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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018 - 23:23 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

War On Cash Revisited

So, the latest broadside on cash has been fired (see some previous meditations). The NUS campus is (forcibly) going cashless, which has expectedly gained the ire of a good number of its inhabitants - not that it'll matter (as with the PJ Thum saga blowback, which has dealt another blow to claims of academic independence around these parts; well, at least it appears that student activism efforts are increasing)

To soften the blow, a limited-time promotion of 50 cent off every cashless purchase of S$1.50 and above has been instituted, in the best local traditions of "give a chicken leg, take back a whole chicken". This has brought the perhaps unintended consequences of students pooling small purchases (okay, not so bad), to the inconvenience of breaking up larger orders. On that last, it's not even clear whether going cashless has actually improved efficiency - previously, I could just hand a dollar coin to the cashier for my usual drink and scoot off. Now, there's inevitably a crowd of customers milling about the desk waiting for their transactions to go through... but if it's digital, it's smart, I gather.

Some appear to have caught on to the real attraction of cashlessness, which is the ability to monitor citizens' transactions, and transition into a situation where private wealth is entirely at the mercy of the state - at least, for the average poor sod who doesn't have an offshore bank account or two. And, for those sweet summer children who like to think there's a benign motive behind the cashless drive, refer to the recent Facebook data breaches (with Singapore connection!) and response, possibly best summarized by the timeless Zuckerberg quote on those who thought their personal data (also read: cash) safe with Facebook: "People just submitted [to] it. I don't know why. They 'trust me'. Dumb f**ks."

The whole Facebook Workspace tie-up sure is looking mighty interesting in this context. I daresay another Singapore Military Retirement Team talent with Ranger Spirit should fortunately be able to fix it up, as always.

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Sunday, Apr 15, 2018 - 22:46 SGT
Posted By: Ham H. Let

Amateur Cartooning

Mr. Robo: ...do I really have to say this?

Mr. Ham: You know the rules, Mr. Robo. The human's asleep, so the blog's ours, and boy, it's so going to be worth it!

Mr. Robo: *sighs* Okay, then.

Mr. Ham: That's the spirit! A-one, a-two...


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Sunday, Apr 01, 2018 - 22:25 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Sunday Bunday

Not feeling too well Easter weekend, so a pure perk-me-up...

Thump posing on the White Hutch lawn
[N.B. The KULTURE WAR counteroffensive is on (see Roseanne)]

And, from EDMW, how cats get two broken arms

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Monday, Mar 26, 2018 - 21:55 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Skin In The Art (Part II)

"This is definitely not a cosmetic relaunch...
a lot of effort and a lot of thinking had been put in to create this new logo... if we keep emphasising the four pillars, we hope that it will bring results and it (the rebranding) is not a cosmetic change.

- the FAS president on renaming the S.League,
the Singapore Premier League

Well, looks like somebody needs to boost his stock pronto, as discussed last October. Of course, given all the previous heavily-marketed "bold changes" in the past twenty-two years, there wasn't much left to up the ante except a full-on label switch. Our FAS president was at least under no illusions about how it would (rightly) be perceived, given his repeated assertions that "it is not just a cosmetic change" (it probably is).

This serves nicely as an introduction to the concept of "skin in the game" - the league admins, and their political masters based in the relevant ministry, share next to none of the risks of the footballers who are actually practising sport. If a player finds himself just missing the cut-off to join a club, or has his career stopped short by injury, it's all on himself.

As oft raised here previously, the disjunction between the rewards to the actual do-ers (recall, capped at S$2.5k monthly, even for national teamers), and the management, is absolutely ridiculous by this point. Benchmarking against international standards, the average English League Two (i.e. fourth division) player earns over S$10k a month; let's just say that I'm still waiting for the higher-ups to put their money (skin) where their mouth is.

Incerto, Hot Air?

