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Saturday, Aug 01, 2020 - 00:35 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

General Elections 2020

Just a short round-up on the local elections, after the worst of it has cooled down (i.e. the flood of police reports towards the end). It was mostly as-foreshadowed here - largely status quo, with Chad Jamus into Parliament via a cheering Sengkang GRC, because let's be honest here: is being described as a "lite" version, actually bad in these belt-tightening days? I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds like an invitation to obtain most of the performance, for half the price (further significance later). How many wouldn't want in on that deal?

Y'all know the results, no doubt: after all the muzzling of clever high school students (who famously and accurately MAGA2016-ed), personal attacks and not-so-subtle hinting at the necessity of a strong mandate (with CCS the victim of another leak on taking advantage of another crisis like they did LKY's passing), the incumbents were confronted with one of their lowest vote shares ever (61%), with the WP entrenching themselves in Aljunied GRC, and moreover taking Sengkang GRC to boot. Not only that, they came within a whisker of losing both the West and East Coast GRCs - the former to hypebeast uncle Tan and his merry band - with the SDP continuing to crawl towards general respectability, and perhaps finally a seat.

In the aftermath, the parties that missed out have begun selling their posters and mashed potatoes to help make ends meet, while perhaps brushing up on their second-language diction (but seriously, some kudos to Charles Yeo there for daring to take the podium; was slightly taken aback when the WP skipped the Mandarin debates due to self-admitted inadequate proficiency. Yeo then got more bonus points for calling out the "158 ranked state media" for FAKE NEWS). Others, like Jamus who really shone in the debates (with some detractors), will now have to carry on from having one's heart's cockles warmed (trivia: a phrase utilized here not all that long ago), to delivering on promises.

The incumbents cannot have missed the writing on the wall, that said - blatant gerrymandering and upgrading carrot/sticks are unlikely to continue being effective, and a problem with the GRC system is that, if it allows a party to claim 90% of the seats with just over 60% of the votes, that same party could be shut out with a bare 10% of the seats with 40% of the votes. Sure, this may not happen the next election, or even the one after that, but as Dr. Catherine Lim and others have noted, the current scholar-eunuch toe-party-line culture of the PAP has become totally uncool, and let's just say that New York Times-style FAKE NEWS propaganda and spin is beginning to turn quite a lot of people off, from what I've observed.

Don't worry too much about phonetical accuracy in translating names, the semantics are probably rather more important
[N.B. Maybe an app to do this phonetic-semantic balancing one day?]
(Source: reddit.com)

On this, the incumbents appear to have conceded an olive branch of sorts, in formally designating WP chief Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition, which comes with staff support, a doubled allowance and additional parliamentary privileges (which will hopefully allow him to veto responses such as "what is the point of this question?"). Singh wasted no time in handling the subject of the allowance by pledging to donate the extra to the poor, which while not quite at the level of GEOTUS TRUMP yet, remains well worthy of applause. This act was coincidentally followed by the PM's wife pointing out that many have donated privately, and the PM adding an appeal for public officials to be paid what they're worth, to prevent them from camouflaging their compensation. Fair enough, one supposes, but as one wit figured: what about the Second Lady, then?

Anyhow, the incumbent party are left with a number of headaches, one of the largest of which must be their succession plan. This had notably never been much of a problem, because recall the circumstances of our three Prime Ministers thus far: the incomparable LKY was, of course, LKY, then we simply needed a competent fellow to keep the seat warm for awhile, before the current PM could ascend (who, as the elder Lee was wont to say, would have certainly gotten the post earlier had they not been related, a verdict definitely untainted by a father's love). This triumvirate of the Father, the Son and the Holy Goh has kept Singapore floating up till today, whatever else what one might say.

The big problem is that a clear option has not presented itself, as coffeeshop talk has it. Supposedly, Heng's nice and smart and a team player (evidenced by him taking the East Coast bullet) and all, but one can't shake the feeling that he might be eaten alive by the sharks on the international stage, without going into how he's holding a mere three-plus percent margin in his constituency (but, at least, he's got The Plan for that). CCS, the other favourite, seems to have more "seh" and be somewhat more decisive (keechiu!), but also seems to have his fair share of detractors (all those leaks!)

Amonst the dark horses, there's Tharman for a one-term bridge as always, but he has said he doesn't want it, the current DPM has said that elderly locals aren't ready for him, and he's busy carrying Jurong GRC by himself anyway (on Ivan being presented as part of the winning team, I can kind of see the logic there - as assurance that the party won't just dump its members). Going further, there's TCJ, who's been whispered to be just a little too religious maybe, and probably not enough of a party man anyhow. Lawrence Wong has been mentioned on and off, and Balakrishnan might have had a shot at going the Obama route - but being viewed as condescending doesn't play well these days. Then again, foreign affairs is probably where all the action will be at, for the forseeable future...

