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Free Will Revisited February 21, 2008

Posted by Tim in Religion, Thoughts.
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Recently I was participating in a discussion which touched on “Christians and the State”. I was disappointed at the direction it went because it ended up being the typical assertions of “God is in control” that has been regurgitated many times – we didn’t manage to discuss the practical issues that concern all of us today.

I took issue with one point in particular: the pastor wrote on the board that governments were “appointed by God”. I pointed out that if I were to vote for the opposition, knowing full well that the current ruling party would return to power anyway, then that’s saying I’m going against what God wants. To which the other side backtracked and said that God grants us free will to choose, but will use whatever government that is in place to carry out his plans. The pastor also added that we should pray that we choose according to God’s will.

The root issue here is free will. In fact, the pastor adhered nearly exactly to an earlier post that I made, the Superlative God.

First you have an argument along the lines of Calvinism: God appoints the government. This would, of course, be very attractive if you are in government yourself.

Next you have the Arminian-influenced belief: God has granted you the “free will” to choose, but we should all try to choose our candidate according to His will.

The last alternative is in the fashion of Open Theism: People do indeed freely elect their own governments, based on the qualities they want in the candidate or party.

Many, if not all denominations will say they believe in “free will”, but I’ve realized that most of the time it starts and stops with the Garden of Eden. Just far enough to blame Eve for the apple.

The rest of the time what most people do is “pray” that they will “follow God’s will” – often I wonder if they really mean what they say. I have never, for example, seen a patient just diagnosed with cancer immediately ask whether it is God’s will for them to be cured or to seek treatment; but (if) the patient passes on everyone says it was God’s will and part of God’s plan. On an exam graded according to a bell curve ( where a fixed percentage of students will get a certain grade ), you won’t find any students – or their parents – thinking that it’s God’s will for them to NOT be at the top.

The most cynical interpretation of this phenomenon is that people use God’s mandate for their actions. Mike Huckabee, for example, claimed divine intervention when his poll numbers unexpectedly improved. And of course we have Rafidah Aziz – Malaysians saw a weak PM not daring to fire her, while she claimed a mandate from God.

A more empathic way to see this, which is probably closest to the truth, is that humans will usually only leave it “up to God’s will” when they are unable to help themselves or have no other recourse. The more devout will seek God’s will to override their own, the egoistical claim that whatever they do is by God’s will.

Here the questions arise: how sacred is free will to God, and how important is it to you? There are plenty of instances in the Bible, for example, where God manipulates man’s will, the most famous being the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart [Exodus 7:1-3], followed by horrific plagues upon Egypt because of his refusal(?) to let the Israelites go.

How important is free will to you? I can already imagine some looking up a rebuttal to the verse I quoted; it might save you time if I gave you the typical answer: “Pharaohs heart was already hardened, God merely completed the process”. To which I would reply: how receptive would you be if your neighbour came up to you and demanded that you release your Indonesian maid? More to the point, what decision would Pharaoh have made if God hadn’t hardened his heart? If Pharaoh would have decided to let the Hebrew slaves go anyway, why did God harden his heart and kill the firstborn of all Egypt?

The Free Will Defense, a term coined by Alvin Plantinga, is a popular argument that tries to explain the problem of evil. The problem of evil has its roots in the very first chapters of the Bible: Why did God place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, and allow Eve to eat it? The proponent of FWD argues that humans must have the free will to choose God of their own accord. Here free will becomes a sacred thing.

But the question now is this: what is the “free” in “free will”? The mere ability to choose has no meaning, just like randomly crossing boxes on a ballot wastes your right to vote. Some people misuse the FWD by saying that “God cannot reveal himself to us because it violates our free will; we would have no choice but to believe”. But free will is only meaningful when you acquire or are provided enough knowledge to weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision – something that comes across as ironic, since Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the Tree that would provide them this very ability.

I would like to take time here to discuss whether God himself has free will – if God knows the future, he knows what decisions he is going to make. Even if you bring forward the argument that God is outside time, basic principles of logic dictate that you need to be capable of logical sequences (if A, then B ) – but it’s getting late, my brain hurts, and wills me to stop :).

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God, DAP, DONT SCREW THIS UP February 18, 2008

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, News.
2 comments

Fong Po Kuan of DAP [Batu Gajah], the youngest MP, announced her resignation due to internal party issues.

