Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Diplomacy 101.

Following from yesterday's blog entry, and the reference I made to what diplomats really mean when they say "No", there is actually an old joke:

When a diplomat says "Yes", he means "Maybe".
When he says "Maybe", he means "No".
When he says "No", he's no diplomat.

Ah, but that joke originated in the West. Here's one Westerner's tongue-in-cheek definition of diplomacy:

Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock -- Will Rogers (American humourist, 1879-1935).

Anyway, here are some definitions of what a diplomat is:

A Diplomat is a person who...

knows what to say but doesn't always say what he knows.

tries to settle problems created by other diplomats.

can always make himself misunderstood.

can juggle a hot potato long enough for it to become a cold issue.

can keep his shirt on while getting something off his chest.

can make nothing sound like something.

can put his best foot forward when he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

can put his foot down without stepping on someone's toes.

can say the nastiest things in the nicest way.

can tell a man he's open-minded when he means that man has a hole in his head.

can tell you to go to hell so tactfully that you look forward to the trip.

comes right out and says what he thinks when he agrees with you.

has a straightforward way of dodging issues.

knows how far to go before he goes too far.

lets you do all the talking while he gets what he wants.

puts his cards on the table, but still has some up each sleeve.

straddles an issue whenever he isn't dodging one.

will approach every question with an open mouth.

... and will lay down your life for his country.


Here are examples of two real diplomats "in action". One seems to have a "foot-in-mouth" disease and the other is a smooth talker who, if you read his words carefully, has said nothing really:

That's why I wonder what diplomats really mean when, coming out of a tension-filled meeting, they still smile for the cameras and jointly proclaim that they had a "fruitful discussion". I suspect there were platters of fruits on the table, and that they had partaken of the fruits.

Likewise, for this one...

... I think there's a missing "e". So the above should actually read:

                               DIPLOMATS HAVE 'CANDI(E)D EXCHANGE' 

ie, they exchanged candied sweets!

Finally, I believe diplomats do try not to lie. One, who has not been seen for a while, might say: I HAVE BEEN ABROAD.

Another might say almost the same thing, but very quickly: IHAVEBEENTOABROAD.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In politics, can a 'no' mean 'maybe'? Maybe not today but tomorrow?

It looks like the Chinese have said "no" to a summit with Japan (ST and Reuters, below). But in Asia, "no" can sometimes mean "maybe"...


China rules out Sino-Japanese summit: state media

Experts say the main sticking point to a Sino-Japanese summit is whether the two sides can find a way to set aside the row and focus on other aspects of relations between the world's second- and third-biggest economies.

China wants Japan first to acknowledge that a formal dispute exists, a step that Tokyo has rejected for fear it would undermine its claim to sovereignty of the isles, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, the experts said.


Some analysts have started wondering if there's more than meets the eye in the Japanese initiative:

America's 'Hidden Hand' in the Proposed Abe-Xi Summit


It has been said that "politics is the art of the possible". Politics is also about who gets what, when, how. Being the "top dog" matters too:

So, politics exists when at least two people, two communities, two organisations, two countries, etc, interact. Coming back to China and Japan, the Chinese leaders know that sometimes it takes a "hardliner" from the other side to break an impasse (think Nixon and ping-pong diplomacy). Abe is as good as it gets for now. For the Japanese, China is ultimately the immovable (ie geographically permanent) neighbour next door (while it has not happened yet, one of Toyko's nightmares must surely be: "When someone asks you that nicely, how can you refuse?"). Economic benefits from mutual cooperation beckons. Japan also has to worry about its future relevance if it stays on its present course.


On the issue of relevance in the dynamic ebb and flow of international politics, Liu Yi, a Chinese artist now living in Canada, titled one of his works "Beijing 2008". Try to visualise how the painting looks like from this (aurhor unidentified) textual interpretation of the work:

The work, titled “Beijing 2008”, depicts four young women playing Mahjong.

The woman with the tattoos on her back is China. On her left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. Across from China, the one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is America. Lying on the floor is Russia. And the girl standing on the right is Taiwan.

Of China’s visible set of tiles “East Wind” has a dual meaning. First, it signifies China’s revival as a world power. Secondly, it signifies the military might and weaponry that China possesses and has already been placed on the table.