Because make no mistake - it might not feel so yet, but this is almost certainly the most dangerous period the nation has had to weather, since our independence in 1965. There were the Brits for a few years after that, then a hop over to the Yanks, and then coasting as the third point in a triangle with America and China afterwards. I'm not saying that it was easy - there were plenty of little nudges and shoves - but nothing that was irreconcilable, because the giants were making nice (and profits hand over fist), after all. For the first time in our history, this is likely not to apply any longer, and those that insist on clinging to old ideas of how the world should work, might find themselves re-learning many very hard truths about realpolitik and the position of tiny city-states within such, from scratch.

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Monday, July 27, 2020 - 01:03 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Post Of Opportunity

  1. GEOTUS's trolling masterclass of the week - a Goya endorsement, after the based Hispanic bean merchant was threatened with a boycott (and cancelled by Twitter) for simply praising the President. That completely backfired, with conservative Pedes buying out the entire stock of stores in response
  2. Alpharius Omegon refers to the twin Primarchs (slight spoiler alert), who were predisposed towards misdirection, prevarication, and basically all manner of deception. This character extended to their Space Marine gene-sons; while the other Primarchs were physically far larger than their Astartes, Alpharius & Omegon were about the same size as the tallest of theirs, such that it was entirely possible for these Space Marines to stand in for them (which they often did - or did they?)
  3. Their legion trademark modus operandi was to spread disinformation and FAKE NEWS throughout target civilizations, whilst standing back and waiting for said societies to crumble in on themselves. Certain more-conventional and no-nonsense Primarchs would call them out on the inefficiency and shadiness of it all, and one of them would eventually slaughter Alpharius (who had supposedly turned traitor), but knowing them, there's a good chance it wasn't the real Alpharius anyway
  4. Koppa is an ancient Greek letter that no longer survives; however, it is the precursor of the Latin Q
  5. Speaking of Q, the QAnon conspiracy has been rebooted with Ghislaine Maxwell's arrest, which has led to Twitter and Reddit scrubbing references and her past activity, alongside accusations against Wayfair on their strange pricings being related to child trafficking. Perhaps farfetched, but also a nice mental exercise about discernment?
  6. And on undercover activities, an NUS LKYSPP Ph.D. student has just pled guilty to working for Chinese intelligence in America, which supposedly extended to compromising classified data on the F-35B, A.I. and trade. His confession might also have contributed to the current tit-for-tat closures between America's and China's consulates. Normal international relations Ph.D. students can only dream about this level of impact!
  7. The LKYSPP has wasted no time in washing their hands of their erstwhile disciple, and it was further revealed by a triumphant Bilahari Kausikan that the student's former advisor was the expelled supposed-provocateur, Huang Jing. Remember kids, choose your supervisors carefully!
  8. By the way, recall when we predicted foreign affairs to become our most-interesting portfolio? That sure didn't take long, with Minister Balakrishnan visibly sweating (photoshopped away from the official MFA Facebook post for decorum) as he addressed the latest U.S. Department of Justice arrow today, in what must merely be a trial run of the great good fun to come (and one can easily imagine a former Minister of Transport turned ambassador reaching for a stiff drink or two, over in Beijing)
  9. Well, all said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is probably an extremely high-risk-high-rewards posting right now, what with the perception of Singapore's apparent neutrality at stake; but not automatically bad for an ambitious fella, and I kind of like ambitious fellas myself. More detailed analysis in the future
  10. Might be an opportune time to mention the strange and unfortunate murder of another former NUS Ph.D. student - perhaps even a senior of sorts - who had been involved in significant coronavirus research. It can be a dark world out there, folks

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Monday, July 20, 2020 - 23:38 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Emergency Restoration

My main PC went on the conk late last week - one problem with having a silenced case is that it's difficult to discern the warning noises without opening it up for troubleshooting - therefore the delayed updates. The dreaded warning signs had begun to crop up: sudden slowdowns, failed generation of image thumbnails, and even the occasional unexpected restart, but it only got intolerable when the data drive went down.

As a consolation, since I had been running a Windows Storage Spaces two-way mirror setup that's essentially a RAID 1 perfect duplicate, I could afford not to be overly anxious about losing it all, but that didn't make recovering the drives any simpler, particularly when the storage pool had disappeared entirely from the relevant control panel. That some DuckDuckGo-ing revealed that Microsoft's May update might have broken Storage Spaces to the extent of file corruption didn't assuage fears, but fortunately some inspection from PowerShell suggested that all was not lost... yet.

