Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alien life

I read the December issue of National Geographic and was quite interested in the article New Earth. We have been hearing theories and stories about life outside earth. We have the Drake Equation to show the very high probability of life in other parts of the universe. We also have SETI searching for many years for signs of intelligence from outer space. But we have no definite proof at present. This article shows the latest development of the search in the discovery of planets in other star systems. The latest count of exo-planets identified is 373. The most promising ones are the four planets found in the Gliese system orbiting a star just some 20 light-years away, including the newly found Gliese 581 e below which is a rocky place just twice Earth's mass, and 581 d, which could harbor liquid water.

(Gliese 581 e)

About the same time, just in November, there was news that the Vatican joined the search for alien life at a conference of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The conference under the title Astrobiology was held at Casina Pio IV in Vatican City below. In short, the subject Astrobiology is about alien life. In a week long conference, many scientists were invited to speak on various subjects about life on earth and outside earth including early life on earth, evolution of earth, life on Mars, other solar system and exo-planets. Those interested may read the programme and the abstracts of the papers presented at the conference. They are very informative.

(Casina Pio IV)

In the past, the Christian church rejected any scientific theories which did not conform to the biblical text, or bureaucratic and indoctrinated interpretation of the biblical text. Many scholars were persecuted or burnt to death. But this did not stop the truth of science from spreading. Myths were broken one after the other. Among scientific discoveries, the most important one against religious doctrines is the origin of life, and that the condition of which is not unique to earth. The church has learned the lesson and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences under the direction of the pope was established in 1936. Its original aim was to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of related epistemological problems. In recent years, it could not escape the ultimate question of the origin of life.

The subject of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences holding a conference on Astrobiology attracted some attention in the press. Both the Telegraph and the Independent reported the news. They were surprised at the move and considered that the Vatican had joined the search for alien life, which would have significant impact on the Catholic Church and religion as a whole.

That the Vatican held a conference with scientists in the form of a study week on astrobiology reveals the fact that the subject has come to a point which cannot be simply brushed aside. Modern science has discovered that the conditions for life on earth are so simple that it should be found anywhere. The science of evolution shows that life evolved from simple organic molecules to a mammal with self-reflective cognition. The Big Bang theory shows that the present universe was born 13.7 billion years ago instead of 8000 years stated in the bible. The impact on religion is already very hard. Life if found in another world could be the last straw. The Vatican is wise in preparing herself in advance.

A conclusion emerged from the conference is that life found outside earth could still be considered as created by god. This may only cover up part of the religion delusion. I think alien life has two levels of implication. Most likely, evidence of life or traces of life or life in primitive form may be found in other worlds in the near future. This means life on earth is not unique and we are not the only creation by god. Vatican is preparing the statement that god is almighty in that he could create anything anywhere. This could ease the mind of some of the faithful although creationism has to be rewritten to include a broader definition.

The other level is that alien life could be intelligent. We could find another "human" race in other planets. I am not talking about the scientific scenario of alien life, but the theological or philosophical aspect of such discovery. We may not be the chosen people after all. When asked by the press, the line-to-take of the Vatican was that men found in other planets could be our brothers, similarly created by god. When asked about their religion, the answer was that they might also need redemption. The scientists were more worried. They thought the threat to Christianity was being downplayed and that the notion of a second genesis would have enormous spiritual significance. Some simple questions: Was there a Garden of Eden there? Do they also have the original sin? When they die, will they go to heaven or hell? Was there a Jesus and did he also sacrifice for them? Would Trinity become Multinity?

I have even greater worry about the intelligent alien life. They could be much more intelligent and advanced than us. In that case, there is an additional layer of beings between men and god. This layer used to be wrongly occupied by angels and saints who are thought to be half gods with superior power. Such higher civilization could overwhelm us like the overman. Just like Nietzsche said: "What is the ape to man? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman." A rabbit looks at the man who feeds it as god, and a man could look at the overman as god. Now that the overman is just another living thing, that could be the ultimate fate for religion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The confession of a Facebook scam maker

Everyone is social networking. Privacy is dead. Social media are the information jungle where personal data are rife and threats are real. I always advocate: be open and enjoy the transparent information environment, but be careful out there. It is very important to know the risk. So it is really a surprise when I read an article in Techcrunch written by an ex-Facebook scam maker giving first hand information on the technique he used to trick people. You may read the full article yourself.

Dennis Yu is the CEO of Blitzlocal, a web advertising agency. Before that, he did a lot of work on Facebook advertising which were mainly spams and scams. In June 2007, Facebook opened up their application developer platform so that anyone could build games on top of the social network. Users could share quizzes, race cars, grow vegetables, and so forth, all with a click of a button. Users in one click gave the game permission to access their profile data. By having access to user data, game developers could make their games more interesting.

Facebook had not considered what was possible when the game developer passed on user names, profile pictures, and personal details on to an advertiser. The result was that advertisements thus created looked like they were from Facebook, with the same blue button, white background, and the same font. Also, your profile picture, your name and that of your friends, were put in the advertisement. By early 2008, the platform was generating 400 million impressions a day, as people poked, bit, slapped, kissed, and drop-kicked each other on Facebook.

You may think that all such advertisements are just trying to sell something online, like flowers on Valentine's Day or automobile insurance. However, Dennis Yu did a research and realised that people on Facebook were not interested in shopping. The advertisements were just trying to optimize online traffic. They just tried to trick people into doing the following things. First, click and access a website which could be malicious. Second, download something like a toolbar or interesting things which could also be malicious. Third, give up their email address, or even their phone number.

We are always asked to be careful in opening suspicious links. In Facebook, you should also be careful about familiar links. Because user profiles, photos and lists of friends are commonly available to the advertisers and scam makers, messages from friends should be viewed with caution. These messages may directly address you in the name of your friend with their photo in it, just like the everyday Facebook messages or writings on your wall. Of course this does not simply mean that you should lose trust with everyone. Just be careful if you find your friends suddenly doing something unusual. If in doubt, send them a message to confirm before clicking on something.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Privacy is dead

I have been paying much attention to the topic of personal data privacy, not because I am a defender of privacy but because it is an important human resource management issue. In a modern society where survival depends on the services of others, it is necessary to interact with others and provide them with your personal information. However, there are risks associated with such interaction and we sometimes hear horror stories on personal data being in the wrong hands. In human resource management, there is always a flow of personal data from employees to employers. The line is whether an employee voluntarily gives out personal data, and that he should be aware of what personal data are being collected.

So it is quite refreshing to read in CNN an article by Pete Cashmore that privacy is dead. If you are interested, you may read his full article. According to Cashmore, who is an expert on social networking and media, there is no more such thing as privacy in today's wired world. The culprit is social media which have become so widely used and popular that they have encouraged lives to be lived in public.

People need other people to know them in order to be successful. In the old days, people gave out name cards advertising their personal information. Many successful people have their biographical data published. In the government, senior officers have their biography ready to be distributed to the media. Such information include personal data such as academic background, work experience, achievements, age, birthday and even family particulars. In today's world much of such information are distributed through social media. The mindset has changed. You can find valuable audience for your work in social networking. Without which, you are not even on the radar. Such phenomenon is now widely seen in many professions. Those who broadcast themselves well online will be more connected and influential. In fact, the popularity and success of a person can even be measured by the number of clicks and hyperlinks to their personal information, just like the way the search engines prioritize the search results.

The smoking gun for this trend is of course the social media and the way they treat the personal information. Cashmore raised the following several examples on the on-going development.

Flickr, the photo-sharing site, is a fore-runner. It makes all the photo uploads public by default. With good customer acceptance, the choice now seems obvious. What is the value of photos if they are not to be seen by others?

Twitter also makes its updates public by default. Its private accounts are rare. Cashmore remarked that Twitter's fire-hose of updates is becoming an invaluable stream of the world's consciousness. Twitter updates have just been licensed to both Microsoft and Google to bolster their search efforts.

Facebook, which has a model of private sharing among close friends, is now pushing an "everyone" button that makes your updates public.

Foursquare is a location-based service. Using your phone and GPS technology, it can post an update from your phone every time you "check in" to a restaurant or bar. Such broadcasting of your location will increase your chance of business and friend connections. In this connected era, a private life is a lonely one.

Fitbit offers a clip-on pedometer to be worn day and night, logging your exercise and sleep patterns and sending the data wirelessly to the Fitbit website. This data can then be shared with your doctors, friends and family.

SenseCam is a web camera worn on a cord around the neck, and capture an image every 30 seconds. The technology has been licensed to Oxford-based Vicon, which will produce a version for Alzheimer's and dementia researchers by the year's end and a consumer version in 2010. Just imagine having your entire life, not just some personal data, captured and stored, and the possibility of it being shared.