On one hand, China appears to be in a good position, though we cannot see the rest of her tiles. Additionally, she is also handling some hidden tiles below the table, behind her foot.

Russia appears to be uninterested in the game, but this is far from the truth. One foot hooks coyly at America, while her hand passes a hidden tile to China. Both countries can be said to be exchanging benefits in secret. Japan is concentrating on her tiles, oblivious to the actions of the others in her focused (self-absorbed?) state.

Taiwan wears a traditional red slip, symbolizing that she is the true heir of Chinese culture and civilization. In one hand, she has a bowl of fruit, and in the other, a paring knife. Her expression as she stares at China contains anger, sadness, and hatred. And perhaps frustration that she cannot play the game. No matter who ends up the victor, she is consigned to serving fruit.

Outside, the riverbank is darkened by storm clouds, suggesting the tension between the nations is dangerously explosive. The painting hanging on the wall depicts Mao’s face, but with Chiang Kai Shek’s bald head, and Sun Yat-Sen’s mustache.

The four women’s state of undress represent the geopolitical situation in each country relative to the others. China is naked on top, clothed with a skirt and underwear on the bottom. America wears a bra and a light jacket, but is naked on the bottom. Russia has only her underwear. Japan is naked.

At first glance, America appears to be well composed and seems to be a good position, as all the others are in various states of nakedness. However, while America may look radiant, her vulnerability has already been exposed. China and Russia may look naked, yet their key private parts remain hidden.

Assuming the play of the game requires that the loser of each hand removes pieces of clothing, if China loses, she will be in the same state as Russia (similar to when the USSR dissolved). If America loses, she will also be in the same state as Russia.

If Russia loses, she loses all that is left. Russia acts as if uninterested and unengaged, but in passing tiles to China, it is establishing a secret alliance. Japan has already lost everything, and will be out of the game if she loses again.

America may look well-positioned, but is in much danger. If she loses this round, she will give up her position as THE world power. Russia is playing both sides, much like what China once did -- leaning towards the USSR and then towards America; as she did not have the ability to survive on her own, she had to weave between both sides in order to survive and develop.

There are too many of China’s tiles that we cannot see. Perhaps suggesting that China has several hidden aces.

America appears confident, and is glancing at Taiwan, perhaps trying to read something in Taiwan’s face. Perhaps she sees what's going on between Russia and China.

Taiwan stares coldly at the game, longing to participate but constrained only to observe. She sees everything that the players are doing, and understands the shifting alliances. But she does not have the means or permission to join the game; she isn’t even given the right to speak. Even if she has a dearth of complaints, she cannot voice it to anyone; all she can do is to be a good page girl, and bring fresh fruit to the victor.

The positions of power are with China and America. But, while America appears dominant, the women are, after all, playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker. In the end, playing by the rules of China’s game, how much chance at victory does America really have?


Here's the intriguing artwork itself, from a blog titled The Enigma Chronicle:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Go for it, S'pore, get 'em to meet here!

The intriguing news is that Japan has put out secret feelers to China for their leaders (or their foreign ministers) to meet, and that Beijing has not rejected outright Tokyo's overtures:


From the reports above, assuming the summit does eventually take place, Singapore should offer itself as the venue. We should be the Vienna of the East! We were the venue for high-level talks in 1993 between China and Taiwan after both sides had put out feelers to each other (the so-called "1992 Consensus").

More recently, US Vice President Joseph Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe happened to "bump" into each other in Singapore. Yeah, right:

If the meeting was unplanned and spontaneous, how come those flags were so readily at hand?...

So, as the Nike ad says, "(Singapore should) Just Do It!"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Headlining headlines...

There is an element of the Goldilocks effect in headline writing. Getting them "right" is easier said than done. Space constraint requires brevity; the choice of an idiom may backfire; accuracy is paramount yet a bland and boring headline may result while too catchy a headline risks inaccuracy and, worse, that dreaded blowback -- the double entendre.

I'll start with some headlines that I feel have worked:

This one above is especially very good: it is accurate yet provocative!

I like this clever grafting-in of a Beatles hit song in this headline above. It also gives me an excuse to put the YouTube link to the song below:


These headlines do not work:

The subject in question is the athelete Tyson Gay...