Not being sure what the trouble was yet, the first priority was to secure the irreplaceable data if possible, which ReclaiMe allowed for after some scanning. It didn't look too good for the 12TB HDDs throughout, as they flickered between OK, Warning and Lost Communication statuses, and it was only after quite a bit of trial-and-error that the Storage Space got migrated to two new 12TB HDDs on different SATA ports (first by adding one of the new HDDs to the existing pool, then retiring the most-problematic old HDD, then adding the second new HDD and retiring the other old HDD); from this, I now suspect that the SATA cable/connection might be the actual issue, which had me slightly regret my frugal inclinations in reusing the twisty red ones from my old build (which, as recorded, wound up requiring a wad of paper to be wedged between two motherboard SATA ports, to maintain an okay connection)

That'll teach me to skimp on components, and I've put in an order for a bunch of proper flat SATA cables with latches (and honestly, the only reason why I'd go down to Sim Lim for most parts nowadays would be a desperate same-day need). On the other hand, the recovery went well, and got me re-acquainted with the state of consumer PC hardware as a side-effect. Intel's on their tenth generation of CPUs, though AMD supposedly's ahead for now, and I'm not sure many are chasing CPU performance nowadays (at least, nothing like two decades back), not when one can get a tiny box that runs most everything a layman wants. Otherwise, the hottest new thing might be the new M.2 port and associated RAM-style SSDs. That inspired me to begin compiling a wishlist of parts (modular HDD bays ftw) for my next main system rebuild.

Sometimes, one is just amazed/relieved that it works at all

Following on from this experience, the peace of mind granted with a good data management strategy can hardly be understated. There's a good case to be made for having most of one's storage as external enclosure (so they can simply be plugged into/accessed over a network from another PC if needed) hardware RAID (to further make the HDDs operation system agnostic), but even without going into that, I'd say that most people could benefit from doing a basic assessment and curation of their data:

  • Important & Small: Work documents, text records, novel-in-progress etc; when they're not that numerous and on the order of low single megabytes, one can strongly consider simply throwing them onto Dropbox or Box or Google Drive or any number of other free online storage solutions - they tend to offer upwards of 10GB nowadays, which when considering that the entirety of Wikipedia's English text is about 16GB compressed, should be plenty enough; there are few sights sadder than a sixth-year graduate student losing their dissertation to a corrupted hard drive, or having the USB stick containing it, eaten by the dog (then again, the latter is at least likely salvageable)

    For the (not-unreasonably) paranoid, there's always encrypting one's files beforehand (e.g. using open-source Zip implementations), before entrusting them to these free storage services, and the more savvy can of course script it as a daily/weekly process.

  • Important & Large: Stuff like family photos, but more aptly videos - since humans tend to find inventive ways to use their available storage up - and related collectibles/hobbies. Upgrading online storage to their paid versions goes some way here, but this generally eventually comes down to local HDD backups. Remember when burning archives to CDs for keeps and swaps was all the rage? Me neither.

  • Unimportant & Small: Eh, probably just chuck it onto Dropbox. File organization's probably the big issue with these, but there's something to be said for having a copy to search through, just in case.

  • Unimportant & Large: Does one really need these in their life? I guess such detritus might best be let go of eventually (which is beginning to become an issue with GPT-3 generated text; some researchers are envisioning a future in which the vast majority of online corpora gets generated by bots, with Carmark remarking that "Old printed books will be the equivalent of the sunken ships they cut up for uncontaminated steel today")

Notably, it has hardly been advertised that individuals are shedding control over their own data; not all that long ago, one kept almost all of it locally - Internet connections were paid by the minute or hour, and even emails were oft deleted off the ISP's server, after they were downloaded to the client. Now, it's basically owned by Google (GMail). This extends to operating systems too, with Big Tech companies now allowed, nay, expected to freely push updates to customers, and enforce changes (my smartphone lockscreen got overwritten, just like that); what with Deepfakes and voice synthesis becoming increasingly convincing, it surely can't be much longer before a public figure's persona can be effectively hijacked.

It's all coming to a head on this for TikTok, with America now looking very closely at banning it, and other social media apps from China; realistically, I don't think China expected to get away with a one-way export of such services forever (having shut Facebook/WhatsApp etc out themselves), enabling the mining of sensitive data (and supposedly even keylogging, though one suspects plenty of the "good guys" do it too). Anyhow, some private firms may be getting a jumpstart, and we may be witnessing a bifurcation of the cybersphere into two competing blocs (sound familiar?)

