy at home - due to the government making much needed renovations to the sewers. But in most parts of town you don't smell shit. It's not that the walls are clean. Far from it. But they don't smell. Except maybe of urine. To many Vietnamese men, wall = urinal. But isn't that also true in the first world?

There are worse things in this country. Mũi Né is a small beachtown 200 km east of Sài Gòn. It's a nice vacation spot. The only real drawback is in the air. Every now and then, the air wafts to you the stench - the stench of something dead and rotting. In this case, fish: sealed in thousands of clay pots and fermenting away. The process result in nước mắn - fish sauce, which happens to be Việt Nam's #1 condiment. It's actually not a bad substance in cooking. But the odor of the manufacturing is unforgettable.

Now I can go on and on about the unfairness of describing undeveloped countries as "The Turd World". As if the First doesn't have its share of smells. (Even been behind a roadtrain of cattle? They're common in Australia. The combined stench of stearic acid and bullshit is also unforgettable.) It also reveals a surprisingly condescending attitude for a diplomat. Unfortunately, there's something smellier about Diplomad's site:

A Blog by career US Foreign Service officers. They are Republican (most of the time) in an institution (State Department) in which being a Republican can be bad for your career -- even with a Republican President! Join the State Department Republican Underground.

Yes, but which sort of Republican? Are we talking about "grownup" Republicans - people like Gerald Ford, George Bush (senior) and George Schultz? You might not agree with them, but you could work with them, and they sometimes did good things. For example, Bush was the man who kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991. They were people you could deal with. They were (more or less) competent.

I hope that the's sort of Republican Diplomad is. I fear he belongs to a less savory grouping: those PNAC / Neoconservative motherfuckers. Neither benevolent nor competent nor loved by the rest of the world. People like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, and many other asshats who came to prominence post 2001. They're far more ideological and intolerant than the first group. A lot of them love the idea of U.S. Hegemony. Alas, they're not that competent. It's people like them who got George Bush junior into invading Iraq with wildly overoptimistic troop estimates. They were the ones who bought Ahmed Chalabi's bullshit. And anyone who questioned this was sidelined or sacked.

And now look at the mess they made. 1300 American dead and 10,000 American injured (and 100,000 dead Iraqis) later, Iraq is run by 20 or 30 different factions with guns. The insurgency now has a 6-digit population later - twice the figure of U.S. soldiers stationed there. Even the green zone isn't safe. They're now down to using up their reserves. And they've pissed off France and Germany so much that they're not getting any help from them. The only way they're getting out with face is if the Iraqi elections are peaceful. Since electoral workers are being killed, that looks unlikely. Is Iraq Việt Nam on crack? From where I'm sitting, mate, it's looking more like Teotoburg Forest.

So how would Diplomad classify himself? He doesn't say. When he bitches about other countries (which is often), he reminds me of the second group. For example, on other countries' contribution to the tsunami humanitarian effort:

Sitting VERY late for two consecutive nights in interminable meetings with UN reps, hearing them go on about "taking the lead coordination role," pledges, and the impending arrival of this or that UN big shot or assessment/coordination team, for the millionth time I realized that if not for Australia and America almost nobody in the tsunami-affected areas would have survived more than a few days. If we had waited for the UNocrats to get their act coordinated, the already massive death toll would have become astronomical. But, fortunately, thanks to "retrograde racist war-mongers " such as John Howard and George W. Bush, as we sat in air conditioned meeting rooms with these UNocrats, young Australians and Americans were at that moment "coordinating" without the UN and saving the lives of tens-of-thousands of people.

Well according to Wikipedia, Singapore has been doing sterling work in using its armed forces in Aceh, and Malaysia (one of the countries hit in the disaster) is actually shifting resources to help other countries. There's a lot of good stuff coming in from other countries. Look up the link. Singling out two countries for special praise (of which one happens to be his own) is unwarranted here. And I don't think that John Howard and George W. Bush are "retrogade racist war-mongers". I think they're "assholes". The difference is that John Howard is actually competent at his job, was aware of the tsunami when it happened, and occasionally shows signs of genius. For example, his 1 billion AUD aid to Indonesia stunned everyone. (Including me. And for a rare change, in admiration.) While Dubya seemed unaware of the tragedy at first, and then pledged stingily.

I don't want to be too hard on Diplomad, because he's fighting the good fight too. He sounds like he's been running ragged at the Embassy trying to organize the aid effort, and thus grouchy as a result. The crash of a U.S. aid helicopter in Aceh today wouldn't have helped his temper either. I salute him, but I also remember that one can be a hero and a prick as the same time. He seems to love whining about "Scandinavians and leftist Americans, and the occasional pompous Euro-Brazilian". He decries the U.N. as the "High Priest Vulture Elite". He accuses them of being a parasitic elite better at photoshots than actually giving aid. Paranoid hyperbole? I'm not too fussed about the organization myself, and the way it dropped the ball on Rwanda. On the other hand, U.N. peacekeeping troops did better work in East Timor. Irregardless of that, the United Nations organization is definitely in need of reform. If he digs dirt on them, then good on him! If it contributes to the reform of the U.N., so much the better! But does Diplomad want abolishment? I don't know, but if it doesn't sound like a good idea. Better an ineffectual organization where countries can talk than no such organization. Or is he one of those people who believe in American hegemony? No way.

