Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A quick happy Shrove Tuesday!

Happy Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday! (a few minutes left before midnight here!) Interesting stories about how the name came about (from Br Paul Lew at Contemplata aliis Tradere).

Wishing all of you a blessed Lent!

Clinical Trials: "A nation of guinea pigs"

This reminds me of the story of Constant Gardener... Much as this clinical trial is necessary, it is sad when people sign up for clinical trials driven by economic need:

Patients in Sevagram are poor enough that the benefits of taking part in the study would amount to a health care windfall.

Full article here

Bioethics Forum 2006: Clinical Trials

The next Bioethics Forum on March 8th is going to discuss Clinical Trials. Venue's at NUS Theatrette 1 (inside the Central Library). For more info, check out http://www.bioethicsforum.info.

Pre-Lenten "purge" of old threads

I thought to write this post as a pre-Lent mismash of thoughts and ideas that might need to be put aside for more focused reflection during Lent. But it's harder and harder to write as different threads of ideas came about. There's that little lecture by Feynman, and there are two books by Graham Greene (and working on a third one, The Power and the Glory) . Between them, I got a glimpse of lives which are vastly different from mine, and yet oddly, not so different. I'll try my best not making anyone reading this more confused than I already am :)

Asking hard questions

The 'scientific' training I've had, or not-so-scientific, if one examines Feynman's argument that now is an Unscientific Age, with instant polls & magazine articles expounding breakfast in bed as a key ingredient for happy marriages (based on just 12 couples interviewed!), made me ask these questions over and over again in the course of making daily decisions: "What should I do (now)?"

Feynman says this question can be further examined by asking two questions: "What would happen if I do this?" and "Do I want it to happen?". Science is primarily occupied with answering the first question, and ethics (or morality—or religion for Feynman) needs to answer the second question. Anyone enquiring into science needs to answer both questions in order to make sense of what one's doing. Thus, in response to Feynman's statement that science is quite independent from morality, I'd say, "Yes, science is independent from morality; but this is precisely why science had to be guided by morality when practiced by scientists!"

In today's biomedical scientific research sphere, there's a tension between the 'pro-life' camp and the 'pro-science?' camp over stem cell research. Dr Ignacio Segarra, in his talk during the Bioethics Forum session on stem cell research in early February, pointed out that adult stem cells have been proven successful to treat various diseases while embryonic stem cells (ESC)—which require the death of the embryo, which is basically a really young & small human being—hence the ethical controversy, have not cured a single disease. So much talk on Christopher Reeves being able to walk again had research on ESC been federally funded in the US!

The controversy over ESC research casts dark shadows over scientific integrity. There is that recent fiasco of faked research results by South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, as well as redefining (seemingly at whim!) of scientific axioms, such as the claim that "no genetic materials from rabbit would 'contaminate' blastocysts that result from using rabbit eggs implanted with human nucleus" in research done in a Chinese university, against the understanding that a cell contains genetic materials from both egg donor and the 'nucleus donor'. Researchers redefine terms the way it would serve their interests. What happens to scientific integrity? What happens to accepting that perhaps ESC are too plastic to achieve a simple healing job (instead of metastasizing into cancer)? What happens to exploring an alternative source of stem cells: umbilical cord blood cells? I'm not working in this field, yet the same questions could be applied to our lives: what will happen if I do this? And, do i want that to happen?

Asking such questions in my life made me identify with some of Graham Greene's characters (such as Henry Scobie) who felt that knowledge is damning. No doubt Greene's statement, that only Catholics—blessed (and cursed?) with fullness of revelation—can be damned because of their full knowledge of sin, sounds presumptuous. Yet I wonder whether one would face the question of vocation in life as a non-Catholic. Would you have asked what is God's will for you, if you are not a Christian, or better, an agnostic or an atheist? Would you have agonized over big choices and prayed for illumination during your discernment? Would you accept a lifetime of meaningless existence? Would you experience despair if you do not believe that God is love and Hell is a state of being unloved? Would you look for your station in life if you have not been told that God has designs for every single one of us?

