Go with a smile!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Normal Phase Two

I typed this article a few months ago, during what I thought was the second phase of the new normal. Following the shock results of the Punggol East by election, it has occurred to me that the third phase of the new normal has begun and so I'd just put this out here before it becomes really outdated.

The news has become pretty quiet of late. There was a time when something earth-shaking would take place every day, but we’ve had a quiet stretch of late.

Recently what a lot of people talked about was the national conversation. Heng Swee Keat is convening a committee of people to talk about the future direction of Singapore. People are starting to “manage” and “engage” the alternative media. A lot of vitriol has been expended and spent. We’ve talked long enough about the problems that plague Singapore, and now, it seems, inevitably that things have become a lot more quiet now that people have to start talking about the solutions.

I’ve always had the impression that the Singapore government has been listening to people. When Goh Chok Tong promised a more open and consultative government, we actually did get what we wanted. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that this “consultative government” was worse than useless. I’m pretty sure that the asset enhancement policy was the result of some back stage lobbying by people who wanted to get rich on their property investments. So what’s the main point? The main point is that it’s not really whether or not you’re listening. It’s who you want to listen to.

So the people who had the ear of the government, I’m sure they were saying these few things. That the GDP was still of primary concern to the government. That it was alright that the cost of living rose beyond reach of the average citizen, because that would only spur people to work harder. That you had to protect foreign investment (and probably foreigners) first because they helped make sure that everybody in Singapore stays employed. That trickle-down economics actually works.

Personally, I’ve had a short break during which I could think a lot about the direction of Singapore. I’ve written a few articles. I can’t carry on because I’ve got a busy few months ahead of me. The government has had to endure a very busy 12 months that were bookended by the general election and the by-elections. But at the same time, it’s managed to deal with a few of the problems that have plagued the good name of the government. It’s cracked down on a few people who broke the rules, and it’s defused some of the tension. There are a few things on the plate, like what’s going to happen to M Ravi, and the constitutional challenge to 377A.

It is fairly instructive that we look at the experience of Barack Obama. In 2008, he was the ultimate opposition candidate. Voters rejected Hillary Clinton in favour of him (a choice that will always be controversial) as he swept to the presidency on a wave of goodwill and the promise of hope and change. It was only to be expected that voters would have been disappointed at what he was able to achieve. He is not only just a human being, he’s also a relatively inexperienced human being.

Now, we are beginning to see whether the Worker’s Party Aljunied / Hougang team are more than just a bunch of good public speakers. We expected that there would be teething problems. I was reading the “Men in White” before I left for the States, and there was a lot of problems with factionalism in a political party when it’s on the verge of acquiring more power. The old guard who had been toiling away for years would be resentful of the new arrivals. People would have strong (and vastly different) views about what direction the party would take. People would have problems with whether or not they became cadre members.

One interesting part of this tension was the schism between Andrew Loh and Pritam Singh. There was tension between the opposition parties and Andrew Loh. Andrew Loh was a guy who saw himself as an independent voice, who would swing between the PAP and the opposition, and the opposition parties detested him for that. He was one of the earliest members of the Online Citizen but he split because they couldn’t agree on how anti-government the Online Citizen was going to be. Eventually both of them realized quickly that a very public blowup would be an extremely bad outcome for all concerned, and they did the very Singaporean thing of going out for a meal together to thrash things out.

In a way, we all know that the peoples’ anger would dissipate. Anybody knows that for all the talk about how Singapore is headed in the wrong direction, that ultimately, even right now, the cup is half empty / half full. The government is not lazy and sitting on its ass. It’s more like people do not agree on the direction that it is taking. The government believes that it has to turn Singapore into a global city, and the people are still looking back upon the good old days of nationhood.

In any case, right now the pendulum is swinging back. The government is going back to 2004, when right after LHL’s first speech as a prime minister, he said he was going to engage the youth of Singapore. Now, he said he’s going to engage the bloggers. It’s probably something they should have done a long time ago, which was to drive a divide between the more moderate bloggers and the more hardcore anti-government ones. He’s invited people to tea. And not the ISD style of inviting people to “lim kopi”. And those people who have accepted that invitation would then find it more difficult to continue slagging off the government.

My sense is that we are entering the second, less turbulent, but also less certain phase of the “new normal”. The pendulum is swinging back again. The ground is becoming more moderate. People have said their share of what they are unhappy about. They know that even though having a credible opposition helps, it is not the magic pill that solves all their problems. They are looking closely at what they have, and looking at the way forward. It used to seem like a foregone conclusion that Singapore would swing even further away from the PAP during the next elections, but now we know that they’ve had a counterstrategy in mind all along. It only remains to be seen whether that will bear dividends.

And that’s the issue: ultimately what the government wants to do is to give the impression of listening without actually having to concretely do too much. In the past, they had this margin of error, so whenever elections results didn’t go their way, there was little concrete loss (6 seats really ain’t so bad) and they can work on correcting their course over the next five years. IT’s more hazardous for them (and also probably so for us) if they didn’t have this margin, and they always had to do what it takes to win an election, no matter how reckless or dangerous.

There are some really interesting developments of late. It doesn’t really matter what people think about the “national dialogue”. There are many opposition supporters who decry the dialogue as a sham, but they ignore the more important fact that something like this is not only unprecedented, but also looks possible to continue in the same vein.

There are two very interesting viewpoints that I have read lately. One of them talks about why an Australian professor thinks that the elites in Singapore aren’t going to split up anytime soon. First reason is that they are too conservative. Second reason is that Lee Hsien Loong became a real prime minister after 2011, because that is when he started flushing out the key people who are around during the time of Goh Chok Tong. The third reason – and this is something a little shocking to read – is that Goh Chok Tong may have been trying to remove people loyal to LKY during the early 90s, and he almost had a chance to act against LKY during a case which involved improper payments for a real estate transaction. He didn’t do anything (I can see why he didn’t do anything, actually). He may have been a little pissed off at being sandwiched between the Lees. One must remember that there were four main candidates to be the second prime minister of Singapore, and Goh was the one who got the job. Tony Tan, who was favoured, did not want it. Ong Teng Cheong was too Chinese, and Dhanabalan was too Indian. For the record, I’d have loved to see what would have happened if it was Ong Teng Cheong.

