- 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?
Let it not be said that we aren't concerned about the environment...
A Tree Named Fellaini
- Ferdinand on Scholes; alas, perhaps the greatest partnership ever was not meant to be
It's rankled for some time - United playing sort of okay, but not nearly well enough that one can see a winning goal coming. Mourinho sizes up his star-studded bench with half an hour remaining - who will it be? Mata? Martial? Herrera? Rashford?
More often that not, the choice brings a groan from United fans watching the game from all over the world. Fellaini.
I think it's my best feature.
One could recognize the logic of the not-fondly-remembered Moyes bringing the unkempt Belgian with him from Everton, but to many supporters, it was a mystery how he survived the van Gaal and Mourinho cullings, when others with rather more skill and pedigree were driven off in droves. They knew the answer, actually: sometimes, you just need a big fella up top to lump the ball at, and hope that he manages to knock it on to an actual footballer, who'll do his stuff with it. Ergo, Fellaini.
The trouble was that this was a tactic expected of a Stoke City on a cold, rainy night, and not of a Manchester United squad assembled for what feels like a billion pounds. Now, to his credit, Fellaini does have the best chest control I've ever seen. Unfortunately, as general applicability goes, this particular talent is near the bottom of the pile.
Thus it was that when Fellaini came on in the 63rd minute against Arsenal, the broadcasters couldn't help but cut over to Juan Mata in the dugout, with the commentators politely wondering as to whether it might have been wiser had United gone with a guy who could actually pass and/or run with the ball, instead of flinging himself headlong willy-nilly at anything passably-spherical above waist level.
You lost to a tree. A tree!
Poor Wenger. At least he remembered to collect his trophy beforehand this time.
Y U Nerf, Icefrog
Come on, it wasn't like anyone was playing him
Always liked those beefy Strength heroes in DotA - grab a Quelling Blade and Stout Shield, and wade into the creep line getting those satisfyingly-resounding last hits with dat high base damage. And as base damage goes, they don't come any better than our Ent-alike.
Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that one of my old favourites has been downgraded to oblivion. Remember when Roofy could maphack beginning from Level One, cast invis on his entire team, and Overgrowth actually did damage? Now, he's apparently supposed to be a lumbering Bounty Hunter harassing the backline from invis, only he takes like six seconds to fade back out of danger. Oh well, I suppose he could pull it off if he reserves Living Armour for himself.
Peace Is The Prize
They all said it couldn't be done.
And over at the White House...
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.
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...
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
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!
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
- 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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