Friday, June 29, 2012

Comics this week

Green Lantern: The New Guardians #10- In a story that several other corps had already gone through, The Blue Lanterns lost both their homeworld and central battery. Hope springs eternal and the Blue Lanterns’ refusal to surrender impressed even their enemies. Sheer numbers however meant it was impossible for them to win and Kyle, after much persuasion, finally managed to convince Saint Walker to abandon the battle. What I really liked about this issue was how much more like a team the New Guardians are becoming. Arkillo and Fatality went to help Saint Walker without question and at the end, the team is coming together.

Justice League #10- For the first time, the Shazam back-up story got the better of the main story. Thank Black Adam for that. The introduction of Black Adam was great, with “BAD-ASS” written all over it. In recent years Black Adam had eclipsed Captain Marvel in both popularity and acclaim and in his one page appearance this issue, he showed everyone why! Now if you noticed that I haven’t got into the main JL story yet, the reason is simple; there’s not much to talk about. The main issue was on how new super-villain got into the JL Watchtower and took out the team with…magic I think. Frankly, it was hard to get into the story as not much is known about Graves yet. I mean writer Geoff Johns gave us some background to the guy before he became Graves but his hatred for JL still does not make sense. Hopefully more info will be revealed in further issues.

Star Wars: Blood Ties – Boba Fett Is Dead #3- I just knew it! Boba Fett had a daughter and Conner Freeman realized he is in a heap of trouble with the information. Writer Tom Taylor and artist Chris Scalf continued their good work although I do feel that this issue does not match up to the previous issues. Certain scenes seemed rushed and I can do without the senseless cameo from Darth Vader. Overall however, I still like this series and I am looking forward to the finish.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Strong Case Against City Harvest

After a 2 year investigation, the Singapore Police had arrested leaders of one of Singapore’s biggest mega-churches, City Harvest Church. The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) arrested City Harvest founder, Pastor Kong Hee, along with four others for alleged criminal breach of trust and falsifying church accounts.

The main case is over the alleged misuse of at least S$23 million of church funds which were believed to have been used to finance the music career of Kong's pop-star wife, Sun Ho. Money from the church were given to a “Crossover Project”, with the purported purpose of using Sun Ho’s secular music to connect with people and reach out to non-Christians.

Though City Harvest has always denied that they funded Sun Ho, this cannot come as a surprise to anyone in Singapore. This is not a secret as City Harvest has always been pretty upfront about the fact that Pastor Kong Hee “support” his wife’s career.

The jewel in the CAD’s case seems to be evidence that money was sent to an affiliated church in Malaysia which was then used to fund Sun Ho’s career. Also the church had a secret “multi-purpose” account that was used to pay for Pastor Kong Hee’s and Sun Ho’s expenditures. To hide the account, the group dealt only in cash. This includes $600,000 donated by a Wahju Hanafi to the church which was earmarked as “love gifts”.

Now a lot of people have already linked this case to earlier scandals in Singapore involving Mr. TT Durai from the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and the Venerable Ming Yi from Ren Ci Hospital. However I think this case is totally different.

In the case of Ren Ci Hospital, the Venerable Ming Yi never took any money. He found out that someone in his organization did, confronted the man, extracted a promise from him to repay the money, and changed the hospital’s account to cover it up. Ming Yi was convicted of falsifying accounts and he only did it to protect Ren Ci Hospital.

The case involving TT Durai and the NKF is a little more complex but most of the money taken seem be have been used on the NKF building. Remember the $10,000 doorknob? So you can argue (weakly I admit) that the money was used for the NKF.

It’s still early days but that does not seem to be the case against City Harvest. Considering the fact that Sun Ho is a pop star who plays dance music, Singaporeans has always found it strange that there could be any connection between dance music and church services, but the main problem for City Harvest is that they really went out of their way to hide money used for “Crossover Project”.  The fact that the group dealt only in cash and channelled money to a church in Malaysia shows that they know what they are doing are wrong and they tried to covered their tracks.

This is about as different as you can get from the NKF case where TT Durai had everything down or Venerable Ming Yi who only did it for the sake of Ren Ci Hospital. The last thing Singapore needs is another scandal at one of its charities but god help Paster Kong Hee because the case against City Harvest looks strong. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

35 Years And Still Working

The Voyager 1 probe was launched in 1977 and after nearly 35 years in space, and 11.1 billion miles from Earth, it is about to make history. A NASA space probe launched at the beginning of the Space Age, the Voyager 1 probe is about to make history by becoming the first manmade object to travel beyond our own solar system.