Dammit DAP, get your act together! Now is not the time for drama and internal squabbles.

Elections are here! February 14, 2008

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, News, Thoughts.
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Have been planning to blog for some time but things keep popping up. Been telling myself “I’ll go home on time from work today!” for the past 2 weeks but wind up going back late anyway.

I blame this on Edison Chen and his horniness – damn network traffic spikes. Pratically half of all keywords searches going through Nuffnang blogs now seem to be some variant of “edison chen s*x sc*ndal”.

But the just-announced dissolution of Parliament warrants an entry.

– I wonder how long the campaign period will be this time. IIRC, the last elections saw a record-short time of 7 days.

– AB was splashed all over the papers today claiming that he wouldn’t be dissolving Parliament, yet here we are. If he doesn’t take the elections seriously I wonder what he thinks about other things.

– Asia Times has an excellent take on the image campaign that AB has been on (is anyone sick of the newspaper articles blaring “so and so: Up to the PM”?)

Brilliant quote:

And so the excessive use of his portrait would seem almost counterintuitive, even in the runup to general elections, which are expected to be held in March. “For those who feel deprived it would seem to have the opposite of the desired effect: ‘He deprived me and now he’s smiling at me’,” said the president of Transparency International Malaysia, Ramon Navaratnam.

After all, when Dr. M was president did you see posters of him everywhere? Dr. M was a slimeball too, but at least he didn’t need an image campaign, his achievements were clear. AB hasn’t DONE anything, so an image campaign is all he can do.

– The sudden “fund allocations” that go around during election time are really, really insulting to the rakyat. And I don’t mean because they are little more than bribes. You can’t even call them bribes, because this is taxpayer money. OUR own money. Why are you throwing our own money at us? We should be even more pissed off! You insult our intelligence.

It’s even more demeaning when they expect the Chinese to vote for them just because they build Chinese schools. But then again, they’ve been thinking along racial lines for so long. The Deputy Education Minister, an MCA vet who is stepping down, even boasted that his achievement was building more Chinese schools. And we wonder why Malaysia isn’t racially integrated?

– Today’s paper had AB giving HIMSELF a favourable report on his performance since the last GE. No kidding.

– A bit old, but I really had a laugh last week over how the MSM was trying so hard to spin for AB. One day they were saying how much the PM has improved our economy, quoting the Second Finance Minister saying that our GDP increased by 55% (yes, 55%. Don’t waste time trying to find this story in an international paper though):

“If we compare in terms of US dollar, the per capita income has risen by 55% due to the depreciation of the dollar against the ringgit.

“The Barisan Nasional Government is confident that we will get the people’s mandate again based on the improved economic resilience.

Two days later, they ran an article trying to spin how Malaysians only care about the economy, not about govt leadership:

“People are concerned over the rising prices of basic necessities and the high cost of living, especially with the looming global oil prices.

Comedy gold. ( I must take this opportunity to state that I don’t actually buy The Star, I get it from my mom’s office ).

Misc Stuff:

– If you haven’t heard yet, the Sun is being bought out. An obvious ploy to snuff out the only paper where the journalists haven’t prostituted themselves to the govt. If you haven’t taken out a Malaysiakini sub yet, you’re an idiot. Freedom of speech under Pak Lah my ass.

– Almost all my old schoolmates aren’t registered voters. Good at complaining though.

– A little bird told me that the PFS Board of Governors is suing the current HM of PFS.

2.30 am already! This is why I don’t blog as often, Malaysia is just full of so much crap. Ta.

Deathtraps on the Road January 28, 2008

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, News.
5 comments

Sickening, really.

Just 5 months ago 20 people died in a bus crash at Bukit Gantang. The driver (who at least died in the accident) was later found to have had 13 outstanding traffic summons. There was talk about demerit points and discussion over how it happened. There were also a series of other accidents; in one of them the bus involved was found to have 94 summonses since 1999.

On Friday history repeats itself – you have probably read about the poor young people who died, and the bastard who was behind the wheel also had 13 outstanding summons. According to survivor accounts compiled by Jolene he was speeding and sms-ing behind the wheel, at night time, and under heavy rain to boot! Too bad he only got off with a broken leg.

It also hits much closer to home this time (I only touched on it lightly in August) since my cousin was seriously injured in the accident. She was travelling to KL with her father. Thank goodness she’s out of danger.