One interesting question is: why is being a republican bad for your career in the State Department? Remember, this comes at a time when the Republicans control the House, the Senate and the Cabinet. Diplomad is sort of hinting that upper-level public servants are political biased. My guess is different: these public servants have observed - in the space of 4 years - how an atavistic and ill-judged Republican administration have trashed the good international reputation of the U.S. built slowly and gradually since World War II. This month, they see the retirement of their boss, and possibly the last grown-up Republican, one Colin Powell, who has been slowly sidelined by Rumsfeld, Cheney and others of their ilk. By their standards, the remaining Republicans are PNAC / Neoconservative sympathizers, and can be fairly judged to be batshit crazy. That's not political bias. That's just self-protection.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Nói Lái

Via Language Hat (via Language Log - again!) comes an interesting page on Nói Lái. According to it:

"Nói Lái" is a form of play-of-words common in the Vietnamese language, both spoken and written, involving transposition of sounds between adjacent or nearby words. It is usually used to inject humour into what one says, and/or to require the listener to think a little before understanding the real meaning.

In most languages, swapping the odd sound around is always good for a laugh. For example, take the spontaneous spoonerisms of Thomson and Thompson. But Vietnamese seems particularly suited for it. Take two words, and just swap around a vowel , a consonant, or even a tone marker for instant innuendo.

Since the examples from "Nói Lái" are (ahem) political, I guess I better settle for one of scatological nature. At first glance, "cây dù" is just a decent clean-living word for "umbrella". But sometimes, it's a way of hinting (via a simple swap the vowels) "cu dầy". That is, "long penis". Of course, you're never going to say those words in in public.

One mixed-language example I have is with my fiancee. A joke we share is saying "Thanh Cù" to each other when we mean "Thank You". But we both know "Thanh Cù" is just a hop, skip and jump from "Cu Thành", which also means "penis". Or rather, "wee-wee".

Nói Lái is very popular here. My fiancee and her brother laughed their guts out when they read the page. As for you, you'll just have to click the link.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Two Happy New Years for the price of One

You know it's that time of the year. Every restaurant, coffee bar and concert hall starts playing ABBA's "Happy New Year". (Just like the other 24 years before it.) True, we just had the conventional calendar year version. Good for expats, and also good for the Vietnamese who like the spirit of the thing. (But they have to be back home by 11 pm - as observed at one party this year. I shit you not. At 10:30, all the Vietnamese guests - sans my girfriend - got up as one, made their excuses, and left. Parental directives, you know. They were all in their twenties too.)

But to most of the locals, January the 1st is just another page on a calendar. A new calendar, perhaps, but just a calender. Presently, they're looking forward to their big, BIG, BIG version of the event. It's Tết, the lunar new year celebrated in this country roughly around the end of January. Plane seats into or inside this country are booked solid, as millions of people are off to visit their relatives. That includes all of my students, so I'm getting another small holiday just after this one. And the catchphrase for this season is (what else?) the Vietnamese phrase for "Happy New Year". Folks, it's "Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!" You see it everywhere.

So why do the people at New Year Wishes Around the World think (in their ignorance of languages, characters sets and the world in general) that thee Vietnamese is "Chuc Mung Tan Nien"? I've seen it nowhere. It's been absent from all propaganda, pamphlets, papers and posters in this place. Well, according to the fiancee, it is technically correct to use "Chúc Mừng Tân Niên" (diacritics added). But it's not ubiquitous like the other phrase. Think of it more as Sino-Vietnamese: like Vietnamese, but with more words of Chinese origin. So the site is correct - sort of. It's strikes me as equivalent to shouting out "Merrie Yule" - appropriate at a SCA meet, perhaps, but few places else.

Now with Bulgarian, the "New Wishes" people really bollixed it up. Is "×åñòèòà Íîâà Ãîäèíà" really how you say "Happy New Year" in that language? Like fuck it is. It's Честита Нова Година - or "Chestita Nova Godina". Hell, if Language Log is competent enough to work it out for free, they should be competent to work it out for pay.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Not so merry a Christmas - nor a Happy New Year

Life has been good for me for the last few days. My parents came to visit me for my "Promise of Marriage" celebration (aka: Lễ Đính Hôn) with my fiancée. Afterwards, we were off to Hội An, a small town midways up Việt Nam's coastline. We've been back for a couple of days. Tomorrow, we drive to Cát Tiên National Park. Holidays can be good, and this is one most needed by my fiancée and myself.

Life has not been good for others. On our engagement night, we heard that 10,000 people had died in the Indian Ocean Tsunami. When we returned a few days later, the local TV stations reported a death toll of 53,000 people. Now according to Wikipedia, which has been running its own commendably comprehensive coverage of the disaster, it is now up to 150,000. Indonesia deaths account for more than two thirds of confirmed fatalities, and Sri Lanka most of the remainder. Maldives - with a maximum elevation of 2.3 metres -  is is danger of being wiped out as a country.

Việt Nam (I'm glad to say) has been virtually unaffected by the tragedy. No known Vietnamese nationals were in the devastated areas. However, expatriates may have friends or family in the resort town of Phuket, Thailand. The local government has pledged about $150,000 aid to Indonesia, and $100,000 to Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. They may be relatively small sums, but then VN isn't the richest country in the world. It's good to see the country assume the role of aid donor - rather than its traditional role as an aid receiver.

The world can be such an indifferent place. Two tectonic plates rub together under the ocean, and the resulting waves kill hundreds of thousands. I'm saddened and overwhelmed by the tragedy. My heart goes out to those affected.