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Friday, May 05, 2017 - 00:27 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

- -
A For Academia (Part II)

"Singaporeans at large must learn to question. Even if I can't stand (for election), never mind, but Singaporeans must stand up and think whether this is right.
If all of us stay silent I feel sorry for this place.

- Dr. Tan Cheng Bock

Foundational Principles

"No. Not even in the face of Armageddon.
Never compromise.

- Rorschach

Having gone over the negatives of academia in the previous post, one might fairly wonder why anybody might ever be attracted to such a life. The way I see it, academia's lure lies in two precepts (and, in a cinch, free food):
  1. To discover (new) truths
  2. To disseminate said truths

The right to pursue and discuss ideas that are unfashionable, unpopular and inconvenient to the powers-that-be is a cornerstone of academics, which is why hostile takeovers (and non-democratic term extensions) of the state apparatus have invariably involved the suppression and closure of universities [N.B. This is also one of the main reasons behind the institution of tenure, which is to protect professors from having to self-censor themselves to the whims of the reigning monarch (or overbearing colleagues), at least to an extent.]

Since this is so often at odds with competing power-hungry institutions (most notably governments and religions, when they're not contending with each other), proper colleges tend to be embroiled in a perpetual struggle to maintain their academic integrity. Note, for instance, the constant questioning over whether Yale's local tie-in will ever be able to truly, freely express itself, and not find its reputation for unbridled inquiry (already at a premium here) hocked off for tainted silver.

But, even in the home of liberty, this right is under threat.

...until TRUMP praises Hitler, and then it'll be:
how dare you besmirch an animal lover? REEEEEE

It could hardly get more ironic. Berkeley, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement that drove America's civil rights development, has of late been infested by violent masked anti-First Amendment blackshirts, with the tacit approval of administration sellouts. The GOD-EMPEROR's legions remain unbowed, thankfully, and have assembled to repel the scourge of basement-dwelling Soros lackeys. With any luck, Milo will retake the hallowed grounds later in the year, to remind the world that GREAT AMERICA does not yield to terrorism.

I'm only growing ever more convinced that the rioters are intellectually bankrupt - guy proposes a passive defence, and he's a monster, but business as usual (i.e. bombings) under the previous chap, and it's all a-ok because he speaks so eloquently... and wait, are you a racist? Meanwhile, the War of Information continues, with Google regrettably deviating from their original "don't be evil" principles, by partnering with hopelessly biased "fact-checkers" to impose censorship, all the while pushing cringing baseless globalist twaddle of their own.

Fortunately, one gets the sense that the Truth is prevailing, in the battle against fake Fake News. Wikileaks is thriving against the uproaringly-hilarious gumption of the CIA calling them a "hostile intelligence service" (maybe they are, but what are you?). As for Facebook, it looks like they've finally had enough of the Germans trying to blackmail them, and are now admitting that they had been exploited by governments to spread propaganda. And, for the cherry on top, Russia is investigating CNN for illegally influencing their paliamentary elections. The best timeline, folks!

Speak now, or forever hold up the daisies.
(Source: r/the_donald)

Unfortunately, Singapore is some distance from the frontlines in this war, wth action limited to the usual bashing of alternative news sites, even as our national broadsheet continues passing over a Member of Parliament's commentary on pertinent issues of significant public interest, in favour of soliloquies on being bereft of an oven (buey tahan liao, lah)

In truth, however, much of the local flavour of propaganda is slowly unravelling. For example, the long-running "asset appreciation" line has been thrown into disarray with the no SERS warning, with the relevant minister somehow still trying to explain how a depreciating asset remains a good store of value, especially given our demographics and the lease setup (shades of the hedgie's excuse on [predictably] losing to Buffett here). Hearteningly, this hard truth is increasingly being recognized, by men of taste and style.

But, back to the main point: the spirit of an academic, I believe, rests in his determination to read, to think, to speak; if ordered not to, he must ignore; if forced into silence, he must quit; if pressured by political influence, he must resist; if threatened to change his opinion by religious fundamentalists on pain of death, he must die without recanting. This is the measure of a soul dedicated to knowledge and the truth, wherever they may lie. Not promise of gold, nor empty accolades, shall sway him from his mission - to know.

Was there ever anything else to it?

"Beware he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart, he dreams himself your master."

- Commissioner Pravin Lal, Alpha Centauri

Innovation By Mantra

"Innovate faster."

- the latest bright idea from the Ministry of Manpower

You can't say they aren't trying. A decade ago, it was only about working faster (and cheaper, and better), but now, advice has advanced to innovating more quickly. Any day now, I expect the official solution to tackling (the increasing prevalence of) poverty and low social mobility to be stated as "earn more money". In fact, it's come to stealing others' lunches, from guarding one's own, so I suppose the incumbents have resorted to daylight robbery as the core of our next developmental masterplan.

