Singapore was a good place to visit. I’m not usually a fan of hot places, but since more or less everywhere is air conditioned, there’s always somewhere to retreat to if the 30 °C heat and 70% humidity become too unbearable.
A colleague today referred to what turns out to be William Gibson’s description of Singapore in Wired: Disneyland with the death penalty. Gibson’s article is over 10 years old now, but some of what he says still rings true. What makes Singapore a nice place to visit is that it is Asia-Lite: cheap (at least in Sterling), yet clean and safe, with ethnic areas laid out for the visitor to browse around. The people are friendly and pretty much all speak English to some extent. We saw few policemen about the place: the opinion of our party was not, as Gibson said, that the people had succumbed to the policemen of the mind, but rather that the policemen were among us, plainclothes. But who knows? We weren’t about to drop some litter and find out.
Wired is too hip to like the place, but for all the Disney, Neal Stephenson (him again) and Orwell resonances, I can’t help but admire the vision behind the place. I doubt I’d want to live there, but that’s not because of the problems Gibson has with it. I can imagine that after a while the island would start to seem very small and lacking in scenery. The beauty spots that exist are cheek-by-jowl with construction sites and container ships offshore, just out of shot. But given the choice between what seems a benevolent, if paternal, government and one which mucks around with foreign misadventures while people back home are getting murdered for their mobile phones (a headline to welcome me back, there), it’s not really obvious that the latter is the right one.
The hotel had a phone in the loo. What’s up with that?
The CDC Ball on Thursday was fun. Erin and Anton demoed together, and were very good. There was also a bloke wearing a paper helmet on his head. I think he was some kind of cabaret. The old favourites like the Elimination Waltz were back, too. This was a Good BallTM.
In other dancing news, the chap from Eastenders is still in Strictly Come Dancing, but it’s the public vote that’s keeping him there, so he probably can’t win that way. Clever media management by some of the other contestants, too.
I met Safi and robhu on Saturday afternoon. Rob seems to be some kind of paparazzi stalker figure. cowe had a party on Saturday night. It rocked.
Saw the new Harry Potter on Monday. Darker than the previous film, yet somehow lacking in substance without Voldemort around.
I’m off to Singapore on Friday for a week, with work.
The 28 Days Later scenario is examined by Straight Dope, who tell us when the electric power would run out.
I had an enjoyable weekend. Had dancing and college friends over for a barbeque on Sunday. PaulB turns out to be quite paternal :-). There was an unexpected after-party when some more people arrived just as I’d cleared everything away. We watched Phone Booth, which was suspenseful, short, and, as Salamander pointed out, quite arty for a big release film.
<lj-cut text=”A Fire Upon the Deep”> I finished Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep this week. Vinge is famous for his treatment of the Singularity. He copes with the narrative problem of having inscrutable post-Singularity gods around by positing that the galaxy is split up into concentric zones, with godhood only possible in the outer layers. The book gets rave reviews on SF sites, so it was probably impossible for it to live up to the hype. Like another reviewer out there, I found the manipulation of supposedly sophisticated humans by primitive aliens a bit unrealistic. Nevertheless, it’s worth reading for the ideas. Some similarities between this and Iain M. Bank’s Excession, although I’d say Excession was harder to read.
<lj-cut text=”A History of God”> I also finished Karen Armstrong’s A History of God recently. Armstrong takes us through the history of three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The book is heavy going at times, but worth perservering with. Armstrong has a clear bias towards the personal, inner experience of the divine rather than rationalist religious systems. The book shows that the struggles between the people the mystics and the rationalists have been going on for centuries. She also argues strongly against a personal God.
A quotation from Holbach which struck a chord with me as an ex-evangelical. He writes that poets and theologians had done nothing but:
make a gigantic, exaggerated man, whom they will render illusory by dint of heaping together incompatible qualities. Human beings will never see in God, but a being of the human species, in who they will strive to aggrandize the proportions, until they have formed a being totally inconceivable.
In other news, a controversial display of burnt work has divided the world of art into non-identical halves, like a dead bisected animal. Martian.fm has the full story. Classic.