[Bonus: He always comes out on top, like Sheriff Suriname!]
It's time to stick our necks out once more, as we did in 2013 for Germany (admittedly nearly a year before the World Cup proper, then):
Group A: Uruguay, Russia [Saudi Arabia, Egypt out]
Group B: Spain, Portugal [Iran, Morocco out]
Group C: France, Denmark [Peru, Australia out]
Group D: Argentina, Nigeria [Croatia, Iceland out]
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland [Costa Rica, Serbia out]
Group F: Germany, Sweden [Mexico, South Korea out]
Group G: Belgium, England [Tunisia, Panama out]
Group H: Poland, Colombia [Senegal, Japan out]
Round of 16:
R16-1: Portugal [Uruguay out]
R16-2: France [Nigeria out]
R16-3: Brazil [Sweden out]
R16-4: Belgium [Colombia out]
R16-5: Spain [Russia out]
R16-6: Argentina [Denmark out]
R16-7: Germany [Switzerland out]
R16-8: England [Poland out]
QF-1: France [Portugal out]
QF-2: Brazil [Belgium out]
QF-3: Spain [Argentina out]
QF-4: Germany [England out]
SF-1: France [Brazil out]
SF-2: Spain [Germany out]
And we have:
Finals: Spain [France runners-up]
(yes, I know, coach fired, lala)
Awkward Rematch: Germany [Brazil 4th]
...and they won, for GREAT MEME POTENTIAL. Was there ever any doubt as to a GOD-EMPEROR-led victory?
In the lead-up to probably the two most important events of the year - yes, the TRUMP-Kim Singapore Summit and the World Cup - we present a few carefully-curated readings.
Our Most Successful Investment Firm Again
First up, a 2009 discussion on Temasek, by one of those in-the-loop. Their latest return to the limelight was, of course, the floating of a private equity bond to "help investors supplement their retirement income". This oddly-specific mission statement has garnered a fair bit of misgivings (are they renaming the CPF as Astrea IV Class A-1 Secured Bonds nowadays?) regarding the rationale of it all. There has been no lack of external analyses, given the high profile of the issuer, but a key takeway should be that the bonds are not guaranteed. However, the general consensus also appears that the 4.35 p.a. return should be sound, barring another financial meltdown.
While there have predictly been mumblings that Our Most Successful Investment Firm is simply out of cash again (not entirely unjustified given recent admitted losses despite a booming bull market), I'd personally peg this as an unlikely motivation, given the tiny overall slice available to retail (just over US$100 million); angling for some good P.R., after watching what's going on across the Causeway as the 1MDB house of cards comes crashing down, seems more likely. I'd be slightly more concerned if this issuance turns out to be a test balloon of sorts and OMSIF begins to get into the habit of raising larger and larger sums from the populace, though.
In any case, the structuring of the bonds follows the iron-clad law of establishment financial innovation - we keep the upside, the small fry cover the downside. As previously explained in 2014 with reference to the CPF, bond/fund-holders do not get a bigger share if OMSIF actually wins big with their investments, but they (and not OMSIF) suffer the losses, if the OMSIF bets go bust. It's hard to find a better deal than this.
Teh-O? It's Kopi Lim, if you keep talking about this!
Anyway, returning to the "Temasek in a teacup" post, there has always been a sense of puzzlement surrounding what OMSIF actually is. Its longtime CEO has consistently denied that it is a sovereign wealth fund, despite its funding and positioning being ultimately derived from sovereign sources. Emmanuel Daniel describes them as "part EDB, part investment-banking-inspired-private-equity-business and part fund management company", from which the Astrea bond issue might be understood as arising from the "EDB hormone" of not being entirely devoted to the bottom line.
However, Daniel continues, the problem is that the EDB mentality is to pile on risks, because "...EDB executives tend to be measured by the spectacularly successful investments they make, with complete unaccountability for the spectacularly unsuccessful ones." (again, the all-upside-no-downside pattern, also prevalent in Big Finance), which is further reflected in their chapalang portfolio style. His diagnosis is that all meaningful decisions are made by the reigning CEO anyway, for all the research done at lower levels, and that although the CEO may be (and remains) one of the most "quietly connected" people here (for obvious reasons), unspoken drawbacks abound with this sort of arrangement.
The fate of former OMSIF darling Hyflux could be instructive here, as they become the latest of our already-few notable homegrown startups to bite the dust, after years in distress (see example instructive process of vultures circling over at the ShareJunction forums), presaging a possible bond default (already rife in O&G). Looking at how they're throwing money at stuff like Magic Leap, despite the in-crowd roundly panning it, let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if the CPF Minimum Sum accelerates its upwards trajectory.