Taleb is one of those that readers tend to be divided on (as previously seen with Antifragile), and his many detractors tend to dislike his insufferably-smug style (actually not entirely uncommon with famous academics, including Taleb's favourite "psycholophaster*", Steven Pinker). In short, he is - and accepts that he is - an asshole.

[*in particular, Taleb writes that "seeing the psychologist Steven Pinker making pronouncements of things intellectual has a similar effect to encountering a drive-in Burger King while hiking in the middle of a national park".]

One way of understanding this would be his advice that "surgeons should not look like surgeons", giving as an example the wisdom of picking a guy who looks - and behaves - like a butcher for an operation, over one that is the very picture of a soft-spoken physician, assuming they are both at the same institution. The logic here is that the butcher-lookalike would have had to survive far more challenges to his competency, due to prejudice at him not looking the part; one can imagine the higher-ups itching to cut him loose at any excuse. It follows, then, that he should be very, very good at what he does.

Setting aside other factors (e.g. race-based quotas, second-degree gamesmanship), this does make some sense, especially when applied to recent winners who were derided for going against the grain: Scott Adams and GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP. Definitely, merely affecting being a rebel doesn't indicate fitness, but we can well observe the innate cognitive resistance to recognizing that they weren't merely lucky, but in fact extremely wise, simply because they didn't talk and behave the parts of "(liberal) cartoonist" and "President" respectively.

[N.B. See interesting signalling/countersignalling paper, which happens to support Fussell's observations on class (the averagely-talented are most anxious to distinguish themselves from those they view as beneath them - amusingly, they find that those with merely average reputations defend themselves most vigorously, which makes sense applied to local politics)]

Trawling your data is only smart when our guy does it!
(Source: r/the_donald)

Here, we deliver a similar verdict on Taleb. While one might not like the way he comes across, he is, as with Adams and TRUMP, generally accurate (one recalls his prescient explanation that the TRUMP election was simply the people voting to destroy the establishment), which is what should be important. One can certainly complain that quite a number of his concepts have been covered in his previous works, and that, if carefully distilled, Skin in the Game could be much shorter than it is. Neither detracts materially from his fundamental accuracy.

The next criticism would then be that Taleb's ideas are mostly just folk wisdom, which he doesn't deny (recall the Lindy principle [Chapter Eight here] on antifragility). The point, however, is that such received knowledge has of late been undeservingly drowned out by formalism. Taleb in particular delights in calling out macroeconomics, which he accuses (as did Romer, remember) of becoming ever more self-referential - since there is no foolproof way to disprove theories, prestige in the form of top journal publications tends to become a closed circle, admitting only compatible ideas (intellectual-yet-idiot).

One might reasonably bristle at Taleb's hypocrisy here - isn't he a professor (one-fourth commitment, admittedly) at NYU himself? In his defence here, he has a longer history of actually doing stuff as a trader, even if not always successfully, which happens to be also be what he lauds about TRUMP - TRUMP was, if nothing else, real, and not just yet another figurehead in hock to his donors. They wanted an independent who could say "f**k you" when required... and they got him.

For example, take the recent tariff spat. America had somehow been cast as the bad guy for trying to do what many other countries, in particular China, had been doing for years (try getting into business in the Middle Kingdom without a local partner), and for all the gabbing about tariffs harming profits, the thing is that these excess profits were never going to the guys on the ground anyway (as one r/economics commentator sagely put, "the average person doesn't trust economists - they understand, intuitively if not academically, that economists and average people have goals that don't align")!

Basically, what previous presidents like Obama had done, was to sit at the negotiating table, hear a "no" from China and Europe, and shrug their shoulders complacently (well, they said no negotiating, what would you have me do? One can imagine Jeb! thanking them after this, had he somehow gotten elected). The lousiest Walmart purchaser couldn't get away with that crap! Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy, and yes, TRUMP's winning it.

But Does It Make Sense?

Since it's unrealistic to cover all the details, I'll move on to a couple of arguments against the concepts in Skin.