People read 1984 and are appalled at the possibility of the state controlling all personal information. This is already true in many areas, and the trend is that more personal information are being collected, stored and used, not just going public. I see a scenario that as the global intelligence integrates, personal information will inevitably be shared. It will only get better connected and interacted. The fear of 1984 is not that personal information are being made known to others, in particular the state. It is actually the fear of loss of personal freedom with the assumption that the state will condition and control all minds. However, take the simple Facebook as an example, even if personal information are shared among a group, it does not mean we are obliged to do what Facebook asks. There could still be freedom of individual minds under a transparent information environment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


幾年前發生過數宗網上銀行失竊事件,銀行界極度恐慌,認為網上保安有嚴重問題。當時大家都 對互聯網私隱有疑慮,認為一切措施都有漏洞;其實大部份情況是用者不小心將私隱洩露,或是其所用密碼被輕易猜到。但銀行網上保安因此回歸石器時代,人人要攜帶一個密碼產生器 Token。其理論是網上密碼是你所知道的網上保密方法,而 Token 卻是你手持的保密器具;因兩者並不互通,網上竊匪不容易兩者皆得到。Token 一事越攪越複雜,超越擾民的程度。這個情況我在2005年時已預料,請看看我幾年前寫的博文

究竟 Token 令人討厭到什麼程度?可以看看下面我的一部份 Token。要找出那一個是正確的 Token來用已經是一件麻煩事。


不久之前,神話終於破滅。新聞報導有網上竊匪可以截取 Token的密碼而犯案。原來人人攜帶的 Token並不完全安全;銀行用了不少資源去購買、分發、保養 Token,又要提升電腦程式去處理 Token密碼,全體客戶都要攜帶 Token;一切功夫原來都是白費。我幾個月前寫過一篇博文評論這事件,提醒大家要小心。

好消息終於來了。經多番投訴和解釋,銀行終於清醒,知道 Token對客戶造成滋擾和有保安假象。有銀行剛推出新的保安方法,可以不再使用 Token。其方法是使用第二密碼,而這個第二密碼並不需要客戶全部輸入,只是隨機輸入密碼的某幾個位置。這個方法可以避免一些木馬程式截取完整的密碼數據,比使用 Token方便而有效得多。銀行更加入數條保安問答題,由客戶自訂答案,以便在有懷疑的情況時再加強核實程序。雖然這仍然不是一個萬無一失的保安方法,但比對起 Token已是一大德政。希望這些新保安方法可以很快被廣泛接納,Token從此成為歷史。

Monday, October 12, 2009



Sunday, October 4, 2009

What is a global brain?

The Global Brain Awakens by Peter Russell
What is a global brain?

Following the explanation of the possible evolution path, Peter Russel speculates on our ability to evolve to a higher level. From a philosophical standpoint, he looks into the issue of self, which is a major subject for any philosopher. Our self as we see it, is mainly a skin-encapsulated ego. This is an essential concept as every human being is an individual entity. We see the world as activities interacting between ourselves and the outside world. This is the source of human survival as well as a problem as it is the root of much of the thoughts on self-interest, personal well being, both materially and spiritually. It creates a conflicting situation between oneself and everything else. I read in another article that this "I-ness" was considered the source of human evil. In fact, it is a necessary and natural characteristic for every human being to remain as an individual.

Throughout human history, there were instances where spiritual leaders spoke of the pure self. There are many theories, both philosophical and spiritual, that besides the skin-encapsulated ego, there is a pure self within everyone. However, this pure self is not the dominating reality of oneself because we are heavily affected by the interacting activities between ourself and the outside world in a conflicting situation. We are always trying to get what we need and want from the outside world, while defending ourselves from the intrusion of the outside world to our self-interest. To get to the pure self, one need to put aside the thoughts of everything of the material world. In fact, from a broad-based research, there were many cases where a person claimed that he suddenly saw the pure self. The general description has something in common: they all felt an unity between themselves and the whole world, or even the universe.

Peter Russel practices transcendental meditation TM. This is the main stream meditation method which is very popular and has it roots from India. He says that TM is one of many ways which could help people calm down, get rid of all thoughts, and find the pure self, even for a brief moment. He proposes that such ability to know the pure self could be seen from the teaching of many spiritual leaders. Examples are: Buddha spoke of Nirvana, Christ spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, Laozhi spoke of heaven and man becoming one, etc. These spiritual leaders all tried to preach what they knew and the method to know the pure self. However, such techniques were hard to learn and all religions which grew from such teachings all fell into superstition and indoctrination.

The author sees the trend and suggests that as more and more people found the pure self through TM or other appropriate methods, a larger group of human minds will be linked spiritually. When such mind links reach a critical mass, the evolution leap to a global brain will occur. The human race will then evolve into a superorganism acting as a whole instead of 6.5 billion individuals.

I consider such conclusion highly biased and heavily leaned towards the author's background as a practitioner of meditation. I think the conditions for an evolution leap as he proposed are not on the side of the spiritual mind alone. The complexity of the human society is from diversity, organization and connectivity. In particular, connectivity of the human mind is now aided by the advance of communication technology in the form of computers, Internet and artificial intelligence. Studies of intelligence all point to the destination of the awakening of artificial intelligence called the Singularity, where the entire computer network becomes one conscious mind. Although there are many horror movies and sci-fi stories about the machines dominating human, I tend to think that human would increasing become dependent on the technology he creates and they eventually merged into one. We and the entire computer network and all the artificial intelligence within would evolve together into the global brain. This global brain would strive to preserve plant Earth as Gaia and then look outwards for opportunities away from Earth.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Global Brain Awakens

The Global Brain Awakens by Peter Russell

This hardcover copy is a re-edited version released in 1995. The first version entitled The Global Brain was published in 1983, some 26 years ago. When I read it, it was hard to believe that the book was written so long ago, because much of the content is very fresh, containing some scientific findings which have been made popular only in recent years. It is perhaps owing to the background of Peter Russell as a theoretical physicist that he was familiar with these theories many years ago when they first emerged.


The author started by mentioning the Gaia Hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock in the 70's. I came across the Gaia Hypothesis in 2005 and wrote a blog article on it. Basically, Lovelock observed that the planet Earth showed sign of a single organism with many different but inter-depending systems. It also displayed an ability to adjust itself to maintain a homeostasis. Some critics considered that such a evolutionary development was not possible as the planet Earth does not reside in a competitive environment with similar bodies.

The theory of evolution has evolved itself in recent years. Its application is now not restricted to animals and plants but to many living systems. Based on a new branch of living systems theory, many organisms including many systems of the human society having 19 common sub-systems are general living systems. The evolution theory proposed by Charles Darwin is being refined. In addition to the process of survival for the fittest, which is a lengthy and complicated process of gradual and slow evolution, there have been many incidents of sudden change in the evolution path, leading to twists known as evolution leaps. The evolution curve is not linear, but kinky with sudden turns in response to sudden and dramatic changes in the environment.

Throughout the evolution of everything, there is a similar pattern that there were long periods of Darwinian evolution separated by evolution leaps. It is now believed that the origin of many evolution events was from chaos. A sudden change in the environment would create a chaotic situation where mutations grow randomly. Among the chaos, some orders eventually appears owing to the competition and the rule of survival for the fittest. Such orders slowly evolve and become more complex until there is a condition for a higher order of evolution to emerge.

The first evolution leap occurred after the Big Bang which was a chaotic event. Modern science is still trying to figure out what was it before the Big Bang. The Big Bang emitted entirely energy. The evolution from energy to matter is now a heavily researched subject. It is considered an emergent event arising from the chaotic pure energy environment.

Another major evolution leap was for matters to evolve into life. Matters started from the chaotic environment full of atoms and evolved into the orders of macromolecules. Complexity increased until a time an emergent event occurred and organic matters in the form of life appeared. It started with bacteria and algae and slowly evolved to multicellular organisms we know today.

Among the living things we know, complexity continued to increase in the cerebral development of the human brain. About two million years ago, another evolution leap occurred. An emergent event occurred and the human brain achieved self-reflective consciousness. We are the only species of living things on Earth that knows ourselves and is aware of the big picture of the environment around us.

According to Russel, such evolution leap would need three major conditions. The first one is quantity and diversity. There must be a lot of atoms and molecules of a large diversity, or 10 billion brain cells to start with. Second, there must be a good organization among them for the sustainable infrastructure to develop. Third, there must be complex and efficient connectivity within the organization for the next level of evolution to emerge.

The human society, composed of 6.6 billion self-reflective conscious human minds, is approaching this critical point of evolution leap. The quantity of different minds is sufficiently large and the cultural diversity among them is very high. The human society is well organized after several thousand years of development of civilizations. In the last few hundred years, owing to the advance of technology in travelling and exchange of knowledge, nearly all human communities are well connected. In the last few decades, communication technology has enabled individual human minds to connect efficiently. A large neural network has been formed among humans.

Thus, Peter Russel speculates, the next evolution leap is likely to occur within the complexity of the human society. An emergent event will occur to bring us to the next higher level. However, as for all evolution leaps, there is no way that the predecessors could imagine the outcome. There is no concept, knowledge, language which could help express what is ahead of us because such experience is not with us. Atoms and molecules cannot understand what life is. Mammals and plants also cannot understand what is the meaning, feeling and effect of a self-reflective conscious mind. What Peter Russel could guess, and it is likely to be inaccurate, is that the entire human race could evolve into a superorganism which would be aware of itself as a whole as well as maintaining the activities of the individuals. He calls it the Global Brain. It is a big step forward from Gaia. However, what is this global brain going to achieve?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Euthanasia court

Further to my last writing on euthanasia, I need to add something I missed. Euthanasia is a modern term and people attach their own meaning to it. In fact, dying voluntarily is common throughout the ages. I read about some ancient customs still being practiced in tribal communities. When a person got very old and became a burden to the village, he would go away into the wild to die voluntarily. Relatives in the village would see him off and throw a big farewell party. This happened in many cultures. Two I heard, one was in the arctic when the aged left for the ice pack alone, and the other in the tropic where the person went into the jungle alone.

