The Essential Value of Time

Time is usually something we don’t think about consciously.  However embedded in the word “time” is an entire worldview and even value system which we may not be consciously aware of. In the business culture, we often hear people say, “Time is money” and we feel rather apologetic if our time is not translated into activities that make money because then it seems to be a waste of time. But what does God consider to be a waste of time? What does He consider to be a fruitful use of time? To acknowledge the value of time as a thing of value in itself, is to acknowledge the Creator of that time.

The quote below Marvin Wilson gives an excellent view of time biblically (Our Father Abraham, p. 178)

It should be of more than a passing interest to Christians that the first thing in Scripture God sanctifies is not a place or thing but time. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen.2:3). “Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.” Biblical history is not the story of celebrating space, but the revelation of how a people learned to sanctify moments, events—time. Thus the essence of spirituality is for God’s people to know the dynamic presence and quickening power of the heavenly Lord at work on earth in their daily lives and activities.

As an interesting side point to this issue of time, Marvin shows how the influence of dualistic Greek thought have created the need to “make holy” things related to the physical and material world in the Church. This included things such as water, burial ground, crosses, and other religious objects. We see this influence also in the way we say our grace before meals.

Unlike the common practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver…”The berakhah (blessing) does not transfer holiness to the object itself, but rather entitles us to partake of the world’s pleasure…We give thanks to the Lord and testify thereby that the earth is his and we are but its caretakers.”

The ancient blessing used in Judaism as grace before meals was “Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

The ancient Hebrews would never have thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them … The postbiblical notion that one needed to sanctify, cleanse or purify what God has already created and declared to be good would be strange theology to the biblical writers.



How Intellectual Property Reinforces Inequality

The IP referred to by Stiglitz here is about the licensing of monopolies through the granting of patents. He argues that this type of activity amounts to rent-seeking (economic rent). Rent seeking does not in itself create wealth. Instead it adds to the burden of cost in entrepreneurship. Rent-seeking activities, if not controlled, will lead to monopolies of resources needed for economic activities.

When we use the term IP, we are referring to the knowledge base of social-economic architecture and management for sustainable development.

This is our unique contribution to a communal enterprise. It is not a cost factor. It is a provision to be ‘invested’ to create wealth.

— Simon Pang | Society of Antioch’s


How Intellectual Property Reinforces Inequality


In the war against inequality, we’ve become so used to bad news that we’re almost taken aback when something positive happens. And with the Supreme Court having affirmed that wealthy people and corporations have a constitutional right to buy American elections, who would have expected it to bring good news? But a decision in the term that just ended gave ordinary Americans something that is more precious than money alone — the right to live.

At first glance, the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, might seem like scientific arcana: the court ruled, unanimously, that human genes cannot be patented, though synthetic DNA, created in the laboratory, can be. But the real stakes were much higher, and the issues much more fundamental, than is commonly understood. The case was a battle between those who would privatize good health, making it a privilege to be enjoyed in proportion to wealth, and those who see it as a right for all — and a central component of a fair society and well-functioning economy. Even more deeply, it was about the way inequality is shaping our politics, legal institutions and the health of our population.

Unlike the bitter battles between Samsung and Apple, in which the referees (American courts), while making a pretense at balance, seem to consistently favor the home team, this was a case that was more than just a battle between corporate giants. It is a lens through which we can see the pernicious and far-reaching effects of inequality, what a victory over self-serving corporate behavior looks like and — just as important — how much we still risk losing in such fights.

Of course, the court and the parties didn’t frame the issues that way in their arguments and decision. A Utah firm, Myriad Genetics, had isolated two human genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that can contain mutations that predispose women who carry them to breast cancer — crucial knowledge for early detection and prevention. The company had successfully obtained patents for the genes. “Owning” the genes gave it the right to prevent others from testing for them. The core question of the case was seemingly technical: Are isolated, naturally occurring genes something that can be patented?

But the patents had devastating real-world implications, because they kept the prices for the diagnostics artificially high. Gene tests can actually be administered at low cost — a person can in fact have all 20,000 of her genes sequenced for about $1,000, to say nothing of much cheaper tests for a variety of specific pathologies. Myriad, however, charged about$4,000 for comprehensive testing on just two genes. Scientists have argued that there was nothing inherently special or superior about Myriad’s methods — it simply tested for genes that the company claimed to own, and did so by relying on data that was not available to others because of the patents.

Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs — a group of universities, researchers and patient advocates, represented by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation — other laboratories quickly announced that they would also begin offering tests for the breast cancer genes, underlining the fact that Myriad’s “innovation” was identifying existing genes, not developing the test for them. (Myriad is not done fighting, though, having filed two new lawsuits this month that seek to block the companies Ambry Genetics and Gene by Gene from administering their own BRCA tests, on the grounds that they violate other patents that Myriad holds.)