The first would be Taleb's seeming antipathy against all things theoretical. Surely this isn't entirely justified? Wouldn't a dab of theory save a ton of experiment, borrowed from Tesla's jab at Edison?

The important distinction that Taleb presupposes, from my understanding, is that theory is too often worshipped, where it is not properly proven. Therefore, one does not see him having much trouble with, say, Newton's Laws. However, returning to macroecons, with its huge and frankly near-unmodellable domain, he would caution against placing too much faith in stacks of equations. One supposes that isolated systems - as in, say, high-frequency trading - would be another matter.

The next question might be even more cutting - Taleb states that one should not engage in virtue signalling and rent-seeking. However, a bit of thought suggests that these behaviors are exactly what should be done, in an economic sense.

To put it another way, consider the exercise of portfolio management. It is a given that risk and reward are directly correlated here - to chase higher rewards, one has to take on higher risks. Then, if one comes across an opportunity to reap higher rewards without proportionate risks - for example, on mispriced U.S. Treasuries - one would just be stupid not to leap at the opportunity. But isn't this equivalent to rent-seeking?

Well, here is where the ethical dimension comes in. Rent-seeking is wrong, inasmuch as the rent-seeker profits disproportionately - if there were no rent-seekers, so it goes, society as a whole would be better off, with people reaping rewards based purely on the skin put in. The trouble is that everyone hates rent-seekers... only until they get to become one themselves. Further, disentangling legitimate profit and rent isn't always easy - is a surgeon who refuses to take on cases below a certain price rent-seeking, if he took decades to accumulate his experience and knowledge?

Skin And Belief

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

- the late Stephen Hawking, in his fifty-year foxhole

Taleb devotes a good portion of the book to the application of skin-in-the-game to religion, which includes the usual jibe that when the Pope gets shot, he gets sent to hospital pronto, instead of getting prayed over at leisure. Therefore, Taleb claims, the Pope is ipso facto an atheist (note that Scott Adams made similar arguments with "truck reality" in God's Debris)

The evolution of skin-in-the-game in the Abrahamic traditions is a worthy study in itself. In the beginning, you had the tribal incarnation, who demanded - and got - animal sacrifice from His first believers (no, no wussy veganism for The Most High). However, one can note that there is literally skin-in-the-game, that from the offered creatures. Believers had to be serious then - "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness". YHWH had no truck with flowery words - you want something, you better pay in kind (in other words: "Blood for the Blood God, Skulls for the Skull Throne"!)

However one might feel about animal slaughter, this state of affairs was moderated by Second Wave Abrahamism, and its most prominent expression in Catholicism, which declared, in somewhat technical language, that believers should pursue both faith and good works ("faith of itself, if it does not have work, is dead"... with plenty of small print on the specific interaction; I'd like to posit that the general intent remains clear)

Then Wave 2.5 came along, together with sola fide - "by faith alone, one is saved", if admittedly with certain exceptions. The consequence, then, is that even were one a complete monster, one could just say the magic words on one's deathbed, and be fully expiated. Indeed, following by the logic of Pascal's Wager, that would be the most rational thing to do! On the contrary, a reasonably decent fellow who had done most everything okay, less the admission of faith (and having been served notice), was doomed. Personally, there's no justice to be found in this setup, and if a Creator had to resort to this sort of rules-lawyering, I'd gather that it'd just delay the screwing-over to the afterlife.

Simplifying just a tad, much of theology appears a dance between two conceptions of a High God - in the first form, He is ineffable, indescribable, unimaginable, wholly beyond human understanding; impersonal, abstract, the "God" of Spinoza and Einstein and Hawking, because what is this God but Natural Law? Note that none of these luminaries claimed knowledge of this entity's intentions - only that the Universe has certain Rules, that may be apprehended with some honest work.

In the second, far more popular form, God cares. This form has variously been said to be born of a rock or an egg or a virgin or sea foam, and he has wants, which on some reflection appear strangely petty for a being of His stature - he wants roast beef, of course, but also the neighbouring tribe to be put to the sword, for big houses and shiny decorations and all manner of abasement. Summing it up, Form Two's behaviour and mentality differs little from that of a megalomaniac human ruler.