There is, I think, some plausible reasoning that there was a split in the cabinet. There were rumours floating around last year that there was a split between a faction led by George Yeo and Goh Chok Tong, and the faction led by Teo Chee Hean and Wong Kan Seng. Then we remember some very bizarre statements being made by Goh Chok Tong during the 2011 elections, during which some people speculated that he just wasn’t interested in campaigning. Goh Chok Tong was saddled with Tin Pei Ling and George Yeo with Aljunied. Eventually, LHL managed to clean out the cabinet and “retire” quite a few ministers. Well if it is the case that Lee Hsien Loong won the great power struggle, then it is very interesting to see what the newly reinvented PAP is going to be like.

The other very interesting point of view is an article that brought a very important point of view. Singapore is a fledgling democracy. Now we know that to an unprecedented extent, Singaporeans are becoming rather upset with the government. But the government has a lot of cards to play. And we can see that it has played them one by one since the 2011 elections. I’ve gone through a lot of the details in the earlier article so I won’t repeat them. But it can also promise to be a better listener. It can promise more freedom. The opposition has been harping on 1987 for ages, but 1987 was a long long time ago. Most importantly, the government has asked one very important, interesting question to the people of Singapore, and they have, from my point of view, not answered it satisfactorily. That is: what do you want? And Singapore is truly a fledgling democracy because the people by and large have not confronted the issues of government on their own. They do not understand the political traditions. They haven’t taken a stand on many issues. They may talk about problems, but they don’t talk about solutions. This is true whether you are talking about the people or the opposition parties.

Even up till 6 months ago, I believed that the opposition was on an inexorable forward march. But things have changed. Cherian George is – in spite of being one of the first bloggers to blog frankly about the PAP – by and large a PAP supporter. He did a series of blogs posts on the 2011 election that I wish that I had saved because there is a lot of interesting wisdom in there. And he said something that I hadn’t agreed with, but now I’m beginning to see his point. He said, that the tide may have been with the opposition in the 2011 / 2012 elections, but it will be more difficult for them when the PAP learns its lessons. So far the opposition has been rather quiet, and to tell you the truth, I’m a little worried for them. The reason I had been skeptical of Cherian George’s comment is that I can foresee that with the problems that Singapore has, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But that really isn’t a big issue. The plight of the Singaporean does not have to immediately improve. What merely has to happen is that the government is seen to be doing something constructive.

I may seem like an opposition supporter to a lot of people who read me, but I don’t think there are a lot of people out there who are really opposition supporters. There are mainly people who are pro-PAP, and people who are disillusioned with the PAP. The opposition hasn’t really done much to define themselves. I don’t advocate the opposition. I advocate the existence of a functioning opposition – that is an entirely different thing. I believe in the opposition’s right to exist, I believe in there being a different, and hopefully cogent alternative viewpoint. But I will have to hear that viewpoint first before I decide whether or not to agree with it.

So the opposition may not even have to move forward. Six seats in parliament. Even the Yaw Shin Leong scandal had no impact on the opposition support in Hougang. Think, Worker’s Party. What are you doing with those six seats? What can you show us with those six seats? Anyway, just hold on to those six seats as long as you can and hurry up and think of something before you lose them. I think the time for going forward has stopped, and it’s more a case of consolidating your gains before making another push.

It seemed as though for a while the PAP had been driving the conversation. There were the attempts to come across as being tough on your own guys while cleaning house. There were the Ng Boon Gay and Tey Hsun Hang sex scandals. Then suddenly there were three events in succession that were out of the control of the PAP. First was the SMRT bus strike, which made the government look like assholes for the way they managed foreign labour in Singapore. Second was Michael Palmer, who was forced to resign over an extramarital affair. In truth, the extramarital affair did not warrant a sacking, but the comparisons with the Yaw Shin Leong case made it difficult for Michael Palmer to remain in his position. And lastly, there was the AIM incident.

The PAP responses to all three incidents make it seem as though the vacating of the Punggol East seat were the least of its problems. The possibility that there will be a multi-cornered fight for that seat would actually be advantageous for the PAP. For the SMRT bus strike, Vincent Wijeysingha had written an open letter that alleged that there were issues with the bus drivers brewing even before the strike. For his troubles, he was not only asked to retract his letters, but a defamation suit also came up against him. I had read some online commentary alleging that he was pretty reckless in writing that letter, but I didn’t know how reckless it was. Perhaps it was not a fight that he had to pick at this point in time. Because as it stands now, he is the one member of the opposition most likely to win if he were to stand in a straight fight (the WP wouldn’t send Yee Jenn Jong or Gerald Giam because they have to save them up for Joo Chiat and East Coast respectively).

There is the AIM scandal, which on the surface seems to be one of the greatest scandals of all because it asks big questions about the governance of our town councils. Yawning Bread has written a series of articles about it and he was served up with another letter for his troubles. But only the first in the series of 6 articles got taken down. The others were more factual and PAP wasn’t able to sue him for it. Ultimately, I can imagine that the PAP wants to concentrate its firepower on more substantive targets. In the big picture, this AIM issue is about fair play in the political system. But it is not a scandal. Nothing illegal has been done. This is a municipal, not national issue. It concerns an incident which took place 1 year ago. At the most, it concerns the computer system of a town council. Surely there are more important things to worry about. What this incident is really about, is that it is fairly revealing about the PAP’s sense of ethics. I thought that the defamation suits were a thing of the past, especially when 2011 was the first election where nobody got “fixed” soon afterwards, but now they have made a belated comeback.

The so-called opposition unity seems to be fraying. What happens in Punggol East is very instructive. If it is a straight fight between an opposition party and the PAP, then it will be contesting on the some of the issues raised, ie the AIM issue and about fair play over handing over town councils if and when the PAP loses seats. It will be a verdict on the PAP. If there are multi-cornered fights, then it will be about which opposition party is the most popular among the many contesting. Then it will be a verdict about the WP or the SDP, and it will be part of the process by which the opposition parties do their horse-trading and jostle for seats in the next election which will be pretty vital for the future fortunes of the opposition. As it stands, now all parties have started campaigning in Punggol East. The need for “opposition unity” was more vital in Hougang because of the perception that that seat was the WP’s to lose. What is at stake now is the opportunity to wrest a seat away from the PAP, and possibly gain a seat in a strategically important area in the east. (Punggol East borders Pasir Ris GRC, Tampines GRC and East Coast GRC, any of which could conceivably be won by a strong opposition party in 2016). The fact that there were very few multi-corner fights in 2011 might be in time seen as a quirky accident of history. It is possible that as the power of the PAP wanes, the opposition parties might start having the confidence to kill each other.

