Sunday, January 30, 2011

No shortage of suckers

I got a huge laugh out of the Sunday Times this morning, and it wasn’t from reading the comics. The headline that caught my eye read “Tuition to train the brain,” and was accompanied by a photo of a kiasu couple watching their young daughter supposedly identify cards while blindfolded. (Clarification: the daughter was blindfolded, not the parents, but I doubt the parents really “see” that well.) The article discusses the rising popularity of brain stimulation classes, some of which claim that their students will learn to see and read while blindfolded.

I have no doubt that children can learn to read while blindfolded – provided they are learning Braille.

The two medical experts quoted in the article were not impressed. But the boss of one of these brain building afademies explained his program: the children play games, sing, and watch funny videos (I’m guessing Tom and Jerry or Mr Bean) while a machine plays sounds in the background. Ooooo-eeeee-oooh. He was actually quoted as saying “I can’t explain it scientifically, it’s a mystery.” No doubt. His academy only takes children between ages 5-12, but it will accept older kids if they are deemed suitable after an interview. I can imagine the interview going something like this:

Brain boss: “Are your parents able and willing to pay our exorbitant fees?”
Prospective but over-aged student :”Yes.”
Brain boss: “OK, you’re in.”

The article did not just quote a couple of neurological authorities and the academy heads, it also quoted a couple of parents. One parent reported a change in her son’s personality after a few days! Another has yet to notice any academic improvement in her son since he began the course, but feels the kid is more confident in doing his homework. Sounds like the placebo effect to me. And by the way, she is now an “ambassador” for the company and gets 12% commission for referrals. Sounds like the dollar effect to me now.

I recall a recent article about the alkaline water business (on which I commented on November 22, 2010) and I am struck by the similarity of the structure of the articles. An unbelievable claim, promoters careful not to say anything that will get them in trouble, some half-hearted testimonials by unqualified or biased supporters, and a couple of qualified experts offering very reserved opinions casting doubt on the claims. Maybe it’s a formula they teach at journalism school.

I hope the next time ST covers such a dubious product or service they get experts willing to call a spade a spade. Of course, most experts are very cautious as they may not know all the facts (one never does) and are afraid of being sued.

With this kind of hard-hitting investigative reporting it’s just a matter of days before we read about the next bunch of suckers.

I have not seen many tiger moms in Singapore, but it seems there are lemming moms and sheep dads aplenty.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

State of the City (of Miami)

People have been asking about my trip to Miami, so I’ll lay it out for you. Miami was about the same as last year, only more so. Let me explain.

Cell phones. I usually enjoy driving in Miami – it’s not nearly as stressful as driving in Singapore. But this year I’d have to call it about even. The reason is cell phone related. It appears that Miami cars will not move unless the driver is talking on the cell. You see a guy creeping along with half a mile of space between him and the car in front and as you pass him and shoot him a dirty look you notice he is on the phone. Everyone in the mall is also on the phone. What the hell are these people talking about all the time? I almost wonder how people were able to function before we all had cell phones.

Traffic. As if driving while yakking on the phone isn’t bad enough, most of the expressways are in their usual state of being under renovation. You drive along and see debris everywhere, the roads lined with earth moving equipment of all sorts, yet you never see any work being done. Maybe they ran out of money. It’s been going on for many years, but this time I noticed signs on the road saying the works would be completed in – get this: 2015. Wanna bet?

Cars. Last year marked the debut of the “new” retro Camaro and Mustang. This year I noticed quite a few new retro Dodge Chargers. I sure hope they don’t bring back the AMC Gremlin.

Bazoombas. It looks like the last few adult women who had not had boob jobs have now had them. Not a single woman over the age of 18 has avoided the knife, and the teen market is rapidly being exploited. This is disturbing on several counts:

1. So many doctors are going into plastic surgery rather than doing something useful with their lives. Don’t they have any qualms about taking a seat in medical school just to give insecure women bazoombas the size of Jay Leno’s head?

2. So many women are willing to look ridiculously fake in a pathetic attempt to feel good about themselves.

3. An entire generation of teenage boys will grow up never knowing the feel of a real breast.

Black leggings. I think I recall seeing one female who wasn’t wearing black leggings. Probably not.

Like I said, it’s all the same, only more so.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Guns "R" Us

One Sunday morning during my extended holiday in Miami I picked up a copy of the Miami Herald. The Sunday edition is quite hefty, though it is light on news. The damn thing is mostly advertising inserts from K-Mart, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, JCPenney, Walgreens, CVS, Staples, and practically every other store in the county.

There was even one from Badass Pro Shops (I have added a couple of letters to disguise the name). What do they sell there – bass? Pros? Bait? This Temple of Testosterone, this Monument to Macho sells everything the modern sportsman could ever want, and quite a bit more. A glance through the insert told me I had to see this place for myself.

I visited an outlet in the Doral area. In the parking lot was the usual array of pickup trucks with bumper stickers proclaiming “When guns are outlawed I will become an outlaw” and other comforting thoughts. Just inside the entrance was a cozy little cafe serving not beef jerky and trail mix but coffee and pastry, just like at your friendly neighbourhood bookstore. Inside it had all kinds of gear for fishing, scuba, hunting, and camping, including rods and reels, guns and knives, ammo galore, clothing for the great outdoors in all its forms, candy, plus a wide selection of boats and trailers and 4x4s. All this and more under one massive roof (though the boats were outside and technically not under the roof). This place would arouse Sarah Palin the way a trip to the jewelry store would excite most normal women.

In the midst of it all was the gigantic “educational aquarium,” which would not have been out of place at Sea World. I think they mean educational in the sense of how lobbyists “educate” politicians on various issues of importance to the public (not to mention themselves), such as, to pick a not exactly random example, the God-given right of everyone to own a gun. Or an entire arsenal.

Then I saw the object that had caught my eye in the ad. It was a Daisy BB gun, just like the ones my elementary school classmates used to shoot birds and squirrels and the occasional window. And it was only $29.99! And they even had some in pink! What is the educational message here?

On my trip back to Singapore we passed through Houston, and I noticed a very small Badass Pro Shop right there in the airport. What luck! I moseyed in and noticed that they sold mostly clothing and small items. I asked the lady who worked there if they sold any guns. She said not at that outlet, in a matter of fact tone that suggested she thought it wouldn’t be unusual to buy guns in a major international airport. I also spotted a Red Head Neck Pillow (you read it right, not a Redneck Head Pillow as you might expect) in a nice camouflage pattern for only $9.88. You wouldn’t want the friggin’ deer to see you napping, would you?