Some people are getting together to petition for action – real action, not just election talk or passing the buck – to be taken. I’ve travelled enough by bus to know that it’s not just this company or that company at fault; it is nearly the entire coach network in Malaysia.

Please post this on your blog now to help: Chung Lern and Nian Ning’s families would like all families and friends of the victims, dead or alive, in the Slim River Bus Crash to come forward and join them in taking action against the bus company. Stand up to seek justice for these three innocent individuals, who were all so young and full of life.If you have a blog, please call out to ANYONE who knows someone who survived or did not survive the crash to come forward to join the Lee family.
Make a huge difference, make a huge fuss.The next time, it could be you or me.

Led by this guy…? January 27, 2008

Posted by Tim in Malaysia.
2 comments

Sorry for the simple post but I just had to link up Nat Tan’s posting of Pak Lah on CNN.

I have to echo his question.. “Can you imagine what the world thinks of us? That we are a nation led by….. this?

I’m not a diehard Anwar follower but I still have to admit he can hold his own in debates and discussions, while the current crop of ministers look like idiots whenever interviewed on international TV.

Indians = barbers, says Radzi January 18, 2008

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, News.
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Yesterday’s Star had a gem in page 3 that I haven’t seen anyone in the blogosphere mention.

Titled “New insurance for maids“, it goes on with this tidbit:

[Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad] said the groundwork on the terms and conditions of the insurance scheme was ready and that all questions would be answered during the launch of the scheme.

The ministry will also propose to the Cabinet the segregation of foreign workers according to nationality and sector, as a way of reducing the number of foreign workers in the country, said Radzi.

He said certain sectors would also be reserved for Malaysians, adding that the proposal would be submitted in two weeks’ time.

For example, if we stipulate that barbers should be from India only, then other nationalities will not be permitted to work as barbers,” he said, adding that the Cabinet would make the final decision.

Foreign workers in Malaysia, numbering nearly two million, come from 12 countries, he said.

More ingenuity from our ministers! All Indians must be barbers, all Bangladeshis must be construction workers, all Chinese must be nightclub “entertainers”.

Doesn’t it sound awfully familiar with the “Indians=rubber tappers, Chinese=businessmen, Malays=officials” segregation by the British? It’s sad to see that racism and prejudice is so ingrained in the minds of our ministers.

Let’s hope that other countries don’t follow their brilliant approach to managing foreigners; at this point I really don’t want to know what Malaysians would be labelled as.

OMG SECKS January 3, 2008

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, News, Thoughts.
2 comments

What I realize from the Chua Soi Lek scandal is how immature Malaysians are when it comes to sex. He hit the nail on the head when he commented that Malaysians “have a holier-than-thou attitude“; the same attitude that sells those Malay tabloids you see on newsstands which are filled with nothing more than sex scandals and celebrity gossip.

At the end of the day we elect ministers to do their jobs and to serve the rakyat. I’m not exactly the most ardent MCA supporter, but from most accounts he has done his job and done it well. His extra-marital activities don’t affect any of us; only his family, who have accepted his apology. Judging from an accompanying insert in the Star, our so-called “Asian values” don’t include forgiveness.

Ironic, isn’t it? Within days of it being highlighted in the papers, he steps up to clearly admit and take all responsibility, and resigns. 20+ years of public service down the drain. He even states that there is unimportant who took the video clip (but come on lah, this is Malaysia). Meanwhile, issues like the judiciary scandal, the AP scandal, Hindraf, and the myriad cases of public fund mismanagement – all of which affect the rakyat in major ways see people falling over themselves to blame someone else and no one getting the boot.

On a lighter note, four cameras? You have to admit that his enemies are thorough. And isn’t the Star’s front page today misleading?

Yellow Saturday breaks through information filters November 11, 2007

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, News.
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Yellow Saturday hasn’t been a good time for Malaysia’s information czars.

On Friday, Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin said this to Malaysiakini:

“Do you believe thousands of people will be coming for the rally? Don’t be so silly as to be taken in by them,” he said, adding that even the Umno annual meeting could not gather such a number of people.

On Saturday, even the govt mainstream papers had to put the number of attendees at 4,000 – still a ridiculously low number; most other sources put the figure at 10,000-40,000 people. Look at the pictures yourself.