Because of the accidents of the timing, all three incidents have potential to become intertwined with each other. Vincent Wijeysingha’s viability as a candidate would depend on whether he has to answer to a lawsuit by Tan Chuan Jin. If the WP contests, then the AIM issue will be one of the factors in the election.

I was pretty starry eyed about April / May 2011. It seemed like a whirlwind romance. And moreover, I had been waiting for that day for 20 years since the opposition made inroads in 1991. And a lot of things that seemed impossible did actually happen. However, opposition politics has gotten pretty messy and looks pretty unsavoury. For a short period, things looked simple: don't tread on each others' toes, try to make gains against the PAP. After that, things look dicey, because there isn't much room for more than two political parties in Singapore. Nobody wants to be the third or the fourth party, and they are alarmed that the WP is so far ahead of them, and not only that, but also so adverse to rocking the boat against the PAP. I know that a lot of the parties have started preparing for their campaigns, but I don't know many of them would go through with them.

Well, at least, I am looking at the way forward. I can’t be following Singapore politics all the time. I have to live my own life, unless living my own life means that I get involved in some capacity or another. Truth be told, I had considered poking my nose around in politics in some backend capacity but I think I've changed my mind for now. I had made some predictions, but some of them are looking a little dicey now. I had predicted that the era of lawsuits are over: I was wrong. I predicted that the PAP would start examining the direction of the country. That doesn't seem to be happening. I predicted opposition unity to continue for a while. That was also wrong.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Riposte to Dawkins part 1

Since Richard Dawkins published his attack on religion, "the God Delusion" I've been very disappointed, firstly at the inability of this previously respected popular science writer to understand just what he's criticising, and the incredible number of people who have come out in support of his bullshit.

I read an article that one of the great physics theorists, Peter Higgs, has come out to criticize Richard Dawkins for being “embarrassing”. I put that up on facebook, and then another friend of mine put that up on facebook. Then a lot of Dawkins' supporters then came out of the woodwork. Since I had always wanted to blog about this topic, I decided to engage them, knowing that over the next two weeks, I would probably have a blog entry that could be formed by editing the whole dialogue.

I still find that every time somebody starts an atheism / religion debate, you will get a lot of vociferous defenders of Dawkins, they declare simply, “there is no God”, and it stops right there. It was probably a very hotly debated topic 1000 years ago, and it is still a very hotly debated topic now. I stated at the beginning that I don’t like Dawkins. I can appreciate that he did a lot to promulgate the understanding of evolution in his works on popular science. I can appreciate that he feels that it is his public duty to quash crackpot theories of creationism that are found in the Bible. But his constant attacks on religion itself are starting to wear pretty thin.

He still has very vocal supporters in this regard, and I have just decided to answer some of his points.

“Does God exist” is not an important question.

One of the first things that Dawkins will tell you is that God does not exist, and they would stop right there, as though the debate has already been decisively settled. There are some things that the church will insist that you believe, which is that Jesus is the son of God. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe in the supernatural, and I don’t believe in spirits. But I believe in the human spirit. I believe in human spirituality.

Somebody called me an agnostic, and that is probably right. But unlike a lot of Dawkins' followers, and a lot of Christians, I find the existence of God to be not only unimportant, but also profoundly unimportant. And of marginal relevance to the rest of religious teachings.

For me, properly understood, it is an abstraction or a framework. The equator does not exist, does it? There is no line running on land and on sea across this planet. So why is there that line drawn on every map of the world? If I say that Singapore is 1 degree north of the equator, do I get an idiot yelling at me, "the equator does not exist!"?

If people want to talk about religion, they need to invent a language to talk about it in a meaningful way. "God" is merely part of that language. This is something that Dawkins will never ever understand. Human spirituality is something that is highly abstract and complex. Any discussion that involves human spirituality will necessarily involve the invention of terms to describe a lot of abstract phenomena. Even in Buddhist scriptures, there are passages describing the “oneness” of the cosmos, which is an idea that is so close to the monotheistic concept that if you were to substitute the word “God” it would change the meaning very little.

According to science, there is little doubt that human spirituality exists. Science says, "If I hook up the brain of a praying monk to an MRI, I can see one specific part of his brain light up". But religion discusses the nature of this spirituality in greater detail and specificity than science could ever do.

Higgs also invented a kind of language that helps us understand this abstract concept, "mass". Is "mass" real? I don't know. But it definitely helps me to understand the universe, so I'll take it.

People have rejected God on the basis that there is very little material evidence for its existence. But you don’t see people rejecting the existence of thoughts and feelings on a similar basis. Why not? Anyway, it is an abstraction. You don’t talk about the existence or the non-existence of an abstraction. It is simply a categorical mistake.

Science cannot answer a lot of the questions posed by religion.

Religion asks and attempts to answer questions that are outside the realm of science. What is the nature of consciousness. What is the right way to behave. Modern scientific approaches such as game theory and behavioural economics have yet to attain the level of sophistication that is found in the arguments of religious texts. The questions posed are precisely the ones that are not easily answered by science, and also the ones most likely to confuse a scientist. In this respect, religion is closer in nature to engineering, the social sciences, the humanities and philosophy than to science. It demands a different method of proof.

Building a ladder will get you closer to the moon, but it will not get you any closer to the moon. How about some "easier" questions that is hard to answer by science? Like "Did the stimulus work?" (no consensus among economists), or "what should Hillary Clinton have said at XXX summit?" (cannot be tested) Will science answer these questions? Will it eventually answer these questions? Or will it never answer these questions because it is not an intellectual method that is suited for tackling these issues at all? How about questions like "should I get the red one or the blue one"?

Religion is a method by which people get in touch with their instincts to help them answer these questions for which pure intellect is of not much use. Not the only method, but the way of dealing with uncertainty in your life. In spite of everything we know about science, the number of things that cannot be proven by science still far outnumbers those that can. Insurance companies and bookmakers will never ever go out of business.

Somebody argued: “The reasoned approach has broken through those barriers and furthered our understanding of the universe in testable, provable, quantifiable ways that neither religion nor philosophy ever will.”

We can be too much like the man with the hammer thinking that everything is a nail. The issue is not "can religion answer questions as well as science can answer their own questions". It is "can science ever answer these questions at all?" And the answer is no. Why no, because the scientific framework is quite unsuitable to answering such questions. You don’t use a bike to go up a flight of stairs because that is not what a bike was built for. Simply because the answer is no, that is why religion exists and will do so for the forseeable future.