The Deadly Dance - US vs. China
On to Christopher Balding's take on framing the US-China trade conflict with game theory. Before continuing, a few pertinent facts: under TRUMP's incomparable leadership, U.S. unemployment is at an 18-year low of 3.8%, and that's not even mentioning the largest monthly full-time job creation rate in a century, accompanied by a monster 4.8% GDP growth rate. These facts should be considered alongside insistence by Fake News Experts that "3% GDP growth is unrealistic", and an unimaginative narcissistic former President who queried, "what magic wand do you have?". Well, I daresay he's got his answer.
Don't let dry theory stop you from trying...
But back to Balding's very systematic dissection of the US-China trade relationship. His first question is whether China should be confronted over its protectionist policies, to which the answer is an unmitigated yes (from those outside of China, of course). The next question is then whether this confrontation is over a technical/marginal dispute, or whether it is a fundamental conflict. Balding contends that it is a fundamental disagreement over the nature of international trade, and I cannot disagree.
The natural question is then how this confrontation should be pursued - should they do it the Hillaryesque establishment way, with strongly-worded letters to the WTO? Balding contends that this tack would have next to no effect, which is borne out by ample past evidence. Where I diverge from his analysis is his assertion that the identity of the POTUS does not actually matter much - Balding uses a "wins above replacement" sabermetric analogy, which I think is particularly unsuited to geopolitics. Recall that the very reason why statistics took off with baseball, was that many performance metrics could be effectively isolated - much of the action is one-on-one duels between pitcher and batter, and stat freaks could tally every ball, strike and hit. However, in the Greatest Game, even the rules can change, which is TRUMP's whole worldview.
One oft-raised fair question is then: if the target is China, why is TRUMP picking fights with his neighbours and Europe, at the same time? An answer is that America's erstwise allies would be entirely happy to act as middlemen for Chinese products, were they unconditionally spared from tariffs (unlike, say, South Korea, who agreed to a voluntary quota). The second, even simpler answer is that he can indeed fight the whole world - and win. It should be telling that editorials attempting to explain why TRUMP can't win tend to resort to convoluted explanations as to why objective advantages such as a humongous trade deficit and unparalled import market somehow don't matter in this case - money doesn't matter in postmodernist economics, it seems.
The mainstream media has, for one, been breathtakingly dishonest in their characterization of trade wars. The accepted narrative is that "nobody wins trade wars", which is clearly patently untrue to begin with - note China repeatedly caving, while trying to keep up a brave front. In like vein, the Fake News has been continually criticizing TRUMP for having the gall to impose tariffs, while being conspiciously silent on how his "allies" maintain tariffs on America, which he underlined by a drop-the-mike moment at the G7 summit, when he challenged everyone to drop all tariffs, since they hate them so much:
Yes, why are the news outlets not debating this?
A particular low was reached when Trudeau - one of the most smarmy and disingenious politicians that I have had the misfortune to come across - pulled out the war buddies card, to which TRUMP deservedly responded by remarking that Canada burnt the White House down, so why are they too good for American milk? A less-dignified POTUS could have pointed out the countless lives expended in liberating the half of France that wasn't actively corroborating, or the way the USA put Germany and Japan back on their feet despite definitely not owing them anything, but the GOD-EMPEROR has too much class for that.
An adjective eagerly applied to TRUMP by the presstitudes is that his style is transactional, to which one can only gape in amazement. Of course he's transactional, trade is transactional! For all the high moral ground the Europeans are trying to occupy, they don't actually care all that much for free trade either - what they want is the same transaction that everyone's after: free trade for the stuff that I'm exporting, tariffs for the industries that I'm trying to protect.
Anyway, for all of Merkel & Macron's optimistic bluster about European unity, an inescapable truth is that Europe's default historical condition has been one of hostile fragmentation, in which one can hardly find a polity that has not at one time been a mortal enemy of any other. It is another truth that the current EU, already weakened by Brexit, is facing growing internal dissent as non-core states (i.e. neither Germany nor France) come to realise that having a common currency can be a very bad deal after all. The new populist Italian government is already out to restore the lira, and it's anybody's guess how long the M&M alliance can hold out after that.
Still better than Trudeau.