In EWTN's recent episode of the Journey Home, I caught a snippet of conversation between the host and their Irish guest, Dr Gerard Casey, who despite growing in oh-so-Catholic Ireland, left the Church (and returned, thank God!) because he, like many cradle Catholic friends I met, experienced a loss of faith that characterized the "implosion of Cultural Catholicism". I used to marvel at countries which have been traditionally Catholic (like Ireland, Spain & the Philippines) and envied their strong POD culture, but Dr Casey made me realize that faith is not an attribute of culture alone, and not something which one doesn't need to fight to keep. In Cologne last August, one of my volunteer teammates in WYD was a Buddhist, and she had questions naturally about Christianity and the questions she asked were typical of a seeker. To my surprise, I could not easily share with her what thought process made me come to believe and neither could the rest of my team, who were all cradle (and likely, cultural) Catholics, who never question their Faith and look upon Faith as both a gift and part of their heritage. Is it really?

Alright, I'm wading into uncharted waters now... The Catholic Faith for me has influence in 3 areas: the intellect, the attitude and the vocation. Through the Eucharist, we are taught that all Christians are transformed, ideally into the body of Christ Himself. [It] is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me, St Paul wrote. I only paid attention to this teaching recently from a few homilies. A priest often (somewhat rhetorically) asks the congregation how we have been transformed in our own lives. How indeed? In terms of intellect, being Catholic had opened for me more than 2,000 years of philosophy (mostly Western) on the question of God and His relationship to us, that I otherwise would not have known. In terms of attitude, being Catholic made me aware of the need to sanctify the little things in our lives and the love with which we need to do our tasks. Yet in terms of vocation, I have difficulty seeing how inviting Christ into my life has changed it.

I mentioned a change in vocation because, a thief naturally, is not expected to remain in that trade after his conversion... Similarly my current work sometimes dragged me down so low that it made me feel unworthy of being a Christian. Sure, Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that God is found in little things done with love. I have led a very sheltered life that made it possible for me to ask all these questions (instead of being 'out there' and really trying hard to live the faith in spite of daily tribulations). For some of my friends, their vocations are very clear. Everyone has something to do for God, John Paul the Great once said. What if, one is not capable of love in what one does, like me? What should one do if one can see an alternative vocation? I cannot help but to feel pharasaical for thinking that the righteous life cannot be found in the current way and thus must be found another way of living the Faith?

These questions I have had for a few months now... I didn't think writing or thinking further about this crisis in vocation could get them out of my system. Perhaps therein lies the problem, that I do not expect God to suddenly answer them (although He can, and He would in His time if He wills it)! I realize I haven't believed enough and I haven't prayed enough for God's will to happen.

My First Lenten resolution: Pray in earnest for deeper faith, and pray often.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Crazy Eighties Meme

Enbrethiliel's Meme brought back so much memories :) At first, I couldn't recall any shows... and then I found some and then I found more and the memories just flooded in!

So, here are my lists, in no particular order:

Favourite 80's TV Shows:

  1. Airwolf
  2. Macgyver
  3. 21 Jump Street
  4. Doogie Howser, MD
  5. Family Ties
  6. Growing Pains
  7. My Secret Identity
  8. The A-Team

(Note that most of them are from the end of 80's... Private TV stations in Indonesia only came in '89!)

Favourite 80's Movies:
  1. Dead Poet Society
  2. Flashdance
  3. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Ark
  4. Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom
  5. RoboCop
  6. Blade Runner
  7. The Goonies
  8. Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade

Favourite 80's Music:
  1. U2—"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
  2. The Police—"Every Breath You Take"
  3. Debbie Gibson—"Lost In Your Eyes"
  4. Paul McCartney—"Ebony & Ivory"
  5. U2—"With or Without You"
  6. ABBA—"Dancing Queen"
  7. Rick Springfield—"Jessie's Girl"
  8. Crowded House—"Don't Dream It's Over"

(I didn't realize that most of my favorite songs are 80's songs! I always thought my kind of songs are the kind that my parents listen to... 50's & 60's & 70's... :p)

It's been quiet on this part of the world... other than we're raising funds for the Philippines landslide victims. I've been mulling about pre-Lent reflection for awhile now (which explains the quiet front)... will write before Ash Wednesday!