My detractor said: “We think all this stuff is true, but we can't prove it." or more concisely "We don't know" - and I fail to see how that is helpful or preferable to trying to find out for ourselves.

Let's go through the 10 commandments. "you shalt not steal, you shalt not murder, you shalt not commit adultery, you shalt not commit perjury". Do you want to obey them or do you want to "test" and "find out for yourself"? Fact is, religion is a means by which we benefit from other peoples’ experience. Not the only means, but an important means of transmission.

Science is at fault for a lot of the ills of the world today.

I went on a novel approach. I didn’t bother defending religion to the hilt. After all, it is a creaky system of beliefs and learning, and a lot of it is not worth defending. So I went and attacked science instead.

Communism was based on a misappropriation of science because it was justified on the basis of a more "scientific" conception of man. As you know, millions of people died in those regimes. The Nazis used the theory of evolution to justify putting a lot of people in death camps, and to conduct eugenics.

Doesn't change the fact that in the 20th century more people died in the name of "science" than in the name of "religion". Doesn't change the fact that the three big threats to humanity - overpopulation, global warming and environmental damage have come as a result of scientific progress. It's pretty cheeky for a scientist to say that religion is the great problem of our time!

Somebody took the bait and replied to me, “Kinda strange to put science and religion on the same line, when they have completely opposite purposes: science tries to explain reality, not to dictate behavior.”

That’s when I showed my hand: Science and religion are so different that I wouldn't trust anything a scientist has to say about religion. Somebody elaborated: it's easy to make scapegoats of either science or religion, depending on which side of the fence you sit, but neither stance is terribly accurate, nor helpful and only serves to expose our preconceived biases. The ideologies behind both religion and science can be abused.

Well this sums up exactly what I don't like about Dawkins! When I bring up the parallels between science and religion the point is not to attack religion, or to attack science, but the point out that many of the attacks that science makes on religion per se (or vice verca) are totally unwarranted. I'm OK with Dawkins attacking creationism. But then he goes on to attack every thing related to religion and that goes too far.

If you think that it's kind of stupid if I were to say, "scientist X invented mustard gas and therefore he is responsible for death of millions", it is equally stupid to say "prophet Y wrote a tract on religion and human nature and therefore he's responsible for the death of millions who died in religious wars afterwards".

Another two interesting points were brought up earlier: science tries to explain reality, not to dictate behavior. To a certain extent I disagree with both. Science may not dictate behavior, but it influences behavior in such profound ways that is not different in practice from dictating behavior.

Science has produced overpopulation, global warming and environmental damage in this way. Scientific progress has caused rapid population growth by increasing peoples' material wealth and decreasing infant mortality, not through propaganda or other more direct mechanisms. The role of scientific advances in this is subtle but extremely profound.

Scientists care a lot about obtaining “the truth” and there is some psychological comfort in how they can “further our understanding of the universe in testable, provable, quantifiable ways that neither religion nor philosophy ever will." But this psychological comfort comes at a higher cost. It is a marked tendency for scientist to relegate discussion about the impact that scientific discoveries have on society as something of secondary importance.

I, too, used to think that a topic like “science and technology studies” was of secondary importance to the actual science. Now my position has been more or less reversed. New scientific discoveries are not as important as understanding the full extent of the impact that current science has to humanity. Not as important as managing the impact of scientific advances on our planet.

The other point that I take issue with will be addressed in the next section. Religion IS about explaining reality. It just depends on what you mean by “reality”.

Religion is about conformity.

This has been asserted a few times: "Conformity to a set of ideals is at the heart of organised religion."

Conformity to a set of ideals is at the heart of tribalism, not organised religion. Conformity to ideals is present in corporations, political parties, think tanks and dictatorial governments. Why doesn't Dawkins attack those as well? And people who try to say that conformity to ideals is "at the heart of" organised religions have to grapple with: Jesus, Mohammed and the Buddha were all rebels against the system! A crucifix representing a death sentence or a crescent representing a new religion - these are symbols of NONCONFORMITY!

In any case, any scientist should know that even though scientific revolutions take place all the time, crossing the scientific orthodoxy of the day is an extremely hazardous business. Einstein was never awarded a Nobel for relativity, nor was relativity ever considered a basis upon which to award him a PhD. At the same time, even though religious revolutions are pretty rare, the schisms that gave birth to Protestantism, Shi-ism or Zen Buddhism are quite important.

Properly understood, religion is a form of intellectual inquiry that in many ways parallels the intellectual inquiry that goes on in science. In fact, the Enlightenment was something that arose out of religious conflicts, and people warring with each other. It is not an exaggeration that religion gave birth to the age of reason.

Religion raises questions. I'm sure that any scientist worth his salt would recognise that asking the right questions is often as important as getting the right answers. It sets up a process of inquiry. Sometimes the answer is given, and sometimes not. Eventually the hard decisions fall within your reach. God is not a fairy tale. It is an intellectual framework. Is it all dogma and no reasoned approach? "Do unto others as you would have others done unto you" sounds pretty reasonable to me, and it has also been later verified by game theory has it not? Hasn't the "Matthew effect", named after a passage in the bible, also been verified by science?

One main difference is that religion makes a lot of arguments that appeal to human emotion and it is just that a lot of scientists do not like that.

Religion is a necessity for humanity, as I explained earlier. It is a time honoured system. Engineers recognise the danger of screwing around with time honoured systems. Scientists, less so. Religion is something a computer scientist would call a legacy system. Religion is not "we think all this stuff is true, but we can't prove it". Religion is "if this stuff didn't work, we'd have closed down by now". In a way, religion and science are similar because they are bodies of intellectual legacies passed down through the generations. Some tenets have been accepted, and others rejected. Some people think that skepticism is something that is totally inherent in religious belief, like what Paul Tillich wrote in his book “Dynamics of Faith”. And of course you have clowns like Sam Harris rejecting this outright, as though he understands religion better than Paul Tillich.

A proponent of Dawkins wrote: ‘One of Dawkin's often ignored but I think rather strong points is that there IS no real distinction between "fundamentalist" belief and "moderate" belief - in fact the extremists are usually the ones who take their religion seriously, whereas "moderately" believing (what does that even mean?) usually defines some sort of cherry-picking of the same scriptures, adapting old rules to a changed world and following a tradition rather than the book etc. But if you defend any such (very subjective) “degree” of believing in a specific religion – what argument do you have to condemn the ones who really take it literally and go far beyond what everybody else would define as “acceptable”? They believe. So?’