And a few final pieces to end off: signs of possible growing toxicity in machine learning research, integration of predictive queries into databases (i.e. partly-automated data science), sniping by drone (well, the future of war was coming), and a geography module by the university, that will be covering football (recall the Balanced World Cup)

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Friday, July 10, 2020 - 21:18 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

We Interrupt For Basedness

As we await the Singaporean general election results, an update on last December's Warhammer 40k take on the American political situation, which has seen GEOTUS pulling out his latest trump card, in the form of ultrawoke artiste Kanye West:

  1. Kanye, one of the most prominent cultural icons of our generation, has of course been a longtime open GOD-EMPEROR supporter, going as far as to refer to TRUMP as his brother (which has earned him a warm welcome at The Donald's house); this places him in the company of courageous black uniters such as Terry Crews and Chance, in speaking against identity politics (complete with Jamaican accent for Vulkan, in the hilarious TTS series)
  2. In fact, Kanye has just declared that "it's racism and white supremacy to say all black people need to be Democrat", rightly declaring himself as a free-thinking person of colour who's not about to be corralled into staying on the Dem plantation
  3. His obvious 40k alter-ego is then of course Vulkan, total bro-tier fifteen-foot tall hulking ebony mass of barely-restrained muscle. Picture twenty gene-forged and warp-crafted superhuman demigods who tank plasma blasts and benchpress tanks, and there you have Vulkan holding back when sparring, so as not to hurt them.
  4. No, seriously, he's almost certainly the nicest of all the Primarchs, with his legion (later chapter) being about the only one to continue living amongst baseline humans. This is reflected by Vulkanye's staunch pro-life and yet pro-choice stance in our glorious reality
  5. Also, Kanye has always claimed to have "dragon energy" (like TRUMP), while Vulkan's totem-animal is the Dragon; happenstance? I think not.
  6. His declared candidacy has nervous "experts" from Newsweek predicting that he would barely get any votes. No disrespect intended, but as with my analyses in 2016, it doesn't seem like these people possess much political sense about them
  7. Despite Kanye initially indicating that he was breaking with TRUMP, this didn't fool many, with various subreddits quickly figuring that he would just siphon votes from Biden. Turns out, Kanye's not too good with keeping secrets (like Vulkan, unlike Lion El'Jonson)
  8. I love this timeline.

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Monday, July 06, 2020 - 21:53 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Politics & Fixes

Before delving into the local general elections, a brief round-up of purported advances in coronavirus treatment from these past couple of weeks: the pendulum appears to have swung all the way in the direction of some nose/mouth coverage - even if homebrewed - amongst public health authorities, because policies based on common sense and basic math apparently have to wait for large-scale retrospective observations nowadays (but for completeness, here's a contrary argument that I think not very valid). American states appear to be slowly coming around on mask politicization (more on this in a future post), for which the CDC is unfortunately (but probably correctly) coming under heavy criticism. On the bright side, a few hundred scientists have taken it upon themselves to keep hammering the WHO on aerosol transmission risks, and what with the WHO only now admitting that China had never reported the coronavirus outbreak on their own initiative, it's a relief that Europe appears to have fallen in with GEOTUS TRUMP's extremely firm call to restructure the agency, not a moment too soon.

There's no lack of anticipated revelations, by the way, with Gilead's pricing for Remdesivir now revealed. Recall when we were reporting a US$1,000++ cost? Well, a five-day course has been priced at about US$2,300, which comes out to over US$3,000 with insurance, for saving a day or two in the ICU. Anyway, this has instantly gotten Gilead US$1.2 billion for half a million courses, which appears to be the entire global stock for the next few months at least; about this, an immediate doubt might be why the American decision-makers didn't turn to the comparatively nearly-free Dexamethasone instead, given that it's been certified to perform comparably in much the same role on severely-ill patients, from the RECOVERY trial (which has been weathering quite the storm on Twitter)

That's also the next few months' rent, thankyew!
(Source: europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com)

As it is, the Dexamethasone alternative has already been credited with nearly halving Remdesivir's asking price [!], though portions of the public are quite understandably outraged at what looks like extortion by another name, especially given that it doesn't even work all that well. Additionally, The BMJ has now seen fit to release an editorial addressing the not-very-strong Remdesivir studies and clear commercial conflicts of interest involving the drug, in contrast with HCQ - so constantly maligned in the FAKE NEWS - aided by straight-up fraud and botched late-stage experiments.

Coincidentally as the money's in the bank, a flurry of studies suggesting benefits from early application of HCQ with conventional dosing (e.g. the U.K. COPCOV) has managed to see the light of day, and even if one discounts those from known supporters Raoult and Zelenko, you've got evidence from Michigan's Henry Ford Health System published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, NYC's Mount Sinai Health System acknowledging a similar ~50% decreased mortality in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, and a Lancet subjournal now admitting that rheumatic patients on long-term HCQ treatment appear to have around 90% reduced odds of coronavirus infection - and this is without mentioning the many other papers supporting HCQ, that have gotten next to no attention in the corrupt mainstream media.