Yes, you read that right. 35 years in space, in the harsh environment that is space, and it is still working!

I personally think it's amazing that something built in 1977 can go into space and keep on working for 35 years. The batteries of an iPhone nowadays barely work for 1 year and this thing built in 1977 (with inferior technology) is still working! They sure don’t make them like they used to.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Surprising Man

So Turkey is furious at Syria for shooting down one of its military jets and threatening to get NATO involved by summoning a NATO meeting. There’s only one problem with all that indignation.

The fighter jet was in Syria.

That is just the long and short of it. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t armed, that it crashed in international water, or that the Turks claim it was only on a reconnaissance mission. The jet was at least 1 km into Syrian airspace.

I personally do not believe this was an accident. I think the Syrians knew exactly what they were doing. It’s an open secret that the Free Syrian Army is based in Turkey and launching attacks into Syria from there. It’s only logical Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will response in some way to that.

This was his response and though I’m no fan of his regime; it was a smart one. Despite all the talk from America, Britain and Turkey; no one is disputing the jet was well within Syria. The Syrian government will point to that as an excuse and despite everyone knowing otherwise, it is a fact no one can dispute.  

The gauntlet has been thrown down by Bashar al-Assad. He is telling the world that he has no problem exporting the Syrian conflict to other countries if push comes to shove and this in many ways is very surprising. A lot of people, including me, didn’t think much of the man and thought he will fold. 

He hasn't!

He has proved to be stronger and more ruthless than anyone gave him credit for. Frankly, a lot of people underestimated him. So everyone better bunker down for a long civil war in Syria. And start praying it does not become a regional battle.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Storm Legion

Of all the major MMORPG out there, RIFT is one of the few I had never tried. A surprise hit, the game has been steadily making money for Trion Worlds and the game is going to come out with its first expansion later this year.

And they are making sure gamers have no excuse not to try it out. Trion Worlds will package the expansion, Storm Legion, along with the original RIFT game. Yes, the full version of RIFT will come along with the expansion.

I will admit, I don’t really have an interest in RIFT but with this piece of new, I might seriously consider entering the game. I just need to pick up the expansion and I get to experience both the core game and expansion for one piece. Now that is great!

The inability to get the full game is one of the reasons why I never got into games like World of Warcraft or Eve Online; there’re just too many expansions to buy. Those guys at Trion World are thinking of getting more players to give RIFT a try with this sales tactic and I think it will work. I, for me, will seriously think of buying Storm Legion when it comes out. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Are You Kidding Me?

Last month, Mohammad Ridzuan Jamari, 30, robbed a full-time national serviceman (NSF) of a SAR-21 assault rifle while in Pasir Laba Camp. NSF Kang Tai, 21, gave up his SAR 21 rifle without a fight when threaten with a…screwdriver?

WTF? A screwdriver? Whatever happened to “your rifle is your wife”, or “do not lose your rifle no matter what”? A 20cm-long screwdriver? He gave up when faced with a 20cm screwdriver? I don’t care if the rifle wasn’t loaded, that he don’t have any bullets, that he never sign up for the SAF, or that the idiot never got out of the camp with the rifle; you do NOT give up your rifle! Especially when the other guy has nothing but a bloody screwdriver! If it was a knife, it still would be bad, but at least that will be understandable. A screwdriver?

What’s worse is that this NSF was actually praised by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for “diffusing a potentially violent conflict”. WTF is the SAF coming to? If this would have happened when I was in the SAF, this NSF would have been crucified for giving up his rifle without a fight! 

AND THAT'S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE! What a sorry joke of an armed forces we have when we praise soldiers for giving up their rifles when threaten with a screwdriver? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NDP Songs

National Day is almost upon us and of course Singaporeans will get to hear our latest national song. It’s traditional for the organizers of the National Day Parade (NDP) to have someone write a national day song for the whole nation to sing along.

It’s a cheesy tradition but it’s a tradition Singaporeans go along with (like it or not). However, for the past few years our national songs have being god damm awful. I mean making fun of our NDP songs is a pastime here but the songs for the past few years have truly been bad. Last year we had “The Fun Pack Song” which had the “honor” of being one of the worst ever; this year’s NDP 2012 song “A Nation's March” is not much better.