Let’s put it this way. Scientific beliefs are not accepted or rejected wholesale. And the same is true for religious beliefs. When you accept one part of a theory and reject the rest, you are not “cherry picking”. Why should you insist that any believer accept or reject everything as a single package? 90% of what Newton wrote was religious crap. Why should you put any faith in his laws of motion?

And furthermore, the other problem is that very often there is a scientific version of fundamentalism. This can take many forms, such as saying that the only valid intellectual methodology is the scientific method. Or saying that science invariably leads to progress. No: after the scientific discovery is made, it is too easy to extrapolate certain principles to other realms for which there is no basis. Our quest for economic expansion is a form of scientific fundamentalism. Should we then say, there is no real distinction between “fundamentalist” science and “moderate” belief in scientific principles? That is ridiculous.

The emotional roots of the hostility towards religion.

One important difference between the hard sciences and softer stuff like economics / politics is the degree to which uncertainty is absent. I feel that religion is something that is quite difficult for a scientist to warm to, because there is seldom any resolution. Questions are asked and left unanswered. Scientists love scientific facts because you just can’t argue about them, and let’s face it, they love the certainty. In fact they often cite this as a basis of scientific knowledge being “superior” to other forms of knowledge, while barely acknowledging that it is inherently impossible to get that form of certainty in all forms of knowledge.

I just feel that this has led to a rather spoilt and immature attitude towards knowledge in general. I feel that religion helps us cope emotionally and spiritually with doubt and fear – emotions that tenured professors are unlikely to understand.

Some people have pointed out that having one’s ideas constantly attacked by churches is something “that is what has happened to Dawkins all the time during and after his career. He cannot just stay out of the debate, whereas Higgs can easily do that.”

Well that is wrong on two counts. First, if Higgs didn’t have his ideas challenged, then what was the Large Hadron Collider built for? Secondly, having one’s ideas constantly being challenged is de rigueur for any intellectual. Yes, the attacks on evolution are often ad hominem attacks on the entire enterprise of science itself, and often more brutal than the arguments in academic seminars. But is what Dawkins has had to face more virulent than the attacks on economists by political organizations who do not agree with their ideas? The question of whether or not evolution has taken place is not of as much practical importance than the ideas of economists on how countries should be run. Why doesn’t he try being Paul Krugman for one day to see what it feels like? Dawkins is so whiny!

What I sense is that there is a great frustration that religious ideals are more successfully promulgated than a lot of ideas that are important to the human race, for example global warming and evolution. The reason for this is that religious organisations have greater insight into human nature than scientists do, and are able to tailor their messages accordingly. A lot of this hostility towards religion is rooted in this disbelief and fear at religions. Scientists are probably telling themselves, “we have the better methods, better ideas, we’re intellectually superior. But still the masses insist on believing in this religion thing, which we neither believe or completely understand.” Well, why do you find religion so difficult to understand? Wouldn’t it be better for you to actually study it and see what you can learn about human nature?

The answer is for scientists to reach across their silos towards people who might help, rather than to launch attacks on religion. This is as bad as sentencing Galileo to death for heresy. What Dawkins has to realize is that it is a very short road from what he’s doing – attacking religion wholesale – to burning libraries. A lot of attacks on religion are poorly informed. Sam Harris once said that most terrorist attacks are committed by Muslims, a statement that is looking pretty ridiculous right now in the wake of the last wave of gun massacres.

The limits of Dawkins’ thesis.

It's OK to attack bad governance, there are plenty of cases of this in religious and secular circles. It's OK to attack dogma. (As well as anybody who can utter "science" and "progress" in the same breath without bullshit detectors going off). But these are properly seen as human issues, political problems, rather than issues relating to religion per se.

A lot of people do not like Dawkins because he seems too smug about his ideas. I'm different. I don't like him because his ignorance about religion is totally appalling. One of the most absurd aspects of what Dawkins proposed is that the atheists form a new “religion” called humanism. (Except that it will just be a “spiritual movement”, not a real religion.) First, I have grave reservations that Dawkins or any of his atheist friends understand enough about what it takes to run a religious community to create a sustainable movement at all. Second, I have reservations that should he manage to get a widespread movement off the ground, that his “humanism” has anything vital or new to teach humanity that some other religion somewhere else can do better and for a longer period. Anybody who picks and chooses between secular and religious teachings on his own would be able to do so. And third, even though his new religion were to become a new and vital force in the world, I doubt that it would avoid the corruption and institutional decay that plagues so many of the other major religions in the world. Human nature is human nature and all religions are inherently imperfect.

Another person, the guy whose wall I probably defaced a little too much with my arguments, has said:

“Personally, I think that scientists can make far better use of their passion, time and knowledge doing science than ranting against faith. I find Dawkins an embarrassing and divisive figure. That's all there is to it. If I were to choose scientists who were productive with their atheistic assumptions, individuals such as Carl Sagan deserves far more respect. Even Bertrand Russell, who wrote his one helluva essay, and subsequently diverted his energies towards his pacifist and anti-imperialism ideals. They are pro-science and pro-humanism. They are not defined by their disbeliefs.

"I've never found atheism appealing or constructive as a cause. Atheists are not necessarily humanists nor are they necessarily scientific or logical. There are many things I do not believe in. Disbeliefs neither motivate nor inspire.

"Organized religion has more often won followers (at least in Asia and maybe Africa) neither through logical reasoning nor political compulsion but through its pro-social activities (ie., education, food banks, hospitals, child sponsorships, etc). If love or fear of God helps some people to be nice to others, I really don't see any need to be hating.”

These are not my points but I mostly agree with them.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Dreams part 2

It was Valentine’s day when I was in secondary school. For various reasons it was a day that I would remember for a long time.

1. My life had just taken a turn for the better. The previous few months had seen their share of turmoil, but I had only begun to pull myself out of it. I no longer believed in the old, superstitious, dogmatic ways of thinking, and I decided to use my reasoning to help my way out of whatever was troubling me. It would be simplistic to say that it was positive thinking, but it was part of it all. It was as though something had turned on in my head, and I found a way out of the rut that I was in.

