april fool

I read this Guardian story until the part where we learn that, in the new elections campaign based on Gordon Brown’s bully boy image, the plan is to have the British PM deck David Cameron during a televised debate and send him swiftly to hospital where the reliable and efficient healthcare system under Labour would be showcased.  That got me to think, in quick succession: the British would *not* buy this; and how did Guardian reporters find out about this?; the whole thing’s improbable; something’s wrong here… and then it struck me that it was April Fools’ Day, and I scrolled up the page and sure enough, Olaf Priol had written the piece.

In the earlier parts of the story, I had thought that the campaign idea – that some British folks would be bought over by the idea of having a bully boy PM, and that the politicians would have that notion to tap on this segment – was sad and a sign of the times.  It was only until I thought that something this big would be better hidden that I realised its improbability.

So, instinctively, not only did I not doubt the idea’s authenticity, I did not doubt the idea’s effectiveness.  And the plausibility of the joke, and the way the story ratcheted up its outrageousness factor, got me whooping audibly in delight, at about eight in the morning, while I was having breakfast at my office desk, reading the Guardian online.

P/S.  I also enjoy the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcasts.

PP/S.  I do think the fact that I thought the campaign plausible and possibly effective is quite disturbing.  For Britain or for me, I’m not so sure.

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Another week on national service

The first week of this month saw yours truly again back on reservist training.  As with the last time, it was a productive time for reading – I finished a couple of below-par Nero Wolfe mysteries* (namely If Death Ever Slept and Death of a Dude) and Kathy Reichs’s Death Du Jour**.  (Yes yes, I know that’s a fairly morbid trio of titles.)

I wouldn’t have thought it mattered, but somehow not travelling to work made travel less of a routine, and I began to notice things, and observe, and ponder.  Like, how PSPs have joined MP3 players and multifunctional phones to make our society more crowded and un-connected.  Like, how a woman wearing black wraparound shades sat back, face-up, smiling, in one of the middle seats in a row full of sleeping, rocking zombies, letting the early morning sun play its light on her cheek and nose and cheek.  Like, how an old man, standing half a car away, peered outside with an expression of bland appreciation so intense that I looked in the direction he peered, and there were trees, grown taller and leafier since I last saw them. Like, how our friendship would have changed when my friends come back from their brave journey toward PhD-dom in Arizona and Colorado.  Like, how beneficient one must be to arrange for the wisecracking, foul-mouthed sergeant major taking care of us this reservist to have one of the friends’ name and small, wiry build.  And like, how, at the range, with ear-buds on, the air tinged with the scent of superheated oil from earlier shots, my fist intently pounding at the sandbag so as to nestle my rifle in the resulting depression and tuck it firmly against my shoulder, I begin to hear my own breath pulsing in, pulsing out, and the world begins to confine itself to that moment, and the next, and the next, until the order is given – “Watch your front!” – and the safety is clicked off, and my cheek lines itself along the gun and my eyes narrow and squint and the target appears and my finger pulls the trigger and the moment extends like silk from a spider, until the silk snaps in the wind and the target swings down, and the next appears.

*I’m a huge fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series.  For a long period, I would re-read his books before sleeping – the world of 1950s New York, Wolfe’s brownstone house, his idiosyncracies and his wisecracking sidekick Archie Goodwin (who’s a protagonist in these stories in the most un-Watson way) form a restful comfort zone.  These two books were disappointing in that the murderer could have been any of the suspects in either book, and essentially both Wolfe and Archie spend most of the book not solving the murder, but the pleasure of spending time with the two characters was worth the reading time, at least.

**My colleague and I had gone to New Zealand on work with another colleague last year, and we had discovered that we shared a liking for reading during the trip.  After we returned, we exchanged books: I passed her Poppy Z Brite‘s Liquor [click through to read Chapter 1, in pdf form], and she passed me the abovementioned Death Du Jour, and after nearly a year, I finally got to finishing it.  I really didn’t like it very much – I didn’t care for any of the characters – but the author’s web site is so good-naturedly friendly that I think I will give her another try.

RSS-ing

I use Google Reader to subscribe to many blogs.  I’m still amazed that there exists this technology to essentially get sent new articles from so many different sources. 

Recently, I came across PC Magazine‘s article on its writers’ 100 favourite blogs, and added more than a few of them to my list of subscriptions.  You may want to take a look at the PC Magazine list too – lots of good stuff there.  I especially liked these two:

Aurgasm – A “music discovery blog” that introduces readers to musicians and their music, with free MP3 downloads for sampling.  I’ve subscribed to the web site for only a few days, and already, I’ve been introduced to my new favourite instrumentalist – Julia Kent, a cellist.  “Dorval”, one of her pieces, reminds me of a whale song, with a sense of whimsy, in a vast echo-y space ripe for exploration.

Drawn! – This bills itself as “the illustration & cartooning blog”.  Again, I’ve been a subscriber for only a few days, and already it’s been worth it: A reference to a recent graphic short story competition organised by the Observer led me to this blog entry with links to many of the competition entries. 

Two ideas

A couple of ideas I thought might be applied in some way in our little island home. (As far as I know, they haven’t already been.) Let me know what you think :)

Evaluate charities and publish findings on a web site, like Charity Navigator does.

In its own words, this organisation, “America’s premier independent charity evaluator”, “works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America’s largest charities”. In rating charities, Charity Navigator looks at two broad areas:

1. Organisational efficiency (programme expenses, administrative expenses, fundraising expenses, fundraising efficiency etc.)

2. Organisational capacity (primary revenue growth, programme expenses growth, working capital ratio etc.)

(See a fuller picture of Charity Navigator’s method here.)

If applied on a somewhat smaller scale in Singapore, this may work together with the recent beefed-up governance rules to improve the confidence of donors and volunteers.

Provide for microfinancing for studies and healthcare, through alumni associations and the like.

I find the Kiva web site among the most illustrative of the idea of microfinancing. You can see businesses in need of financing, and how much the businesses need, and how much they have raised, and if enough has been raised, how they are doing.

To me, the power of microfinancing comes from being able to have a personal relationship with one’s loanee.  This has been exploited in a way by many charities – one can sponsor children in need, or a dialysis patient.  However, the transaction in this case is not a donation, but a loan, i.e. repayment is expected, and the loan is typically used as a seed for some moneymaking endeavour.  To make money, one needs to work, and to work, one needs skills and health.  In this sense, microfinancing for studies and healthcare (e.g. operations) may be feasible.  One problem is, of course, how the loan could be guaranteed, so to speak.