Following this trend of terrible NDP songs, I have to give my take on why this is the case. The organizers of the NDP are trying too hard to make the NDP songs fun, cool and relevant. They forgotten that fact that NDP songs are not supposed to be fun, cool and relevant. NDP songs are supposed to be cheesy!

I’m serious. It’s a NDP song! The best NDP songs like “Count on me Singapore” and “Stand up for Singapore” are super cheesy and anyone caught singing these songs outside National Day would be mocked endlessly. The singers will die of embarrassment!

Yet those songs worked! NDP songs are supposed to lift spirits and as long as they do that, they work. Yes, the songs are supercheese but they are without question better than the embarrassment that is “The Fun Pack Song”. So here's my advice to the NDP organizers; Forgot about being fun and cool; bring back the cheese!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What A Joke!

We all knows how important cooperate sponsorship are to sporting events. Companies spent millions to have their names attach to great sporting events; like the Euro 2012. With a heavy fine, UEFA shows how important such sponsorships are to them.

Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner probably thought he was doing some harmless guerilla advertising when, after scoring his goal against Portugal in a Euro 2012 Group B match, he pull down his shorts slightly to reveal a pair of underpants showing the name of a bookmaker. I though it was pretty funny myself but governing body UEFA didn’t, giving him a $125,797 fine and a suspension. 

I find the punishment even more hilarious than the act. $125,797 fine for this harmless joke while there are players found guilty of violent conduct were fined for less than half that. Now that is funny!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Justice League Movie

They call it, “The post-Avenger world”. When The Avengers blew up the box office, the effects in Hollywood were wide-ranging. This includes giving a shot in the arm for Warner Bros’ struck in development-hell project, “Justice League”.

A “Justice League” film has been floating around in Hollywood for a few years already, but the success of “The Avengers” seems to give emphasis for the studio to finally make the film. Greed is such a wonderful thing.

I look forward to a JL movie but I’m against the idea of rebooting. Rumors on the internet says that Warner Bros intend to go the Marvel route having the Justice League members in their own films and then build them toward a team-up movie like “The Avengers”.

Now given the success of “The Avengers”, I can understand why you will want to attempt to take a page out of their playbook. What I don’t agree (if the rumors are true) is the need to reboot every character in the JL movie. Case in point is Green Lantern. The character was in his first last year in "Green Lantern," and now you want to reboot him?

Okay, the Ryan Reynolds vehicle wasn’t all that good but you can’t reboot a film franchise after just 1 year. No one will buy it! Marvel tried to do the same with "The Incredible Hulk," a reboot of the character 5 years after the first film and that was a flop. I don’t see why "Green Lantern" would prove to be any different.

The way I see it, it would be better if they have another of the Green Lantern in the “Justice League”. There’re 4 of them, not counting Alan Scott, so there’s no reason why it has to be Hal Jordan. Forget about rebooting the Green Lantern franchise; just get on with making the “Justice League” movie.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Silly Mistake

Stupid! That’s the first thing that sprung to my mind when I read in the Straits Times newspaper that Mr. Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for National Development, stated that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has never shrink the size of HDB flats. In fact, the headline was "HDB flat sizes have remained unchanged the past 15 years: Khaw Boon Wan".

Sometimes our ministers just don’t help themselves. I mean talk about stupid! Even I can tell you HDB flats have gotten smaller over the years. My parent’s 3-room flat bought in the 1980s is just a little smaller than my sister’s 4-room flat bought a few years ago. Worse; even the HDB admit the flats has gotten smaller. Just look at their website and it will show that a normal standard flat in Farrer Road built in 1974 is 120 sq m while a normal standard flat at Yishun to be completed 2015 is 110 sq m. It’s a matter of public records!

I can only imagine that this was a slip of the tongue or that Mr. Khaw was answering a question from the audience because it is such a silly mistake that it’s hard to imagine anyone putting something like this in a written speech.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Comics this week

Green Lantern #10- Oh my? Just when you thought that’s it for the Indigo Tribe, they returned from the dead (pun intended). Writer Geoff Johns did a fine job here, not least of which was to show just how great of a lantern Abin Sur was. Even in death, his actions have an effect on everyone including his enemies. Artist Doug Mahnke also shows he does not need great battle scenes to show off just how good he is. After a few lackluster issues, it’s good to have Green Lantern back to greatness!