Suddenly when I was no longer distracted by my petty troubles I saw more clearly what the situation was. I was in a place with an incredible amount of opportunities. I had my life ahead of me. When you are 15, so many wonderful things await you, so much of life you had yet to live, so much yet to be discovered. You only understand what could have been possible when you are looking back, because you see some possibilities you couldn’t have seen at that time. Yet at that time the world was seemingly a more open place, because there were some possibilities that you couldn’t have known were dead ends.

2. Not very long before that day, I had bought a David Bowie “greatest hits” called ChangesBowie, which had a collage of all his album covers on the cover. Listening to his stuff for the first time nearly blew my mind, although I had to sort through all the wonderful ideas he brought to his music one by one. It hadn’t all sunk in at that point. But there was a song which resonated with me at that point, which was really relevant to my life: Golden Years. "Don't let me hear you say life's getting you nowhere /... look at that sky, life's begun / nights are warm and days are young".

Funnily enough, it was written in 1976: I would later read in his biography that 1976 was his best year artistically (he produced his masterpiece, “Station to Station”) and his worst year in terms of his personal life, when his cocaine addiction was threatening to ruin everything. So there is a bitter edge to those lyrics that I hadn’t fully understood at that time. But that is so typical of a teenager to wholly embrace something new without understand the hidden double edge.

But I think, inwardly he would have recognised something: that in spite of all his problems, he still had that wonderful gift of music. So to call that his golden years is both ironic and unironic. And it is a statement, an acknowledgement, written by a 30 year old person who's seeing the first flush of youth fading away: these are your most exciting and productive years, as well as your most hellish and tumultous years. This is the central paradox of youth.

On that night, I was supposed to have attended a play, but on my way there I stopped by at a newly opened “megastore” and spent some time browsing through the stacks of CDs. OK, the stuff was quite pricey, but they had a greater range that most other music stores at that point in time, even though barely 2 years later, another megastore (Tower Records, now gone) would open and basically kill them. I was looking at the Bowie CDs and seeing the very evocative covers, wondered what other musical treasures awaited therein. I have almost all of his major albums from the 70s now*, and have been rarely disappointed with what I’ve heard.

But this was to be the beginning of a love affair with rock music that would take hold of me over the next few years. 1 year later, I would quit my less happy classical musical education, and my new music teachers would be the cassettes / CDs I bought by scrimping and saving from a schoolboy’s pocket money.

3. Most people, like myself, would in the early years of their adolescence yearn for a life together with a kind, caring and (but of course) sexy girlfriend. Yes, it was any other Valentine’s day, even though it was on a weekend. For some reason I saw people getting out of the MRT, and many of them were walking in pairs, holding roses. It was a secret club that I was eventually to be part of. (I’m still waiting actually). But I imagined that I would find that person, and she would sweep my heart away.

I still retain that optimism. I still think the best is ahead of me. I promised myself that I would not get involved with a woman who wasn’t a wild eyed romantic at heart, who didn’t understand the finer points of the seductive arts, who when I looked at her upon waking up in the morning, didn’t set my heart pumping like crazy. No way was I going to get trapped in a cycle where we just ended up squabbling over the mundane things in life. I was to go out with such a woman, or nobody at all.

After that drama production, I went to a park that was nearer my primary school, which had reminded me of a happier time in the past. There were some couples strolling there. I sat on the bench in the darkness for a while, wondering if something like that would ever take place. It did, once. Much of what happened during that most emotionally intense month of my life, you can draw a line back to the heady daydreams I was having at this point in my life.

If there is at all any hope of my getting attached, I will have to judge that a relationship with that special someone is faithful to these ideals. She doesn’t need to be pretty or stunningly clever, but she needs some sense of what it’s all about.

You realise that none of this would have been possible until I got my head out of my own ass first. That’s why it’s related to point 1.

4. Dreams and God
I realised this: the dreams that you dream are more real than reality. They are the stars by which you orientate your life. What is happening at present can only tell you so much, but what you aspire to, what you dream of, that is the thing that ultimately shapes your destiny.

This is connected to all other things. If you want to believe that life is worth living, that there’s something out there greater than yourself, which you whole heartedly believe in, that gives you reason to live. It is faith, it makes things possible, it heals you, it makes the pain go away. Faith is nothing less and nothing more than the organising principle of your life. God is that by which you govern your life. That’s why God is greater than you are.

Believe that there’s something out there that will make your dreams come true. Believe that there is a heaven above us. Therefore, through the power of dreams, I found God, I started understanding what it means.

But you have to find God in the right places. Your faith must be grounded in something more concrete, there must be something in your life that will buttress your belief in that something wonderful. You have to find that more concrete manifestation. Is it that somebody wonderful in your life? Is it your being part of a great job? Where is your place in this world? How can you hang that carrot in front of you and urge yourself on to keep on going when you’re going to take so many blows in this world?

What is that wonderful elixir of life, that thing that spurs you on? What is that magical mojo? I have described the various parts of it. But that is the way that it is. Even though you laboriously describe small portions of God, you must experience it in its totality.

5. Drama
After all I’ve talked about, the main event of that evening seems to be an anticlimax. It is. It’s the one thing that would play a smaller part compared to the other 4 points. But it was still inspiring all the same, and it still provided me with some of my happier moments.

There were 2 plays that night. One of them was a comedy, a pretty good spoof of Monty Python style. I liked it, but it was the second one that stuck in my mind. That was a play where there were 4 women who were wasting their lives away playing mahjong, because it was an anaesthetic that distracted them away from the heartbreak of their lives. Every woman has problems, but is envious of one of the other woman, who in turn has a problem that the other three do not fully appreciate. A could have been envying B for having a good career, but B’s husband could have been unfaithful behind B’s back – and so on.

My eyes were opened to some of the tricks that were used: the audience, with the eyes of God, knows what is in store for the characters in the play. But the character herself is oblivious to the fate. This was dramatic irony. It was such a wonderfully elegant structure, a quartet of dramatic ironies. And the essence of tragedy: the person is doomed from the start, but you still have to sit there and watch her fate unfold. 2 very useful devices that I would learn for myself and use.

And the author was 16 years old! It was astonishing. There was such tension between the spoken and the unseen. It was gripping. I learnt a lot. My eyes were opened.

2 years later, was the next edition of this drama production. I was to write a play of my own, and it got staged. It wasn’t as great as “Mahjong” but it was the wonderful fulfilment of a promise that I made to myself.

