gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I have a massive personal irritation with imperfections in grammar. By 'massive' I don't mean the Manchester City type of 'massive' (United fans will know the joke well), but the word as it exactly means according to the dictionary. Coming from Asia - the colonized land - I could occasionally forgive amateurs for having an imperfect grasp of the language. It's quite forgivable for, say, an Ethiopian who has just entered school and is struggling to fill his own stomach, never mind learn a foreign language. But when we've been colonized for upwards of a hundred years and when we've all broken free from the shackles of our English, French, Portuguese and other European masters for more than half a century, you'd expect that the standards of English in these parts be at least up to scratch.

Well, not really. I've had to live with grammatical slips of all sorts for the past ten-odd years, and the more I realize people are making mistakes, the more unacceptable it becomes. I don't know how people teach English in Britain and Australia, but the most outrageous decision made by education boards in this part of the world is to throw out the formal teaching of grammar in schools. So six-year-olds make do with spelling and dictation, and a bit of phonics (learning how to pronounce). Throw in a bit of vocabulary stuffing, and voila! There's English for you. One could survive without teaching formal grammar. Grammar is implicitly taught in the form of pattern recognition anyway, so why formalize it?

Unfortunately, as any half-baked computer scientist can tell you, pattern recognition is built upon the principle of exposure to a sufficiently large number of examples. When a person is shown enough examples deliberately selected to match a certain pattern, the person has a good chance of recognizing the pattern. It then follows that, since the patterns are shown as teaching material, and since people are supposed to learn the 'right' things in school, the patterns they surmise should therefore be correct, that is, they follow certain (untaught) rules. As a consequence of the implementation of this logic system, schools now no longer have to teach grammar; pattern recognition is good enough.

No wonder the average Asian flops so miserably when it comes to grammar - they were never taught grammar in the first place.

It gets worse - nowadays spelling errors abound, not just among Asian writers, but even as far as back in Britain. On occasion, some have replaced "all together" with "altogether", and others have been handed the 'reigns' of power. And since 'never' can be regarded as a contraction of "not ever", some subtitles writers have come up with "you ever did this" rather than the absolutely correct "you once did this".

The erosion of standards is, to me, nothing short of appalling. Perhaps I am just being a purist. Perhaps I am uncool and unfashionable. But language is not meant to be so fashionable as to allow for these errors to become legitimate. That's bastardizing the language, and that's just giving everyone an excuse to shape language in any old way they like.

That, I think, is unacceptable.

gambitch [ 3:06 PM]

Oh boy, here goes Sepp Blatter again...

Blatter blasts FA

The man's going to extraordinary lengths to pressure the FA into slapping a swift and long ban on Rio Ferdinand. I could be cynical and allege that the German has a personal vendetta, or I could choose to believe he genuinely wants to stamp out drug abuse and leave behind a positive legacy (surely it'll help save his reputation). I'm not about to take a position on what really is on his mind, but his public barking isn't pleasant at all. Certainly the FA could do without it; surely it's smart enough to know what to do and how to do it.

Meanwhile England is rocked by pullouts from Wayne Rooney and Gareth Southgate. Sven has called upon his defensive cover in the form of young Anthony Gardner, but Rooney will be tougher to replace. If he doesn't recover in time from the flu bug, Sven's decision to name only three strikers (including wonderboy Wayne) is so going to backfire on him. Then again, it doesn't matter that much - it's a friendly.

gambitch [ 2:22 AM]

The rivalry between Singapore's only two media behemoths is so bitchy and artificial, it's laughable.

The extremely well-managed opening up of the media industry in the little island nation has led to a bizarre anomaly perhaps unmatched by any other country in the world (if I am wrong, I would gladly like the error to be pointed out). Media Corporation of Singapore (more commonly known as MediaCorp), the only company to previously hold a licence to make and broadcast TV shows, has since become the only other company to have the right to publish newspapers for national circulation, in the form of its English freesheet Today (the online version can be found here). Prior to that, the only company allowed to publish newspapers was Singapore Press Holdings (SPH in short), with a whole range of papers under its stable. Of course, SPH now also has a TV licence, and is in fact the only other company to enjoy the privilege.