Definitely, the flow of propaganda - so deeply embedded in citizens' micromanaged lifestyles - continues unabated, but one senses that nothing has changed. It'll be the same pitiful hot-housing ladder-climbing from childhood, the same seeking admission to brand-name schools (which have fortunately mostly survived the culling brought on by failed population policies) by hook or crook, the same utterly pragmatic tertiary education (it seems that the best selling point they could find for the arts and social sciences was "Taking Local Businesses Global"!), and after it all, the bombastic self-declaration of victory ("Singapore overtakes Silicon Valley as No. 1 for global start-up talent" [?!]; I mean, it was funny the first time, much as I respect my alma mater, but jokes can get stale.)

In their defence, the incumbents have not been too stingy about allocating funds when it suits their fancy (though it of course still pales when compared to the black hole that is Our Most Successful Investment Firm), with a billion-dollar "innovation fund" being newly announced (too late for the last batch of guys who came up with solutions, sadly)

Netizen confidence appears muted, though, as they [justly] pointed to the government's at-best-spotty record of picking winners, with more than a few pointing to the EDB and NCB's miserable treatment of Sim Wong Hoo - one of the few local entrepreneurs who even came close to creating a global brand - as evidence that the government bureaucrats probably wouldn't recognize innovation if it fell out of a tree and hit them with a stick; hmm, maybe if we get it to mismanage town councils (contrast airtime given to the AMK case)...

Anyway, the point is: you want real innovation, you gotta let go, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

The Example Of FAS

"This team isn't ours, they are all naturalised, not a single Qatari is playing, this team plays with no soul.
I would rather lose 0-20 with Qatari players, than play with Messi or Cristiano.

- a bunch of Qatari kids displaying more understanding of the true meaning of sports, than the local ministers

When FIFA - ass-ridden from top to bottom with corruption FIFA - comes after you for hanky-panky, you know it's bad. Well, that's what happened to the Football Association of Singapore, which come to think of it, could be recognized as a microcosm of our greater political system.

I don't want to go into how many grand plans to Make Singapore Football Great Again there have been over the past decades, but let's just say it's gone from bad to worse. Hariss not managing to get an overseas stint was just unlucky, but when the national team's ranking has dropped below even our press freedom ranking - 171, to be precise - one has to think that there are systematic issues. I mean, Daniel Bennett isn't bad, but he's 39 years old, and with due respect I don't think he's exactly Paolo Maldini - surely there has to be some other young-and-eager talent available?

And then one reads about how national players are earning less than S$3000 a month, and how the CPF Board is investigating S.League clubs for not making CPF contributions to top it off (not that it'll help much; though, The State's Times was at least willing to state the obvious on this shambles), and one wonders how they got Bennett to turn up.

Anyway, when FIFA forced the FAS to hold a proper election (my word, what has the world come to?), I had some faint hope of an actual shake-up, with the organization moving away from the usual assortment of former incumbent politicians and army retirees put to pasture. I mean, it's just kicking a ball around, for heaven's sake! If you want to fix the Elected Presidency, or keep an iron grip on Our Kinda Successful Investment Firm, I can at least understand the logic, but surely allowing some outsiders in for once to tackle the zombie that is the FAS can't be that sensitive?

Well, it turns out, cannot. And frankly, it's hard to imagine that there was so much crap to uncover. Hougang United chairman Bill Ng stepped up, and almost immediately got involved in the matter of a missing S$850000 from Tiong Bahru FC (also under his control). The FAS incumbents challenged his version of the tale, before it was revealed that they were in the same bed, with everyone soon hauled up by the CAD. Somehow, the election was allowed to go forward, and the incumbents' alternate team (maintaining the usual makeup) duly won, leading to a Freudian slip by our trusty national broadsheet.

The most interesting revelation, however, was that despite S.League clubs apparently being skint, Tiong Bahru FC - an amateur club that doesn't even pay its players, mind - had S$850000 to just give away... what the heck, they collected over S$36 million in annual revenue, of which S$5 million was pure profit? To put that in perspective, the entire S.League budget can be estimated to be around S$14 million, and total grassroots spending on football, S$0.25 million.

Oh, they basically operated a casino.

This somehow feels at once fitting and horrific, given the local environment, and while the newly-installed admins are spouting the expected buzzwords, I would be extremely - if pleasantly - surprised if anything at all changes. Oh well, at least my second team Brighton and Hove Albion got promoted.

By the way, I'm off travelling for the next two weeks, so expect updates to be light.

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Sunday, Apr 30, 2017 - 20:33 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

- -
A For Academia (Part I)

Seeing as that I'm a over a year out from somehow escaping with my doctorate, it might be appropriate to dispense some scattered observations, thoughts and advice on the experience.

To provide some context, I'm not someone who naturally picks these things up through conversations with peers and advisors (largely due to being light on the "conversation" bit - mostly lone-wolfed it through the ten years total), which I'd say has its advantages and disadvantages. Thinking back, there are probably a few things I'd have done differently had I known, but on balance it turned out mostly ok, so...