I missed an important form of dying voluntarily which should fit between suicide and jihad. That is sacrifice. From history, and recent news, many people died voluntarily for others. This happened all the time during wars where soldiers died to win battle, or to save comrades. There were also many heroic stories during emergencies and natural disasters. When people died for others in vain, we would also call it suicide. When people died and killed at the same time, they may either be jihad or hero, depending which side you are on.

On the more specific area of euthanasia, medical technology does play a major role. Modern medical technology can take lives peacefully. It can also prolong lives. A prolonged life is a debatable issue. Some live on with only biological functions like vegetable; some may barely live a normal social life like going to dinner parties; only a few are still productive and can continue to contribute to the community. Depending on where you sit, you may stand for euthanasia for certain people.

The present debate on euthanasia is very complex. It touches on many subjects, and the right to live and die is only a small part. Most of the criticism are on the extreme situations: how euthanasia could be abused for murder, getting rid of the burden of the aged, getting rid of unwanted citizens. There is also a strong and rigid religious interpretation that men should not do god's work of creation and destruction of life. In fact, humans have been continuously creating and taking lives for millions of years.

We have seen many euthanasia cases in court. Not only were those assisted in euthanasia sometimes being charged, but many persons would wish to exercise their right to die with dignity and thus challenge the administration. The reality is that many people have already exercised such right themselves with or without the sanction of the authorities. This has led to many situations where people died in pain or violently, or simply with a mistaken mind.

That is why I think a euthanasia court may be necessary. Instead of ending lives, it could be saving lives. The prerequisite is for a change of mind to clearly acknowledging the right to die with dignity and good reasons. With this important principle established, proper laws could be enacted for a legal framework to be set up for examining applications for euthanasia. The meaning of euthanasia could be extended to any person wishing to terminate his life voluntarily. While most cases now in dispute are those with terminal illness, there are many not disputed cases simply done unnoticed. A properly established court could examine and authorize euthanasia cases based on medical, scientific, humanitarian and legal grounds. Jilted boyfriends/girlfriends, those too heavily in debt, seeking revenge or suffering from depression who wish to die could apply for euthanasia. The court could judge whether euthanasia should be exercised or any other remedial and corrective actions should be taken. This will kill two birds with one stone. While genuine euthanasia cases can be properly addressed, suicide cases when brought to the open would likely be resolved with professional help.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Euthanasia is a hotly debated topic for a long time. We have on one side human right activists and humanitarians arguing for the right to die with dignity and freedom, and on the other side rigid religious interpretation and bureaucratic practices based on out-dated laws. Policies on euthanasia vary between countries and even states within a country. Some allow medically assisted termination of life with the patient's consent, and some allow passive termination without direct medical intervention. But some just plainly prohibit any attempt.

Recently, there were two major incidents of euthanasia which again spiced up the debate. Sir Edward Downes and his wife died in July this year in Switzerland. Sir Edward, 85, was a renowned conductor. He was losing his sight and hearing. His wife, 75, a ballet dancer and a choreographer, was suffering from terminal illness. They administered their own death with dignity in a suicide clinic. The case was reported in BBC News. Several European countries, including Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland, do not consider assisting suicide by medical professionals a crime. In UK, assisting suicide carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. None of the cases of UK citizens died in the Swiss suicide clinic has so far involved any criminal charges, but many have resulted in police investigations.

The other case widely reported in August was a court ruling in Australia allowing a quadriplegic man the right to refuse food and water leading to death. The ruling relieved the nursing home caring for the man of being criminally liable for the death. Some see this as a major victory for the right-to-die campaigners. A full report can be read in CNN.

The medical profession does not see this as a major change of policy in euthanasia. From the medical point of view, euthanasia is narrowly defined as active participation in assisted suicide involving making available the fatal drug and setting up of the drug administration equipment. On the other hand, not providing life sustaining treatment is passive participation which could be done without criminal intent. I consider such distinction hypocritical, which is made mainly to avoid being seen as breaking the law.

When a person decides to take his own life, there must be a reason, rightly or wrongly. There are circumstances where the person is not sane physically or mentally, or having a wrong belief, or the wrong faith. There are also cases where the person is very clear about his intention, and he makes it after careful consideration. Not matter what, there is no absolutely effective way of keeping a person from taking his own life.

I think of the ways people die voluntarily, very loosely defined in circumstances ranked according to the severity to others, in order to find out which one could be regarded as euthanasia. There are:
Denial of rescue
Anesthetic assistance
Refusal of life sustaining treatment
Advance directives for medical decisions
Medically assisted termination of life
Self-administered termination of life

Denial of rescue is commonly used in hospitals. In many terminal cases, the doctor would ask the agreement of the patient and the family not to undertake rescue actions should the patient's condition becomes critical. The reason is that the rescue could not ensure recovery but could increase the suffering.

Anesthetic assistance. In case where a terminally-ill patient is approaching unconsciousness, the doctor would ask the patient and the family whether anesthetic, normally morphine, should be administered in order to relieve pain. The result is that the patient could then never become conscious until his death.

Refusal of life sustaining treatment is debatable. If a patient refuses to use life sustaining equipment or to receive basic life sustaining treatment, the doctors and nurses may have an obligation to force him to do so. This is an area which concerns the medical ethics.

Advance directives for medical decisions. A patient could make advance directives on how treatment should be made on him. This is a record of his true intention before he becomes unconscious. Or the patient could be actively refusing treatment, such as not undertaking painful therapy or simply not going to the hospital.

Medically assisted termination of life. This is what the suicide clinics are doing. They do it in a humane way, with full consent of the patient. Usually the clinic provides the drug and the injection mechanism, with the patient administering the drug himself.

Self-administered termination of life. This may be similar to medically assisted termination of life, except that a medical professional is not present. Many common drugs are actually fatal if overdosed. A person could take his own life peacefully with the right dosage of drug.

Suicide is a violent form of taking one's own life. We read about horrible suicide cases everyday. It does not require sophisticated instrument nor drugs, just a misguided thought.

Jihad comes from a misguided religious belief. It is the most violent form of taking one's own life while taking the lives of other people at the same time.

Among these many ways, we are only debating on the third and the fifth. We call them euthanasia, but the medical profession only considers the fifth euthanasia. Actually, on the present debate on euthanasia, we are not truly concerned with the right of a person taking his own life, but the liability of the medical professionals involved in the process.

A person's mind is free and freedom cannot be restricted easily. As seen in the cases in Europe, people are flocking to Switzerland and other countries to seek help from the suicide clinics. They have a deep belief that termination of life is best for them. Even if suicide clinics are all banned, people could still commit suicide if they consider termination of life is best for them. In many court cases on euthanasia, it has been demonstrated that there were sometimes valid reasons for such decisions.

However, in most cases of suicide, the reasons are unknown. The absence of an opportunity to examine the reasons may lead to the suicide cases unnoticed until too late. The solution is for the disturbed persons to come out and speak to someone, such as the Samaritans, so that the cause could be assessed and corrected if appropriate. Thus a legal framework for the right to die should be established. A strict application of the bureaucratic laws preventing all forms of termination of life, including the humane ones, does not solve the problem, nor does it prevent people from taking their own life.

Friday, August 28, 2009


2047 is a magic number. According to Clause 3(12) of the Joint Declaration, the basic policies of PRC regarding Hong Kong are stipulated in the Basic Law and they will remain unchanged for 50 years. 1 July 2047 will be 50 years after the handover. This is a magic day when the effect of the Joint Declaration will lapse.

No one knows what will happen on that day. However, as the Basic Law provides for one country two systems with Hong Kong's institutions and systems remains unchanged, it may be speculated that they will change on that day back to one country one system. Some overly optimistic people say if Hong Kong proves to be successful and useful to PRC, then the Basic Law and the high degree autonomy will go on forever. On the other end of the scale, some pessimistic people say China will take over the governance of Hong Kong on 1 July 2047 and all institutions and systems may change overnight.

A possible scenario that both sides and the world may like to see is, in 2047 Mainland China and Hong Kong are similar in political systems, economy, and civic expectation. There is no need to change as we are the same. Either the PRC progresses to the level of Hong Kong life style, or Hong Kong gradually takes on board the Mainland lifestyle.

What prompts me to take a look at this topic is the latest issue of the Hong Kong Journal. In this issue, there are two major articles on the recent changes in the policies of PRC on Hong Kong. One is by Jie Cheng, an associate professor of law at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the other by Frank Ching, a Hong Kong journalist. The first one is The Story of a New Policy written from the PRC angle, and the other one How Beijing Plays Its Hand, as seen from Hong Kong. Both have observations that there are clear signs and actions that the PRC is steadily changing the policies by directly involving in Hong Kong politics.

The PRC has given Hong Kong time thinking that a close connection with the Mainland is sufficient to bring Hong Kong and Mainland to the same level in 50 years' time. Since the handover, she has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards Hong Kong. Academics agreed that the pivotal point is the protest march of 1 July 2003. Since then, PRC leaders noticed the role of political organizations in the process of mobilization and confrontation, and also the influence of foreign countries in the process. PRC has started to take firmer control of Hong Kong's internal affairs. In the coming years, we will see more authority assumed by mainland officials and certain Hong Kong residents they choose, with less remaining in the hands of Hong Kong’s own officials and the elected legislative council.

