The Burning Man: A geographical analysis of a new-age pilgrimage

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At the top of “6 o’clock”, a main street in Black Rock City, Nevada

The folks at UC Berkeley’s library have just kindly dug out my Geography Undergraduate Honours Thesis from 2002 and scanned it. I had somehow lost every single copy, a depressing combination of hard-drive crashes and absent-minded post-graduation packing.

It was interesting for me to reread it now, both for reminiscence sake and to ponder how my writing has changed over the years.

The Burning Man is a yearly festival in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Dessert that I have now attended thrice: in 2002 when I was walking around with a notebook interviewing people; in 2003, sans notebook, to partake in all the art, joy and partying that I had missed the year before; and in 2009 when my sister, brother-in-law, cousins and very good friend wanted to go for the very first time.

The Burning Man is very close to my heart, partly because of the great art on offer and partly because by living for a week in “the gift economy”, where money can’t buy you anything, one learns to appreciate labour and human interaction outside the mental confines of commerce. (One also learns to appreciate just how long the human body can go without a shower.)

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Singapore’s outdated national security policies

Synopsis

Singapore’s national security policies aresingapore_flag outdated and in dire need of revision. These policies are heavily influenced by the paranoias of the 1960s, when a vulnerability fetish gave rise to a siege mentality amongst Singaporean leaders that persists today. But Singapore’s main security threats now are not other states but non-state actors, specifically pirates and terrorists. Continue reading

football in america

like most of you, i have been glued to the world cup.

following it here, in the US, has been a particularly fascinating experience. Speaking to Americans and listening to American commentators has given me some insights into their thoughts on football, and maybe, life.

americans have an obsessions with stats. at many inopportune moments during a game, ESPN will indulge in a computer graphic that shows some inane statistic – like number of times a team that has gone a goal down before half time has eventually won, number of headers on target in the last 15 minutes or number of blond players to have won a world cup.

the statistic is obviously then used to suggest something about the probability of certain outcomes during the game. sometimes, there is sense behind this. after all, there must be concrete reasons – lethargy on one side, a desperate dash to the death for the other – why so many goals have been scored in the last 15 minutes of play. concrete reasons that are, quite likely, to play out again.

but when pure statistics are used to buttress grandiose statements, things get ridiculous. “The Swiss have the best defence” or “The Spanish are the most impressive team”, two things I heard after the first round.

This obsession with statistics also leads them to carve up the game into 15 minute blocks, or worse still, individual plays. “Sweden lost the game in 12 minutes and 2 plays” after their match with Germany, the commentator then suggesting that they had only been beaten, that they were only inferior, over the course of those 12 minutes. Which, of course, ignores any difference in the way Germany would have played had they not scored those 2 goals early on.

In truth, Germany was by far the better team over 90 minutes. Sweden never had a sniff.

thus, what is to many of us a beautiful 90 minute drama of shifting tides, fiery motivations, unbridled joy and intolerable anguish is summarily reduced to a couple of key events or highlights. sure, every sports highlight show does this, but my point here is that this is the way Americans approach their sport.

I was shocked, disappointed, and then mostly amused, when I was supposed to watch a great game with an American friend, and he casually told me, “Yah, don’t worry, we can go grab some burgers and easily get back with 30 minutes of the game left.”

WHAT?

Besides being a poignant commentary on the American preference for eating over exercise, the point is that the end result and the key incidents are all that matter here. But then again, maybe that is all that’s important. Why do we the rest of the world get so caught up with everything in between?

I also found out why football will never make it big in America. Not enough stoppages for ad time. So not enough money. So not enough interest. The mullah matters too much here, not the beauty of the game.

Finally, a little something on their penchant for irritatingly obvious puns. ESPN came up with numerous catch phrases, like “Swede Sixteen” when Sweden went through to the 2nd round, and “Going, going, Ghana”, when Brazil had almost beaten the Africans. I found it tiresome after a while, but the smart cookies at ESPN will be happy to know that a pandemonium of parrots in bars across America were titilated by these linguistic tricks. Play it again, sam.