Why Do Grad School?

This is my life now.
(Source: r/GradSchool, reference)

There's a website dedicated to providing a hundred reasons as to why not, with money (and jobs) being such a broad underlying concern that I'll cover it in its own section later. Since it should be a duty to scare off bright-eyed prospective grad students (those up for professional Masters perhaps excepted), to avoid them from signing up for more than they bargained for, I'll list a few of the most pertinent:

  • "Fads" and Trends: Oftentimes, there will be some hot new topic or technique in any particular discipline (that said, likely for a good reason). One could hold out and keep with whatever one likes/is familiar with/is good at/one's advisor has been doing for years, and in all honesty, it might well be extremely worthy and challenging work. However, a more worldly realisation would be that "difficulty" and "demand/impact" are probably at best very weakly correlated...

  • Politics: No, no escaping this, not even in the ivory tower. As Sayre's famous quip goes, "the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low". As the usually-cynical (but generally clear-headed) anon commentators on the venerable Economics Job Market Rumors (EJMR) board love to note, much of the game is "protecting turf" (with empirical macro singled out for special mention). As might be expected, this effect is more pronounced in fields with fewer objective results available, as there's almost no way to conclusively rebutt another viewpoint (and it's tricky even in the hard sciences...)

  • Prestige Does Matter: If, after all this, one still insists on going down this route, it's best to keep in mind that where - or, at least, under whom - one obtains one's degree matters a lot, particularly if one intends to continue in academia (the Germans take those titles very seriously, and you don't wanna mess with them)

    Now, I'd like to say that a certification from a random decent college measures up to one from the Ivies in the academic reckoning, but in practice, it simply ain't so. Definitely, if you're expecting to rack up multiple Nature features, Econometrica papers, or prove that P != NP, then none of this matters a whit, but for the hopeful plodding strivers who make up the other 99.99%, I'd say that this at least merits consideration.

  • Advisor & Lab Culture: That said, if there's anything that trumps the school's name, it would be the advisor(s). Given that one's advisor is the person with the single (overwhelmingly) largest influence on when (or whether) one gets out with the golden ticket, choosing the right one might be the biggest determinant of success, outside of one's own work. Indeed, common wisdom is to prefer a great advisor (in terms of compatibility) and okay project/fit, over an okay advisor and great project/fit.

    A similar argument goes for the lab environment, given that one will likely be there for years - if the culture is f-ed up, it's going to be tough to get through tough times. Standard advice here is to inquire with the existing lab members, and/or try it out on a temp basis. Sure, some labs are intense, with the tradeoff of very good odds for high-impact publications - important thing, I suppose, is to know what to expect.

    Big shot but distant Full Professor,
    or hungry up-and-coming but underfunded Lecturer?

    (Source: phdcomics.com)

(No) Money

I won't sugarcoat it - if maximizing wealth is your objective, graduate school and a doctorate is probably at best a very inefficient way of going about it. While grad students probably won't starve, ramen for days is real, and then you get recountings by tenure-track professors on how they're selling blood plasma to pay the bills (interestingly, he appears a D.F. Wallace scholar, who's also been quoted by Gorsuch)

A natural reaction might be to dismiss such tales as Fake News - aren't university professors rich? - and the sad answer is, all too often, not really. Sure, it can work out financially... if one makes tenure, and if his field was lucrative to begin with. From the University of California's public salary information, yes, you can pull in three hundred grand a year as a full professor in CS, but that's for arguably being at the pinnacle of the profession, and doesn't compare to what approximately the same talent and effort would get in private industry (which may explain why new entrants are from developing countries, and why we're getting shafted on technical know-how)

Further, this is for the "ultimate winners", and glosses over the far more populous academic underclass - the adjunct faculty, visiting A.P.s, postdocs, grad student grunts, etc, who work for a relative pittance. Sure, there are the perks, mostly a certain degree of scheduling and intellectual freedom... in practice, often limited due to the necessity of winning and fulfilling grants (which always struck me as a bit of a paradox; if one already knows how an investigation is going to turn out, is it really research? Personally, I imagine the "tinkering" mode more likely to drive big developments than directed research, but in reality what I guess more than a few labs do is to perform the research first, and bill for it later)

Grant funding season is upon us!
[N.B. Still the most effective way to ask for cash]

To be fair, one can look at it from the perspective of the grant-giving organizations. Particularly if they're held accountable for the outputs by the ultimate funders (i.e. taxpayers, for government grants), there has always got to be the question of what's in it for us (and yes, there's a fair bit of slightly-kooky research). Looking at it this way, it's understandable if regrettable why humanities and the basic sciences are especially under-budgeted for. From Economics 101, if you can't capture the profits, it won't be valued.