So it was on that wonderful Valentine’s day, more than 15 years ago, that all those threads of my life – the pulling back from the brink, the music, the notions of romantic love, of God, and the theatre stage – all those threads conspicuously got woven into one magical tapestry that is not easily entangled from one another. You could even call it my version of June 16 1904. (All the events that made up James Joyce’s “Ulysses” took place on that one special day). Much of what went through my mind on that day still informs the way I live my life today, even though at various points in my life, I forgot parts of what it was all about. All of the 5 aspects, I had acted upon them at some point or other in my life.

I would say that was the beginning of the idealistic phase of my life, the phase that lasted around 9 years before it ended here. I suppose it is a tad dramatic to say that the end of a relationship produced a change in personality. There were other factors involved. I think that it is quite boring to have the same personality and attitudes throughout your life. I will also say that something might come and shake up your beliefs, and it is entirely your decision, after that, to decide whether you're going to be a more emotional person, or a more rational one. For me, I felt that I had to become less emotional for a while to regain my bearings, and after that, I started work and it just didn't make much sense to be more emotional and less rational. It wasn't as though I was surrounded by artsy people or anything.

* "Man Who Sold the World", "Hunky Dory", "Ziggy Stardust", "Aladdin Sane", "Diamond Dogs", "Station to Station", "Low", "Heroes", Lodger" and "Scary Monsters".


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dreams, part 1

In the last few days when I was still in NUS, I dropped by a dorm where I had spent 1 week as part of a summer camp. It was the year of my Annus Mirabilis, and I vaguely remember the dreams that I had during those hopeful times.

There were reasons why that year was so intense: before that year, everything seemed to be a blur: I was in the phase of growing up where it was more about coping with the added responsibilities, rather than relishing the newfound freedom. Than during that year, suddenly the freedom came into view, and I was suddenly inspired in many ways and in many directions. It was all terribly exciting, but everything came through me so quickly that I hadn’t had time to think very carefully about what I wanted to do with my life. Possibilities cropped up in quick succession, like new features on the landscape from the view of a train.

I’ve changed. I was much more of a romantic in those days. I was much more of a dreamer. Possibly I was more creative. I remember dreading the thought of growing older and “losing my edge”. It’s pretty incredible how much less romantic a dream looks once you have to actually put work into it – it’s as though it’s beautiful for only a short period of time before it loses its luster.

I didn’t go into the dorms to look around. I don’t know what it would be like to step back into a place which I exclusively associated with so many of my youthful dreams. I think that certain periods in my life, when I’m at my most emotionally engaged, also happen to be the times when I was the most sure about what I want for yourself, and what are the things that are going to make me happy. But when reality intrudes, and you’re out there by yourself in the cold, things can look a lot less romantic.

Dreams have to be renewed, and I haven’t really done that either. That’s because dreams need to be formed during a romantic part of your life and I haven’t had a romantic part of my life for more than 10 years. While I’m not the embittered cynic, I’ve become a lot more of a hardened realist. I couldn’t imagine myself doing something so crazy as go to South America or walk down the coast of New Zealand. There’s a great part of the sense of wonder that’s gone. When you get further acquainted with your dreams, they look a lot less romantic, because you realize the hard work that those dreams demand of you.

I can read back on my blog entries, but it just seems that I’ve done a lot of reading – and a lot of those reading is of the “factual knowledge acquisition” type. And not really a lot of the “street knowledge” variety. Which is bad because it doesn’t always translate to concrete achievement.

The other problem is that maybe my dreams weren’t terribly big. I dreamt of putting up a school play, but nothing grander than that. I dreamt of running a marathon, but nothing longer than that. I dreamt of a masters but not a doctorate. (Truth be told, the main reason for this is that I’m too old.) I could have dreamt of being a rock star, but instead I dreamt of being a fan. I could have dreamt of a career where a lot of people reported to me, but instead I dreamt of just being able to play a part in a big project. Unlike a few people around me, I had never dreamt of greatness.

I dreamt of having great creative powers, but never dreamt about how or where they would be used. I dreamt of romance but never dreamt of being a patriarch of a clan. I don’t have a lot of friends, but I neither is it difficult for me to reach out and talk with someone. The years between my bachelors and my masters have not been all unhappy ones, although the earlier parts were. I’ve led a carefree life for much longer than many others. I’ve never worried about being lonely because I have the ability to be alone without being lonely. (Some people say I have a heart of stone). But maybe the problem is that I don’t really dream enough.

Now I’m in “Mexico”. “Mexico” is a beautiful place. I’ve been to other beautiful places, and now I actually get to live in one. I’ve travelled to places which are more beautiful than I could have imagined travelling to. And in certain ways, I’m close to living a life that I had been dreaming about for maybe the last five years. But I’ve had to give up another part of my life for that. And I’ve had to put other dreams on hold in order to achieve that. I sometimes wonder if I’m working hard enough, or moving fast enough.

Because when I’ve become more of a realist, I’m starting to realize that it’s getting harder to love your life, and love the dreams that you have. Everything becomes too forced, too calculated. I end up doing the right thing in the end, and producing the right result, but not really enjoying it. And I’m starting to realize that a lot of this “mid-life” crisis is something that’s more existential and less related to anything that’s concrete and real: your life is probably quite perfect. You won’t have everything you want in life but you went back in time and told your younger self about your life, he would be pretty happy with it. Except – something’s changed, and you cannot enjoy that life as much as your younger self would have enjoyed it.

Part two of this will be a flashback: I had written a piece 4 years ago, about a period of my life more than 20 years ago. Yet while the memory of that period was still relatively vivid back then, much has taken place in my life since, and those memories have suddenly faded over those 4 years.


Saturday, January 05, 2013

Bad Bosses

Remind me to take this particular post down if I should find myself working for one or two of these guys ever again.

There was this guy, he came back from an overseas scholarship with mediocre grades. On the first day, he was scolded for his grades by a really senior boss, and then he was told that he would be working for somebody who had first class honours, and he had better learn something from that first class honours guy (let's call him Mr Head).

As it turned out, there wasn’t much to learn from the first class honours guy, except maybe how well he did for his studies. This guy's job (and also the job of the department he was heading) was broadly speaking to serve as a consultant for an engineering firm. Unfortunately, in spite of all his book smarts, he wasn't really able to do that job well.

The biggest problem for him was that he wasn't really much of an engineer. He came from a consulting background, and it could have been a better fit for him: he basically was not bad at producing glossy looking reports, speaking in language that was simple enough for big bosses to understand, and flattering them with his obsequiousness and his allowing the big bosses to think that they’re smart. In hindsight, the big bosses were not smart. They managed to grow the company to a very large one, but at the same time, they made a few fairly serious mistakes.