The trick of organized religion, then, lies in deftly bridging these forms - the first form removes Him from logical assault and defends his universality, and once that is established, the second form states His - generally rather mundane - wants. One can only smile at this presumption; Cao Cao got derided for speaking for the Emperor, but the humblest fellow nowadays thinks nothing of making declarations for the Almighty!

Taleb, in his usual clear thinking, characterizes believers as being uniformly religious in words. However, when it comes to actions, he classes most - including the Pope - as atheist in action, reserving the religious in action honour to "Salafi Islamists and suicide bombers". But really, "through deed only" makes the most sense. Does helping an old lady cross the road get discounted because one visits a different building on a particular day of the week? In fact, wouldn't it be far more noble if no reward, in this life or the next, were expected at all?

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Sunday, Mar 18, 2018 - 20:37 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Skin In The Art (Part I)

Mr. Robo: *proudly* ...and then I successfully negotiated Mr. Ham down to just a 15% pay cut for myself! And, after that, he praised me for my hard bargaining, and mentioned that it reminded him of the GOD-EMPEROR himself! Why, I...

Me: Well, just as long as you're happy, I guess. Just remember, Mr. Robo, to look out for Number One, because sure as hell no-one's gonna do that for you in the business world. Myself, I'd settle for more time to curl up with unread titles, two of which I managed this weekend - Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, and Taleb's latest Skin in the Game.

99 Red Test Balloons

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got
Set them free at the break of dawn
Till one by one they were gone

Not once, not twice, but thrice at least...
fortunately, there are only 82 incumbent MPs

(Source: r/singapore)

Before delving into Liew's comic magnum opus proper, we can see that he has been pretty busy providing trenchant political commentary on Facebook, a scene that's been a teeny bit quiet since they got Demon-cratic Singapore's Leslie Chew. The incident in question was Workers' Party Sylvia Lim suggesting in Parliament that "there were some test balloons being floated out about the fact that the government needs to raise revenue".

And for this, incumbent party representatives insisted on a formal apology.

First off, cracking down on such a reasonable question is patently ridiculous to begin with, because if you can't raise queries in Parliament, then what is that body for? Secondly, since it is no secret that the government has a GST hike planned, shouldn't one expect them to have gathered some feedback from the ground, and factored it into their decision-making process? Certainly, one imagines that had they not made such a hoohah over it (guilty conscience perhaps?), nobody would have paid much, if any, attention to it.

Instead, their insistence on an unwarranted apology has instead herded citizens into the WP's corner, because people can recognize a clear case of bullying when they see one. Not only that, evidence soon came in that the government had, indeed, been floating a bunch of test balloons, whether through media articles or official NTUC surveys... which, again, is personally no great deal. Float just admit float lah! Meanwhile, their Ang Mo Kio Town Council general manager was found taking bribes, but, but *points finger* AHTC (yes, literally from Shanmugam)

Actually, the problem may not be so much the bullying, but the stupidity and incompetence that's creeping in - sure, LKY might have gathered his kah kias to metaphorically thrash his political opponents in a cul-de-sac, but he made sure that it was an actual cul-de-sac with no exit. Here, we have his sadly-diminished successor wannabes attempting the same tack, but without the requisite vision or surface logical thoroughness.

One might, then, understand my discomfort at the warning signs of encroaching censorship in Singapore, under the excuse of "Fake News":

Exaggerated? You laugh now, but history repeats
(Source: r/the_donald)

On to Charlie Chan Hock Chye. I have to admit, when I first heard of the title, that my first thought was of my high school physics teacher of exactly that same name (minus Charlie), and who drew a mean caricature into the bargain. To my slight initial dismay, it was not him who had hit the big time with his hobby, but that aside, the work can definitely be classed as a local comic awakening. And comics don't get nearly enough respect, I feel - got my own start with Beano, Dandy and Doraemon, and there's plenty of arcane philosophy hidden in the Hong Kong weeklies if you care to look. I mean, just because they can draw, doesn't mean they can't write, right?