With all sincerity, a not-unlikely outcome is a realignment of the Western power bloc, centering around a revitalized Anglo-American hegemony, buttressed by Eastern and Southern European members that have had enough of chafing under Germany's jackboot heels while tolerating SJW-ism run wild. Poland, for example, has been one of TRUMP's staunchest supporters, and also been kind enough to offer America US$2 billion to host a permanent base on their soil - the sort of honest deal that TRUMP appreciates. It really isn't hard to see Hungary, Italy, Greece etc break ranks given some inducements by the King of Deals, after which it'll be interesting to see exactly how deeply Merkel & Macron like each other, once they're reduced to swapping baguettes and bratwurst between themselves...
Well, that really diverged from China. We'll return to them with Michael Pettis' April post on the tradeoff between high wages and high savings under globalization. His abstract speaks for itself: "Democracies will increasingly have to choose between raising wages and redistributing income or maintaining free trade and capital flows. Because they are likely to choose the former, the world may face a long-term reversal of globalization."
It is understandable if this seems strange offhand - take a man earning six figures, say US$200k, after taxes; wouldn't he be able to save a lot, say US$100k a year, without much difficulty? Contrast a minimum-wage earner, taking home just US$20k - clearly, no matter how frugal he is, he can't save more than that, so why are high wages and high savings opposed?
The explanation is that wages vs. savings is a macro affair, and is meant to be considered at the level of the national economy. Pettis offers America as the classic (relatively) high-wage model, with China, Japan, South Korea and other East Asian economies as examples of the high-savings model. This is also known as the Gerschenkron model, after Alexander Gerschenkron who in the 1950s argued that developing countries should encourage savings to accelerate development. As it turns out, this could be achieved by suppressing the household share of GDP (e.g. by locking up $$$ in the CPF as a form of hidden tax)
Pettis' observation is that the Gerschenkron model has already run its course in Japan, who went from being a bona fide threat to overhaul America in the 1980s, to being the quirky manga and JAV producers that they are today (as another pertinent parallel, consider their Fifth Generation computing project funded by what appeared to be an endless stream of money, to China's massive contemporary bet on artificial intelligence; I won't be holding my breath, given one of their big shots telling Wired that "there is really one fundamental AI innovation [?] - deep learning [?!] - and everybody else is tweaking it for the domains"; if that's the limit of their imagination, there's little cause for concern)
In conclusion, Pettis' verdict is that as Japan has been unable to reverse its savings bias, despite painful decades of effort, China is likely to face approximately the same problems very soon, only magnified many times over (thus all their moneyed citizens fleeing to the decadent West, and driving up property prices). Considered in this light, China's continual backing off in the trade war preliminaries might make a lot more sense; the worst that can realistically happen to TRUMP is a luxurious retirement, shuttling between his skyscraper penthouse and Mar-a-Lago. Can Helmsman Xi afford another nothing to happen in Tiananmen?
They Go So Fast
In happier times?
[N.B. alternate view from two years ago]
[N.N.B. they framed the table and stools]
Kate Spade, now Anthony Bourdain, both with a connection to Singapore. The obvious question weighed - both were fabulously wealthy, widely-liked with thousands upon thousands of adoring fans, and were by all accounts clear of scandal. Why did they, then, take their own lives, when others in far worse circumstances did not?
Richard Cory gets quoted a lot, when this happens:
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Well, I say, it helps to be pissed - if all else fails, one should rage, overworn as the phrase may be; rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The Last Light Of Western Civilization
The Eagle Has Landed!
[N.B. The convoy of the GOD-EMPEROR, along Eunos]
[N.N.B. Kimmy should really spring for motorcycles for his bodyguards at least... I mean, heck, we'd probably pay for it all if he asked nicely]
Fine, I'll admit it - despite longstanding reservations about the local population (Ponzi) strategy, I remain quite the fan of new construction actually. Thus, it was with mixed feelings that I beheld Mahathir's (expected) throwing of a wrench into the HSR plans. On the one hand, we're out this beaut, which would moreover have greatly aided Jurong's elevation to being a second Central Business District:
That SimCity vibe
...but on the other hand, I've got to hand it to Mahathir (who's also effecting TRUMPIAN traits, with trolling entering the mainstream of international diplomacy) for having the willpower to be guai lan on behalf of his country. [N.B. aside-aside on Tony Fernandes, who was chatting it up with Yossi Vardi at today's Innovfest unBound; Fernandes was questioned at one point as to his most humiliating moment, but the banter didn't stretch quite as far as his controversial U-turn on Najib just a few weeks back. A (crooked) bridge too far for the venue, I guess.]
While we're on infrastructure geekery, it's oddly soothing to just visualize just how far the road outside one's home reaches - consider for example the Asian Highway 1, which stretches over 20000km from Tokyo to Turkey (alright, with a ferry crossing to South Korea, and questionable connections within North Korea and Myanmar), and then another 6000-plus km to Lisbon on the European E80 (China has their eye on another transcontinential highway). Although we're not along AH1, we are on Asian Highway 2 - which is designated to pass through to Indonesia, go figure. Perhaps we can get a tunnel someday...