Strict licensing regulations have made it impossible for a third company to appear out of nowhere and challenge both MediaCorp and SPH on either the terrestrial TV front or the newspapers front. And given that both companies actually have got one finger in each pie, it's perhaps not surprising that both companies try to out-shout each other when it comes to results.

Here's where the story begins to be laughable. Statisticians (I forgot what the proper term is, but that doesn't matter) recently investigated the performance of all newspapers in Singapore and released their results. Cue lots of attempts by both companies to show that each outdid the other. Apparently MediaCorp came up with this bunch of TV commercials with its leading artistes stating that Today had the second highest circulation, ranking behind the national rag, The Straits Times (SPH's flagship newspaper). The commercials were aired on MediaCorp's own channels, of course (of which it has a few). Since MediaCorp owns a good number of radio stations too, I wouldn't be a fool to bet that another version was made for the radio and aired all around too.

Not to be outdone, SPH had its own response. Its television subsidiary MediaWorks apparently also made commercials of its own to trumpet that its own freesheet was catching up with Today, whose readership apparently fell. In contrast, its pay-tabloid The New Paper apparently had a much greater readership than Today. Thus, it seems, Today's claim to being the second most popular newspaper is supposed to be dodgy.

I'm not about to challenge the figures quoted by either party, since the source is supposed to be an independent company made up of professional statisticians. It's done by professionals, so the figures have to be right (they'd better be!). But I'm not one who likes being loaded with jargonistic differentiations between readership and circulation, just to decide whether to accept the claim that Newspaper X is the second most popular newspaper in a given country. It's a little like trying to decide whether The Times or The Guardian is the more popular newspaper in Britain. Like, do I care?

Clearly, I don't. To me, these statistics don't really mean anything. If a newspaper does its job well, I'm happy. Of course, I'm well within my rights to criticize and comment on the quality of the writing and reportage. But popularity contests are not my thing. Issues of circulation and profit margins are none of my concern as an average citizen. I don't happen to be a shareholder in the company, and I'm not actually dabbling in the stock market. Nor are most people, for that matter. This kind of information can be broadcast within the company, made known to the staff as a pat on the back for a job well done, or as a warning that their rice bowls might break soon if they don't buck up. As consumers, we don't care for the most part.

So when these companies start going on wild chest-thumping sessions, announcing how each has either maintained its dominance over the other or risen to become a real threat to the dominant party, I can't help but laugh at the childishness of this whole exercise. It's farcical enough that two companies, each previously enjoying a monopoly in its respective business, have suddenly engaged each other for a two-fronted battle that seems so elaborately staged. It's a big enough wayang kulit (a form of traditional puppet theatre in Southeast Asia) from the start and we all know it. The loud chest-thumping and triumphant cries only add to the comedy.

As Jim Carrey-dumb as this farce is, you might sometimes wonder who's at the losing end of it all? When a small talent pool is shared by two companies with no third party getting a sniff-in, much less a look-in, the inevitable consequence is a level of competition bordering on the unhealthy. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work that out; you just have to watch and observe for yourself. Even as a casual onlooker, one can tell. You get a few people hopping from one company to another, and people straddling back and forth. But when the pool of people is really the same, you don't expect standards to rise that significantly. Guess what? Things have pretty much been true to form, i.e. no real change.

gambitch [ 1:27 AM]

My home's furniture layout is such that the dinner table is bang in front of the TV, so meals at home usually end up becoming legitimate TV-dinner affairs. So today, over lunch, I was watching this Taiwanese variety show when I saw the bowls they used at public restaurants. They're pinkish, they're made of disposable plastic, and they're very thin.