Perhaps the most illustrative example of how crocked academia is, money-wise, is the publishing system. You have scholars working, oft for years, on their masterpieces, and assuming it passes review (by other scholars, who are donating their time and energy unpaid), they get the privilege of paying for their work to be published... and to top it off, their colleagues also get to pay to read it. A more pathetic deal, one could hardly imagine (and which burnishes my faith in GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP, promoter of women in STEM)

That said, money is indeed probably of questionable incentive in promoting good research, and direct compensation would likely shape it even more strongly towards flashy findings, than it has already been (and leads down a very slippery slope). But still, while there's the romance of being a Zhang Yitang or Thomas Royen and tackling big open problems for the heck of it, it has to be said that this idealised notion of research is neither likely to build a career, nor pay the rent.

A refreshing aspect of trading and finance, I feel, is that it can sometimes be even more of a pure meritocracy than academia - do your homework, put your stake down, and the market will inform you whether you were accurate; no rank to pull, no face to give, no worrying about offending others with critiques, no pontificating about why this theory doesn't apply even if the field leaders are insisting so. Certainly, when one watches one's portfolio fluctuate by the next few years of one's projected salary over the course of a normal market day, it's easy to wonder: what the heck am I doing?!

I'm Still Doing It

"Dissertations are not finished; they are abandoned."

- Fred Brooks (from Azuma's guide)

First off, congratulations for committing to a high-stress, near-minimum wage job for the better part of a decade! More seriously, if you aren't talking to those who're already in the game, do at least Google for their experiences. For example, for Computer Science, there's Philip Guo's The Ph.D. Grind, and Ronald Azuma's earlier classic (interestingly, both took six-plus years), among many others.

I'll further cut it down to three simple rules:
  1. Research is paramount (and if it ain't published, it doesn't really count)
  2. Research that goes towards one's dissertation is the highest priority of all
  3. Finished is better than perfect (mainly because perfect isn't even attainable)

Definitely, these aren't set in stone, but if you're a fresh graduate student who's not sure what's up, I don't think you'll go too far wrong keeping these in mind.

Basically, save rare extenuating circumstances, I'd say that one consideration should at least be in the back of one's head, when deciding whether to devote time and effort to some task: does this directly help me to graduate?

Getting As on coursework: not really...

Teaching: not really...

Other services: erm...

Of course, this is more for those who are running out the clock - if one has churned out three good first-author papers in one's first two years, then sure, do an internship, bunk over at the other department, whatever; if one has the dissertation all but done, but has made the strategic decision to stay a bit longer to be a more competitive job candidate, fine; but for the rest of us, it's not a bad rule of thumb.

[To be continued...]

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Sunday, Apr 16, 2017 - 19:26 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

The Kings Of Trolls

Before getting to the main topic, a happy reminder that we are living in the best timeline. It was all set up for World War III, according to the Fake News-peddling mainstream media (as exposed by an A.I. pioneer).

Two deities were on a collision course: from the Workers' Paradise, the chubby Marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, Bright Sun of Juche, Swiper of Swedish Volvos, Detainer of Malaysian Tourists, Kim Jong Un; and from GREAT AMERICA, the People's Champion, Last Hope of Western Civilization, Defender of the Constitution, Conqueror of Bushes, Crooked Hillary and the Deep State, and 45th President of the United States, GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP.

The fate of the world again hung in the balance, as echoes of the past rang inexorably. The metallic tang of gamesmanship at the highest levels, that unique blend - and irresistable allure - of mortal fear and immortal grandeur, once more lingered in the air, at the high table where the cards were entire army divisions and aircraft carriers, and the chips, whole nations and peoples. The players were seated.

Li'l Kim had bid boldly, a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP, his steely gaze never wavering, raised without hesitation: the Carl Vinson Strike Group of the Third Fleet, deployed from Singapore. Xi of China called - twenty million tons of coal - conservative as always. Japan and South Korea sat, as if lost in thought, before following, counting their chips deliberately. For them, the stakes were especially high, and the memories too fresh. Over the Table, the Clock continued counting off the minutes, to the Witching Hour.

Long Live the Great Man, Descended From Heaven!
(Source: kotaku.com)

One by one, the others called or folded, as their respective appetites and positions entailed. It was Li'l Kim's turn again - his bluff, if it was one, seemed to have had a minimal effect. Still, his pudgy face was impassive. His dad hadn't managed to pass on in one piece by being unnecessarily excitable.

"Prepare for a big and important event." he said evenly.

GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP was a mask, as was Xi. They had seen this only too often. Young dipshits, who thought they were hot stuff after studying a manual of basic strategy and winning some ten-cent limit games on the Internet, and imagined the same crap would work on the sharks. Putin would probably have grinned, had he been here. He had excused himself from this game with apologies, however - too many elections to fix. A pity. He had always been a stylish player, that one.