Well, the tide seems strong enough that even CNN had to cover it - though near midnight, and later further modifying the headline to plant doubt; which might be fair enough, if they had applied the same standards to establishment-approved drugs (i.e. why was "'These improvements are not dramatic' and 'not a game changer'" a buried CNN subheader for "More evidence remdesivir helps some coronavirus patients", for example?). However, as analyzed early last month - what do you think will be the response, if it is established that HCQ actually can halve infection rates? Would the lying FAKE NEWS willingly admit that, whoops, we were mistaken, science now says that TRUMP had superior instincts on effective HCQ treatment, compared to the collective judgment of our medical elites?

No, as the old joke goes, I suspect that a lot of people who might otherwise have lived, would simply die from calculated inaction, and that the very science-worshipping parties now playing hardball on blanket face mask enforcement would turn out to be exceedingly reluctant to go on HCQ prophylaxis (bleach ahahahaha), given how the well has been poisoned (but a rushed vaccine, that's okay, of course!); I just hope to live long enough to read the post-mortem novel on this sorry affair.

Charting Singapore's Future

The pandemic has unavoidably entered our political sphere as well, with the co-chair of our official taskforce Pogba-ing SDP leader Paul Tambyah's critique that they had not followed scientific best practice, in discouraging prompt testing of foreign workers (it might be noted that Dr. Tambyah is president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases). Now, I don't even think the taskforce has done that badly, and am quite ok with the government taichi-ing part of the blame to the WHO; however, it might be recognized given all the gleeful dumping on others' (i.e. mostly the U.S.) handling of the coronavirus in our controlled press, that our situation is hardly all that exemplary (now top ten in cases per capita). By the way, for all the chortling about the U.S. not being on Europe's safe travel list, Singapore's not on it either, to give some perspective.

Personally, I don't see much if any change to the status quo (see nice write-up about the goals for each party), all considered, with the biggest surprise being DPM Heng's assignment to East Coast GRC (indeed, he seemed as unprepared as anyone else); despite the overall calibre of opposition candidates (see summary) slowly improving (e.g. Andrew Yang expy "no blank cheque" Jamus Lim, who still got his credentials slammed by a salty Calvin Cheng), true external uncertainty does tend to favour the incumbents. I do understand the argument for a strong mandate in these times, especially for a small state - but again, I'd be a lot more sympathetic without all that gerrymandering nonsense with GRCs, and the complete fiasco of the Selected Presidency.

"We could have written the same manifesto"
"Ho seh, PAP admit WP same standard, can compete on price liao"

(Source: asiaone.com)

The gradual levelling of the playing field in terms of candidate qualifications was perhaps best exemplified by another Lim - the PAP's Jurong GRC candidate, Ivan. To be frank, this posting was as good as a free ride into Parliament, and it would have taken some extraordinary circumstances to muck it up. That was exactly what happened, with his polytechnic classmates, army subordinates and shipyard employees emerging to whack him jialat jialat. Now, I understand that getting things done oft involves treading on toes, and we've probably all done stuff that we're not entirely proud of, but this solidarity from all periods of Ivan's life coming to rag on him together is something else.

Now, given that this fine chap was one of the PAP's rare humble-background-made-good stories, the party's who's who would initially come out in his defence, before eventually urging him to clarify matters as calls for his removal grew. This would come in the form of a terse press statement that didn't address the allegations fully, and moreover stated that he could not have been involved in an alleged bribery case in Brazil, because he was not involved in any Brazilian projects. To this, local netizens would duly dig up a Keppel newsletter interview purporting his management of at least one, and while this might be a case of unfortunate phrasing, it was evidently finally too much for the higher-ups, as he withdrew his candidacy.

The PM would put on a brave face at this, decrying the possibly-baseless allegations being unfair, to disbelief from certain quarters about which how the incumbents had treated - and are still treating - opposition party members such as Dr. Tambyah, compared to ownself check ownself. Well, at least one Regimental Sergeant Major has bravely put himself forward to the DPM, which appears to have gotten him threatened by a former colonel, surely a bad look. This was apparently followed by an attack on a WP candidate for racism, again directly as retaliation on the Ivan saga, which appears to have backfired as she put out a rather more convincing apology (it likely didn't hurt that she's a minority too); it then cumulated in the DPM having a police report filed against him for his recent assertion that "older Singaporeans are not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister", which I guess might be construed as indeed a teeny bit racist (and aren't minority elders, Singaporeans too)?