It should not be very surprising that Myriad has done everything it can to prevent its tests’ revenue stream from facing competition — indeed, after recovering somewhat from a 30 percent drop in the wake of the court ruling, its share price is still nearly 20 percent below what it wasbeforehand. It owned the genes, and didn’t want anybody trespassing on its property. In obtaining the patent, Myriad, like most corporations, seemed motivated more by maximizing profits than by saving lives — if it really cared about the latter, it could and would have done better at providing tests at lower costs and encourage others to develop better, more accurate and cheaper tests. Not surprisingly, it made labored arguments that its patents, which allowed monopolistic prices and exclusionary practices, were essential to incentivize future research. But when the devastating effects of its patents became apparent, and it remained adamant in exerting its full monopoly rights, these pretensions of interest in the greater good were woefully unconvincing.

The drug industry, as always, claimed that without patent protection, there would be no incentives for research and all would suffer. I filed an expert declaration with the court (pro bono), explaining why the industry’s arguments were wrong, and why this and similar patents actually impeded rather than fostered innovation. Other groups that filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs, like AARP, pointed out that Myriad’s patents prevented patients from obtaining second opinions and confirmatory tests. Recently, Myriad pledged it would not block such tests — a pledge it made even as it filed the lawsuits against Ambry Genetics, and Gene by Gene.

Myriad denied the test to two women in the case by rejecting their Medicaid insurance — according to the plaintiffs, because thereimbursement was too low. Other women, after one round of Myriad’s testing, had to make agonizing decisions about whether to have a single or double mastectomy, or whether to have their ovaries removed, with severely incomplete information — either Myriad’s testing for additional BRCA mutations was unaffordable (Myriad charges $700 extra for information that national guidelines say should be provided to patients), or second opinions were unattainable because of Myriad’s patents.

The good news coming from the Supreme Court was that in the United States, genes could not be patented. In a sense, the court gave back to women something they thought they already owned. This had two enormous practical implications: one is it meant that there could now be competition to develop better, more accurate, less expensive tests for the gene. We could once again have competitive markets driving innovation. And the second is that poor women would have a more equal chance to live — in this case, to conquer breast cancer.

But as important a victory as this is, it is ultimately only one corner of a global intellectual property landscape that is heavily shaped by corporate interests — usually American. And America has attempted to foist its intellectual property regime on others, through the World Trade Organization and bilateral and other multilateral trade regimes. It is doing so now in negotiations as part of the so-called trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade agreements are supposed to be an important instrument of diplomacy: closer trade integration brings closer ties in other dimensions. But attempts by the office of the United States Trade Representative to persuade others that, in effect, corporate profits are more important than human lives undermines America’s international standing: if anything, it reinforces the stereotype of the crass American.

Economic power often speaks louder, though, than moral values; and in the many instances in which American corporate interests prevail in intellectual property rights, our policies help increase inequality abroad. In most countries, it’s much the same as in the United States: the lives of the poor are sacrificed at the altar of corporate profits. But even in those where, say, the government would provide a test like Myriad’s at affordable prices for all, there is a cost: when a government pays monopoly prices for a medical test, it takes money away that could be spent for other lifesaving health expenditures.

The Myriad case was an embodiment of three key messages in my book “The Price of Inequality.” First, I argued that societal inequality was a result not just of the laws of economics, but also of how we shape the economy — through politics, including through almost every aspect of our legal system. Here, it’s our intellectual property regime that contributes needlessly to the gravest form of inequality. The right to life should not be contingent on the ability to pay.

The second is that some of the most iniquitous aspects of inequality creation within our economic system are a result of “rent-seeking”: profits, and inequality, generated by manipulating social or political conditions to get a larger share of the economic pie, rather than increasing the size of that pie. And the most iniquitous aspect of this wealth appropriation arises when the wealth that goes to the top comes at the expense of the bottom. Myriad’s efforts satisfied both these conditions: the profits the company gained from charging for its test added nothing to the size and dynamism of the economy, and simultaneously decreased the welfare of those who could not afford it.

While all of the insured contributed to Myriad’s profits — premiums had to go up to offset its fees, and millions of uninsured middle-income Americans who had to pay Myriad’s monopoly prices were on the hook for even more if they chose to get the test — it was the uninsured at the bottom who paid the highest price. With the test unaffordable, they faced a higher risk of early death.