The GOD-EMPEROR rubbed a MOAB chit between his huge fingers pointedly, while oh-so-slowly lifting a glorious eyebrow. He had a hundred cutting 140-character rejoinders lined up, but silence sometimes spoke loudest of all. Xi, a master of the old school, twitched not a muscle, but he must have been boiling inside. He had enough problems of his own, without a maladjusted fat boy entering the picture. Couldn't he have just randomly executed some generals for fun, instead of polluting the oceans with their two-bit rockets? It's a wonder how they even afford it - wanker must be diverting funds from their food aid again... if he hadn't eaten it all himself, that is.

Xi couldn't resist taking a second look. It was a well-trodden jibe, but damn, perhaps it was true after all. He turned his head. Japan and South Korea were getting real twitchy, Abe was beginning to exude that kamikaze vibe. Crap, crap, crap. He couldn't afford a tanking economy, not right now, not when they had just kind-of stabilized the capital outflow by screwing domestic investors over. 死小胖子要发茅, 也用不着把我们一起拖下水嘛! 操! 不如一了百了, 省得日后麻煩...

He was suddenly aware of a sharp intake of breath. Li'l Kim had thrown his hand onto the table. This was it, then. Was it Apocalypse? His men were in position. They were ready...

North Korea has opened a new street!
(Source: zerohedge.com)

Xi looked on.

Abe looked on.

Hwang looked on.

Guterres looked on.

From Ryomyong Street, to Li'l Kim, and finally, to the GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP. What did this mean? What the hell did any of this mean?!

The GOD-EMPEROR locked his gaze on Kim, and the two quietly, slowly, took their measure of each other. A minute passed. Then another. And, just as it was becoming too much to bear, the GOD-EMPEROR extended his hand.

"Damn, son. You might be a scummy bastard with a worse haircut than me, but that was some top-class trolling. How about we talk about this?"

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Friday, Apr 07, 2017 - 22:53 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Filler Piece

"Just because you have a strong dislike for Donald Trump, doesn't mean you latch on like a lunatic to every nonsensical Russia conspiracy theory because you're still crying about Hillary's loss."

- Noam Chomsky talks common sense
[N.B. 59 anti-Assad Tomahawk missiles have just destroyed the baseless Russian collusion narrative]

Busy weekend coming up, so I'll keep it short. Big local news of the week has to be the City Harvest trial finally concluding (assuming no further appeals, which is hardly a given). The head honcho has had his jail term discounted from eight years to three and a half, which I maintain, is something of a travesty - they should all have gotten off scot-free, on the principle of the thing, since what happened was more or less par for religious standards of wish fulfilment!

Then again, some poor bugger got sentenced to four and a half years for filching less than two thousand bucks from a mosque several months back, so go big or go home, I say. Which reminds me, of the imam who just got deported for beseeching God to "help us against the Jews and the Christians" (which was later clarified as not from the Quran), another judgment I disagree with - whatever happened to freedom in advertising? Like that no innovation, leh.

Can I speak to you about joining another ministry?
[Alternate versions of the Undertaker's iconic theme;
a chapter closes with the retirement of the WWE's second-best wrestler]

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Sunday, Apr 02, 2017 - 19:12 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Hope No Change

"What we generally call participation in the political process, [the intellectual-yet-idiot] calls by two distinct designations: 'democracy' when it fits [him], and 'populism' when the plebs dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences..."

- Taleb, on the hypocrisy of "informed liberals"
(many still delusional about Rubio/Kasich [?!] winning...)

Well, it seems as if Dr. Tan Cheng Bock's Tuesday luncheon might have led up to something. A few days after that, he would call upon the government to open up the forthcoming Presidential election at a press conference, by raising the technicality that since Mr. Ong Teng Cheong is widely [correctly] considered as our first elected president, and the new Constitutional changes provide for reserved elections only after five terms, this should apply only to the next elections.

Of course, exactly nothing will come of this appeal, since the amendments were obviously tailored to keep him - and others like him - from entering the running, as our Master Political Analyst hamster explained in some depth last September. And, in this case, the government would be right to ignore him - reiterating, since it has already come to this, it's probably best for everyone concerned to just suck it up for now.

And anyway, even were his argument accepted, it's not like Dr. Tan would qualify given the new $$$ eligibility criteria, which clever observers have noted as being the real killer, with race being slyly employed as a convenient distracting smokescreen; with precedent now established for limiting eligibility to the CEOs of a tiny handful of giant (and either government-linked or politically-vulnerable) companies, this requirement will silently shut out far more candidates than the much more publicized racial reservations, since it would apply even to open elections, going forward.

This farce could have been slightly easier to take, had the incumbents not blatantly rubbed it in by addressing their presumptive chosen nominee as "Madam Presidente" in Parliament - and not once, but twice (then again, as trolling goes, not too bad, I suppose); joking aside, though, this implicit withdrawal of voting rights is very much Not A Good Sign - civil rights and liberties, once yielded (and generally for the worse), tend to be extremely difficult to regain.

We support strong women candidates, but they *must* be elected;
Vive la France, Le Pen is mightier than De Word!