Charlie Chan's own history neatly encapsulates the government's true attitude towards the arts and innovation. Recall, it received an S$8000 grant from the National Arts Council, which while not much, was something. And then, for actually looking at Singapore's political history with a fresh perspective, and not being plastered with panels of representatives of our four major races holding hands and dancing in a circle, it had the grant revoked. It went straight on to win the comic world's equivalent of the Oscars, proving once again that the National Arts Council wouldn't recognize true art if Picasso left an unsigned specimen on their doorstep.

Which allows us to slip Taleb's conception of skin-in-the-game in - the NAC pseudo-censors, being essentially honorary bureaucrats, have no actual investment in local arts. As with the common run of form-filling box-tickers, their default instinct would be to banhammer anything that pushes the envelope... which is not entirely unreasonable, because they personally don't reap the upsides of dangerous decisions either. The best, then, that can be said about them is perhaps that "the problem is higher than these agencies".

The eponymous Charlie Chan, in contrast, put all his skin in. Born about 1938, he pursued drawing as his hobby, and teams up with a friend and admirer (Bertrand) to produce and sell comics. After running the gamut of subjects, from giant robots to Maus-like commentary to lowest-common-denominator action heroes (Roachman, whom Charlie accuses Marvel of ripping off with Spiderman), Bertrand finally bails after eight years of middling success. He wanted to get married and start a family, and thus he had to have a stable job, a stable income (which he did). In short, Bertrand found that he put had too much skin in. He danced, in the Kierkegaardian sense, for a time, but eventually wearied of it, and sat among the spectators instead.

Some knights wear glasses.
(Source: epigrambooks.sg)

Such a domestic life was not for Charlie, however. He tried his hand at commercial illustration for a while, but while he was undeniably good at it, he gave it up due to displeasure at having to operate to the whims of the clients, and of compromising his own artistic integrity (in this, it is easy to see Charlie as Liew's alter-ego). Instead, he became a security guard, which afforded him - if not a decent salary - the peace and quiet he wanted, to simply draw what he wanted and tell stories.

Charlie's story doesn't have much of a happy ending. What small market he had for Roachman died out with the advent of television and the demise of the pavement libraries, and it was clear that his favourite political satire wasn't gonna fly with a certain strongman at the helm. Nor, it appears, was he able to attract a wife with his meagre income. If he regretted this, it was only when he wasn't able to afford overseas (and apparently better) medical treatment for his father, due to his lack of savings, which, it is implied, his mother blamed on him to an extent. This spurred him to finally try and make a name for himself at the San Diego Comics Con, at the age of fifty. That went about as expected.

Charlie always had, you see, real skin in the game, and he lived and died by his calling. As an avowed artist, he had what Taleb terms "soul in the game", or skin-on-behalf-of-others. In keeping the light of culture alive, he received no monetary reward (nor did he expect any, especially later in his career), and accepted near-certain impoverishment and obscurity.

And the bureaucrats, who're being paid to push new economy and innovation and risk-taking? One can only too easily imagine them telling their children:

This is Charlie. Be smart. Don't be like Charlie.

[To be continued...]

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Saturday, Mar 10, 2018 - 22:42 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert


Mr. Robo: Human! Huuumaaannn!

Me: Yes, Mr. Ham locked himself in his office again. Here's the latest key, and if that doesn't work, here's a crowbar. Odd though, the market hasn't been moving lately, but...

Mr. Robo: No, it's not that! When I arrived at work today, Mr. Ham smiled at me!

Me: Oh, is it his usual patronizing "I'm superior to you" smirk?

Mr. Robo: No.

Me: Or his practised plastic salesman expression, frozen about the mouth, without any genuine good cheer in the eyes?

Mr. Robo: Nope.

