Potential film: Indiana Jones X

I am reading Classics: A Very Short Introduction by Mary Beard. (I have heard of her from the telly before I realise she wrote books.) She said that archaeologist no longer dig sites and look for Temples. It seems there was more to be found by just marking out the sites and observing and walking around the sites. I think it is now possible for Harrison Ford to continue this franchise until he is aged and wheelchair bound.


The Price of Politics

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Woodward did not disappoint. I am extremely impressed by how much tone he manage get out of close door discussions. As the book details the various discussions around the deficit and the various iterations, I was deeply impressed by the senators involved in the work. They were really committed in speaking for their electorate. The democratic leaders, the vice president and republican leaders seem a lot more hardworking, a lot more less mean to each other. They were trying to reach across the divide. Then as the book progresses I noticed that Obama didn’t do much work. He pontificated a lot and was in general hard to deal with. While he managed to capture the imagination of a nation, he seem to be dismissive and lack skills to handle Washington. The Speaker also seemed a decent moderate fellow who perhaps had trouble with his Republican colleagues.

It occurred to me that this book underlined the real difficulties of a democracy. Where there is a real divide due to strongly entrenched ideologies of both sides, it is impossible to bridge that divide. At the end of the book, my conclusion is surprising: it is more efficient to have a line party government. Given that we (in Singapore) are paying so much for the government to run, it is simply too expensive for anyone to spend time arguing about ideals.

Fear by Bob Woodward

I took while to finish this book. It was not hard to read and very gripping in the way I keep making scream faces from Edvard Munch. It was funny Americans believe in secrets in government. In British government, it’s called confidential security briefings. (I love Yes, Minister.) In Singapore, we are much more hapless and funnier. After a while, that level of surprise was unsustainable. It was tiring.

Perhaps it is American for a president to work happily with the staff around him without disagreements. Perhaps they all think the same way because the President surrounds himself with the kind of people who shares his thinking. That they have to steal papers, quit a lot, move things around, try to silence fallouts is normal if you don’t think of it as the government. If you imagine this happening in a private organisation, that’s par on course. Some might express horror how can any organisation work at all but the uncertainty is how private organisations need to work. If there is certainly and consensus, it is probably a family business and believed as stuffy and slow.

Back to the book, I enjoyed and admired his investigative journalism. The conversations he captured in the book is astounding. Unhappy people are willing to share their unhappiness. He tapped that gold vein and mined it well. I was fascinated to take out another of his book.

I ruined my eyes reading Deborah Cadbury.

I randomly picked out a Deborah Cadbury audio book. It was fascinating, marvelous and totally riveting how many issues Queen Victoria had. It was a bit of a shock to learn that the heads of states in Europe were family and how it led to WWI. I was so obsessed by the end of the audiobook that I had to take out Princes At War. Obsessed with WWII, I forayed into “The Last of the Duchess” by Caroline Blackwood. It was not as impressive. I went back to the French Revolution with The Lost King of France. That was terrible and awful. I wept over the cruelty exacted by the angry people on the little boy Louis XVII. My childish admiration of revolutionists dimmed with that book. So did my eyes. My eyes were crossed from reading on my phone screen. I bought an eReader. A Kobo for its ability to borrow books from overdrive. (If only it plays audiobooks.)

Last Saturday I completed Space Race while the kids were at the various lessons. My crying in Kopitiam was put to a stop when I glanced at the nearby clock and noticed it was 10 mins to pick up time. (A race all the way to maths class proved a total waste of effort because one of them was slow that day.)

I was moderately engaged when the book started, by the end, I admired the organisation, the political maneuvers, hard work and the incredible amount of risks in space travel. (I don’t watch many movies. I only know the quote “Houston, we have problem.” because other people were repeating it.) It had never occurred to me that passion was dangerous. The rocket designers had pursued their passion, their dream with such zeal. When Cold War politics came into the mix, it was the fuel that gave burst to the speed in building spaceships. Cadbury showed the extent of consideration of risks of going into space. She also showed the intensity of that desire allowed the risks to be rationalised away. I love it!

I haven’t read Dinosaur Hunters. I need a break after all that outpouring of emotion. I’ve moved on to Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood.

Queen Victoria's Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury Space Race by Deborah Cadbury Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury

Who thought this was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco

It was fun. I enjoyed the anecdotes in the book and her voice was very chirpy and comes across as a can do sort of person. She has a lot of advice in the book for millennial girls on their first or second job. However, it didn’t come across as considered – it felt like it was a lot of platitude. I enjoyed her chirpiness.