(Sources: plus.google.com, knowyourmeme.com, marine2017.fr)
[N.B. Her fraternal comrades over at r/the_donald are selflessly lending their support to r/le_pen, and let's face it, there are many similarities]

No, you see, the incumbents want to have their popiah and eat it too: to retain the trappings of democracy, while not actually having to practise it (come to think of it, for all the criticism it gets, why does everyone - including Kim's North Korea and Saddam's Iraq, etc - bother so much with maintaining a democratic facade?)

Sure, they can draw straws and have Shanmugam or Teo put on their best stern face and browbeat outnumbered dissenters in Parliament with accusations of impugning and casting aspersions thereof, but frankly, there's a limit to which this bullying nonsense can be taken, lah. While I can understand why the incumbents went down this road, I have to warn that playing punk with democracy is very bad in the longer term... but it's not like they have that stellar a track record on that.

On that, recall the perennial HDB/CPF issue, which last entrenched itself in the public consciousness a few years ago via The Heart Truths, which has since largely been sued into submission? Well, as we have examined back in 2014, while Ngerng might have gone overboard on a few of his accusations, the main point should have been that the main thrust of his macroeconomic analysis was broadly accurate.

Anyway, a week or so ago, our National Development Minister has suddenly found it necessary to remind the populace not to assume that all old HDB flats will be SERS-ed. Given this, I feel that it is a good time to reproduce an illustrative figure that we produced, back in 2012, inspired by Yawning Bread's classic piece on the HDB bubble, a year before that:

Now five more years down the road...

From my observations, the deprecation has not quite been priced in yet, largely as almost all flats remain a few decades off the "zone of pain" - where CPF cannot be used to help fund the purchase of the flat, due to the remaining lease being 30 years or less. That said, many flats are already beginning the transition, with age-based restrictions kicking in once the remaining lease is 60 years or less (i.e. built before 1978). Still, this hasn't dissuaded some buyers, whose thought process generally appears to remain "the value will keep going up" (thanks, incumbent party propaganda department)

As it is, the government of the day appears to have settled on a response to Alex Au's warning of a S$270 billion bailout - no guaranteed SERS, thus no mandatory bailout required (in the same vein as the lack of guarantees for the CPF itself). Problem solved!

Of course, it likely wouldn't make sense to promise a bailout, even if it were their intention, so vague statements of this form were always the most probable policy. Thing is, this is coming from an administration that was singing "asset appreciation" at full voice, not a decade ago. Well, I'll just say that it's one thing to talk about no SERS now, and another altogether to stick to it twenty years down the road, when a large segment of the population starts to discover that they're actually bleeding money on their main (forced) investment...

The obvious and direct mitigation is population growth, which continues to be milked for all it's worth, but an ongoing realisation is the seeming lack of a consistent overarching vision; on one end, we have a former cheerleader for "asset appreciation" now weeping about manpower and not jobs being the bottleneck, which many have justifiably interpreted as a prelude to (yet again) importing more foreign workers, which however has consistently depressed productivity... and wait, wasn't it just 2015 when we were still "transitioning towards a manpower-lean economy driven by productivity"? Also, why is increased productivity leading to our former labour chief advising citizens to be prepared to retire later?

Might as well laugh at the clusterf**k, while I still can...

The best timeline, guaranteed
(Source: cbsnews.com)

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Tuesday, Mar 28, 2017 - 22:33 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

It Cannot Wait

Every morning these days, I wake up and load up the news and lift my gaze to the skies and close my eyes and thank the heavens from the bottom of my heart for the great good fortune to have been born in the best timeline:

See that face?
That is the face of a man who is TROLLING THE UNIVERSE!

(Source: theindependent.co.uk)

Success, Classified

Following up on our expositions on class from last July and before, the dataisbeautiful subreddit has thrown up a concise summary of how the three classic social classes view success. There's a dinky visualization available elsewhere, but the point-form overview probably captures the essence:
  • Upper Class: Success is due to (innate?) ability, hard work & spirit
  • Middle Class: Success is due to education & luck
  • Working Class: Success is due to cheating, connections & start-up capital
[N.B. This presentation does conflate wealth with class, which I feel retains the original spirit; also, the assigned "top determinants" for each class are relative.]

One immediate reaction, particularly from those who have beaten the odds to "make it", is - ah-ha! This is why the poor losers remain poor, because of their bad attitude! Happily, looking at the comments, it seems that many have attained a more reasonable understanding of the situation.

To begin with, we invoke the old story about three blind men (in this case, mapping nicely to the classes) and an elephant - it's really a matter of perspective. Also, this appears a textbook case of fundamental attribution error: the rich upper class, who are more likely to view themselves as success stories, put it down to themselves, or internal factors. Whereas for the working class poor who are barely scraping by, their failures are blamed on external factors.