... so, to avoid an unintended meaning from a casual glance, his full name should be used in the headline, ie, Tyson Gay fails another... (the word "positive" may be excised to fit the space given).

Wot? Both of mine are securely in place, thank you! This word, in its plural form, is the source of mirth when used in, say, signs like these:

I nearly missed this next headline. Someone sent it to me:

So -- if you did not bother to read the story -- you might be wondering what kind of plane did those two guys steal? An Airbus or a Boeing? As for this one below...

Did the monkeys have a death wish? Why did they complain only to get culled? A simple change of words makes a difference:

Monkey nuisance cases
up, so culling rises too

At first glance, the headline below seems unambiguous. But is it?...

It can also mean "expect the fish to be less fresh", ie, more stale!


There's another kind of headline which is accurate and I would probably write such headlines too. But, being a literalitist, I can see them in a fun, different, light:

Ah, so that's what a paternity suit looks like. In my favourite colour too.

Translation: From now on, he's walking (this works only if we adopt the American spelling, ie, tires, not tyres).


Some headlines make me curious, like this one:

Just what is a hoodoo? I had to consult an online dictionary:

Three meanings were given, and I suppose the third one -- "something that brings bad luck" -- is the appropriate one. But you will be left clueless reading the story. And hoodoos did not originate in Hungary!

And just what is a sextortionist? Is such a person someone who is a contortionist during sex?...


Ending on a Weird note:

Finally, this one here is not about headlines but xin.msn's weird sense of humour in its story on US Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife's visit to Singapore's National Orchid Garden:

Why was it put in the Weird category?? Just because an orchid was named after them?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Be careful how and when you text those words...

Our Canadian friends Ken and Susan sent this recently:

A group of women were at a seminar on "How to live in a loving relationship with your husband". The women were asked, "How many of you love your husband?" All the women raised their hands.

Then they were asked, "When was the last time you told your husband you loved him?" Some women answered today, some yesterday, some couldn't remember.

The women were then told to take out their cell phones and text their husband: "I love you, sweetheart." The women were then told to exchange phones with the person next to them and to read aloud the text message responses.

Here are some of the replies:
1. Who is this?
2. Eh, mother of my children, are you sick?
3. I love you too.
4. What now? Did you crash the car again?
5. I don't understand what you mean?
6. What did you do now?
7. ???
8. Don't beat around the bush, just tell me how much you need?
9. Am I dreaming?
10. If you don't tell me who this message is actually for, someone will die.
11. I thought we agreed we would not drink during the day.
12. Your mother is coming to stay, isn't she?

And from an old email, I found this:

Romantic SMS
   She sends the following message:
My love if you're sleeping, send me your dreams
If you're smiling, send me your smile
If you're crying, send me your tears
I love you
He replies: I'm in the toilet. What do I send?


To end on a more romantic note, here's a song first released in 1949, before I was born -- Johnny Tillotson's (1962) "Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On":

Friday, July 26, 2013

Weekend awards...

Ah, the start of the weekend. Time to hand out some awards. The brickbats first:

The Golden Toothpick Award

Thanks to this man (who is also a Cabinet Minister), restaurants may now be hiding their toothpicks. I was at one eatery for dinner tonight, and I could not find any toothpicks!

The 'Consigned to the Dustbin of History' Award

I know there's a lot of rah-rah about things Brit, thanks to the excitement over a certain Royal newborn. But why adorn a pedal bin -- a receptacle for rubbish -- with the Union Jack, a symbol of emotional attachment to one's country? Haven't they heard of the expression "consigned to the dustbin of history"? Here are two quotes that use the expression; one is Leon Trotsky, who coined it; the other is Ronald Reagan:  

The 'Don't Take This To The Airport' Award

The 'It's Not 2014 Yet!' Award (No 1)

There's still five full months to go, and you want to foist a 2014 model on us now?

The 'It's Not 2014 Yet!' Award (No 2)

Ditto for this one.