I don't know who to pass this Meme onto... not many regular readers here... Albert? :) Anyone who feels like a true child of the 80's! (And don't forget to write me back your blog link!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Glitch installing SSHD & cron on Cygwin—solved

I've installed SSHD on many many Windoze machines, but this time round I came across a problem starting:
cygrunsrv --start sshd (after ssh-host-config) and
cygrunsrv -I cron -p /usr/sbin/cron -a -D

Google search turned up with similar cases: like these people, I encountered "Win32 error 1062" and missing windows registry values. All in all, it just plain doesn't make sense &8-|

Anyway, after completely removing and reinstalling Cygwin (double-check that it's installed for "All Users" and not "Just for me"), it seems to run fine. I don't normally do a brute force reinstallation on my Linux boxes, but it seems to be the magic solution in Windoze.

Krugle: search engine for codes

I've always wanted something like this... although Google had nearly, mostly satisfied my technical questions (after hours of intensive search & hair-pulling).

Check out their screenshots: http://krugle.net/product/ (still in beta)


A (nearly spam) comment to this post mentioned codefetch.com, an earlier service providing search for codes. I just gave it a try, and was amazed to see 'direct results'! At the risk of sounding like spam, it did seem super-instant, a little too encouraging to copy-paste! Perhaps I've grown accustomed to following thought processes that normally go around a problem thread in a mailing list archive...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Order of Malta—in Singapore

Today's evening Mass at the Cathedral also celebrates the 'Promulgation' (what an archaic word!) of the "Singapore Association of the Order of Malta".

The Apostolic Nuncio and Singapore's archbishop were celebrating the Mass, and 16 (yes, only 16) of Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta were there. I found out about a little about the works of this order dating back to 1070AD from Thomas E Woods' Civilization, but it's somewhat confusing what its current status is. What does it mean to have sovereignty without territory nor citizens?

In any case, seeing the 8-point crosses on their members' capes today brought back happy memories of the World Youth Day 2005, where I didn't see a single Red Cross but the emergency medical personnel & ambulances were instead known as the Maltesers! :)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

New template

I've had the old dark blue template for many years now. In fact I haven't changed this blog's template since I first started it in 2003.

Goodbye to dark gloomy colors... that period of my life is over! I hope no one misses the old look ;)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

St. Valentine's Day

Well.. this 'romantic day of the year' is just over as I'm writing this. I think most Christians know that this feast is in honor of a particular St. Valentine (I'm not sure which one), who died a martyr (probably defending marriage, and if this were true, then this day and age is not the first time marriage is under attack!)

I never thought of myself as a romantic (after all, I've never done special things to celebrate this feast and in most places it is nothing but a commercial event), but today I watched The Notebook, a movie adapted from Nicholas Sparks' novel. Normally I hate sappy movies, but this one caught me by surprise through its beauty. Many times I have read what the Church Fathers wrote about marriage, and the romance between spouses is underplayed (if not downright derided, and today, seen as superficial) in attempt to cast marriage as a dim reflection of the great love story between God and us.

Romance exists in fantasies, I have often heard. Yet for those seeking that 'dim reflection' as a foretaste of the True Union while on our earthly journey, Sparks pointed out here a cause for hope:

"True love exists and there's evidence of it every day. I think people's perceptions about romantic love, however, are similar to people's perceptions about schools for children. It seems that most people feel that the school their child goes to is wonderful, but elsewhere, schools are terrible. But if most people feel that way, then it becomes a logical impossibility. Same thing with romantic love. Many people perceive it in their own lives, but doubt if other people do. And those who don't have it hope that someday, they will."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I think I'm in love...