Me: Maybe his predatory "what a sucker" grin, often seen after ripping another poor customer off?

Mr. Robo: Nah.

Me: The sadistic twisted lip-curl that appears before inflicting absolutely needless pain and suffering?

Mr. Robo: *shakes head*

Me: The psychopathic teeth-baring slasher face that he sometimes makes, right before he smashes the place up, after one bad trade too many?

Mr. Robo: No, I would have simply followed the arranged lockdown procedure in that case. You listen to me, human; it was just... a... normal... everyday... smile!


Me: You're right, Mr. Robo. Something is very wrong. We have to check on him. Hopefully it isn't too late.

*over at the firm of H.L. Ham*

*rushing in* Mr. Robo: Whatever it is you're thinking of doing, Mr. Ham, don't do it! It's not as hopeless as you think it is! We can always work something out, like another wage cut for me! There's so much to live for... human, say something!

Me: Well, um, just don't make too much of a mess.

Mr. Robo: Human!

Me: Nah, relax. If you look more closely, you'll realise what's happening, because once you eliminate all the other possibilities, what remains, however improbable, must be the truth - Mr. Ham is merely truly, sincerely, happy.

Mr. Robo: Is that even possible?!

Me: Wouldn't have imagined it myself. Personally, I'm extremely curious as to what might have caused this.

Mr. Ham: *rubbing paws* They doubted me! Uh, I mean, they doubted Master Political Analyst Herr Ahm! They laughed when I... he said that "Trade war, so? AMERICA WINS!" two years ago, they did the same when I warned that "Great America wins the upcoming trade wars" right after TRUMP's inauguration. Well, guess who's again being proven right... as Great America uses the very strategy I... he anticipated!

ABSOLUTE MADMAN, Stable Genius, two sides of the same coin
(Source: r/polandball)

Me: Well, sometimes the most effective strategies are also the simplest ones. So it appears that GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP has transformed the global trade chessboard into what's essentially a game of chicken... and guess which country happens to be far and away the biggest, baddest piece of poultry around?

Mr. Ham: Yep, it's now entirely a contest of wills and of not backing down, and as far as I know, nobody has yet prevailed against the GOD-EMPEROR on his major interests in that dimension. Recall, all his Republican political opponents swearing that they wouldn't back him, before quietly falling into line. And we've Canada and Mexico going from insisting that NAFTA could not be amended, to obediently writing up a new draft. As this POTUS knows too well from his business background, "No" is simply the first step in negotiations.

Me: And, actually, one has to wonder why the media seems to be making tariffs out to be such a huge deal, when everybody basically does that. The news reports aren't mentioning that the EU actually has higher steel and automobile tariffs than America, China likewise imposes hefty tariffs on U.S. goods, but when America tries some tit-for-tat, the lofty principle of free trade is threatened?!

Mr. Ham: Yeah, the trade war began decades ago if anything, it's just that nobody told America. Take Ban Ki-moon's latest slip of the tongue on the Paris Accord - "Who will make up all this losses which will not be paid by the US? That's a serious problem now". Well, no shit, it's not about the money, yet nobody wants to pay, and are just waiting for America to give away the shop, as their previous weak and easily-influenced Presidents would probably have done. Anyway, it sure looks like TRUMP's reviving the ol' British special relationship, as we have long suspected. Greater love hath no man than TRUMP!

But yes. He's gonna win again. Like, the mainstream press have been so consistently wrong about him and what he could achieve, all the way since he first announced his candidacy, that it's quite impossible to suppose that they have any credibility left on this matter, mainly because he is quite simply a genius. Like, he's just got North Korea to put denuclearization on the table, which is far more than previous Nobel Peace Prize winners have managed! Verily, we do not deserv...

Mr. Robo: What the heck is that awful cackling?!

Mr. Ham: Ah, just Alexa. Somebody has to take over when I have an off-day. And, talking about your voluntary pay cut...