For Hong Kong to automatically integrate with the Mainland in 2047, there are several major issues which could be tackled in the ensuing years. On hardware, there are now much enhanced co-operation between Hong Kong and neighbouring ShenZhen and Guangdong. The on-going trend is that we are having integrated infrastructure across the border including roads, railways, airports and ferries. Daily commute between the two places is now common, both for work and schooling. There are talks on cross-border buffer areas where immigration rules are exempted. ShenZhen could even be open for unrestricted travelling with the checkpoints moving backwards. With ever advancing phases of CEPA, trading and services are integrated within a bigger and bigger special administrative region.

There are of course some more difficult issues such as currency and others. With the decline of the importance of US dollar worldwide, there will come a time, probably before 2047, that all countries abandon US dollar as the major reserve currency. Hong Kong dollars could then link with Renminbi, or change the legal tender to Renminbi altogether.

The major problems are the political system and the legal system. This is something PRC would like to intervene in order to bring about a smooth transition. As such, there is a very bumpy road ahead for the constitutional reform in Hong Kong. But we have plenty of time before 2047. We can wish for a change in Hong Kong as well as a change in the Mainland. In 2047, we could even be living on the Moon or Mars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009





Monday, August 17, 2009


by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

This book received a lot of attention when it came out in 2005 and sold three million copies worldwide. There were much commentaries everywhere claiming it had an extraordinary observation on many everyday life activities. Some startling quotations were circulated. But I never really took a serious look at the book. The craze went quiet after a few years. And then I found this paperback selling at a big discount. The content is more enjoyable than it looks.

The sub-title of the book is A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. It is co-authored by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Levitt is the economist. The book is based on some of his academic articles, re-written by Dubner who is a journalist, into easy reading.


While there are many interesting stories, I just take notes of a few topics of interest which in particular are controversial. Praise and criticism are mixed, depending on the value judgment of the readers, as well as their vested interest.

Conventional wisdom

Many of the ideas in the book are actually challenging conventional wisdom. As explained in Chapter three, this term is often credited to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith who used it in 1958. The original intention of the term is not a compliment. Conventional wisdom is made of ideas that are convenient, appealing and assumed by the public. It has a property that opposes the introduction of contrary belief, to the point of absurd denial of the new information.

To me, conventional wisdom is simple. They are supposed truth that your parents, teachers, priests, or bosses told you. They are not all delusions. In fact, there is a possibility that some of them are really true, within a special circumstance which may already be outdated. Conventional wisdom cannot be believed just for granted. They have to be thought through to see if they could be logically applied in the present tense. When this process is completed, the real truth will migrate from the realm of conventional wisdom into modern wisdom, or your own wisdom.

Where have all the criminals gone?

During a period of 15 years from 1975 to 1990, violent crime in USA rose by 80%. The situation was so bad that many sociologists predicted that the trend would worsen to an uncontrollable level. But starting from 1990, the crime rate started falling. it fell suddenly and with great speed that caught everyone by surprise. Naturally many parties came out to claim credit, including better policing, stricter penal term, better drug control, stronger economy, etc. Levitt did a research on these but none of them correlated. Al last, it boiled down to Roe v Wade which was a landmark case leading to the legalization of abortion in USA in 1973. Since then, there was an average of 1.6 million abortions per year. The theory was that these 1.6 million unborn children could have been potential criminals in their adulthood in the 90's. Many new blood criminals were just simply not born, thus resulting in a drop in crime rate.

This statement was severely criticized by the conservatives as well as the liberals. While many people including the religious people said this was a theory supporting the immoral abortion, the liberals was saying that this was a bias towards blacks and the poor who were more likely to have abortions. All are missing the point that what Levitt did was only a research of economics and sociology. His theory was: the women most likely to seek an abortion were the very women whose children, if born, have been shown most likely to become criminals. In very simple term, he said "Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness; abortion leads to less crime." There is no moral nor racial judgment.

What makes a perfect parent?

If you really want to know what makes a perfect parent, just note the sub-title of this chapter: Do parents really matter? Parents have two roles: the nature which is the gene as well as their family and education background, and the parenting which is the nurturing of the child. Levitt did some in-depth data mining in order to correlate these factors with the success of the child in school results. His data mine was the records of twenty thousand children under the ECLS Early Childhood Longitudinal Study in the US conducted in the late 1990's covering the progress of these children from kindergarten to the fifth grade. The data set included the test scores of the children and data collected through interviews with parents. Family background as well as parenting behaviour were recorded. The result: The background of parents correlated with the progress of the child, while parenting behaviour did not. There is a gap termed nature-nurture discrepancy. Good parents may have good children and vice versa; but good parenting may not have good children, similarly vice versa.

Parents do matter. But the bad news to parenting experts is that most of the things that matter have been decided long ago: who you are, whom you married, the kind of life you lead. If you are smart, hardworking, well educated, well paid, and married to someone equally fortunate, then there is a better chance that your children will succeed. But it isn't so much a matter of what you do as parent; it is who you are. Levitt drew an interesting comparison: An overbearing parent is like a political candidate who believes that money wins elections. In truth, all the money in the world can't get a candidate elected if the voters don't like him to start with.

But if not parenting, what influences the child most? There is another theory by the psychologist Judith Harris. She argued that parents are wrong to think they contribute so mightily to their child's personality. This is a cultural myth. Actually, top-down influence of parents is overwhelmed by the grassroot effect of peer pressure, the blunt force applied each day by friends and schoolmates. But surely parents must matter. Even if peers exert so much influence on a child, it is the parents who essentially choose a child's peer by choosing the right neighbourhood, the right school and the right circle of friends. Some good parents did.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


日前看到龔教授寫下面這個聖經的濫用與運用的議題,很有見地。龔立人教授是較開明的宗教學 者,不會懼怕指出教會的缺點。因為他的地位,他可以抗衡宗教主流迷思;亦因為他的地位,他仍有需要在宗教思維的圈圈內打轉。


但這總不能由教會說了就算。宗教一貫做法是查經,六十幾冊經文,總可以找到一句符合任何情況,教會說是呼召,總有辦法找到經文支持。以參選香港小姐為例,經書有說:以斯帖記 Esther 7:3 "王后以斯帖說,我若在王眼前蒙恩,王若以為美,我所願的,是願王將我的性命賜給我,我所求的,是求王將我的本族賜給我。" 以斯帖以美貌搏得國王歡心而救了她的一族。如果被呼召以美貌當選香港小姐是否很多香港人得救?龔教授的論點是,用以斯帖記將參選香港小姐合理化,說以美貌謀取權力,或權利,是聖經的濫用。不過龔教授仍將香港小姐硬性歸類,認為爭取居港權或參加六四晚會和她們無關。

如何才是運用聖經呢?龔教授用他的說法去解釋以斯帖記;我不作詳述,大家可以上網看看他的網誌。大意是以斯帖因為敬畏神才有此無私的做法。不過這只是自我引申的解釋,因為經書沒有提及神,而以斯帖得寵後才作此事對她自己並無壞影響。龔教授的結論是 以斯帖的美貌和其族得救並無必然的關係。美貌與智慧只是一個口號,不是真實的,以斯帖的經驗沒有支持選美的正當性。我卻認為如果以斯帖不是因為美貌而得寵,其族可能會面臨大災難。


就以參加香港小姐為例,聖經的根據可能是以斯帖的經驗。那麼,以斯帖的經驗是甚麼經驗?簡單來說,她以美貌贏取王后,而她王后的位份成為拯救猶太人免被殺戮一個很重要的原因。但這故事是否說明美貌有它的價值而其價值可以帶來權力,改變不公義,造福人民呢?若以一種經驗相類似閱讀以斯帖的經驗時,有人將參加香港小姐選美合理化。若是,我們是否也可以攪香港靚模選舉?查實,我最大的關心不是選美,而是參加者將美貌與權力拉上關係。不論以經濟或社會地位解釋美貌所牽涉的權力,這是一種對權力的迷思,而缺乏對權力背後的霸權之批判。例如,將美貌等於「三圍數字」、以某種泳裝出現和以娛樂觀眾等等時,這已是一種權力的操縱。可惜的是,在爭取權力時,參加者願意成為這種對女性界定的女性,並將它合理化。我這樣說法是否 反對選美會?這不是我今日要討論的課題,而是我對於那以為透過美貌贏取的權力就可以做很多很有價值的事之論述表示懷疑。不錯,香港小姐關懷貧窮人的行動可以推動社會公益,但真正影響社會的卻是德蘭修女式的身體力行,而不是一種宣傳式的呼籲。再者,我沒有看見香港小姐站出來為居港權人士的爭取,卻看見甘神父。同樣,我也沒有看見有香港小姐參加六四晚會。原來,香港小姐的在權力下是在受她倚賴的權力控制。

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tree Office

The Chief Secretary proudly presented the Report of the Task Force on Tree Management in June. It has a sub-title People, Trees, Harmony. First, the basic. We are all aware that the task force is a bureaucratic response to several tragic incidents of tree collapses, leading to the death of a girl in Stanley, right in the middle of a busy street. There was a public outcry that the government is accountable because tree safety is her responsibility. It is well expected that the standard response of the bureaucrats is the setting up of a group to find a way to improve, using collective responsibility. This high-power task force led by the Chief Secretary comprises representatives of four bureaux and ten departments. However, it is actually the brainchild of the Development Bureau. Its terms of reference is mainly on the risk of trees, plus the supporting role of government organization structure and resources. The report can be read from the website of the Development Bureau.