Perhaps, I am the same age as Alyssa and am not her target reader. (She wanted millennials.) I felt Hillary Clinton’s book ‘What Happened’ had a lot more to teach in the kind of lessons Alyssa wanted to impart about leadership, kindness, humility and self-awareness, etc. I would recommend Clinton’s book over this.


How would you advise a girl like Tess?

In Our Time talked about Tess of D’Urbervilles. I read the book when I was in my Hardy phase a long time ago. At the end of the show, there was a bit of discussion about the rape of Tess. I got really curious and pulled out the book from the shelve and started my re-reading.

Alec’s behaviour is very creepy and very much manipulative and grooming. I can completely appreciate why she would have felt repulsed, confused and even resigned but maybe attracted to Alec. Here was a well off person whom she did not love who was pursuing her relentlessly. The attention is strange but exciting. Unlike Fantine who knew a time when men were kind and their words inviting. Tess did not know kindness and invitation. She knew there was something strange about this Alec but she didn’t listen to her gut feel that this guy is bad. Young girls make mistakes in trusting the wrong people. She was young and she was raped in her sleep. That’s terrible. She had to suffer the death of her rape baby. She suffered society’s prejudice that the woman is the seductress.  Did she realise Alec’s manipulation and groom? Yes, at the end. She doubted his conversion. He proved her right. She was at the last of her rope, so to speak, when she was propositioned again. When under extreme stress, it is understandable she exercised bad judgement again. Under stress, we all try to achieve short term goals then long term goals. However, I do personally think that she should have not engaged Alec both times. If she had kept quiet, he couldn’t goad her into being his mistress. Alec is a total asshole – he just does whatever fancies that enters his head. Angel is also an asshole who cares about what is in his head than the real world. He can’t even see that Tess loves him deeply. He doesn’t know and care what happens when he abandons Tess. He may think he has discharged his responsibilities by making sure she is materially taken care off. He doesn’t know Tess won’t approach his parents. He doesn’t know Tess will follow his orders to the exact. Even Alec knows it!

How would I advise Tess? Don’t engage the men until you observed they are good in behaviour. I would also advise her to trust her gut and think about her desire to be a selfless martyr. I would advise her engage in her thinking side than her feeling side. Initially I thought she was too passive. However,  I saw Les Miserables recently and Fantine was both assertive and attractive and she ended up being a prostitute, being sick and dead.

I felt Hardy’s presence very strong in the story. Hardy wants Tess needs to pay for it (to illustrate his points and themes). He  refers to God, Fate, angels who are suppose to protect Tess and innocent – I don’t know. Is it a Christian thing to expect the innocent to be protected? It’s the bad side of human to want to exploit the innocent. To refrain from exploiting is to practice good morals. Does protection come from God, Fate and angels? Well, in my opinion, God can only protect if everyone does as they are told. There are some people who just didn’t follow or misunderstand the religious text. There is not much God, Fate and angels can do to protect lambs living amongst wolves.

Perhaps Hardy hasn’t been around kids. A 16 year old who has been basically in charge of the family since she was young becomes a lot sharper due to her burdens and responsibilities. She was the parent. She may not know how to parent but she won’t be naive in the extreme. I felt that she exercised poor judgement in continually engaging Alec. I thought that even if Marian was miraculously transported to the start and reminded her that Alec is evil in the shape of a friend, Tess may not pay heed. She wanted to be compassionate and selfless. She wanted to feel the extra guilt that nobody heaped on her. She wanted to be the martyr. (Or maybe Hardy wanted her to be the martyr. She had no choice but be scarificed.) While I believe and understand that in those times, she would have no means of escape because the society gives lower class woman very little rights and considers them the seductress. I felt extremely distressed by the circumstances she was placed in. At the last, I felt Angel wronged her as much as Alec did – she was innocent but she wordlessly accepted their guilt and blame.

She realised the mistake and went on with her life. Alec is really bad. He manipulates an innocent girl to achieve his desires.




Parenting books I’ve read

A child at 4 months, I imagine, is a creature who exist to poop and feed. I was disabused of this notion when the little boy A. fussed when I tried to train him to take away his toy. I was getting the hang of having a person for whom things have to be done. I’m fairly good at figuring out what A is yelling about. I am not ready to manage his ego. It was disturbing that this came so early.