Of course, each of the classes is correct in a way. I'd gather that many of the wealthy upper(-middle) class do indeed work very hard - getting to and surviving at the top of high-powered professions such as investment banking, medicine and law is known to involve hellish hours, and a degree of meritocracy. Certainly, there are dull wastrel heirs, but those in general eventually squander their inheritances.

However, consider the working-class point of view now. Their (relative) disbelief in hard work being key to success can be pounced on as a character defect, but the thing is, they're not wrong either. To them, "hard work" is twelve hours a day washing dishes or hauling boxes about at minimum wage, which cumulates in - if they're lucky - a humble nest egg at retirement, coupled with a body that's falling apart from years of physical exertion: hardly "success!" in my books.

Unfortunate, because if the GOD-EMPEROR had received a bigger loan, he would have unified Planet Earth by now
(Source: knowyourmeme.com)

Likewise, their hang-ups on "connections" and "cheating" (or, more charitably, cunning) are not unfounded, either. For connections in particular, the difference in perception between the working and middle classes, and the upper(-middle) class, is especially stark. The realisation, then is that the upper class has connections, but it's all so natural to them, that they fail to recognize all the instances where they relied on those.

For example, an upper-class kid might think nothing of landing an internship at a national newspaper, thanks to caddying for Uncle Charles, who then put a good word in for him - and hey, he worked damn hard at the Times, he'll have you know. However, to a working-class lad, "Uncle Charles" happens to be Charles X. Cabotsworth III, vice-editor of the Enquirer, who's about as unapproachable to him as Zeus on Mount Olympus; his own Unca Joe is passed out drunk on the couch.

Likewise for capital - a rich kid (who, however, doesn't see himself as rich, because his family only owns three houses, and the other two don't really count because one of them is just a cabin by the lake, a trifling three-bedroom affair, and they haven't quite paid the mortgage down on the last one yet) has the luxury of dismissing capital, and thinking himself brave for risking a year on a start-up. For a working-class person, however, that "tiny" initial fifty thousand bucks could literally be life or death for his family... if he could get his hands on it, which he can't, because banks are stingy like that.

Again, it seems that the middle class isn't a bad place to be...

[N.B. Manowar tribute; referenced songs left as an exercise]

Oh, and saw Tan Cheng Bock at Westgate during a 师妹's graduation lunch today. Had to mention this somewhere.

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Sunday, Mar 26, 2017 - 19:46 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Freedom's Due

"[Yee's] prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of the Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee's political opinions. Yee is a young political dissident, and his application for asylum is granted."

- The Honourable Immigration Judge, Samuel B. Cole

"The right to free speech is sacred, even when such speech is considered offensive. The decision timely underscores the vital need for an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy."

- Yee's lawyer BURNS the Singapore courts

Make Amos Great Again

It behooves us to first salute the world's foremost guardians of liberty and democracy (well, most of the time, anyway), the United States of America - and, by extension, the TRUMP administration, who have wisely pivoted to letting in the right kind of asylum seeker - of conscience, not of economics.

Unfairly vilified, physically attacked, and even imprisoned for his devotion to open discourse and the sacrosanct right to state objective facts without fear or favour, the tireless human rights campaigner Amos Pang Sang Yee has finally been emancipated from a now-chastened regime of petty tyranny, who have consistently disallowed freedom of speech under the rubric of "hate speech". This righteous judgment was delivered to broad acclaim from Yee's international community of supporters, and Singapore will be the poorer for the loss of yet another of her courageous sons, who dared speak truth to power.

No BS, not anymore, the new Great American Way!
[N.B. Seriously - he's right, yet again, you know.]

Amos has however, somewhat disappointingly, mistakenly blamed TRUMP for his initial predicament, but he can rest easy - the GOD-EMPEROR is great-hearted and magnanimous, after all (unlike certain High Kings of Skyrim). Now starting to be addressed by his proper Imperial title on national news, TRUMP is heaping achievement upon achievement, the latest of which includes laying the foundations for a Mars colony, in fulfilment of his foretold destiny. Ever so slowly, the brainwashed left is yielding, inch by painful inch, to the non-politically-correct but true realization that TRUMP is right.

Bubbles & Hidden Daggers

For one, FiveThirtyEight has belatedly admitted one of the most obvious of observations - that their mainstream media had been existing in a liberal bubble (i.e. was biased, relative to the aggregate political leanings of Americans as a whole). Against this nigh-insurmountable cartel, it would take nothing less than a GOD-EMPEROR of exquisite skill to prevail.

Oh, they're still at it, of course - a Stanford Ph.D. candidate has just put out a hit piece utilizing latent semantic analysis (a neat machine learning technique especially useful in natural language processing) on the Great Meme War heroes of r/the_donald. As expected, the Meme War veterans weren't about to take it lying down, and promptly demonstrated using the same method that the Crooked Hillary subreddit had substantial overlaps with socialism and anarchism. At the same time, Scott Adams has unmasked Bloomberg's Fake News tactics, an excellent case study in dissecting how Big Media invisibly manipulates public opinion.