Poster design award for promoting active aging goes to the SDA
(Source: coconuts.co)

Anyhow, our rising star foreign affairs minister was pretty busy, as he went from implying that the WP was the PAP's equal on live TV, to whacking traditional scapegoat CSJ about plans for a 10M population, which would be followed by an official party statement likening CSJ's extraction of a denial to wife-beating. That brought a rebuke from AWARE, which had Redditors scratching their head as to whether the party's PR guy failed to get it renewed. Still on the 10M issue, our popular CS prof has again chipped in with a reasonable take, to which one unconvinced commentator responded that the S$100 billion earmarked for infrastructure planning must surely mean something in terms of intended population growth (interestingly, on his proposed AI bot to auto-generate a manifesto from kopitiam grievances, it's sort of been done for PAP messaging)

That said, I certainly don't envy Dr. Balakrishnan the job, nicely-crafted speeches and possibly much relationship-hustling aside; you thought poor Rear-Admiral Lui had it tough, when he got sunk by the transport portfolio earlier this decade (eventually tanked through by veteran fixer Khaw Boon Wan, who ultimately also buey tahan and retired)? I tell you, treacherous as Transport may be, I foresee it being child's play compared to what foreign affairs is going to become. I'll have to defer the full geopolitical analysis again, but let's just say that the State's Times cribbing entirely biased articles directly from the failing NYT aside, it'll almost certainly be a whole new ball game whoever triumphs in America, as explained last December.

On this front, Singapore seems to have fallen in with the U.S./U.K. alliance on shutting Huawei out of 5G (which might explain to some extent all those existing masts that got burned down), which has also seen India banning TikTok/WeChat, and Taiwan/America seeking to strangle their access to semiconductors in tandem. Local telcos have officially picked Nokia & Ericsson over the CCP subsidiary, which got Reddit buzzing for a bit, and apparently surprised some locals - but frankly, as expounded upon last October, "the sad and brutal truth is that there was ultimately no decision to be made". Do you think that the U.S. Department of Justice eyeing our money-laundering hub was simply a coincidence?!

Truly, modern Singapore has existed in an era where all the big powers that mattered could afford to play nice - America was more or less basking in the adulation of being undisputed King of the West World since the 1960s at least, and mainland China was busy going from just being happy not to starve, to having some more-equal comrades getting pretty rich in the meantime. Seriously, neither have gotten actually nasty in these parts yet - no, piddly stuff like not appointing a full ambassador or hacking the PM's health records don't count - and some of our wiser diplomats should be getting a familiar shiver up their spine when describing Hong Kong as "a pawn" in Cold War II...

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Friday, June 26, 2020 - 21:32 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Through Glasses Darkly

Paper submission deadlines and other projects are catching up again, so this will be a quickie; just had a new pair of spectacles made at OWNDAYS, and despite picking out their Transitions lenses as with my last pair about four years ago, the cost came out to less than a third of that. Now, I'm aware that one can rack up the price quickly with various additional options (e.g. high [refractive] index, anti-blue light, polarization etc), but the difference was still staggering. Not too sure how much of that went to the neighbourhood optician mark-up, but let's just say that I'm ordering backups online. It's not been great times for brick-and-mortar eyewear retail, so hopefully they manage to branch out to related services.

While my new glasses will take a bit of time to arrive, it wasn't hard to understand the popularity of the OWNDAYS price system and store ambience, which allowed free browsing of frames. Moreover, another point of inconvenience - lost prescriptions - has also been alleviated, what with the availability of a machine to recover one's prescription from one's existing spectacles. Comparing the recovered values with my own records, they got the Sphere and Cylinder for both eyes exactly right, while being only one or two degrees off for the Axes. In fact, there appears to be an FDA-listed app for prescription scanning with smartphones too, but alas for iOS only.

Since we're on computer vision for lifestyle purposes, there's also an app for face shape analysis, for those into matching hairstyles and accessories based on such; FaceApp for one doesn't appear to have much of a selection for the former for genderswap purposes, but yeah, there's no time to be commentating on that or the local elections in any depth.

Review Quiz: Can you spot any discrepancies in the presentation of the results, for HCQ & Dexamethasone?
(Source: twitter.com)

Returning to #Recoverygate, said trial has finally released a preprint justifying their HCQ doses... verified on five patients. This has done little to deflect critics of what's increasingly looking like possibly a flawed therapeutic approach, with the WHO now canning their SOLIDARITY trials for HCQ, as foreshadowed a couple of weeks ago. Anyhow, it has been reported that some 27 Brazilian researchers are now facing legal charges for fatally overdosing patients with chloroquine in their own study, but somehow I wholly expect it to get very quiet over in Great Britain, on this matter...