Demon Knights #10- This is a strange issue. Everything you need for a good fantasy issue is here; the travel, the magic, the battle, the monsters, the great art of Diogenes Neves…but the issue just didn’t gel. After some thought, I finally figured out why. The issue starts with the knights at sea in the midst of a long sea voyage. They landed and have a long overland journey to the ruins of Camelot.  By the end of the issue, they reached Camelot. So much for the long journey! This issue was too fast. Writer Paul Cornell seems to be rushing things and that ruined the issue for me.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's Very Common

In a statement on Wednesday, recruitment firm Robert Half issued a finding that some people found surprising. They reported that under their survey, 68% of Singapore's human resource (HR) managers said they often promote employees to more senior positions without providing a pay increase. They also reported that Singapore is third least likely among 17 countries polled to have this practice.

I do not understand how anyone in Singapore can be surprised by this.

This happens all the time. I had worked for about 5 companies in my life and this happened in every one of them. And I’m not talking about some SME here; I had worked for one of the telcom and one of the Singapore bank here. They give a job promotion with no pay increase. Okay, maybe I’m overstating it; the bank did give a $50 increase.

Anyone who is shocked or surprised by this practice is obviously not a Singaporean. Wait sorry, that’s wrong; he or she never worked in Singapore before! This practice happens to foreigners in Singapore as well and is the reason why Singaporeans job-hop so often. It’s about the only sure way to get a pay raise. Surprised? Hell no, the practice is very common here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Syrian Crisis

After 15 months, the United Nations (U.N.) has finally accepted what the rest of the world has known months ago; Syria is in a civil war. U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, has become the first senior U.N. official to accept this fact.

Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel are arming and funding the rebels, the Syrian Free Army, while Iran and Russia are arming the Syrian army of President Bashar al-Assad. Tit-for-tat killings and massacres by both sides has been going on for months and a clear sectarian divide (Sunnis on one side, almost all the rest on the other) has been drawn on the ground.

So what the hell took the U.N. so long to accept something so bloody obvious? Their blindness and refusal to accept the obvious is one reason why the ceasefire deal brokered by Kofi Annan failed so miserably. You can’t find a solution if you refused to accept the problem right?

Now that the U.N. is finally willing to accept the facts on the ground, maybe we can now be serious about finding a solution. And no, that does not mean putting another army/coalition of the willing on the ground. Where in the world will you find any country willing to put 80,000-100,000 troops in the middle of a civil war?

Even if you can find a country willing to volunteer, the last thing anyone wants is another Libya where the militias on the winning side are now shooting at each other and elections has to be postponed due to the fighting. A negotiated settlement is the only way to solve the Syrian without more bloodshed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Goes Around Comes Around

In a small report in Australia, it was reported that the Australian military had hired foreigners to serve in its military. Among them were an unknown number of Singaporeans who decided to serve in the Australia due to incentives like fast-tracked citizenship and relocation bonuses of up to A$200,000.

There are murmurs of complains in Singapore especially since it was rumored that at least one of the Singaporeans who took up the offer was a former Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) fighter pilot. The pilot in question migrated to Australia in the 90s and then joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He was then declared “persona non grata” in Singapore.

What in the world are Singaporeans complaining about? To put it simply; Singaporeans, the Singapore government, and the RSAF are in no position to complain about migration. Yes, the pilot was trained in Singapore but considering the amount of foreign degree holders, millionaires and “talent” we have in Singapore from all over the world; who the hell are we to complain about someone who migrates to another country? I mean all the “foreign talent” in Singapore are all trained somewhere right? Now the shoe is on the other foot and we have a problem with this?

So what if the guy joined the Australian military? We do the same thing. Any foreigner who joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) gets Singapore citizenship so who are we to complain when another country do the same thing? To say that is hypocritical is an understatement!

Persona non grata? Why? That pilot sounds to me like a person whose taking a leaf out of the Singapore government’s playbook.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spain's Bailout

On the same day Spain started their Euro 2012 campaign against Italy, the Spain’s government a European “financial lifeline” of up to €100 billion ($125 billion) to save its banks. It is a bailout in all but the name.