[edit]Najib himself now says it was 10,000 people:

“The Prime Minister has said that as long as there is an understanding that all races have their sensitivities, there is no problem that cannot be resolved through discussions,” he said.

Hence, Najib said Malaysians did not go to the streets to voice their dissent, as street demonstrations were not part of the Malaysian culture.

“If they (the Opposition during the Bersih rally on Saturday) can gather 10,000 people, the Government through Barisan Nasional can gather even more people.

He’s also trying to put a racial spin on the thing. Completely ridiculous since the rally was one that people from every religion and race attended because they were MALAYSIANS. He only succeeded in showing that people from UMNO can only see everything in colour.

Zam also got creamed by Aljazeera (worse than Syed Hamid did at the hands of BBC not too long back ) in a phone interview right after the march. He claimed that Aljazeera was “exaggerating” the actions of the police, to which the correspondent replied “As you say that, sir, we are watching scenes of protesters being sprayed by chemical-filled water!”

Also sad to note that both our Foreign and Information Ministers don’t speak English very well..

The ironic thing is that one of the key points in the memorandum was the control of the mainstream media by Barisan – proven right by the massive cover up the govt is trying to put on.

The Star’s report only showed pictures of a traffic jam, on page 8 to boot, and was so short you wonder why they had three reporters on the byline – to decide what to edit out, probably? Since the rally was a perfectly peaceful one outside of police action, they couldn’t paint the opposition as rowdy troublemakers. The only thing they harped on was that it was an “illegal gathering”. Pretty stupid since any gathering of more than 5 people without a permit is “illegal”, and it was the authorities themselves who disallowed the protest on the grounds that it would disturb traffic – and then surrounded the city with roadblocks to fulfil their own predictions.

The problem though is that unlike the Batu Buruk incident, this took place in the friggin city center of KL. Anyone who went knows that the figure given by the Star is flat-out wrong, and anyone with access to the Internet can view the mounds of footage taken of the protest, including from international news agencies.

Could 10-11 be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

Dell Discount – Too good to be true? November 6, 2007

Posted by Tim in Science/Tech.
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I’ve been slowly saving up for a new PC, and ordering the parts one by one, mostly from bulk sellers on Lowyat forums.

Nowadays the greatest proportion of the money you spend on the computer is ideally the monitor. Prices have been slowly going down, but the average screen size has gone up – 22″ LCD monitors are basically today what 17″ CRTs were 10 years back.

So you can imagine that I’ve been doing a lot of price and product comparison before shelling out my cash.

One of the manufacturers that I’ve been considering is Dell – they make practical, affordable monitors.

What’s confusing though is how they come up with their online discount schemes. It’s worse than the stock market, the way their prices change.

Something is seriously fishy about their new product line though, specifically their new 22″, the SP2208WFP.

I was checking out the site today because I’d heard of their new 24″ model. I noticed that the SP2208WFP was marked as “RM440 off”.

Sounds like an incredible deal for a new model, right?

The thing is that I’ve been visiting Dell’s site regularly, so the prices have stuck in my mind. I distinctly remember that the price when it was first introduced was also RM1,159.

I tried looking to Google Cache for an old copy of the page, but couldn’t find it at first. After much digging however I found a cached copy of the Singapore Dell page.

Firstly, what the SG Dell site looked like then (the cache retrieval date is 1st November ):
Dell Singapore monitor page Nov1

This is what it looks like now (advertising “$70 off” on the unit):
Dell Singapore monitor page current

Something’s wrong here… I hope they don’t have a dartboard they use to decide the “discount” on their units.

Rowling outs Dumbledore October 20, 2007

Posted by Tim in Literary.
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Picked this up from Digg, Leaky Cauldron is running the highlights of a recent Q&A with JK Rowling on that series of hers.

Among the usual “who-marries-who” and “what-ifs”, Rowling answered a thoughtful question:
Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?” by outing him as gay and revealling that he had at one point been in love with the man who would become his nemesis.

In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair… [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, “Dumbledore’s gay!”

Interestingly, she got an ovation from the audience. But I doubt this will go down well with the fundies who’ve already accused her of everything this side of murder. She didn’t shed too much light when asked exactly how much Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth liked goats (come to think of it, what a mental family).

Some may think she’s been reading too much fanfic or that she’s just looking for free publicity, but personally I think it gives you another reason to go through the books again and see if you can pick up anything you missed before :). Poor McGonagall…