Bonus - Assange recognizing Singaporean troll power (I have to admit, Xiaxue's growing on me):

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Monday, Feb 26, 2018 - 23:45 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Annual Ritual

"I still got an A even though I was expecting a B or C. However, God listened to my prayers and this incident [the exam scripts being stolen] happened, resulting in my distinction."

- God works in mysterious ways concerning A-Level Chemistry

Sat through a performance by Zhang Di (who apparently quit medicine for more jocular remedies) and company at Resorts World Sentosa on Sunday, where his knack for composing lyrics on the spot was on full display. [Digression: one has to recognize its relation to ad-hoc xiangsheng, and the entertainment of matching poetry, couplet-style, as practised by the old Chinese literati of Hong Lou Meng; which in turn recalls The Dozens, a rap form of which was featured in 8 Mile]. Guy's been around for a long time - my parents recalled watching him when they were courting, thirty-over years ago.

His motto of having others forget their troubles does have something to it - the problem is, of course, the forgetting...

Recruitment, Redux

It never quite feels like the new semester's arrived, until one gets approached by nattily-attired young gentlemen at or around the Central Forum. I was anticipating collecting my Puzzle Fighter E. Honda sushi, when one of them graciously inquired as to whether I was missing something in life.

As they seated themselves determinedly on either side, I could not help but feel slightly guilty, for my soul had already been promised to many Hells, and if they wished a share in it, why, they would have to wait in line. On this, to be fair, there have at times been reciprocal agreements amongst the Abrahamics; yet these are tenuous pledges, amendable only all too easily, as with the Holy See's hardline stance on membership in the days of their pomp, and Negroes seemingly being summarily uncursed in the eyes of the Lord, that sweet summer of '78.

But can one expect much more? A rational man might have begun to grow suspicious, when a supposedly all-knowing deity gets pissed at his favourite pets for munching fruit - as is their nature - before having His Chosen wander the desert for forty years... only to settle in just about the only spot without oil. The second act then sees His Son's followers genocide his first supporters for over a thousand years, before He inspires an Arabic warlord to persecute them both. The combined toll of death and misery from these misadventures defies description.

This is an objectively atrocious record, and if He had been a middle manager, He would long have been fired. Unfortunately, being simultaneously the boss and the boss's son has produced the unhappy combination of being both fossilized and nepotistic, and one can only look on with a pity akin to that of a clear-headed observer evincing a battered wife, who returns after yet another hiding because this time, I just know He will change.

Still, it would have been impolite to say all this to doubtless well-meaning fellows, who dutifully continue running their spiel. Talk at one point wandered to the percentage of Singaporeans that were Christian. This is about twenty percent (as I happened to know), the reply which was matched by affirmation - and perhaps, just a hint of anxiety. I do believe that this de-facto ceiling has been some cause for consternation among the relevant communities; and, I might add, it exists for a reason, but none that would be glad tidings for these fine gentlemen.

Skipping the international politics angle, which LKY was on top of, this is ultimately an eminently natural phenomenon - as a creed gains dominance and saturates the mainstream, so will it begin to splinter, as has happened over and over again. Given how all of them profess much the same fundamental set of virtues - don't kill, love your neighbour, etc - about which I can discern no actual disagreement, one cannot help but wonder just why there has been so much feuding over the details. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that organized religions were never truly about those things. Rather, it at some point became rude to assert "I want this"; far more respectable was "God wants this". The implications are, clearly, interesting (like, surely God has enough Cantab A's in His bag?)

His Word Of Glory

"Whoever it was who translated the Bible into excellent French prose is chiefly responsible for the collapse of Christianity in France. Contrariwise, the men who put the Bible into archaic, sonorous and often unintelligible English gave Christianity a new lease of life wherever English is spoken."

- Holy Writ, H.L. Mencken

The above sentiment echoes that shared by luminaries such as Wilde - who was probably agnostic on his best day - and Wallace, who professed a soft spot for the Catholic church. This predilection is entirely understandable - given that there is no logic involved in theology, or at least none of the sort that would pass muster in any properly-accredited craft - one should expect the full assortment of bells and whistles in recompense. Swinging censers, fragrant incense, Morrocan leather kicks, cherubic castrati rocking Ave Maria - the whole nine yards.