As Spaniards were relieved by the news, the outcome shows once again the weakness of the European Union. Spain is the fourth and largest country to request for a bailout so far but it might not be the last. What’s worse for everyone is that Spain is the fourth largest economy in the EU after Germany, France and Italy and now it is in trouble. Frankly, the EU cannot keep on bailing out countries. They must take steps to prevent the financial crisis gripping the EU from getting worse.

That means kicking Greece out of the EU.

Yes, there is a case on how unpredictable things could get if Greece is kicked out of the EU but kicking the Greek out can help solve the crisis. Like I said earlier, the EU cannot keep on bailing out countries. Not only will there be a limit in credit and political willpower, there’s also the problem that bailing countries out is just kicking the can down the road. If bailing out countries could solve the crisis, the problem would never reach Spain.

If you look at the numbers, Spain's debt to GDP ratio is at 78%. This is even more favorable than Germany's, which stands at 82%. Right now the problem is one of confidence, not finance. Kicking Greece out of the EU will be unpredictable but there is a chance things would get better if Greece is kicked out. Keeping them in will not. The problems of Greece are real, and investor confidence in the EU is shot due to the problems there. It will take years before things get solved and in the meantime, countries like Spain will be affected by Greece’s problems

Also, Greece’s contribution to the EU is a mere 2%. It is frankly stupid to risk the whole of the EU for a mere 2%. It might be painful, but getting Greece out of the EU might help solve the crisis. Right now, that’s all you can ask for. Keep them in, and other countries in the EU will just follow Spain in asking for a handout. And that is something no one needs.   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Patch Error

What do you do? What do you do when you buy a game, in my case L.A. Noire, installed the game and found that there is a mandatory patch for the game by the publisher, in this case Rockstar.

What do you do? Why you run the patch of course! You run the patch and then the stupid patch stops halfway due to some error in the patch. You report the matter to the publisher and try to enjoy the game without the patch. Ho and behold, you find that this cannot be done. The game won’t start without the patch because it’s mandatory. So now you are struck with a game you bought but can’t run due to a patch error that you can’t solve.

What do you do? If you are me, you will uninstall the stupid game, curse the publisher and play Skyrim

Friday, June 8, 2012

Comics this week

Earth 2 #2- Boy, did DC drop the ball on this one. Writer James Robinson has Alan Scott as young, gay and rich. I got no problem with DC trying to get people talking by making the character gay but if you are going to do it, then run with it! For god sake, don’t let his male lover last for just half an issue. That is just tacky. What’s worse is that the rest of this issue is very good. Jay Garrick has his moments and the way the world honored the “Trinity of Wonders” (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) was very cool. I hope next issue we see Alan Scott’s male lover still alive and not dead. The last thing we need is another superhero loved one being created for tasteless shock value.

Harbinger #1- There was time when Valiant Comics was right behind DC and Marvel as a big comics company. Unfortunately a series of bad business moves caused the company to fold so I more than welcome this latest attempt to restart the company. I can understand why some people think of Harbinger as basically a version of the X-Men and why they worry about a new Harbinger series. However it was one of the more popular series Valiant ever printed so it makes sense to me why they did it. With X-O on the books already, here’s a warm welcome to the return of Valiant!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Euro 2012 Favorites

With Euro 2012 starting in a few days, I am going to give my take on the favorites to win the tournament. I mean hey, if “psychic” pigs, parrot, fish, octopus, elephant etc can do it, why not me?

Winner- Spain
The current holder of the World Cup and the defending champions of the Euro is without question my favorite to win the Euro this year. Yes, I know no country has ever successfully defended the title but Spain may be the country that breaks that streak. Spain’s midfield is the best in the world and is so strong even players like Cesc Fàbregas and Juan Mata are not confirmed starters in the First 11.
The only problems I see for Spain are the injuries to defensive stalwart Carlos Puyol and main striker David Villa. The injury to Puyol is especially worrying as this means Spain will lack a commanding figure in the centre of defense. Still, the sheer quality in the side means that it will take a brave man to bet against them in the championship.

Finalist- Germany
With the youngest squad in the Euro, the Germans are also a team to watch. 2 years ago at the World Cup, the Germans surprised a lot of people with their young team and now after 2 years to mature, a lot of people believe it is time for them to win a title.
I see the reason why. With Mesut Özil and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Germans have one of the most dynamic midfield in the Euro and between Lukas Podolski and Mario Gómez, they have 2 attackers that can put away any half-chances that comes their way.
However their defense is suspect. Per Mertesacker had a horrid season at Arsenal and Philip Lahm is better going forward than defending his goal. Also the youth of the team means that they might not have the experience needed to withstand continued pressure from better attacking sides like Spain. I know a lot of people are tipping Germany to win but I think they will just miss out.