Last night I just finished reading Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. This is the 2nd book by Greene that I picked up (the first was Brighton Rock—which somehow didn't evoke much from me) and I'm so blown away I think I'm in love... *_*

I'm in love with Greene's characters, and most of all, I'm in love with God, the God that loved unconditionally. His characters started out as the rest of us; selfish beings in quest for happiness which they saw could only be in the realm of the world, but an encounter with Grace in the most unexpected ways left them no other way but to believe Him, and Sarah became a saint in Greene's world.

The questions Greene's characters asked articulated most seekers' questions, doubts, anger at their own helplessness, as well as fear that God might really exist. The struggles and the pain Greene described felt so real and evoked strong memories of our own times of struggle when I could remember being close to 'hating' the Omnipotent being for not fulfiling my wishes (I couldn't bear to write "I H*** G**" here and now; such a profanity the thought has become to me...) Yet perhaps it is because I'm not trapped in a loveless marriage, nor have I had a stormy affair, that I could not believe one could get that angry at life, at God, and so much despair!

Somehow two of Greene's novels I've read so far gave me a sense that the author himself is angry at God, angry that God exists, but his own reason forced him to begrudgingly acknowledge that He exists and finally, like his characters, succumbed to His Grace.


I picked up another one Greene's novels this time; I'm about to read The Heart of the Matter, it's a little too overwhelming to write about it now. I think I may write about them when I'm done with this one.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Feynman: Not quite an atheist?

Since my short trip back home over Lunar New Year, it has been unbelievably busy! I managed to get off work in time to slip into the library yesterday before it closed at 9, and read a little more of Feynman's The Meaning of it All. I've had this book for 7 years now, and it's amazing how much reading I've zipped through and not paid attention to. This book is a compilation of three lectures Feynman gave, and as of this writing, I'm just starting to re-read the 3rd lecture titled "This Unscientific Age". More than anything, these lectures gave insight onto the man himself.

"In case you are beginning to believe some of the things I said [before] are true because I am a scientist and [according to the brochure that you get] I won some awards and so forth, instead of looking at the ideas themselves and judging them directly—in other words, you see, you have some feeling towards authority—I will get rid of that tonight."

Now, if he were alive today, I'd imagine Feynman to be a disarmingly charming old professor whose POV regarding science & religion I don't agree with, but someone who pick his words so clearly, so precisely, so scientifically that you find no tempers would fly because the discussions are so intensely intellectual. Encouraged by his own words, I'm going to explore several ideas he spoke in the earlier lectures and my own responses to them.

The first lecture is titled "The Uncertainty of Science". This is where Feynman said those famous words my friend Albert quoted before:

"Scientists are used to dealing with doubts and uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is uncertain. This experience with doubt and uncertainty is important. ... I believe that to solve any problem that has never been solved before, you have to leave the door to the unknown ajar. You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right."

While as a student I wholeheartedly agree with this statement (and personally attest that doubt is required to practice any good science), I wonder whether one can really go through life with a complete uncertainty in everything (and the effects thereof subscribing to this thinking). Sure we are surrounded by uncertain things: economic trends, natural disasters, difficult choices; but I can go on each day because I know certain things are certain, and one of them is my belief that God is.

In fact, historians and Catholic thinkers would say that the belief in God who systematically made a highly ordered Nature spurred the development of modern science in the Western world into a systematic, sustainable inquiry system. The quest to discover the 'Grand Blueprint' is preceded by the belief that there is a Grand Blueprint.

I might have misread Feynman's intention somewhat when he said that there are different degrees of certainty in science, and that one can never be sure of anything. Feynman described the experience of contemplating the universe as one that is replete with mystery and majesty. One may be forgiven for thinking of him as a deeply religious man from this passage:

"It is a great adventure to contemplate the Universe, beyond man, ... When this objective view is finally attained, the mystery and the majesty of matter are fully appreciated, to then turn the objective eye back on man viewed as matter, to view life as part of this universal mystery of greatest depth, is to sense an experience which is very rare, and very exciting."

See what I mean? ;) I could have been reading an encyclical... from his choice of words!