This, I feel, is a failing of their successors, who dispensed with the pageantry, and replaced it with a joyless severity. Officially, it was a rejection of the extraneous, of distractions from the Divine. Third Wave Abrahamism rejected human imagery altogether. In this I think them mistaken. Maybe the Holy See was corrupt, but they did at least own their niche, and they knew how to celebrate. As G.B. Shaw has his Black Girl note perceptively, after the first fisherman's magnificent paper-mâché cathedral passed, the remainder of the procession carried but "smaller and mostly much uglier paper Churches", while all insisting that theirs happened to be the only true one.

Happily, this inferiority has been readily addressed by some of the newer crop, who have erected splendid titanium structures, worshipped with concerts of impeccable production quality, and whose leaders see fit to appear only in the finest threads; how can we not recall in this the first great marbled houses of the Lord, graced with haunting pipe organs played by the finest masters, overseen by priests whose vestments would cause Venetian ladies envy? It is a tested formula, I say; keep it (but, perhaps go a bit light on the Dayung Sampan next time)

The allegory of the shepherd, by the way, has seldom been properly explored - a most cursory analysis would yield the uncomfortable realisation that not one in a hundred shepherds tends his flock out of benevolence - their well-being is his concern, inasmuch as they provide utility: milk, wool, meat. In fact, we should be rightly suspcious were any shepherd claim unconditional love, particularly if they happen to be Scottish.

Now, this is not to say that a degree of beta sheepiness is baad; without some compromise, there would be unending conflict. However, the point is that sheepiness (also the Third Wave Abrahamism equivalent, submission) and its attendant traits - unlimited forgiveness, for one - are hardly as ideal as the faiths love to promote. The main benefit, as far as I can make out, is that it in practice allows obedient multitudes to be easily led - and ironically, often in the manner Exodus 23:2 warns against.

His instrument upon this Earth
[80% evangelical support!]
(Source: r/dankchristianmemes)

This attitude I cannot in good conscience support. For sheep will too often gather in circles, and bleat softly to each other, and convince themselves that they are okay - for they are, above all else, taught to fear; but this is no great accomplishment, given that it is most commonly undertaken by the indoctrination of defenceless young minds. Take a child, as the Jesuits are wont to, and teach him something blatantly ridiculous, such as his soul being forfeit were he to drink soda on Thursdays, or were he to ever touch his left ankle with his right hand. I am willing to state that such convictions can be permanently implanted in the majority of children, with suitable reinforcement techniques. Some may reject this as a disrespectful and baseless insinuation; if so, in all honesty, they would be mistaken.

It is, however, true, that there are many sheep and few lions, for that is the natural state of affairs. It is also true that one does have a choice, if nothing else, whether to be a lion, or to accept being a sheep. The life of a lion is fraught with peril, for his peers are strong too, and in that strength dispense with niceties. When a lion's might goes, he will oft be brutally slain, which is coincidentally also the time when the flock gathers and reassures themselves that they are glad not to be lions.

But, you see, this neglects the fact that sheep all die too, and generally they die quite ingloriously indeed, however they try to convince themselves otherwise. One does not deny that this may be a comfortable and late death, if the sheep be fortunate. But it is death nonetheless, and bleatings as to some everlasting afterlife I feel quite distasteful and insulting, as would an appeal to Santa's future beneficence be to any self-respecting adult.

And, you know the secret?

Sheep don't actually even admire or really love other sheep, you know. They respect their shepherds more, as any number of successful megapastors can attest to; but, more than that, they love lions - see: GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP.

And why not? At the very minimum, he'll cut your taxes!

A day as a lion, worth a lifetime as a sheep

"Crom! I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that today, two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom; so grant me this one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!"

- Conan's appeal
(now this is a man, and this is a God)

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