Dark Horses- Netherlands
2 years ago at the World Cup, the Netherlands got to the finals by playing what could be charitably called “defensive football”. With Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel in midfield, they would destroy the attack of the other team and then bank on their wingers, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, to provide the attacking threat.
Not much has changed in the 2 years since the World Cup except that this year, the Dutch has 2 strikers that are bang in form with Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. However question marks remain for the team. Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst has retired and there is a question on whether van Persie and Huntelaar can play together.  There is also a question on who will provide the link-up between the defense and the attack. If the Dutch can sort out these problems, they would be a team to watch but as of right now, there are teams better placed to win the tournament.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Traffic Junction

On 12 May, a Ferrari beat a red light at the junction of Victoria Street and Rochor Road and crashed into a taxi, killing three people. 2 weeks later, a Lexus beat the red light again at the same spot and crashed into another taxi.

Under pressure from the Singapore public, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is now going to synchronize the green light timing for the traffic lights at the junction of Bugis Junction/Bugis Village and Victoria Street/Rochor Road. They will then bring forward plans to install overhead traffic lights at the junction of Victoria Street/Rochor Road as well.

Now, usually I applaud when government agencies listen to the general public and take action due to public feedback. Unfortunately, I don’t in this case.

The problem is that I agree with the LTA initial assessment that there’s nothing wrong with the traffic lights timing at the junction. I had seen the video on Youtube of both crashes and in both cases the traffic lights were working just fine. The lights turned green for over 3 seconds in both cases but the drivers of the Ferrari and the Lexus went crashing through the red lights anyway.

Now the LTA may call building the overhead traffic lights a “precautionary measure”, but frankly I fail to see how it would help road safety at that junction. Frankly, I don’t see how changing the timing of the lights or building an overhead traffic pole would have prevented the crashes. If someone wants to beat a red light (especially if he is drunk), it doesn’t matter if the traffic light pole is overhead or by the side; he would still do it.

There is nothing wrong with the traffic light timing or poles at the junction. The problem and the reasons for the crashes are not the timing of the traffic lights. It is the behavior of the drivers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What Easing?

Housing prices in Singapore are still high. “Cooling measures” by the Singapore government has not made a dent in the prices. Yet we have Minister of National Development, Khaw Boon Wan, saying the housing prices are showing signs of “easing”.

Stop me if I sound like a broken record but uh…where? Mr. Khaw pointed to figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) showing a 0.1% slip in housing prices in Q1 as a sign of prices easing but he must be the only who thinks that. I mean how is a miserable 0.1% a sign of easing? Not only is it only 0.1%, but this “slip” is just the first time the figures went down since Q2 of 2009. Yes, hosing prices have been going straight up for 3 years and a 0.1% is a sign of easing? Hell, that 0.1% doesn’t even cover the 0.2% rise seen in the previous quarter!

Come on! If the Singapore government wants to showcase that their “cooling measures” are working, they need to do something a lot better than a 0.1% “slip”. I mean if a 0.1% is the best you can come up with, that just show how desperate you are.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

You know how in the fantasy genre, the worlds are always populated by dwarves, elves, and wizards? Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Empire in Black and Gold” is most definitely NOT one of those books.

The first of 10 book series called “Shadows of the Apt”; the “Empire in Black and Gold” is set in a fantasy world populated by tribes of human-insect and human-arachnid creatures. Called “kinden”, each tribe of kinden has special powers and aptitudes that correspond to the insect or arachnid their tribe belongs to. For example, Fly-kinden can fly far and long while Ant-kindens has a mind-link to other Ant-kindens that belongs to their city.

Tchaikivsky start the tale with a bang with an empire of Wasp-kinden laying siege to the Ant-kinden city of Myna. The Beetle-kinden, Stenwold Maker was in Myna but failed in his attempt to stop the Wasp Empire. Returning home to his home city of Collegium, Stenwold reinvent himself as a spymaster to prepare his city for the inevitable war by the Empire.

Seventeen years later, the time has come for the Wasp Empire war of conquest and Stenwold knows that his city could not face the Empire alone. With his spies everywhere, he needed the help of the rest of the Lowlands cities.