Advocates of tough intellectual property rights say that this is simply the price we have to pay to get the innovation that, in the long run, will save lives. It’s a trade-off: the lives of a relatively few poor women today, versus the lives of many more women sometime in the future. But this claim is wrong in many ways. In this particular case, it is especially wrong, because the two genes would likely have been isolated (“discovered,” in Myriad’s terminology) soon anyway, as part of the global Human Genome Project. But it is wrong on other counts, as well. Genetic researchers have argued that the patent actually prevented the development of better tests, and so interfered with the advancement of science. All knowledge is based on prior knowledge, and by making prior knowledge less available, innovation is impeded. Myriad’s own discovery — like any in science — used technologies and ideas that were developed by others. Had that prior knowledge not been publicly available, Myriad could not have done what it did.

And that’s the third major theme. I titled my book to emphasize that inequality is not just morally repugnant but also has material costs. When the legal regime governing intellectual property rights is designed poorly, it facilitates rent-seeking — and ours is poorly designed, though this and other recent Supreme Court decisions have led to one that is better than it otherwise would have been. And the result is that there is actually less innovation and more inequality.

Indeed, one of the important insights of Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian who died last month, was that a synergy between improved health and technology accounts for a good part of the explosive economic growth since the 19th century. So it stands to reason that intellectual property regimes that create monopoly rents that impede access to health both create inequality and hamper growth more generally.

There are alternatives. Advocates of intellectual property rights have overemphasized their role in promoting innovation. Most of the key innovations — from the basic ideas underlying the computer, to transistors, to lasers, to the discovery of DNA — were not motivated by pecuniary gain. They were motivated by the quest for knowledge. Of course, resources have to be made available. But the patent system is only one way, and often not the best way, of providing these resources. Government-financed research, foundations, and the prize system (which offers a prize to whoever makes a discovery, and then makes the knowledge widely available, using the power of the market to reap the benefits) are alternatives, with major advantages, and without the inequality-increasing disadvantages of the current intellectual property rights system.

Myriad’s effort to patent human DNA was one of the worst manifestations of the inequality in access to health, which in turn is one of the worst manifestations of the country’s economic inequality. That the court decision has upheld our cherished rights and values is a cause for a sigh of relief. But it is only one victory in the bigger struggle for a more egalitarian society and economy.


Why, Why, Why?

This poem is raw but full of thought, written by a talented young man on his first visit to a farm in Germany, and perhaps inspired by the nobility of the beautiful white Icelandic horses he saw there.

By Moses Ng, Germany, June 2013,

You could be a horse,
a young stallion full of force,
daily eating your hay,
feeling very gay.

But Nay! Nay! Nay!
You are a human being,
full of love and feeling
but in came the Faust,
and now we are one of the lost.

So Why! Why! Why!
Do we lie and cheat and steal?
Because evil in the world is real.
Countries give their reasons for war
but what are the soldiers really fighting for?

True evil has adorned itself
with a mask of good,
And now the weak and helpless
will become their food.

The Forever Questions

The Forever Questions

A life without questions is one without life. It is in the questions that we look at the world around us with a sense that there is something more to life than what we understand. It is in the questions that we are humbled and thus open to life.

You don’t want a million answers as much as you want a few forever questions.

The questions are diamonds you hold in the light. Study a lifetime and you see different colors from the same jewel.

-Richard Bach


When Theology meets Anthrolopogy


“Theology has become anthropology since God became man…” Karl Barth.

The questions confronting the world today, in the realm of politics, economics and culture, are in essence questions that boil down to what it means to be human, what we understand by “human life,” and “person.”

Such issues have to be addressed head on, unapologetically. “Revealed truth cannot be abstracted from reconciling truth” (Ray Anderson) otherwise what we proclaim to be our faith are just statements in the wind, not the foundation from which the “fountain of life” springs forth. A living God and a living faith must necessarily bring solutions to a weary world mired in wars, injustice and economic distress as the gap of inequality grows between nations and even within the ‘rich” nations.

If we take the humanity of Christ seriously then we have to take all aspects of man’s humanity seriously, across the whole societal spectrum and dimensions which make up what we call life.

At the end of the day, we must seek an understanding of God and the way written in the Bible whereby Man may find true liberation – a liberation to be truly human.

Thoughts inspired by an old book I read  On Being Human:Essays in Theological Anthropology (Anderson, Ray S. MI: Eerdsmans, 1982)

Enterprise & the Creative Process – Learning from Art


NOT TOO LONG THE SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM (SAM) presented An Unbroken Line: The Wu Guanzhong Donation Collection (April 9-August 16, 2009)  which showcased 114 works by one of China’s most respected artist, representing five decades of his creative oeuvre.  I had expected to see traditional Chinese ink landscape paintings from a Master but what struck me instead was a man unafraid of life and totally open to its expression, liberal yet respectful. Thus in the midst of steep Chinese tradition was that splash of colour – amazing – how did he do that? It was here that I saw a man of vision and understanding, Not only was he an artist in the truest sense of the word but also a bold thinker who expressed his deep views of life, art and creativity through essays.