I must admit it is a beautifully written report. I am especially impressed by the flowery description on our love of trees, how they benefit the environment and how they should be preserved. We all know that our mothers are women. The public has no question about that. Their concern is on safety, both people and trees.

The Task Force aptly identified the problem. There are many departments each responsible for trees under their purview. The demarcation is simple: Leisure and Cultural Services Department is responsible for trees in parks and roadside landscaped areas, Highway Department for expressways and slopes assigned to it, Housing Department for public housing estates, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department for country parks, other departments for lands allocated to them, and Lands Department for unallocated land. The problem is said to be a lack of co-ordination among them.

As a result, the Task Force recommends the setting up of a new Tree Management Office within the Development Bureau. As such, the bureau will expand by having twenty one more officers including one directorate level two officer, two directorate level one officers, six assistant secretary level officers, two Senior Executive Officers and two Executive Officers II. As for departments, they will remain status quo except Lands Department where a tree unit may be set up.

We will see the bureaucracy grows as a result. The threat of government negligence has been turned into an opportunity for growth. This is a good illustration of the Peter Principle at work. As for the fundamental concern of the danger to the public from tree collapses, it still remains status quo. The new tree office in the bureau has a higher purpose. It looks after policy, standard, and committee work on greening, landscaping and liaises with department on tree management. After all the fuss, I do not see how the public are better protected from the collapse of trees.

To effectively improve the situation and avoid the danger, a better solution is the Occam's Razor principle: To deal with the obvious problem with the simplest approach. As I see it, to remove the danger to the public from tree collapses, there are three steps: First, a diligent surveillance of the condition of trees in close proximity to the public; Second, ability to diagnose and cure sick trees, and Third, removal of trees which are in danger of collapsing.

For the first step, departments have been doing it for a long time. It does not require specialized skills. Common sense and basic training will enable an ordinary person to distinguish a sick tree. It is just a matter of the awareness and diligence of departmental front-line staff in watching out for sick trees as a small part of their regular duties.

For the second step, it is a shame to admit that the government does not have professionals in arboriculture. There are Forestry Officers who are scientists in botany. There are also skilled plant technicians in the government plant nurseries in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Most sick trees can be handled by the departments, and not many of them are within striking distance to the public. For special cases, the help of the academic sector can be sought. It is better for the professionals in the field to advise on the health of trees, rather than one sitting in the office of the bureau.

For the third step, it is even simpler. While the two departments above have tree cutting teams, most departments use contractors for the removal of trees. It is just a matter of timely decisions and swift actions.

The tree office in the bureau is unnecessary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


電腦保安是一個重要課題。一直以來大家都知道除了已公開的資料外所有資料都需要保密。資料 通常是記錄在文件上,而文件檔案有各種方法收藏,不過一向以來都常有文件遺失或失竊事件發生。進入電腦時代,資料保存有了新方法,從好的方面看,資料可以保存得更好,用很少的資源就可以儲存大量資料,存取很方便,而且有很多加密方法。其缺點亦是因為方便而使資料使用者減低了介心,又一旦失竊時大量資料可同時被盜取;這個情況因為資料在互聯網上流動而更為嚴重。


幾年前各國曾有數宗銀行電腦資料失竊事件,使銀行界要提升網上銀行保安措施,以挽回顧客的信心。當時並無好的方法,銀行唯有倒退到石器時代,要顧客自行攜帶一個密碼產生器 Token,用以進行網上交易。我在2005年已指出這個做法和先進網上服務的概念相反,而當時亦有更佳和更準確的保安方法。如果你有興趣,可以看看我在2005年寫的博文。有些銀行選擇用 token,其實是向電腦竊匪投降,自動將網上服務的便捷性降低。

當時銀行的錯誤信念,是以為只使用一次的密碼萬無一失,其缺點只是要顧客小心保管,和定時更換 token。事實並非如此,下面的報導說有電腦竊匪可以截取密碼,而又在密碼未失效前轉走存款。回到基本電腦保安ABC,各位有必要為電腦安裝並更新最新防病毒軟件,並要小心防範可疑的電郵和網站,不要以為有 token 就很安全。如果銀行有提供 SMS 確認服務就要從速登記使用,並要檢查所有該等訊息都是正確。既然使用網上銀行服務,大家就不妨天天都上網看看戶口活動記錄,一來可以監察是否有可疑活動,二來可以欣賞自己的銀行戶口結餘。

金管局發言人表示:「由於有關的行騙手法愈來愈先進,認可機構有需要加強保安措施以打擊網上銀行騙案。其中一項重要保安措施,是認可機構須在完成一宗高風 險的網上交易(如將資金轉帳至未經登記的第三方戶口)後,即時連同交易詳情以手機短訊或其他有效方式通知其客戶。金管局強烈鼓勵銀行客戶充分利用這項服務,核實交易詳情,如發現有任何未經授權的可疑交易時,則馬上通知其銀行。我們相信只要銀行客戶和銀行均採取適當的保安措施,使用設有雙重認證的網上銀行 服務仍然是安全的。」

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Forty Mystery

I mean the forty mystery, not forty mysteries, because it is about forty, not forty things. Last week I was watching the news on the protest march in Iran, and that it was spreading from Tehran to Isfahan. I recall visiting Chehel Sotoun in Isfahan a few years ago.

Chehel Sotoun means the Palace of Forty Pillars. I searched my photo archive and found two photographs of the palace below.

The Palace of Forty Pillars was so famous that the first thing I did was to count the pillars. There were no forty pillars. The Iranian guide explained that there was a pond in front of the palace, and the reflection of the pillars in the pond had to be counted as well. There were six rows of pillars, and each row had three pillars, making a total of eighteen pillars. Including the reflection, there were only thirty six pillars. I asked the guide again, and he finally revealed the mystery. The word forty in ancient language in the middle east has a broad meaning. Besides the number forty, it just means many. Chehel Sotoun means palace of many pillars. He said similar to other languages which congratulate people living to one hundred years old, hundred years simply means many years instead of the number hundred. It means longevity, not wishing people dying at one hundred. Many people are actually breaking this record.

He cited an example of an ancient Arabic proverb: "To understand a person, you must live with him for forty days." In the proverb, forty days do not mean one month plus ten days. It just means one has to live with a person for a long time in order to understand him.

However, when translated to other languages, such meaning of forty is not apparent. Thus forty becomes a mystery appearing in many stories and myths.

One famous story is Alibaba and the forty thieves. No one knows who the forty thieves were. Actually there were no forty thieves, but Alibaba could have a large gang. As time passed by, when the story was told in other places, or when it was presented as drama and movie, people made up forty thieves in number.

The word forty appears in the bible many times. It makes one wonder why god has a special favour for the number forty. Biblical stories were told according to this misunderstanding and many rituals were made up following the wrong translation. There are many incidents.

Genesis told the story of the big flood for which Noah built an ark to save his family and many animals. Genesis 7:12 "And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights." I do not know whether raining for forty days and nights could flood the whole world. It could be very heavy rain which we have yet to see. But forty could just mean many and that it just rained for a long time.

The misery of the Israelis in the journey led by Moses away from Egypt was recorded in Numbers. The Israelis were so bad that God cursed them as told in Numbers 14:33 "And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years , and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness." It really took the Israelis many years before settling down in Palestine. Forty years are many years, not necessarily forty in number.

According to Exodus, the Israelis were unruly in the journey, and Moses left them and went up Mount Sinai by himself. Exodus 24:18 "Moses passed into the midst of the cloud as he went up on the mountain; and there he stayed for forty days and forty nights." I wonder how much supplies did Moses bring with him. It was difficult to last for forty days and nights on what he could carry. In any case, he could have left for the mountain for many days, enough to carve the stone tablets of the ten commandments.

Matthew told the event where Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. Matthew 4:2 "He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry." Fasting for forty days and nights was a miracle. No human could endure such period of time in the desert without food. This could be a record of history of Jesus going into the desert for many days.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Act of God

When studying contract law, or when signing any formal contract, you may come across the clause Force Majeure. It means superior force. The lecturer said it refers to act of god. This clause is included in contract in order to avoid some liabilities. It is bad news for the damaged party in the contract. One cannot sue the other party for damages arising from act of god. Definition of act of god is normally stated in the contract, but the description is not exhaustive. Usually such events include natural disasters such as flooding, earthquake, volcanoes and also man-made disasters such as war, strike, riot, crime. The general principle is that events which cannot be controlled by the contracted parties are acts of god.

While natural disasters with causes beyond human comprehension temporarily can be regarded as acts of god, it may a shame to label those human evil deeds as acts of god. On the other hand, on the face of the almighty, all good and evil things we cannot controlled should be attributed to god. This thinking prompts an article in Mckinsey Quarterly entitled What Natural and Economic Disasters have in Common. The author draws parallels between the failures of man-made systems, such as the economy, and of similarly complex natural ones. Please take a look at the article if you are interested.

Economists, financial experts and the like are somewhat disappointed for not foreseeing last year's global credit crisis. They turned to the lexicon of natural disasters, describing the shock as a tsunami hitting markets and as an earthquake shaking the world economy’s foundations. Such reaction reflects the extreme and unexpected nature of the circumstances. In fact, the parallels between the dynamics and failures of man-made systems, such as the economy or the electricity grid, and similarly complex natural ones are bringing new ideas to economic forecasting, strategic planning, and risk management.