Yes, I know. The premise sounds downright strange (even for the fantasy genre) and there’s a lot to wrap your head around. However, it is to the writer’s credit that he managed to build an incredible but strangely believable world out of this.

I read somewhere that Adrian Tchaikovsky was studying to be a zoologist before becoming a lawyer (how the hell did that happened?) and his interest in insects shows. He put in a lot of thought about the various kinden and how their insect powers would affect human-like creatures. Tchaikovsky also has the courage to develop each character slowly. Perhaps knowing how strange his world is, Tchaikovsky didn’t try to overload readers with information but instead slowly draw the readers into the world.

However, don’t mistake this book as slow and boring. The writer did a good job hinting at there is a lot more of the world to discover (including how there’s magic in the world) and there is a sense of urgency and danger once Stenwold’s agents were in the field. The story is well-paced and it had no problem keeping my interest.

Of course there are some problems. The start of the book is very confusing. At the siege of Myna, characters and powers are thrown at us without care. At the prologue, I read about Mantis-kinden, Ant-kinden, Wasp-kinden and went like, “What the hell?” Anyone who decides on whether to pick up a book based on the prologue (you know who you are) will be missing something good here. “Empire in Black and Gold” is one of those books that get better as you go along.

Also, for a refreshing world, I can’t help but be a little disappointed at how Tchaikovsky based the various countries of his world on real-life cultures. The Wasp Empire are Roman/Mongols, the Commonwealth are Persians/Arabs, Lowlanders are Renaissance Italians etc. It’s not a major problem and I understand why he did it but for insect-like humans to have cultures similar to what we have on Earth? I think Tchaikovsky missed an opportunity there.

However I have to say this is a good book that I will recommend to anyone who is tired of standard fantasy and want something different. The story-telling is strong, and the thought the writer put in for the kinden is very impressive. There is action, intrigue and character development. If nothing else, this book will leave you looking forward to the next book in the “Shadows of the Apt” series. And any book that can leave that impression is something worth looking at!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Nothing Unexpected

So Pakistan handed down a 33-year prison sentence for the doctor who helped the United States killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor, was convicted of high treason by a Pakistani court for working with the CIA by running a fake vaccination program near the al Qaeda leader's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The United States are hopping mad with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Leon Panetta calling it "disturbing", "difficult to understand" and "unjust and unwarranted". A US Senate panel even cut $33m in aid to Pakistan in response to the jailing of the doctor.

The United States are hopping mad and the rest of the world is scratching their heads wondering why?

Honestly, the US should have known for a certainty once the doctor’s work for the CIA was known, he is in trouble. This is a doctor who ran a fake vaccination on behalf of a foreign government secret service in his own homeland to kill someone in his own country. Tell me; in what way is that not a traitorous action?

Now I’m no fan of bin Laden but it is a little rich that the country who arrested and jailed Bradley Manning and who is trying all means and ways to get Julian Assange (who isn’t even an American) for releasing information on WikiLeaks is now saying that Pakistan should not jail a doctor who help in an assassination on behalf of a foreign government.If the US really has a problem with the sentence, then they should have gotten the doctor out of Pakistan well before the strike at Osama. What do they think was going to happen? 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Comics this week

Supercrooks #3- The fact that Mark Millar wrote Supercrooks as a shameless pitch to Hollywood is without doubt, however that does not mean this series can’t stand on its own. Millar’s attempt at a superhero “Ocean 11” goes into gear this issue as Bolt and his gang start the heist. Of course things don’t go according to plan when you are facing the most successful supervillain in the world. On this, Millar got it right by showing just how dangerous The Bastard truly is (even in the twilight of his years). Artist Leinil Yu’s clean background works very well with the story and together, the duo made Supercrooks a very good read.

Star Wars: Blood Ties – Boba Fett Is Dead #2- Ah, Star Wars! The place where the hero almost always get his hand chopped off and turned into a cyborg. Of course in Conner Freeman’s case, it is a whole arm not just a hand but who cares about details right? As expected, Boba Fett is alive and well and got Freeman out of certain death. Tom Taylor got the characters and the mood just right and Chris Scalf again showcase his great talent. As for the little girl shown at the end, well this series is called “Blood Ties” right? Here’s hoping the answer is as interesting as I have in my mind.