It's nice to sleep in
Three friends, who were also farmers, were sharing an evening repast. As the wine flowed, talk drifted, as it oft did, to their work and plans - sale prices of crops, harvest expectations, what they were going to buy with the profits, and so on.
Abruptly, one of the trio put down his glass. "Tom, your holdings are near the river; it might be wise to consider some preventive measures, it's probable to burst its banks soon."
Tom didn't take to that kindly. "Why are you saying that? Nothing of that sort has happened for decades! You're just jealous that my land is more fertile, aren't you?"
The first farmer lowered his head. "No, no, nothing of the sort. But there are patterns, records, you know, and they all point in the same direction. The meanders upstream are vanishing, it's been extremely cloudy the past months, as I'm sure you've noticed, and sporadic flooding has already been reported in the next county. However, if you start building levees now, you should avoid the worst of it."
"Ah, you think you're very smart, don't you? Don't forget, we all grew up together, don't get all hoity-toity on us. And at the end, it's all heaven's will anyway!"
The first farmer bowed further. "I have no such intention. But I also have to say that I have studied this land and its history for a very long time, and have been constantly thinking about local weather trends too. I do not claim to be knowledgeable about other subjects, or even especially good at this, but I have been decent at it if I say so myself. Please, if you are unwilling to build a levee, at least consider taking out crop insurance."
"Yeah." the third farmer, Jake, said. "You know he means well, Tom. We've known each other for so long."
"No!" Tom shouted, red-faced. "Since when do friends wish ill on each other? It's my farm, I say that it's doing well, and shame on you for thinking otherwise!"
The first farmer said nothing more, but he remembered when he had toasted Tom on a bountiful harvest - with the support of his convictions - many times previously. And the rains did come, and the river did burst its banks, and Tom was all but wiped out. It was a rather less cheerful gathering, next they met.
"Damned bad luck, Tom." Jake consoled. "Who could have thought it? That came out of nowhere!"
"Uh, Jake, it might be a good idea to think about digging irrigation canals to your plot, which is far from the river. It's gearing up to be a very dry summer, the swallows are..."
"Ah ha!" Tom cried. "The f**ker is doing it again!"
"You shut your cursed mouth." Jake snapped, exasperated. "It's just flooded, do you take me for a three year old kid? You're talking to us like we're dumb, and I don't like that, you know?"
"Not at all, but... it's not like you're even destined to lose out, if you just take the right preventive measures! I mean, even without a canal, if you just rent a small tanker, which would come to just a few percent of your revenue..."
"You know what," Jake said, standing up angrily. "I don't have to listen to any of this. Good riddance."
"Yeah!" Tom added. "We should never have met up with him. Look at what happened to me. Let's go, Jake."
And the first farmer was left alone at the bar, nursing his drink, ruminating upon the nature of men.
Not On Your Worst Enemy
Poor Karius. Even for a United fan, that was brutal - but also entirely self-inflicted. Worse, if he had literally done anything else, such as kicking it out, it might have been ruled illegal. Nothing he could have done about Bale's bicycle kick, but that third one, eh, you'd expect more from a semi-pro.
Well, if he can pick himself up from that, he should be able to pick himself up from anything that comes his way in the future. And as an entirely random observation, he really resembles Dolph Ziggler from some angles.
Those egregious mistakes also took a lot of heat off Sergio Ramos, who knew exactly what he was doing to Salah with his abortive judo throw. These are the fouls that dynasties are built on, though - a few decades on, and it'll simply be "Real Madrid win 3-1 to pick up their 13th European crown".
Fast Hand Fast Leg
- the wisdom of the GOD-EMPEROR
The manner in which the local administration responded to TRUMP's supposed cancellation of the North Korea summit - allowing police personnel to apply for leave, etc - frankly puzzled me. Surely it was clear that there was a high probability that the posturing was just a negotiation technique? Indeed, Kim crawled back to the table almost before the day was out, with his bluff called, for the very simple truth that they need a deal much, much more than the U.S.; thus, in a single characteristically decisive flourish, TRUMP has set the tone with one (1) very dank letter, by punishing bad behavior while incentivizing positive gestures.