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Friday, June 19, 2020 - 23:06 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Of Logic, Looting, Twitter & Disinformation (Part 2.75)

This should be it on coronavirus cures for awhile, and so, first the good news: the RECOVERY trial has concluded that Dexamethasone can reduce deaths by a third to a fifth, in severely-ill hospitalized patients; the caveat, of course, is that by the time it's useful, the mortality rate is at least about 20%. Some badly-bitten scientists have seen fit to reserve judgment until more details are forthcoming (note no preprint yet, as far as is known), but that hasn't stopped the WHO and other mainstream outlets from hailing it as a "breakthrough lifesaver", with the U.K. already endorsing it as an authorized NHS treatment. As hoped for in the previous post, Dexamethasone is indeed cheap, though former users have hastened to warn of potential adverse effects. But more on this in particular later on.

The mainstream media has meanwhile finally seen fit to commentate on #Lancetgate, with articles from our State's Times and The New York Times coming out within a day of each other. Both agreed that the fraud was unacceptable, before devoting most of their column space to pinning the fault on the sloppiness/difficulty of the peer-review process, and the NYT did at least mention possible politicization... in the final paragraph; readers who followed the saga through the last few blog posts here might consider some quick discourse analysis, as to what perspectives were not raised, despite their significance. On this, I'd recommend the curious to occasionally peruse sites like AllSides to receive different points of view, even if only to prepare improved counterarguments for one's stand (was actually planning a side-project about this, but eh)

The battle over HCQ has continued in the alternative media, despite some poor monkeys and hamsters biting it (the same group are saying Remdesivir works, by the way), with various reports on pre-exposure efficacy still going nowhere fast. Giuliani, Zelenko and Him in the White House have quite rightly torn into the relevant journals and media on this deception. Nevertheless, the FDA has revoked the Emergency Use Authorization for HCQ (though this paradoxically makes its prescription more accessible, so it seems), apparently based at least in part on the RECOVERY trial's largely data-and-analysis-free headlines. We'll have quite a bit to discuss about that, but one can't help but imagine some ready parallels between this and the sorry WHO/#Lancetgate affair (on which Internet investigators have kept on prying into possible links)...

But before that, more quick go-overs of other preventive measures. Our local DSO has come up with a number of antibodies, but most of the talk has probably been swirling around vaccines, with Italy, Germany and France having already signed up with AstraZeneca/Oxford. There may be some very cautious optimism to be had here, with experts warning that the first vaccine candidates might not actually protect fully against the coronavirus, and instead settle for a partial prophylactic effect. Hmm. And then there's the joint China-U.S. study suggesting that humans aren't producing long-lasting antibodies against the coronavirus, which has clear negative implications for vaccines, but that's enough bad news for today.

Returning to face masks, Dr. Fauci has now openly admitted that the advice against them was due to shortages for medical staff, which really doesn't do much for trust in authorities, their interpretation of science (with recent research now somehow all pointing the way of masking up), and their future advisories - as the Governor of New York, among others, might be belatedly discovering. The ever-quotable Taleb has chipped in on just how all of the world's top bureaucrats and medical minds combined managed to come up with reasoning that is so blatantly wrong, which seems to boil down into poor intuition on probabilities, once again. For some historical context, consider that folks had advanced breathable mask designs (a tad creepy, fine) during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, more than a century ago; nothing new under the sun, indeed.

1918 or 2020?
(Original source: auburnpub.com, colorized by deepai.org)

Prosecution & Defence

And now the main course - #Recoverygate, yea or nay? But first, a pretty comprehensive timeline of the happenings involved, some of which have not been covered here (note that Surgisphere's HCQ paper in The Lancet was so egregious, that multiple observers were calling foul within a day of its publication). Now, to pick up where we left off, the France-Soir interview with RECOVERY trial co-head Prof. Landray seems entirely genuine, with the French online newspaper releasing raw audio of Landray's very Brit pronouncements, with further confirmation of his assertions reportedly sought (wouldn't be a proper -gate without audio evidence, would it?)