Wu Guan Zhong saw Singapore as a unique place “…positioned between the east and the west with regards to ethics and quality of life; it is close to China, as it is close to the west; the virtues of both sides are concentrated in you.” It was in Singapore that he made a generous donation of 113 works to SAM.  His life was one devoted to the development of culture, arts and education. His is the highest valued donation presented to a public museum in Singapore. During the exhibition as I walked through his pictures and words, his thoughts on “Synthesis of Oil and Ink Practices”, particularly struck me. It said:

“[…] Oil and ink painting are like the two blades of a pair of scissors cutting out a new outfit. The two blades may not necessarily be of the same length, and the ways of using the scissors, exerting different strengths, for example, may also differ from time to time. Hence, when I feel that I have come to a deadlock in oil painting, I will choose to paint in ink. However, I will revert to oil when I feel that my dabbling in ink has come to a deadlock.”

Wu guanzhong 吳冠中 (1919-2010) Yixing, Jiangsu, China

Synthesis in the Creative Process – How We Can Learn to Work Together

Evident in Wu’s work is an innate tension that exist between different elements, for example, the art forms of oil and ink, Chinese and Western traditions, historical and contemporary expressions, notions of the individual and community etc.

However instead of chaos, these diverse elements are synthesized and become part of the creative force which he uses to build a work that becomes uplifting and beautiful. Wu is able to cross over areas and make connections that would have been daunting for most, and he does this in bold strokes which reflects strength of vision and faith. I made a note of the above quote from the exhibition because of the masterful insightfulness in which the creative process and its elements are explained.

In the above quote, Wu has provided a beautiful analogy of how different elements could and should work together to produce new realities. Art is a medium that expresses the spiritual through movement of lines and colours. Different mediums are necessary to express different thing, however, even then, there are limitations to each art form.

Wu’s insight is that new realities can be forged into existence when different elements, though limited in themselves, come together in an interplay of different strengths working to create an effect that each by itself, would have been incapable of achieving.

In the realm of ideas, this also holds true. No two persons think alike in form, style and structure but when they are able to come together, like two blades of a pair of scissors, they have a power to cut through old thinking and realities.

Cutting through Creative Impasse

From my personal experience, I have found that when a certain thought or idea comes to a deadlock, often it takes another person with a different view coming alongside with his “blade of thought” which makes the difference in cutting through a conceptual impasse. Two blades of thoughts in dynamic interplay much like blades of a pair of scissors, have the power to cut out new realities, that a person by himself, may never be able to do.

I’d like to think that Wu’s insight on the creative process explains well why working together is the best way to get to real solutions.  That is why the Kingdom of heaven that the Bible speaks of, and a reality that is to be established on earth, can only be “cut out” through the dynamics found in a body of different parts, yet moving in tandem, like blades of a pair of scissors. Each role, when it comes to a deadlock, finds a breakthrough through the thinking or action of another person. The beauty of this is that the “blades” need not be of the same length nor strength, just the will to work together in harmony for the same objective. Wonderful isn’t it?

To see more of Wu Guan Zhong’s works and that of other Chinese Masters, I’d recommend the website  chinaonlinemuseum

The Abrahamic Heart of Family

In my understanding of the Abrahamic model of family and household, the nations are part of family whom we are to be a blessing to, not peoples apart from ourselves, The Hebraic way of seeing and thinking about society is significantly different from the Hellenic.

The Abrahamic family model is best understood with a Hebraic pattern of thought, which is premised upon a heart of understanding. In the Family model, the prerequisite is a covenant God makes with His chosen servant to whom he appoints His mandate. The essence of that chosen servant is his heart.

In contrast, the Hellenistic view of community is based on the superior “reason” of the “guardians” and as Richard Niebuhr pointed out, the basic fallacy of Hellenistic thinking was to regard the rational faculty as the source of justice. They had the “the illusion that the rulers were the instruments of justice because they possessed a higher measure of mind.” This is in contrast to Solomonic wisdom which begins with the heart. “Wisdom resteth in the heart of him who hath understanding.” (Prov 14:33)

When God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked what He could give him, Solomon asked for a heart of understanding to discern judgment for the people’s sake. “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” (1 Kings 3:9). God was so pleased it is recorded that He gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore (1 Kings 4:29).