This unorthodox brilliancy has of course drawn the ire of well-credentialed armchair theorists and talk-show guests, but these are also in the main the kind of people who cough up the sticker price at the car dealer - or worse, think that haggling is beneath them (doubly so when it's not their money anyhow). Approaching realpolitik with the air of a starched-up student council president candidate (interspersed with habitual completely unnecessary bows to dick level) might be cute for a bit, but seriously, no-one who matters (outside of certain Amerieuro safe space bubbles) respects such behaviour.
His willingness to walk (as previously highlighted) and instinct for piecing deals together might not be appreciated by those who haven't managed a hot-dog cart, but consider the alternatives practised by the previous admin: keeping the status quo without effective sanctions, essentially leaving a nuclear-armed rogue state for the next guy to clean up (i.e. North Korea), or capituating to a tissue-soft "deal" that involves bribery with billions, only to allow a nuclear weapons programme that can be restarted in days (i.e. Iran)
Thankfully, this President is different - he has not wavered despite continued misrepresentation from the Fake News media (who are rightly becoming yet more ineffectual), and despite a burgeoning PC culture that arrests citizens for filming in public spaces (despite doing so themselves) while hushing up widespread and very well-documented "domestic" rape gangs because it doesn't fit the desired narrative, he has perservered - and, we may add, in TOP STYLE:
There will never be another of his like.
[MAXIMUM AUTISM REMIX]
- Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, 2006
(apologies for the repeat quote)
Great men don't get them all, not even one whose political dominance and balls of steel (exemplified by his flipping off the CIA) were arguably on a par with the GOD-EMPEROR himself. Big news of the week was, without doubt, the ousting of Barisan Nasional and UMNO from power in Malaysia after more than sixty years in charge, to very popular acclaim. The desperate BN resorted to their usual underhanded tactics, with their Election Commission trying vainly to delay the inevitable by somehow confirming the BN's wins rather more promptly than the opposition's. Unfortunately for them, the Malaysian people had gotten fed up with their bullshit, and the wily former NUS alumni Mahathir knew all their tricks, immediately moving to proclaim a public holiday to prevent assets from fleeing - but then, he invented most of them in the first place.
What is true is that the fall of an entrenched government does bring some uncertainty, with their former lackeys having to make tough choices between absconding with the loot, switching sides, or mounting a resistance. It didn't take long for erstwhile loyalists to jump ship in Perak and Sabah, with the knives coming out for the deposed Najib within the day. Although his minister mentor Mahathir was hardly a saint either, Najib by all accounts took the corruption far too far, with the 1MDB scandal and murder of Altantuyaa but the tip of a festering pyramid. Unhappiness over spiralling costs of living and bad-faith Fake News laws certainly didn't help the BN cause either.
Ran out of mana this time
As far as Singaporean interests are concerned, the prevailing wisdom appears that a continued Najib administration would have been more favourable, if in a beggar-thy-neighbour sense, due to his recognized pliance where monetary benefit is to be had. Happily, this view is not universally held. Our incumbents' quite impressive track record of betting on the wrong horse is however extended, with Najib pet projects such as the High Speed Rail and Jurong Lake District set to be renegotiated in TRUMPIAN fashion. China's influence seems to have taken a dive too, with Mahathir definitely having the cojones to shutter Belt and Road initiatives like Forest City if need be (thanks); this happens to be a particular weakness of the One Belt One Road gambit, but more on that topic next time.
The most pressing realisation for our dear incumbents would, however, necessarily be the unavoidable and uncomfortable parallels between themselves and the Barisan Nasional, all the more as they split from the same political traditions. The similarities are, if only superficially, all too numerous: held power since independence, opaque sovereign wealth funds about which inquiries are at best stonewalled, extremely tight coupling between the dominant party and the nominally neutral state bureaucracy, directing state funding to party propaganda, blatant gerrymandering (I mean, even Najib didn't have it in him to resort to GRCs, which says something) and election-fixing (ditto race restrictions for the Presidency), widely-perceived cronyism... all the way down to specific complaints such as living cost (to be fair, a common malady) and Fake News, monopolized by muzzled state-controlled media (Even Malaysia may now ironically be ahead on media liberalization)
The obvious analogy has been gleefully highlighted by local commentators, including a former incumbent MP, but surely it wasn't like UMNO didn't know what was up either? Indeed, there are few indications of any will towards true political innovation, with a State's Times piece just last week reaffirming the scholar-mandarinate "made man" system, despite the many repeated public high-profile failures. One might understand the need to keep former generals happy, but put it this way: If you get Messi to play basketball - which additionally is actually a team sport sharing many concepts with football - and he turns out to be not very good, why should one be surprised?