Taiwan is a great place when it comes to convenience. Where we in this part of the world use hard plastic crockery at our hawker centres and restaurants (even at pitstops), the Taiwanese have always been sticklers for convenience. They have to - Taiwan's so popular with tourists that many of their pitstop restaurants are often full with busloads of Japanese, Hongkongers and the like. It doesn't matter that some of these restaurants are nicely located at hot tourist spots (like the cultural village at Mount Ali; their bowls are still thin plastic pink, and they use disposable chopsticks. The large turnover means no time to wash those bowls - there's already too much manpower devoted to cooking the dishes!

I've seen this for myself; I have twice toured Taiwan, and have acquainted myself to the pink bowls since the first trip in 1995. Things didn't really change when I visited a few years later. It has been a few years since I went to Taiwan, and I should perhaps save up for another trip soon.

I recently stopped over at a pitstop in these parts, and the people at the "feed tank" have switched to disposable crockery. Maybe they've had an increase in turnover; maybe it's the post-SARS scare. But the bowls are made of foam. Still some way to go, then.

gambitch [ 12:28 AM]

Word has it that Peter Reid was sacked as Leeds boss after a very disastrous start to the Lilywhites' campaign. For those with long enough memories, Reid was himself hailed as the saviour of Leeds when he was appointed to replace Terry Venables, and actually managed to keep Leeds in the Premiership when the club was falling apart. Good for him, but the man was never going to be the one who would drag Leeds out of their doldrums. It's perhaps just as well for the man with the monkey-like face (his hairstyle doesn't help) that he and the club have split before Christmas.

So the quest begins to find the man who can haul Leeds back into the top half of the table. Rhetorical as the question sounds, can any man do the job? I don't think so. It's going to take a lot more than the combined efforts of Wenger, Houllier and Ranieri (and Sven perhaps for good measure) to turn things around at a club whose morale are rock-bottom, who have suddenly turned into a selling club just to get out of debt, and who's got players with reputations deep in the toilet. A quick run through their alumni reveals such luminaries as Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate (the ones accused of assaulting an Asian in a Yorkshire nightspot - that both escaped jail hasn't made their names any cleaner), and Danny Mills (the aggressive, foul-playing fullback who's jumped ship to Boro this season). As for those who are still around, they don't get much more hot-headed than Alan Smith, the guy with that glowing yellowish blond hair, and old man David Batty (who is just as his name suggests).

It's been quite a while since people remember old-guard Leeds players like Gary McAllister (who has moved on many years ago) and Lucas Radebe (who remains on the payroll but hasn't been the same player since his knee and spinal injuries). As a United fan, once upon a time Leeds were a club to be hated because they were at least a nuisance and, when they play properly, can be a consistent thorn in the flesh. That has somewhat collapsed after the club reached the dizzy heights of making the knockout rounds of the Champions' League - for which David O'Leary had to claim a good share of the credit. Now I'm just enjoying every opportunity to laugh as the Lilywhites keep withering.

Lest it be thought that I'm some idiot who prefers watching a hated club lose over watching the club I support win, I must clarify that Leeds is just a footnote; how United fares is always the main story. And this week there are some good stories to share. We crushed Rangers 3-0 in the return leg (Ruud scored two!) and then took Liverpool out at Anfield. Good results, I must say! Add to that the possibility that Sir Alex might extend his contract beyond his 65th birthday, and this week definitely looks good for the men of Manchester.

The Kop kids' season is practically over, I dare say, unless they are just aiming for a spot in the Champions' League. How Europe's, no, the world's premier club competition gets a name that suggests that only the top club of each country may participate, and then the rules go on to say that you can qualify if you're second or third, I don't quite understand (though United have gone in through the back door before and I don't really complain about that). But Liverpool have been glorious underachievers for a good long while now, and that's a pity. Of whose making? I don't want to go too far into that. I don't claim to know.

gambitch [ 12:03 AM]


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