And he went on to say: "Some will tell me that I have just described a religious experience". Yet Feynman seemed to view institutionalized religion (or the Church, an alternative term which he used interchangeably) as a shallow system of beliefs fit only to regulate morality. (He categorized the influence of religion on three things: the metaphysical, the ethical, and the inspirational; and concluded that since religion is often wrong when it comes to the facts of Nature, it naturally reduced its authority and its power to inspire. However, moral ethics is quite independent from science, he declared). Feynman was also deeply distrustful of absolute beliefs:

"Looking back at the worst times, it always seems that they were times in which there were people who believed with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism in something. And they were so serious in this matter that they insisted that the rest of the world agree with them. And then they would do things that were directly inconsistent with their own beliefs in order to maintain that what they said was true."
Perhaps also, his own experience of religion ('the Church') has been limited to just that, describing a hypothetical young man's journey to the loss of faith:
"The size of universe is very impressive, with us on a tiny particle that whirls around the sun. That's one sun amongst a hundred thousand million suns in this galaxy. Can the rest be just a scaffolding for His creation? ... these scientific views end in awe and mystery, ... but they appear to be so deep and so impressive that the theory that it is all arranged as a stage for God to watch man's struggle for good and evil seems inadequate... the young man's religious experience is of such a kind that he finds the religion of his church inadequate to describe, to encompass that kind of experience. The God of the Church isn't big enough."

For one with such an appreciation for the mystery of Nature and of life, Feynman seemed incredibly pessimistic in the view that we may never reach any Truth. If I were a scientist, pursuit of Truth as a route to the pursuit of God is the ultimate motivation. Along the way, naturally doubt is required in order to 'improve the situation'. However, if one is told that whatever you do it will never make you reach the Truth, why then should I keep pursuing my enquiries? Personally I think Feynman isn't quite the atheist he claimed to be!

A friend of mine, after taking a class on quantum physics, did not quite like Feynman's "school of thought" in theoretical physics (as if there's room for philosophy in science!), saying that it tends to 'break' rather than 'unify', something which I could well understand—given his conviction that the more specific the rule, the more powerful it is. I cannot help but to feel that this path of inquiry he chose is sadly pessimistic; sure his contribution on QED is hugely important, but there is an too much emphasis on matter that the scientific laws Feynman helped discover/formulate are highly specific, and reductionist, though not to an absurd degree as some math axioms I've encountered :p

Look at the time... and this writing only responds to his first and the religious view of his second lecture... I'll continue when I finish re-reading the book.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Journey Home @ EWTN

I'm writing on Feynman as I'm watching Raymond Arroyo being interviewed (for a change) on EWTN's The Journey Home. I heard an amazing story of how a lifelong Catholic found his way into the Church through a fight for the faith after he left home to study in New York.

He also mentioned something else that is in common that I've read from another favorite work, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: gumption. Excellence. Being the best that you can be in your field will somehow help you fulfil (or find & fulfil) your calling. Discernment is a lifelong process that is required in every action we take it seems...

One of the best programs I've seen in a while, one of the best insights today :)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Presentation of the Lord

"My eyes have seen the salvation"

The feast of the Presentation of the Lord always had a special place in my heart; for it is celebrated on my birthday :) It is when looking up this day, February 2nd, that I found out more about this feast which is also a mystery in the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.

"And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord' and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons', in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord". (Luke 2: 22)

This feast always brings to mind two things for me: purification and consecration. The rite of purification of Our Lady who is immaculate, reminds me of our ongoing purification in life; through suffering and prayer (Malachi 3:1-4) until the moment when the Creator sees in us a pure reflection of Himself. This particular mystery has always struck me as POD because it reminds me that Jesus begins His life on earth with a Consecration. His consecration did not happen at a mature age—Mary & Joseph kept God's Law and consecrated the Child—and in fact only Simeon and Anna saw Him for who He is! The message for me this year—I felt—is that now is as good as any time to start consciously consecrating my life.