On the bright side, we've moved up to third spot,
amongst august company (trend as observed in 2015)
The diagnosis is actually straightforward. The hallmark of a de-facto one-party state (e.g. the WPK, CCP, PAP and PCC) is necessarily that political advancement relies exclusively upon playing the internal game as defined by the ruling party (i.e. basically parroting the top guy and jockeying for position), since the usual democratic principle of appealing directly to the populace is effectively removed - or at least tremendously handicapped. Yes, sure, there's the standard excuse that this enables stability and long-term planning, but in practice it generally devolves to protecting the interests of party insiders because, well, they can get away with it. One cannot help but note the extremely-high prevalence of within-immediate-family power transfers in all of the above, excepting perhaps the CCP (which is a trap that Mahathir may yet fall into)
Sadly, one suspects that the incumbents may be too far gone for meaningful self-directed reform by now, given that their consistent response to the smallest challenges (see: the mostly-ceremonial Presidential position) has been to dig in. This is, of course, the dark side of one-party systems - the tendency is towards broad-spectrum political repression, firstly as they have the wherewithal to, and secondly because they (or at least, a sufficiently-strong hardliner faction) do not expect to ever have to fight back in from the opposition side. Here, to the BN and PAP's credit, they have been slightly laxer than the others.
The PAP have apparently also finally acknowledged the incongruity of HDB flats being simultaneously ever-appreciating assets and leaseholds on a ticking clock, as explained here back in 2012; a call for policy suggestions has seen a local economist's call to disallow usage of CPF funds for housing sparking panic amongst netizens, who understand full well that it'll tank property values. Of course, the underlying motivation - to focus the CPF on retirement only - is actually sound, as analysed in the Roy Ngerng context in 2014. The problem is that it's probably too late to unwind the situation cleanly at this stage, so the best that can be hoped for is probably a HDB price stagnation as the proportion of CPF funds allowed to be used for housing is gradually scaled back.
That it even got this far however has me concerned that we might not actually have sneaky mastermind bastards in top-secret think-tanks examining these eventualities - or that they aren't being trusted with the real data - in which case I highly recommend the incumbents please recruit some. I'm not shitting them, it's really not looking good on the ground, with youth clamouring to emigrate and lower-SES kids resigned to their dismal fate, if candid Reddit talk is anything to go by.
But all is not lost, for there is one man they might follow...
The Misunderstood Genius
- Tywin Lannister
[pertinent modern collorary: anyone who has to be labelled the "leader of the free world" by the FAKE NEWS is probably not the true leader of the free world]
Singapore's search for relevance in this brave new era has fortunately received a welcome kickstart from the preeminent political prodigy of our time, the GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP. The American Dragon and Defender of the West has generously tweeted his intention to De-nuke North Korea, End The Korean War and Re-integrate the North Korea Peoples into the World Economy, right here in the Lion City, on June 12 (save the date)
On-point reply by an Imperial Patriot to Our Lord of Chaos!
[with a couple of typos fixed]
This is the fruit of the abandonment of the previous President's commitment towards weakness and appeasement, as explained by the rehabilitated Lion Ted Cruz; case in point, the TRUMP TEAM's negotiation of the unconditional release of three American hostages and capture of five ISIS terrorists, against the previous President's payment of close to US$2 billion to Iran for four hostages... but you won't find such natural contrasts highlighted by the FAKE NEWS, of course (instead, you get headlines like "Why The End of the Korean War Is Bad News for the United States". Seriously.) On North Korea's part, they're almost falling over themselves dismantling their nuclear test site within a fortnight with their airspace thrown open for observers, while continuing to make overtures to the South. The GOD-EMPEROR has tweeted his appreciation for the kind gesture.
Huh. That was easy.
It's almost unreasonable how TRUMP keeps getting vindicated, with CNN's latest poll revealing that, loaded questions aside, Americans as a whole are more optimistic about their country today, than at any time in the last eleven years. Imagine if the biased press had actually presented half of his many accomplishments the way they would have done for a Democrat! Hearteningly, sections of the woke foreign media are coming around, because they aren't as beholden to the PC Police and can acknowledge when someone's actually getting shit done.
And, let's face it, the man's simply immeasurably better at getting good deals for America, than his predecessor. Let's put it this way: it's very easy to be "liked" - just give the other party far more than they ever thought possible. Sure, this gets plenty of fawning op-eds and prize ceremonies and medal presentations and honorary doctorates, but pity the ones who're indirectly stuck with the bill at the end - i.e. the citizens.