Scientists in cooperation with economists are applying complexity theory to economic research, rejecting the traditional view of the economy as a fully transparent, rational system striving toward equilibrium. The geophysics professor and earthquake authority Didier Sornette, for example, leads the Financial Crisis Observatory in Zurich, which uses concepts and mathematical models that draw on complexity theory and statistical physics to understand financial bubbles and economic crises.

Sornette aims to predict extreme outcomes in complex systems. Many other scientists in the field of complexity theory argue that earthquakes, forest fires, power blackouts, and the like are extremely difficult or even impossible to foresee because they are the products of many interdependent “agents” and cascades of events in inherently unstable systems that generate large variations. One symptom of such a system’s behavior is that the frequency and magnitude of outcomes can be described by a mathematical relationship called a “power law,” characterized by a short “head” of frequently occurring small events, dropping off to a long “tail” of increasingly rare but much larger ones. The economy, like other complex systems characterized by power law behavior, is inherently unstable and prone to occasional huge failures.

Act of god is being studied and understood and the focus is on early warning. Similar to the early-warning systems for earthquake, volcano eruption and tsunami, strategists could monitor potential indications that economic stress might be building in their industries. Other lessons to be learnt from nature's complex systems include flexible business models incorporating some slack and flexibility, and examples like controlled damages of small forest fires to avoid large-scale fires.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The New Exodus

About 3400 years ago, Moses led the Israelis away from Egypt to find the promised land. They finally settled in Palestine and built a temple in Jerusalem. This story is recorded in Exodus which is a sacred text worshiped by the Jews, and more than a thousand years later worshiped by the Christians and the Muslims. Exodus has become a symbol of people escaping hardship and finding a bright future.

National Geographic carries a story in the June 2009 issue entitled the New Exodus. This time, the direction has reversed. Christians are now escaping from the promised land; but the meaning and the spirit of Exodus are the same.

The article gives a detailed account of the Christians living in the Levant, which is an area south of Turkey down to Sinai. Christians have been living there since the first century and flourished when the Roman Empire turned Christian. The area was conquered by the Muslims a few hundred years later, but Christians were still living there. The first great disaster to them was the Crusades, claiming to preserve Christianity. Crusaders slaughtered most of the people in the town they captured. There is an old story that the Crusaders could not tell who was Muslim or Christian; so they killed everyone, saying god could tell when these people died. After the Crusades, there were still many Christians living in the Levant alongside the Muslims.

The present disaster is a result of the clash between western countries and middle east countries. A quote from the article says:
"Western Christians have made matters worse, he argues, echoing a sentiment expressed by many Arab Christians. It's because of what Christians in the West, led by the U.S., have been doing in the East," he says, ticking off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israel, and the threats of "regime change" by the Bush Administration. To many Muslims, especially the fanatics, this looks like the Crusades all over again, a war against Islam waged by Christianity. Because we're Christians, they see us as the enemy too. It's guilt by association."

The New Exodus is on-going. Christians in the promised lands are now out-numbered and surrounded by angry voices. They are continuously seeking an exit to other countries, leaving behind only those who are too old to emigrate. The article tells a story about a Christian family. The wife is from Bethlehem while the husband is from Jerusalem, only 10 km away. Because Bethlehem is Palestinian territory, by Israeli law they cannot live together. The wife has to apply for special permit to enter Jerusalem to visit her husband. They are now planning to emigrate to Canada.


The situation is very vivid when I visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem two years ago. Jerusalem is Jewish territory. I saw Judaism worship everywhere. Christianity is only present inside the ancient church relics. Bethlehem is even worse. The Jewish guide could not even get close to the wall surrounding Bethlehem. Tourists were met by a Palestinian guide on the other side. Christianity in Bethlehem is limited to the Church of Nativity. It is not difficult to imagine how hard a Christian is living there. Both the Jews and the Palestinians are not friendly. Not friendly is actually an under-statement.

During Easter, the Christian world suddenly descends on the promised land. Christian tourists from different countries roam the holy land, doing the ritual of walking the Via Dolorosa, crowding the Church of Sepulchure and the Church of All Nations by the Garden of Gethsemane. As seen by this local Christian family:
"Hundreds of pilgrims churned through the church's double doors, filling the cavernous space with warm bodies and pushing us deeper into the church... Lisa gripped the stroller and tried to anchor herself against the river of humanity flowing into the church. Dutch, German, Korean, Nigerian, American, French, Spanish, Russian, Filipino, Brazilian, the crowd surged forward, searching hungrily for a greater proximity to God... Suddenly Lisa's decision to bring Nadia along was looking like a mistake... As we passed through the doors, the crowd thinned out slightly. Lisa leaned in, straining to be heard over the chaos around us. "Do you see how it is?" she asked, gasping for air on the hill where Jesus spent his last night on Earth. "This is our home. And it's like we're not even here!"

Monday, June 8, 2009







另一個著名的數字表達例子是美國唱片業協會RIAA 發放的數據;它說在二零零二年美國人在互聯網下載音樂有二十一億次,每次下載商業上會損失一張唱片的銷售;每張唱片價值十二美元,所以唱片業該年損失二百五十二億美元。這個結論故意錯誤地假設每次下載都成功、整張唱片都被下載而如果不下載會有人一定買一張唱片。該年唱片銷量是八億張,因此音樂下載被說使唱片業損失了百分之七十三的收入。真實的情況是該年唱片銷售數量只是下跌百分之九,而收入只下跌百分之七;而銷量下跌亦受新唱片出版減少和影碟競爭影響。

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How humanity is loving nature to death

I read an interesting article from BBC a while ago. It is about endangered species, and how our love of endangered species is endangering the species. You may read about this interesting theory here.

It starts with a bit of human psychology. Humans love rarity. I recall my marketing lesson where the lecturer explained the marketing strategy for a dying product which had no growth and no market share: To exploit brand loyalty by raising the price of the remaining outdated stock, claiming them the last batch to be bought as collectors' item. A French biologist Franck Courchamp suggested that it is human nature to see animals and all wild things in this light. As something becomes rare, the value we put on it will rise. This will make the harvesting of the creature even more profitable, hastening its exploitation and probably its extinction.

Dr Franck Courchamp conducted an experiment. In a garden there were two cages keeping chipmunks, one labelled rare and the other common; they were in fact the same species. There were two doors and a notice saying that one would have to pay extra to see the animal inside, which was said either to be rare or common. The experiment monitored people's behaviour and choices. It turned out that visitors valued the rare over the common. People would spend more time looking at or looking for an animal if they were told it was rare; they would walk up more flights of stairs, spend more money, or get wetter and colder to reach its cage.

Franck Courchamp thought this could result in an Anthropogenic Allee Effect. The theory was developed by Warder Clyde Allee. The general idea is that for smaller populations, the reproduction and survival of individuals decrease. Below a critical density, the population of the species will continue to decrease.

This could be the beginning of a route to extinction. If people think they prefer the taste of a rare species of caviar, then that caviar will command a higher price than the other, and fishermen will seek the sturgeon that makes it. It is also happening in the pet trade, an amphibian specialist confirms that the rarer the frog (or other animal), the more money it could fetch. One might think that hunters and traders would have an interest in keeping a sustainable population of these creatures alive so they have something to hunt for years to come. But the economics say otherwise.

In fact, so much do people desire these scarce things that some organizations are starting to be more careful about publicizing the rarity of anything that could be collected. The paradox is that only by publicizing it can they raise a wider awareness that could prevent its extinction.

On the Allee effect, Dr Courchamp also has a research article on Rarity Value and Species Extinction published in the journal of the Public Library of Science. While standard economic theory predicts that human exploitation alone is unlikely to result in species extinction because of the escalating costs of finding the last individuals of a declining species, the research reports that human predisposition to place exaggerated value on rarity fuels disproportionate exploitation of rare species, rendering them even rarer and thus more desirable, ultimately leading them into an extinction vortex. The article is difficult to read and it comprises mathematical models. However, in simple term, it listed out six human activities that could create an Anthropogenic Allee Effect.

Collections. The most straightforward example of a nature-related activity where rarity is valued is that of hobby collections, where the rarest items are the most valued and thus demand the highest prices.

Trophy hunting. Trophy hunting represents another form of collection. For thousands of years, several cultures have valued trophies as a sign of manhood and virility. Species that were difficult to kill symbolized power, because power was required to kill them. However, because sophisticated firearms are now used, the emphasis of hunting has shifted from dangerous to rare animals. Rarer species are harder to find, so greater hunting skill and greater wealth are required, and greater prestige is gained by killing them.

Luxury items. The consumption of rare species as luxury food items is another way of displaying wealth and social status. The rarer the item, the more expensive it is, and the more prestige is gained by its acquisition.

Exotic pets. Another activity that can lead to a Allee Effect is exotic pet ownership, which is an increasingly important part of the wildlife trade business. Reptile, bird, and monkey pets are becoming ever more fashionable in some parts of the world, with the rarest species being especially sought after.

Ecotourism. Ecotourism ventures have expanded greatly in recent years, with the public increasingly wanting to experience a closeness to natural ecosystems or species. Such activities often involve encountering and observing rare species. Given that some ecotourism activities have been shown to generate disturbances that are detrimental to the fitness of observed species, we can assume that rare species, especially those that are charismatic, will be disproportionately impacted upon by ecotourism.