Given that another RECOVERY trial head has tried to clear the air on another French site, instead of outright denying the charge, one has to suppose that the event did take place. Prof. Horby would describe the initial 2400mg loading dose as having low associated risks, an angle also explored by Dr. Watson, whom recall was behind the open letters that carried #Lancetgate (and that were, ironically, probably at least partly instigated by Oxford researchers unhappy at The Lancet's HCQ paper putting a stop to their RECOVERY trial)

Now batting for the other side, Watson would offer a paper from 1949 that describes the treatment of hepatic amebiasis with chloroquine (HCQ had barely been invented then), while also mentioning "quite a few other papers from the 50s-70s". He went on to describe the 1949 dosings as a loading dose of 600mg for the first two days, and then 300mg for two to three weeks, which seems curiously similar to modern-day recommendations. Watson then says that RECOVERY was giving these 600mg/300mg doses, but just twice daily (and actually, closer to 2.5 times than twice), for the same peak concentration by the end of treatment (10 days versus up to three weeks)

This largely repeats the more-detailed reasoning provided in the official trial protocol, although one suspects that at least some curious reviewers would find the correlation drawn with amoebic liver abscess seemingly coming out of the blue, and moreover at increased dosages. The argument appears to run as follows:
  • The WHO has recommended a treatment regimen for amoebic liver abscess [ALA] (fair enough?)
  • Our loading doses are the same as the regimen for ALA (wait, how does suitable dosages for the coronavirus relate to those for ALA in the first place?)
  • Only, we double these dosages again (okay...)
  • This is such that the total dose over 10 days is the same as standard treatment for ALA over 20 days (clearly, the risks aren't automatically going to be "standard" here...)
  • The seriousness of COVID-19 (~20% in-hospital mortality) justifies testing these higher doses

On that final point, it certainly hardly seems immediately evident that relatively high mortalities necessarily imply that (unprecedentedly) high doses are appropriate. Obviously, there has to be some trade-off between expected detriment to patient health directly from the high dosage of HCQ applied, and the expected benefit gained. Notably, while the trial heads have repeatedly made references to "careful pharmacokinetic modelling" and the like, the exact details on just this risk-benefit modelling appear to be exactly what's missing (and what a proper reviewer would ask for). In particular, statements like "ensure the necessary blood concentrations are achieved rapidly" should be qualified - for example, what would be the delay were a more common regime (e.g. 600mg/day) to be applied? If it is a matter of a few days, is the rush actually imperative, especially given that a recent study in Brazil has already suggested danger for such high doses? And if no happy middle ground could be found for a safe yet effective dosing regime, why go ahead with the trial only to vacillate between calling it toxic and not?

One hopes that the Oxford dons eventually engage in an open dissection of the full reasoning behind the dosage calculations, as befits the university's storied history, instead of rehashing explanations of the following forms (some as seen on Twitter), none of which are actual scientific explanations:
  • Look at our shiny ISO certifications!
  • It's similar to the WHO's SOLIDARITY trial (which may turn out to be a circular argument; also, there is talk that Singapore had been hesitant to participate in the SOLIDARITY trial for HCQ due to the dosages involved, which if true, makes me proud of our health system)
  • Any disagreement suggests that the U.K.'s regulatory processes are inadequate
  • Our ethics committee would have blocked the trial if there were any real concerns
  • Hundreds of Very Important People have been involved in the trial design, and tens of thousands of patients have been recruited for this big national project

As one wise statistician has it, with #Lancetgate, the fraud was perhaps the least of it. Instead, the real scandal was that the prestigious journal (or ethics committee, or governing body, etc) "aids and abets in poor research practices by serving as a kind of shield for the authors of a questionable paper, by acting as if secret pre-publication review has more validity than open post-publication review".

Sure, all this worry could be over nothing - the trial investigators might eventually release sufficient evidence supporting their choice of dosages. However, it might also be noted that policies have already shifted without the public release of data & analysis (note that the WHO at least waited for The Lancet to publish). I don't expect this to be over yet, what with many critics emboldened by #Lancetgate (which didn't directly involve real patients in treatment, remember), and spurred on by AstraZeneca - in collaboration with Oxford on their vaccine - apparently seeking to merge with Gilead. As it is, France-Soir has just alleged that the very pharmacokinetic analysis of interest had been cut from the trial's HCQ info sheet, leaving it a mere three pages for version 3, down from 25 in version 2 (which appears to have been entirely disappeared). Much more drama ahead, then?

Kengan Omega Singapore Represent!

Distant relative of you-know-which-clan?
[N.B. Belle Delphine also back for the simps, after a long layoff following her kidnapped hamster rescue!]
(Source: r/singapore)

I was pleasantly surprised when Thursday's scheduled instalment of Kengan Omega revealed the first known Singaporean fighter in that comicverse; not so much when he turned out to be a massive weeb (then again, Singapore does have our fair share of those...). Can't lie, he was fairly cool in his initial appearance, only to turn out to be the cringiest Sasuke-cosplaying banana magic poseur spouting phrases like "have at thee!". In my estimation, the only way to salvage this would be to go the whole hog with the Merlion green mist. Oh, and his favourite dish is chicken rice. Did the Tourism Board slip the mangaka a couple of bucks under the table here?

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