Conversely, it's a much better sign if your negotiation partners aren't entirely happy, because it means that a hard - but honest - bargain was driven. Of course, if someone wants to give ridiculous tips as a private citizen, that's his own business, but the POTUS is supposed to represent his nation's interest. It is, on reflection, quite incredible how Merkel can whine about not being able to count on the U.S. military umbrella and expect sympathy. It's not like Germany is some helpless Third World banana republic; surely they can afford their own goddamn tanks, for their own security?! Gee, it's sure tougher to fund a welfare state without managing to convince some other patsy to pay for their troops to patrol one's own borders, it seems.
America isn't dumb enough to pay for *our* defence? That's racist!
As another case study, consider TRUMP's latest healthcare initiative: to negotiate higher prices from foreign governments for American-developed prescription drugs. Definitely, it's always tricky to reconcile medicine with economics (see previous take on the EpiPen scandal), since debate eventually reduces to "how can you let people die for profit?"; however, it also cannot be escaped that the current medical edifice - physicians, nurses, pharma researchers, lab techs... - still have to be paid; one can try not paying, certainly, but there'll then be no medical edifice in short order. Question then is: who pays?
Although a complex issue, with the U.S. still grappling with the consequences of their insurance system, TRUMP's solution is actually extremely straightforward and rational, and therefore completely misconstrued by the so-called "experts", as usual. For example, consider one professor's opinion: "The notion that if other countries pay more for drugs that US consumers will pay less, that's just not true... If they are able to get other countries to pay more, I don't believe it will have any effect on prices in the United States, it will only raise drug company profits."
While this prof may be a nice fellow, I submit that he is wrong here, because he is not thinking like the GOD-EMPEROR. Far more likely is an implicit arrangement of this form:
It's really not that complicated.
Simply put, what distinguishes the GOD-EMPEROR is his willingness to walk from bad deals... which frankly shouldn't even be remarkable. Clearly, being eager to grab any deal for the sake of some airy-fairy idea of "international cooperation" or the like is a very weak position to start from - and one that America has fallen prey to all too often previously. This strength in negotiation is further in service of his guiding core principle, which he has never wavered from - America First.
The globalists have always sought to demonize that slogan, which speaks volumes about the absolute inanity they've degenerated into. Bloody heck, now you're supposed to feel bad about putting your own people first? Washington was certainly America First, Churchill Britain First, De Gaulle France First, Gandhi India First, Deng China First, LKY definitely and 100% unapologetically Singapore First... and GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP somehow gets knocked for it? Do they have no shame?
Well, by my projections, his domestic popularity will continue rising when Americans start to realise that TRUMP is bringing the goodies back, and that it's swell to be top dog after all. Word to the wise: if our incumbent party are serious about improving their stock, they might want to take a leaf out of TRUMP's book, and begin working for their own citizens...
Mr. Ham: *sipping coffee with feet up*
Some me time, for once. Now, what's new? *flips through newspapers* Ah, the Charismatics have run out of patience and are making their move. Should be some jolly good fun - shots getting fired across the bow in the State's Times forum already. Oxford's smacking Parliament's Fake News back on Thum's credentials vis-à-vis their cocked-up cross-examination practices, and yeah, they deserve it. Same old story, it was mainly about who was gonna betray who first, the end.
*turns page* Xi's praising Marx as the greatest thinker of modern times... has China even been Communist for, like, twenty years? Marx's grave costing US$6 a pop to visit should speak for itself. More SJW cultural appropriation accusations, about cheongsams this time. Let's see, high slit, has the legs and figure for it... verdict: not guilty. Eh, at least we got some extra spicy memes out of the rubbish, so it wasn't a total waste.
*continues flipping* Say, trees can talk to each other? Will wonders never cease. Hmm, TRUMP's getting recognized as a legendary emperor by South Koreans, and vaulting up in the polls surpassing Obama at the same point in their Presidencies despite the totally unfair Fake News Barrage, with savvy Millenials swinging to him as his Dragon Energy bro Kanye West all but doubled his black support overnight? Heh, some things just don't change - nice to have some dependable stability, in this uncertain and rootless world. That magical man!
*gets up and stretches* All's well with the world, then. I wonder what the two dolts are up to?
Mr. Robo: Alright, here goes nothing. fefefefefefe... veveveveve... feel any difference in vibration?
Mr. Robo: We're totally screwed.
Mr. Ham: Eh, wassup?
Me: We're trying to brush up on our phonetics, if you haven't noticed, thank you.
Mr. Ham: *flipping through notes* How hard can this be? When I last did this, I just threw the schwa in for every vowel in the IPA transcription, sware bland that that was haw ai spake, and threatened to sue if they discriminated against speech impediments. It's smack in the middle of the vowel chart, any error is bounded! And, frankly, you tend to mumble anyway, it isn't even that much of a stretch.