Traditional medicine. Traditional medicine uses many rare and endangered species. Although other aspects may influence ingredient choice, rarity certainly plays a role and may therefore result in an Allee Effect.

Saturday, May 23, 2009




2009年5月21日 星期四 05:10
觸發「龔陳戀」的關鍵人物梁錦濠,昨終現身法庭作供。93年為化解官非而相信陳振聰之言、1年內 每晚燒毁15張100元紙幣的前立法局議員梁錦濠,雖最終難逃牢獄之苦,但原來陳事後曾指摘他,輸官司全因梁以「紅衫魚」代「金牛」。其間梁為申請保釋,仍執迷不悔再信陳,他自嘲當時心態猶如「生仔姑娘醉酒佬」。


陳振聰的英國御用大律師Ian Mill質疑,假如梁照做,燒1年將會花上500萬元,梁指他覺得太貴,故在陳同意下,改燒15張100元紙幣。但Mill仍感驚訝:「即使是百元紙幣,也會燒上50萬元吧,你有很多錢可以燒?他只是叫你燒『溪錢』吧?」梁否認陳叫他燒冥鏹:「我有更多錢。我相信他的風水指示要照做,我當時是全心全意信他。」


Thursday, April 30, 2009

PSC Report 2008

I recommend that all government executive officers, in particular those in human resource management jobs, should read the newly published 2008 Report of the Public Service Commission. The main function of the Commission is to watch and query government human resource management work. The most affected party is the group of government executive officers in such postings.

The report highlights the work of the Commission in 2008 and presents observations in areas requiring improvements. In other words, the report provides valuable hints on what the Commission is looking for and what not to do by government human resource managers. There are a few areas in this report which I find particularly interesting.

Upon the resumption of civil service recruitment, and in view of the recent economy downturn, many human resource managers find that the number of job seekers for government jobs has increased tremendously. Any advertisement of vacancy will attract a lot of, or far too many, candidates. It is a headache on how to select suitable candidates for appointment, or just how to select candidates for interview. The golden rule is to interview five candidates for one vacancy. Many departments has opted to interview ten or more candidates for each vacancy. Still, the number of qualified candidates is too much that shortlisting criteria must be applied to keep the number of candidates invited for interview manageable. Such shortlisting criteria are under the scrutiny of the Commission.

Normally, managers will select for interview candidates with either better academic achievements or better working experience or both. The Commission considers that some fresh graduates may also have good potential for appointment. Such shortlisting criteria will screen them out and should not be allowed. So what to do with the thousands of candidates. The Commission recommends the conducting of recruitment examination as a way of shortlisting. It is an additional resource consuming task for many recruitment exercises. Also, the Commission recommends the conducting of primary interview. This means that all qualified candidates are invited for a first round interview with a view to selecting the good ones for a second round interview. Just think the amount of resources required.

Another query is the special treatment to disabled candidates in recruitment examination. If the examination is meant to shortlist candidates, then disabled candidates must be interviewed even if they fail in the recruitment examination. Just imagine a disabled candidate not meeting the standard of recruitment examination; could their performance be considered on par with other suitable candidates? I am not sure if the EORE is a shortlisting examination or a qualifying examination as the content of the examination is much duty related.

I am happy to see that the report proposes the strengthening of staff performance management system. On reading, it seems the proposals are timely completion of appraisals, time conducting of promotion, timely implementation of career posting. All these are not strengthening the system, but just correction to the poor implementation of the existing system by the bureaucrats. The only good suggestion is the tightening of appraisal standard through training. This is the core of the issue. Only with an honest appraising officer can the appraisal report reflects the truth. All other steps such as comments by third parties including reviewing officer, departmental secretary, head of grade are taking the appraisal further away from the truth. The Commission highly recommends the convening of assessment panel on appraisals. It is another step to degrade the process to collective responsibility. In a department I worked which had assessment panel, the performance gradings of all officers were dictated by the chairman of the panel. Another phenomenon observed by the Commission is the overly graded or overly harsh appraisals. It is such observation that causes appraising officers to write reports which are similar, because any grade A or grade D report will create much trouble which the appraising officer has to defend.

Lastly there is the recommendation on streamlining of disciplinary procedures. However, it is only on a very special case where an officer was disciplined both under section 9 for not reporting criminal conviction, and then under section 11 for the criminal conviction. The cumbersome disciplinary procedures have not been streamlined. I hope the recent court case of no legal representative in disciplinary inquiry could kick start another streamlining exercise.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009




作者說宗教在美國的情況和歐洲比較已算很好。我上網四處找找歐洲的現況,發覺在歐盟國家中信神的人 (不一定是基督教) 只有52%。在2005年有一個調查,找出歐洲各國信神的人口百分比。低於50%人口信神的國家由低至更低依次是瑞士、德國、盧森堡、匈牙利、比利時、芬蘭、保加利亞、冰島、英國、拉脫維亞、斯洛文尼亞、法國、荷蘭、挪威、丹麥、瑞典、捷克、愛沙尼亞。其中英國低至38%,而法國和荷蘭更低至34%。安慰的是意大利尚有74%人口信神,而最神心是土耳其人,有95%,但他們是信奉伊斯蘭教。在2007-2008年,歐洲有另一項調查,問各國人民宗教對他們的重要性,其結果和2005年的調查結果相符。


殷惠敏 文化時事評論員
蘋果日報 2009-04-17

上周五耶穌受難日,美國華爾街照例休市一天。周末小孫女的斯洛伐克籍保母教她做復活節彩蛋,一個個色彩晶瑩的彩蛋繫在小樹枝上,帶來節慶的氣氛。關於耶穌 復活和彩蛋的傳奇,一般人已不甚了了。一個古老的說法是為遺體擦拭和守靈,並且親眼見到耶穌復活的女門徒,給羅馬的地區行政長官叫去問話。行政長官輕蔑地 指着一個蛋說,人死而能復活,就像這個蛋能變色一樣,這是可能的嗎?據說女門徒一言不發地拿起了蛋,她手中的蛋竟神奇地發出彩色的光。

- 無宗教人口漸增
復活節彩蛋,固然令人賞心悅目,但美國的教會領袖現在卻為基督教的前途感到憂心忡忡。最新的宗教調查顯示,自認沒有任何宗教的美國人,在過去十年,增加了一倍。這個趨勢若繼續下去,則擁有七成五基督徒人口的「基督教美國」,可能就要發生質變。教會領袖最擔心的是,美國遲早會步向「無神的歐洲」之途。目前美國上教堂的人口之多,在先進的工業國中,已是一個異數。奧巴馬上台後在全民健保、社福、教育方面的「大政府」政策,事實上已開始接近歐洲國家的特點。人民 如果不必生活在恒常的恐懼之中,為醫療和工作保障等問題擔憂,是否就會像歐洲人那樣,不需尋求宗教的慰藉?這樣一來,美國歷史上引以為傲,且被社會學家視 為資本主義原動力的敬天勤奮的「清教徒精神」,是否就要消失了?這個問題外人也許難以理解,但調查顯示的不信神人口,從過去聚集的美國西北部轉移到東北 部,卻令教會高層擔憂,因為東北部正是代表美國傳統的五月花號移民的發源地。當然,若說美國已步上一個「後基督」的國度,也許言之過早,但教會在政治與文 化上的影響力式微,卻是個不爭的事實。自認是無神論或不可知論的美國人,過去二十年來,人數雖然增加了四倍,但也不到四百萬人,佔人口比例極小。

- 政教分離受侵犯
值得注意的是去年大選中,自認沒有宗教依附(並非不信神)的人,百分之七十五都把票投給奧巴馬。這似乎反映出兩黨都要爭取的中間選民,對主流教會的反感。 尤其是財雄勢大的基督教福音教派,被保守的傳統大老把持,把頭埋在沙堆裏,拒絕承認威脅人類生存的地球暖化與能源等問題,認為上帝自有安排。他們把愛滋病 在非洲的蔓延視為天譴,也無視於同移民問題相關的貧窮與社會公義,眼裏緊盯的是同性戀、墮胎、同性婚姻等所謂「核心價值」議題。另一方面,他們又堅持以聖 經原則來詮釋政治社會生活的立場,反對公立學校講授達爾文進化論,結果難免陷入荒謬可笑的境地。今日美國無疑仍是一個基督的國度。但布殊八年教會對「政教 分離」原則的侵犯,使得美國的政治生活上演着一幕幕荒謬偽善的鬧劇。對政界和宗教界來說,這是應該引以為戒的。

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is it safe?

Many people ask the million dollar question all the time: Is it safe to download software from the Internet? There are so many wonderful software to be downloaded. However, they are also a major source of security breaches. How can we have the best of both worlds, downloading useful software but being immune to malicious ones. Recently, I read an article on CNN on this topic. You may wish to read the full article for the expert advice.

The author said surfing the Internet is like going for a walk in the woods. It is similar to what I said before that it is like walking in a busy street. He said it would be wise to venture forth with a clear idea of what poison ivy looks like in comparison to, say, sunflowers. Software is just code. Some of it is written well, some of it is written poorly, and some of it is written well to do poor things (and vice versa). In other words, software is only as good as its author, that author's intentions, and the application of those intentions to a given purpose.