Anyway, this department head struggled to impose his authority on the department. Possibly this was due to there being a lot of other people in the place, who – well you would stop short of calling all of them Google level of smartness, but they understood the engineering much better than he did. There was this guy, call him Jesus, who lived a stone’s throw away from Mr Head. And even though he applied for the job directly to Mr Head, later on turned out to be one of Mr Head’s biggest detractors, and probably influenced people to rise up against him. But in truth a lot of people did not need to be persuaded. Rude comics of Mr Head were circulated around the department. Effigies of him were defaced. There was even one time when people started writing a blog about Mr Head, although that didn't last very long.

There were a few things that he tried to do to salvage the situation. One of those things was to go to Palm Tree university for a postgraduate degree, in the hope that he would become a better engineer. Unfortunately the degree that he applied for was one of those fluffy engineering management courses, and it did not benefit him very much. He could have gone for a more rigorous engineering course, but I doubt he would have passed that one.

There were many things he did that did not endear him very much to his people. One of them was always having to need things explained to him twice over before he got it. Another was not being able to raise the profile of the department in the eyes of other bosses. This was impossible because he needed so much help himself, that he was unable to give a good account of himself, or his department, to the other bosses.

Another thing that irritated people was his tendency to speak in platitudes to people. That might have helped him earlier to cover up his ignorance. But it made the more knowledgeable among his colleagues to despise him even more. Yet another thing that irritated people no end was his insistence on having a good looking final product, on style rather than substance. He wasn’t able to be a typical asshole, demanding too much from his workers that they cracked under the pressure. But he did have a bad habit of emailing people questions about work at around the time that they knocked off, thereby ensuring that they would have to stay back an hour or two.

Mr Head was not an unpleasant person to be with. He could be polite and considerate to people. But because of his incompetence, he did a lot more harm than good. By and large, there were people who could have been helped, or given more of a push to help them become better workers, and it was down to their fellow workers or the middle managers to help them if they wanted to. Mr Head did very little to help them. There were people who could have been better workers if they were pushed in the right direction, or if there was somebody clearing the way for them to do good work. You couldn’t count on that to happen. There was this general feeling that he didn’t really care about people who worked for him, whether those were his own guys or contractors. There was an incident when he was working on a joint project with an outside contractor, and he spent more time looking at the contract, tightening the terms and conditions and sealing off loopholes than paying attention to the actual substance of the work.

He did a lot of silly things like banning people from being seen in the canteen during tea breaks. It used to be a standard bonding session, now it was gone. In fact Mr Head did bring the department closer together because everybody got together to bitch about him.

People who left the job left the job for various reasons, but when you asked them, those who left the job a few years ago would invariably cite Mr Head as one of the reasons.

Getting promoted into the department head was the high watermark of his career. Over the years, he suffered such a galling series of indignities that you had to admire him for being brave enough for not walk away. Or maybe he just didn’t feel like telling his family that his current career was not working out. Or maybe his confidence was so shot that he didn’t think he could apply for work elsewhere.

They first split the department into two, making him head of a smaller department. Later on, they brought in another big boss who, in spite of his flaws, and in spite of being more of an engineering guy than a consulting guy, was much more capable than Mr Head. That was the beginning of the end. Eventually, his title was changed from being a “manager” to being a “principal consultant”.

But that department still needed to have a manager, and so they brought in another person from engineering to head that department. And from what I understood, it seemed like a better arrangement because he had lost the power to do harm to the department. Unfortunately, what transpired instead was a leadership vacuum. There was still had good people in that place, but they had gotten used to operating without a strong leader, which was good in the sense that everybody roughly knew his place and sought to carve out their own respective niches. But not so good in the sense that there wasn’t anybody to shape all these talents into something that has a larger coherence, or a larger entity which could make a bigger impact in the organization. The last person who left the department did so not because of Mr Head (not that he wasn’t dissatisfied with Mr Head) but because of deeper problems in the organization that would have existed with or without him.

The people who left the department because of Mr Head found it a little difficult to imagine what the place was like because of how much it had been transformed in the preceding years. But ultimately the problems with the place were more than just Mr Head.

There was this guy who was a successful scientist, and he ran a big lab in – there’s that place again – Palm Tree University. There was this grad student who was rotated into that lab, but he wasn’t going to be there for long, so he could be an observer while hopefully working on good stuff.

The lab was run by a scientist who had largely made a name for himself. He could be nice and affable, but he had a very bad habit, one that was killing all the people that he worked with. He didn’t like to publish.

He had already made a name for himself, and could afford to not publish, and could afford to wait until he came up with something truly remarkable and groundbreaking. There were certain scientists in that lab who were good people, and who had produced some great results. But those results were not published for a few years, which is an eternity when it comes to the cycle of biotech research.

What’s even worse, the lab head had this tremendously bad habit of blabbing about his experiments and unpublished results to other people he had met in other conferences. There was one grad student who produced a significant set of experiments that would probably have been accepted in most journals. However the lab head kept on dragging his feet on publishing the results. What’s even worse, because he told people from rival labs about the results, those other labs went back and replicated those experiments. In the end, the rival labs published the results of those experiments, which meant that the grad student in his lab who originally conceived and did those experiments was not able to claim credit for his discovery.

The lab head had also been rather shoddy on getting people to do the hands on work. There were no lab technicians in the laboratory, and so the grad students had to do all the work in setting up all the equipment themselves. The lab head originally had an assistant who got so fed up with his random temper tantrums that she confronted him one day and said, “look, if you’re going to keep on blowing up at me, you’re not going to get good quality work from me.” Apparently those words had the intended effect, because some people actually saw him in the middle of starting to blow up at her and suddenly change his mind about doing so.

Last I heard, there was a rebellion brewing in the lab. There were people who thought about leaving the laboratory en masse. There were people who had worked in his lab for years without being able to get a publication out. Those people would eventually run out of funding, except that they had no place to go, because without a publication, people were not going to accept them. There was one person who was on the verge of accepting an offer to work in Mexico, and the guys in Mexico were perfectly happy with her working there. Except – they could not explain to their bosses why they were making an offer to somebody who had no publications. So she could not move to Mexico.

Anyway, I don’t know how this rebellion will pan out, or whether it is even possible to do something about a lab head who doesn’t brutally overwork his people, or behave like an outright asshole, but is nevertheless strangling the careers of his underlings to death.