The Hellenistic worldview tends to put the world, the self and God into a tidy little box called “reason” and explains everything from that perspective. It is a wisdom that descends not from above but is earthly, sensual and devilish (James 3:15). God’s wisdom is not in the words with which Hellenistic wisdom teaches but which the Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual ( I Cor 2:13).

“The Covenant of God with Israel is an article of faith.” A servant in covenant to His God acknowledges One higher than him and and hence the way of knowing and how he apprehends reality is completely different from one that is based on a Hellenic worldview. The Hebraic is predicated upon faith and not by sight.

Abrahamic vision is possible only because he saw by faith, which allowed God to put into such a man a “largeness of heart,” a heart without borders. Some people have spoken of a liquid church in the days to come, well, it certainly would have to have people with such ‘large hearts,” who can cross any borders, geographical, cultural or racial. The Abrahamic call is therefore one that is expansive and outward, beginning with a servant who leads in “washing the feet” of his ‘outer family,’ so that “all families of the earth’ may be blessed. We catch a glimpse of that servant heart in action from Genesis 19:2-4.

The understanding of the Abrahamic Family is Hebraic in heart and goes against our current understanding and knowledge of economics and politics which has been built from a rationalistic Hellenistic foundation. But can you imagine if this Abrahamic understanding is received by God’s people, the changes to economics and politics will be nothing less than tsunamic!

The reason why we have seen much oppression and injustice in the system of the world is because we have lost the Abrahamic heart of family. The “hearts of the fathers” have grown cold and they have forgotten their children. Because they have lost their “hearts,” the prerequisite for God’s wisdom, they do not have the “wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17) to cut across cages that have bound the people, so that like prodigal sons, they may return to the Lord their God. The “wisdom of the just” in action is “the economics of philanthropy”which people can see and so open their eyes to the God they have forgotten.

God has brought us to recover a most fundamental truth of family, a truth that will help us to rebuild nations, raise up the former desolations and bring justice, righteousness and healing to them, the forgotten “sons of God” whom He loves and has commissioned us to be witnesses to.

We are coming into a fuller understanding of the call of Elijah and what it means in the light of the family.

“And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.”(Luke 1:17).

And in Malachi 4:6

“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the children to their fathers…”

It is indeed a hearty matter and that I suppose, in a nutshell, that is the essence of the Hebraic. Reality is first apprehended through a heart of understanding and then followed by a willing mind which finds its path of thought in His statutes, and His judgments and commandments.

“Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:37)

Do you Swing Inwards or Outwards?

Do you swing inwards or outwards?

Taken by iphone4s. Singapore, November 15, 2012 | Apps used ProHDR and PhotoToaster

On a stroll in my old Tiong Bahru neighbourhood, walking  through a small lane, I saw this quaint door, quiet and unassuming yet charming. It reminded me of this quote on doors and happiness, which I leave for you to ponder:

The door to happiness swings outward

Zhuang Xueben – The Art of Life

Zhuang Xueben (1909-1984)



I remember one afternoon walking around a plaza when I came across an exhibition showing black and white photos that piqued my interest. These were powerful close-up pictures of faces that drew the onlooker to take a second look. That was the first time I came across the Chinese photographer Zhuang Xueben. His pictures had a special quality of sensitivity and thoughtfulness about them. By now I was intrigued and noted down, from the exhibition, information about Zhuang and his photography. I’m sharing them here for those who are interested in photography and a little about Zhuang Xueben.

Zhuang Xueben

Sanctity and dignity – these are the descriptions often to describe the late Zhuang Xueben’s portraiture photographs.

His close-up pictures of members of various ethnic minority groups wield such power that the viewer is moved, if rather inexplicably at first, into pausing to contemplate the striking tranquility and beauty on the faces of these people. Almost invariably, his subjects look notably at ease and display the same serenity and elegance, regardless of their social status within the community.

Zhuang is able not only to close the distance between the subject and the photographer – two strangers, as it were – but also to draw out the personality of the people and to encourage them to communicate with the camera. This ability is testament to his long exposure to, and deep understanding of, the different ethnic groups, their individual traditions, and unique characteristics.

Ultimately, despite the fact that Zhuang’s pictures were said to have been more for the purpose of anthropological record, their artistic value and charm have transcended space and time to strike a chord in the modern viewer.

Zhuang Xueben’s portraits were unique in that the characteristics of the border tribes of that era were distinctly perceptible – by looking at these faces as presented, one senses the social conditions and prevailing attitudes of the 1930s. Perhaps the essence of that distant period may not be easily understood now, but the skill of the master photographer cannot be denied.

If you interested in photographers from China, there’s a link that features an interesting collection of their work