Generally speaking, software from reputable sources should be relatively benign. A site like CNET's, with links from big-name sources and well-written, in-depth reviews with detailed system requirements and clear notice of whether a piece of software was scanned for malware or not, is likely to be safe. Search the Internet for what other people are saying about the software in question. Seeing where it is hosted can give you some clues. If you can find evidence of the software being hosted by or linked from sites you trust, then the odds are good that it is probably okay.

Guard against forced download. If your browser tells you that you need to install something in order to view a web page. Check carefully before doing so. Only respond to trusted services like Adobe Flash, and make sure you are directed to its official link. Be very careful on software that has been pirated or cracked. Most likely malicious code has been inserted.

Do not assume that non-Windows operating systems (like Linux or Apple) are safe from the threat of a potential security breach. Although most unscrupulous malware programmers target Windows, other operating systems are equally vulnerable.

Make sure you have always got security software running and keeping it updated.

If you are totally paranoid and want to avoid downloading altogether, there are now services on the Internet on cloud computing. Software can be run directly online from trusted sites of service providers. Google Docs is a good example. More application service providers are coming up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

David Garrett 與柴可夫斯基

上週末一連三天馬拉松式聽音樂會,主要是聽 David Garrett與柴可夫斯基。他們究竟有什麼關係?答案是沒有關係。David Garrett並非演奏柴可夫斯基的音樂,只不過港樂和小交連續兩晚分別演出柴三和柴五交響曲,而 David Garrett來港又一連兩晚有不同曲目的音樂會。因緣際會,忽然變得十分忙碌。


三場音樂會的主角都是小提琴。和港樂合作的是 Julian Rachlin,演奏浦羅哥菲夫的G小調第二小提琴協奏曲。Rachlin來頭不少,他選奏這首樂曲技巧難度甚高,而樂曲本身在欣賞時亦有難度,但比較其他浦羅哥菲夫的作品已算溫和。週六和週日的音樂會就以 David Garrett為主角,因為他近年走紅之故,兩場音樂會都全場滿座。

週六的音樂會他演奏布魯赫的 G小調第一小提琴協奏曲。這首名曲百聽不厭,但他拉出來別有一番味道。我覺得他的演繹在速度上放慢了一點,旋律聽起來更加清晰,樂思亦更抒情;在快速的段落很多細節都清楚表達。我有點奇怪他選擇這樣演繹,我以為以他著名高超的技巧,他會選擇用一個較快的速度。週日的音樂會是一個愉快的場合。曲目適合年青人欣賞,有 Peer Gynt Suite 和 Carmen Suite。David Garrett 演出他的拿手好戲,都是他的暢銷唱片的選曲,是他特別改編的古典音樂精華,有 Hungarian Dance No. 5, Humoresque和 Csardas。現場氣氛熱烈,他亦毫不吝嗇,encore四次。

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Religious images 宗教影像

神是無所不在,至少在概念上是如此。在宗教立場,神在現實裡也是無所不在。如果信仰很堅定,在日常生活裡四處都會看見宗教影像,這是 seeing is believing 的反義。英國電訊報就收集了一批著名的宗教影像,以供讀者作為警惕。

一位匹茲堡居民家裡的浴缸旁邊灰泥的水漬竟然呈現耶穌像。我看來覺得完全不相似,但這塊灰泥被放上 eBay 拍賣,以2,000美元售出。






一塊焗芝士多士現出聖母形象。這件多士在2004年11月以28,000美元售出。其實多焗幾塊多士始終會見到聖母,不過很難再有人以28,000美元 買。














Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Free Culture

Free Culture
The Nature and Future of Creativity
by Lawrence Lessig

The author of the book, Lawrence Lessig, is a professor of law at Stanford Law School. He is a crusader for reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark, and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications. He is well known for representing Eldred in the case Eldred v Ashcroft where he fought in the US Supreme Court that the numerous extensions of copyright duration by the US Congress was unconstitutional. He explained the case in details in the book and admitted his mistake. He argued that the extension was unconstitutional because the Constitution has a clause on limited time of copyright, and that repeated extension would render copyright with no time limit. He regretted that he did not take the advice of his legal partners that the case should be presented to the Supreme Court highlighting the harm done to free culture owing to unending copyright. A mere academic explanation of the letters of the Constitution was not sufficient to impress the Supreme Court. As a result of such copyright extensions, the public domain of publications has ceased to expand since 1923.

With regard to property right, he cited the case of Causbys. The Causbys sued the US government of allowing airplanes to fly over their farm. The Causbys argued that the property right of their land would include the space above it, and that the government was trespassing on their property. In 1945, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the decision of the Congress with a simple statement that "Common sense revolts at the idea". As such, hundreds of years of property right was erased. Lessig likened this case to the numerous extensions of copyright duration. The unlimited copyright duration has led to all published materials: books, music, films, to be excluded from the public domain forever. Common sense should revolt at this idea as well. Free culture, free as in freedom not free lunch, is threatened as copyright could restrain all adaptations of published materials.

Lessig explained in details the origin, history and trend of the copyright issue. One topic which I am quite interested, and which deeply affects the Internet, is the downloading of files, in particular the peer-to-peer, P2P, file sharing technology which enables fast transmission and copying of digital files. A strong lobby comprising book publishers, music recording companies and movie companies are seeking strong enforcement power on the transmission of copyright materials on the Internet. The most advanced technology in the dissemination of knowledge is being restrained, as well as the free culture.

On file sharing, Lessig divided them into four types by the content shared:

Type A. Some people use sharing networks as substitutes for purchasing content. Although it is arguable whether everyone who takes content this way would actually have bought it if sharing didn't make it available for free, there are some who would, thus depriving the legitimate sale of copyright content.

Type B. Some people use sharing networks to sample content before purchasing it. This is a kind of target advertising which is quite likely to succeed. The net effect of this sharing could increase the quantity of content purchased.

Type C. There are many who use sharing networks to get access to copyrighted content that is no longer sold. For content not sold, there is still technically a violation of copyright, although because the copyright owner is not selling the content anymore, the economic harm is zero.

Type D. There are many who use sharing networks to get access to content that is not copyrighted or that the copyright owner wants to give away.

Only type D sharing is clearly legal from the perspective of the law. If viewed from the perspective of economics, only type A sharing is harmful. Type B is illegal but beneficial to the owner. Type C is illegal yet good for the society. Any reform of the law and enforcement actions should take all these into account. They must avoid burdening type D even if it aims to eliminate type A. They should also consider the magnitude of type B and assess the actual harm done against the benefits gained. Instead of vigorously putting off all file sharing activities, Lessig suggested a model that could solve the problem and satisfy all parties. First, there should be a register of copyright materials. This would establish a clear legal status of copyright so that people wishing to use copyright materials could have a clear channel to seek permission. Second, there should be a definite duration of copyright to enable owners to receive their fair share of benefits. Third, such duration could be reasonably extended for those with continued value. Materials which their owners would wish to surrender copyright, or with expired copyright could enter the public domain for either free sharing or be used at a nominal cost. At present, these proposals are fiercely resisted by the interest parties who wish copyright to be forever.

Notwithstanding the impasse, there are clear signs that the present struggle of file copying and file sharing on the Internet is only temporary. The Internet is quickly moving into its next phase of fast connection speed and perpetual availability. Broadband connection is now widely used, and its speed is expected to be further enhanced. Fibre-optic connection and wireless connection are making Internet access more convenient and virtually always available. There are at present many websites offering online on-the-fly music listening, movie viewing and electronic book reading. There will soon be no need for a user to download content from sharing networks as content is readily available any time we need. The freedom of using such knowledge and thus enabling a free culture is what Lessig is looking forward to.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Call God

I read an interesting news article on BBC lately. It showed how the very faithful would go any direction to make contact with god. It was a project in the Netherlands called God's Hotline. If you are interested in the story, you may wish to read the full article.

A Dutch artist set up the project and designated a mobile phone number as the telephone number of God. People could call this number, but they would have to leave a message. It was part of an art installation in the town of Groningen. The telephone would first play a voice mail message which said: "This is the voice of God, I am not able to speak to you at the moment, but please leave a message." Within a week, there were 1,000 messages left on the answer machine.

The artist claimed that the focus of the project was on changes to the ways Dutch people perceived religion, although some critics said the project would mock those with religious belief. The artists said that the content of the messages would remain confidential and would not form part of the art project. But who knows, now that the voice recordings were permanent records.

Such Call God behaviour is not new. There was another articles in the archive which was equally interesting. It was about a phenomenon arising from the movie Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey.

Jim Carrey was a man chosen by God to be Him for a few days. Morgan Freeman was God. The movie exposed many misconceptions on religion. In proving to Jim Carrey, God would guess how many fingers Jim was hiding behind. Of course God was right every time. At last, God said "Seven fingers", and Jim gladly showed his hand to prove God wrong, only to find that he really had seven fingers.

The moral of this scene to me was that God was always right, even when he was wrong he could make it right. There was no real truth in him because he could make anything false true. True and false are relative. When there is no falseness, there is no truth.

In the movie, God gave his telephone number to Jim. The tragedy then began. Several people in the UK and USA using the same telephone number then received phone calls from unknown persons asking for God's help. A man in Manchester received as many as 70 such phone calls a day, asking for help and forgiveness and all sorts of weird questions.

Normally, phone numbers used in movies were non-existent so as not to flash a real number on the screen, but this time it was not. The victim was now considering taking legal action against the movie company..... of nuisance being God.