Troubled, I turned to Berkeley Parents Network for some parenting books recommendation.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish Unconditional Parenting – Alfie Kohn
What’s Going on in There? – Lise Eliot
Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves – Naomi Aldort.
The Idle Parent – Tom Hodgkinson

Of these books I read, the worst was Alfie Kohn. He is so bad I stopped reading the first chapter of ‘Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves’ because it sounds like the same advice. Alfie Kohn is so bad he is unbelievable. It is too bad this is an e-book I bought. I don’t have the satisfaction of slamming the book and aiming it at the bin down my living room.  This guy is basically writing a long essay about his own ideas of parenting.  He says that kids being disciplined or being praised will be taught that parents love is conditional on them pleasing their parents. To raise kids who are self motivated, and who believe in their own worth, he thinks parents should show unconditional love regardless of the child’s behaviour and achievement. So basically, if the kid is annoying just because he wants to, you suck it up, smile and go on with your own things because you are showing unconditional love. This is wrong. Society rewards cooperative behaviour. I am not about to bring up a child who thinks the world will not punish him for undesirable behaviour. Intense competition, intense desire for the child to obey affects any one – we don’t enjoy such environments at work. I can’t imagine why someone will treat their child in the same way at home. That I agree. What he advocate seem to be creating a false reality at home.  Resources are limited: we reward good/cooperative behaviour and punish bad behaviour. No one will take time to reason anyone out of bad behaviour. To avoid guiding a young child, allowing the child growing without learning the skills to deal with the world he/she inhibits is my idea of bad parenting. By learning to obey, we learn how to live with another in a cooperative manner.  Lots of people think that obedience is easy. It is actually very hard. Obeying requires high exposure to authority and frequent reminders to control one’s behaviour. Being individualistic is easy. All that is needed is to limit one’s exposure with society and popular media. Attention is diverted to one’s own hobbies and interests. After a time, one’s outlook naturally diverges from everyone else. Humans go primal without much urging. I’m up to the chapter where he says competition is bad because to feel good, someone else has to lose. What he doesn’t get is that losing is as important as winning in a competition. It trains a person to self sooth, which is an important ability. The world is always unfair. Not giving the child opportunity to learn to overcome obstacles and continue to extert effort towards one’s goals is bad parenting. The adult world is much less kind. While we want to be sensitive to our child’s feelings, we need to guide him so that he has the skills to be a productive, cooperative member of society. I found ‘How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk’ very useful and practical. I felt that the techniques were useful while communicating with adults. I enjoy ‘What’s Going on in There?’ because, well, I enjoy brain studies.  I enjoy the Idle Parent for its humour and writing style. While I agree with its principle, I didn’t find it as practical, especially when it advocates lots of running wildly in the park, or throwing a ball in the lawn. That is difficult, considering, Singapore is warm (no one will want to run around except for old people trying to be healthy) and I do not have a lawn.


There is a book I have been meaning to read in preparation for labour Hyponobirthing : The Breakthrough Approach to Safer, Easier, Comfortable Birthing by Marie Mongan. I never come around to it because it sounds rather boring. Instead I go to the forums to find out the basic techniques.

The idea is quite simple and it is a little like how I deal with leg cramps. I always get leg cramps in my sleep when it is slightly cooler. In the past I would wake in a panic and try to massage it away. The key I discover, is to completely relax. The quicker it is I relax, the quicker the cramps go away. In hypnobirthing techniques you condition yourself to relax. I am not so sure that it results in a pain free labour but I think the sense of calm and control helps to not to increase the experience of pain rather than actually raising pain threshold.

Another thing I learn from the forum is affirmations for birth. It is repeat to yourself what you want to come true.

For instance:

      My baby and my body know what to do.
      I am calm and joyful about my birthing experience.
      I am relaxed, happy and at ease at the birthing of my baby.
      My baby works with my body for a smooth easy birth.
      I am confident and secure to handle whatever comes up.
      I breath correctly to eliminate tension.
      My baby is healthy and fully developed at birth.

I do feel less apprehension about the labour experience after writing these down. The situationist talks about values affirmation which made me think that the reason why affirmations work is because the focus on belief takes away stress and reinforces willpower.

I suppose this is why religion works: the belief and focus on values helps to manage a stressful life. Interesting.