The 'Pseudo Headline' Award

In case anyone is still wondering why this headline got an award, read the story's intro carefully:


Now for the bouquets. Since I gave out brickbat awards to two car makers above, these two below deserve a pat on the back for sticking with 2013 in their ads:

The 'Yes, It's Still 2013!' Award (No 1)

The 'Yes, It's Still 2013!' Award (No 2)

  The Most Beautiful Aeroplane Award

Ain't she a beaut! And she and her sisters will be strutting their stuff at the Singapore Airshow 2014 (February). See this story:

The Great Graphics Award

I thought ST did a fantastic job to showcase the Zoo's 40th birthday, with a series of very nice cartoons too. It appeared on Monday, July 22, pages B6 and B7.

The 'What Every Airport Should Have' Award

And finally...

Best 'University Commencement Speech By A Professor' Award

Click on the YouTube link above. You'll love it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A word to make you blur like sotong/And a feeling of being flushed with excitement...

One of the two major local stories today (July 25) is this one (ST and TODAY's headlines respectively):

The man, Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong, was charged in court the day before (July 24). ST's story also said: "The CPIB said in a statement yesterday that Yeo's ruse was uncovered on Sept 14 last year. He was suspended from duty and interdicted the next day." [A whistle-blower is believed to have tipped off the CPIB.]

TODAY's report said: Yeo "was interdicted on Sept 15 last year, a day after the CPIB first discovered signs of alleged wrongdoing and had conducted preliminary investigations". [TODAY also said someone was believed to have blown the whistle on Yeo.]

But I wondered if ordinary readers understood what the heck "interdicted" was! So I polled 10 people, all well educated. Some thought it was a synonym for "indicted" (ie charged in court). But, no, I replied, Yeo was formally charged on July 24. One vehemently insisted there was no such word. Another said "imprisoned, sentenced or buried". A few were clueless. One came close: "...suspended from duty and placed under arrest the next day". Nope, not arrested yet.

Nick got it though, in a manner of speaking: "He was told not to come to work and next day kena tangkap (got caught out)."

Only Tom -- a veteran journalist -- gave this spot-on SMS answer: "From old subbing days I understood this to mean first u suspend the guy... not allowed to come to work. Then we officially n explicitly state that u will henceforth not continue in your job duties as (whatever the job) becos blah blah."

Well put, Tom. So, in plain English, "interdicted" means -- in the context of this story (there are other meanings) -- "officially relieved of one's duties". And, clearly, you don't interdict a gardener. You throw that word at a high official.

Now why can't the two newspapers use plain English in such an important story. If my very small sample size was an accurate gauge, four in five readers were clueless about that word.


 Now for the other story that made the news big time...

 How did it happen? TODAY gave a vivid account:

I think people should not snigger. It is laudable. Just read this infobox from ST's story:

Notice that, untypically, I had not made any wisecracks so far. Well, I'll drink a toast to World Toilet Day come Nov 19 but I'll make sure it's not from this source even if PUB claims that all our water supply is potable...

Still, in China, things could get worse than the toilet water, like soft drinks...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's skool, mummy, and other spellbound issues...

I wonder why foreign property developers keep targeting Singaporeans as potential buyers. Their ads appear everyday! This one below hawks a new condo project in Phuket...

Some are written in a strange form of English...

Last seen miracle? (And notice that not a few of the ads make reference to Sentosa ie if you are not in the uber-rich class, you can still own a Sentosa-like property elsewhere.)


Unfortunately, there are also badly worded local (non-property) ads, like these two...

World's most awarded airport? World's most awarded airline? What kind of grandfather's English is that?

Meanwhile, our spelling is based on the British variant, so why this?...

SBF, the organisation in question, is local, not a foreign one. So, why "Center" and not "Centre"? Also, just what is "The Altitude of Success"?

And I don't get the idea behind misspellings like this...

Mummy: Johnny, how do you spell S-C-H-O-O-L?
Johnny: It's S-K-O-O-L, mummy. Why are you such a dummy? Can't you see the sign outside my kindie?

Hopefully, Singapore's standard of English won't deteriorate to that of the unidentified country here:


Finally, National Day is approaching -- Singapore will be 48 years old! -- and I must  bring out (if I can find them) the car wing-mirror flags I bought last year:

On the subject of the national flag, there was this ST reader's poser:

I thought the reader was right, until SIA replied:

Ah so. Now we know!