Weird Al can do it, so can you!
*one slightly flattened hamster later*
Mr. Robo: Bugger, this is hard work. My throat's dry and I'm feeling queasy, and I'm still not getting the right acoustics. I don't think hamster vocal chords are made out for this, human. Mr. Ham's advice is starting to sound better, methinks.
Me: Et tu, Robo?
Mr. Robo: I mean, the rest of the theory isn't that bad, but get a load of this *flips to random page* - the voiced postalveolar fricative is produced by channeling air flow along a groove in the back of the tongue, with the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge and the front of the tongue against the palate... you hafta be, I dunno, some oral kinesthetic genius to keep track of all that movement! My poor throat!
Mr. Ham: *pops up* Well, you can't be no cunning linguist, without being good with your tongue.
*one additionally-flattened hamster later*
Me: Okay, fine, we get to refer to our notes, so it's not all doom and gloom here. Seriously, I wasn't half bad with pinyin transcription when I was like ten years old - though that was probably simpler given that Mandarin is effectively monosyllabic, character-wise, and you only have to deal with the usual five vowels most of the time, unlike English. Or perhaps it's just that there were fewer distractions then? Ooh, new Reddit post!
Mr. Robo: *glumly* It probably isn't that even hard to model pronunciations with LSTMs and the like, but you'd then need a computer for the processing. Hmm, wait, there's this paper from the Naval Research Lab back in '76 - Automatic Translation of English Text to Phonetics by Means of Letter-to-Sound Rules. Seems like they convert regular text with fixed production rules of the form A[B]C = D, where ABC is text, and D is the corresponding phoneme. Could be worth a shot.
Me: Yeah, what do we have to lose anyway? There's the open-source CMU Pronouncing Dictionary for the required IPA data in ARPABET format, which is all we really need.
*some frenetic coding later*
Okay, let's see: one obvious impediment is that the number of letters generally doesn't correspond to the number of phonemes, with 31884 words in the dictionary matching for length, and 82591 having more letters than phonemes. Interestingly, there are 2031 words with more phonemes than letters. Since the production rule is fixed, I guess we just pro-rate letters and phonemes, when they don't match.
As such, we gotta collapse duplicate phonemes in the generated pronunciations, and automatically fail the cases where there are more phonemes than letters, but tough luck. That settled, let's just try the max-expectation mappings from the dictionary data, i.e. to predict what the letter B in ABC sounds like, we simply return what it most often sounds like. I suppose we could weigh that according to empirical occurrences, but later.
Mr. Robo: *furiously typing* Gotcha, human.
Me: So how does it do?
Mr. Robo: Not superbly. Backtesting indicates that the system exactly replicates the given pronunciation from the production rules only about 30.4% of the time, 57.3% if you allow for one phoneme difference, and 71.5% if you allow for two. Of course, the dictionary having specimens like "Abplanalp" and "Zwiefelhofer" might have something to do with that; restricting the backtest to the 1000 most common English words raises performance to 39.2%, 68.6% and 83.5% percent respectively.
Me: Well, I dunno, that's not excellent...
Mr. Ham: I tell you, do the schwa thing.
Me: ...but probably good enough. Let's take a look at the transposition errors. The most common by some distance appears to be ʌ → æ, which to be frank seems within normal variation. In fact, the CMU Dict pronunciation of "and", the third most common word in our reference Google corpus, happens to be "ʌnd", which our system happens to predict as "ænd" - which I believe to be the more canonical IPA transcription. Second place, ʌ → ɪ, is possibly more concerning, but then comes ɑ → ʌ, aɪ → ɪ and ɑ → æ, which seem kinda plausible close-range vowel shifts that we probably can get away with.
Mr. Ham: Schwa! Schwa! Schwa!
Mr. Robo: Ah, well, I generated an easy-to-reference set of character-to-IPA charts based on the system. For each letter in each word in normal left-to-right reading order, simply refer to the appropriate chart, and locate the cell with the left column being the preceding letter - dash for none - and the top row being the following letter. For example, for "a" in "and", we use the Middle A chart, and take the value of the cell with column value "-" and row value "N"... which is indeed æ, as expected. Duplicate phonemes are compressed, as previously mentioned.
Me: Of course, it's probably bad to rely too much on this as a crutch, and obviously it doesn't work for other languages, but it's probably a useful fallback guideline.
Mr. Ham: Uh, wait, if you're allowed access to your own reference materials, then why not just use a dictionary if this is what you're concerned about?
...did I say something wrong?
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