To top it all off, it's looking increasingly likely that the TRUMP transition team was indeed wiretapped, according to the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Oh, it was supposedly only incidental, but put it this way: if someone places a hidden camera in a public washroom, and after being caught claims that they were targeting another person, and only incidentally took a video of you in a state of undress... how relieved should one be expected to be?

And, in the other direction, some rational examination should yield the reasonable conclusion that the outrage over suggestions of Obama's involvement are patently ridiculous - as popularly recognized, it is on the record that Obama had wiretapped Merkel and other erstwhile "allies" (here, observe some of the most blatantly misleading Fake News I've ever seen, where the very first photograph in an article entitled "Donald Trump refuses to shake Angela Merkel's hand as key meeting gets off to frosty start" shows... TRUMP shaking Merkel's hand), as well as international journalists; why exactly is it so unthinkable that he might have done the same to a political rival? It absolutely boggles the mind.

In this vein, it's quite incredible how the left-liberal set in Western countries are converging on Russia and Putin as a bogeyman. Yes, they may not be the most progressive of places, but seriously, blaming them for Brexit, Crooked Hillary losing, and now the Dutch, French and German elections?! It's almost as if they are unwilling to confront their own failings...

Smoking kills more people than Obama, although he kills a lot of people.
Don't smoke, don't be like Obama.

[N.B. Russia's troll level is improving, they may be approaching 4chan soon!]
(Source: dailymail.co.uk)

A Fork In The Code

Well, the Bitcoin Unlimited FUD is continuing to be played out, with price levelling out about the expected US$900 minimum, as, surprise, surprise, they released yet more buggy software... then responded by releasing a closed-source patch (which, by the way, goes entirely against Bitcoin's trustless tenet, not that they have shown themselves to care much about that)... which was then leaked anyway. It would be laughable, if the Unlimited backers didn't seem to actually believe that they are qualified to take over the development of a multi-billion dollar network.

They've now truly jumped the shark by accusing the longtime Core dev team's refusal to incorporate half-baked solutions as "censorship", as it becomes more and more apparent that the whole shitshow was purely a power-grab by miners. As many bitcoiners observed, as we have back in 2014, most users interact with a secondary layer in the form of exchanges already - many of which offer derivative products - anyway, which makes the Unlimited side's objections puzzling.

The stakes are certainly being raised, and as hinted at last week, an old-timer has raised Ver up to a hundred and thirty thousand Bitcoins - over a hundred million US dollars - which seems to have given even the Bitcoin Jesus pause. More belligerent Core supporters are angling for a user-activated soft-fork, up to and including a proof-of-work algorithm change as a last resort - which would almost certainly sow chaos, but definitely tank the miners, but obsoleting hundreds of millions in specialized hardware and infrastructure, at one shot.

And, just to remind the mostly China-based Unlimited mining holdouts of the possibilities, information about the 1989 Tiananmen massacre has been indelibly embedded in the Bitcoin blockchain, which could mean that Bitcoin is technically illegal within the Great Firewall, rendering their investment worthless. Of course, one suspects that the relevant authorities will turn a blind eye this time, all the more given not-unfounded suspicions that state actors are behind the takeover attempt...

[Enlarge image]
Largely accurate, I'd say
(Source: twitter.com)

These, as it happens, are the wages of decentralisation, and thus, freedom - with nobody in full control of Bitcoin, this by design from the very beginning, I hasten to add - any big updates to the protocol have tended to be extremely hard to push through.

Just as it should be.

As it is, Unlimited definitely (and correctly) isn't winning in the marketplace of ideas, by any measureable metric. While blocking segwit could make some short-term sense, particularly if your intention is to milk as much fees as possible, it's pretty self-defeating in the longer term, as other miners seem to have realised from the latest price dip. Hashpower has tipped back over to the segwit side, with some going as far as to support a soft fork, exchanges, wallets and nodes are all leaning heavily towards segwit, and apparently even the Chinese locals are losing their patience, along with their net worth.

That said, while Bitcoin was created to be free of centralised control, it is still possible to hold outsized influence over the system, particularly in blocking changes - which is not wholly bad, mind. For now, a speedy resolution seems to lie in the hands of just two players, Wu and Ver; were they to flip their stance, there doesn't seem to be much that would prevent a segwit upgrade soon afterwards.

Unfortunately, acknowledging that one had been mistaken has always been one of the hardest things to do, and while Wu appears to at least not have completely taken leave of reality - he realises that Core's dev team is superior (more precisely, he gives them 90 marks to Unlimited's 60, though I'd say that's still very generous to the latter), he's still insistent that Unlimited's big block vision is far better, while drawing inspiration from Taobao's defeat of eBay (ironically, given how Chinese Internet firms tend to beat the global giants, i.e. certainly not due to better tech. But again, I can't really blame them too much, for being protectionist in this area [CIA])

Let's just hope he hasn't overplayed his hand badly here...

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