It had to come someday, and the lease for the apartment where I've been bunking these four years and a bit, has finally run out. The owner has declined to extend it, probably due to looking to sell up - and looking at the prices nowadays, who can blame him? Similar one-bedders around 340 square feet are going for well over S$600k, with the latest transactions for units about this size in the same building touching S$1.7k per square foot. Meanwhile, monthly rentals have jumped from somewhat under S$2,000 to around S$2,400 over the past months. Well, seeing as Powell has just been reappointed and seems to be finally throwing hints about tackling inflation, we will see how it goes.
I've arranged a bridging rental some way down the corridor, while the renovation for my long-term home gets completed over the next few months (one hopes), but I can't deny some sentiment at having spent some fairly good times here. Well, since I recall having apparently failed some unspoken etiquette when photographing a friend's place when he kindly hosted a bunch of us about a decade back - I didn't realise, since I generally have no hang-ups about such - here's some pics:
First, stepping in front the main door, there's a small IKEA BILLY bookcase (will be seeing a few more of these), and the bomb shelter/storeroom to the right. Trash such as takeout gets deposited about here for the day, pending removal.
View From Entrance
And turning slightly to the left, we have the living room turned bedroom, with the aforementioned folding sofa bed, in its natural state. Honestly can't complain too much about the bed's condition, given that it wasn't all that expensive (ordered off Taobao or somesuch), and was probably never meant for extended use as an actual bed. There's another BILLY bookshelf behind it (also hosting a projector), a laundry basket in the corner, and a HOLMÖ floor lamp that I had tried to keep unbusted for as long as possible (but that eventually got torn near the base). Then there's the lift-top coffee table with internal storage that has long gone over capacity; witness the overflow on top of it. Finally, another cheap mini-sofa in the far corner, more to fill up the space than anything.
Here's the pile looking from my usual resting position. This probably doesn't strictly qualify as a tsundoku, since I've at least scanned through perhaps the majority of these (but no quizzing on the contents without prep)
The bedroom itself has become a study; that's an IKEA MALM desk that I've grown quite fond of, another BILLY, and a self-assembled (with some help) cube closet on the left. The bathroom is to the right, but nothing out of the ordinary there. And... that's it for the apartment.
Yeah, kinda cramped
My second-to-last United match was then Solskjær's last, as he got the boot following a 1-4 defeat to Watford, that was painful to watch. While reports are that he might yet have survived a draw, I personally suspect that even a 1-2 (which was the score before injury time) would have bought him more time. They've bounced back in the Champions League with Ronaldo inevitably SIUUU-ing his way to an improbable five-match scoring streak for United already in the competition at least, and it would really take the cake if he were to somehow drag the team to the trophy by sheer bloody-mindedness. This is not even that improbable on paper, if everyone gets back into form.
Maguire getting sent off
That's it, I suppose - as for the introduction to my new digs, watch out for it maybe in the second quarter of 2022.
This will be short as I continue grappling with sundry official duties and the bigger piece on coronavirus happenings, and I figured it might as well try to be funny, from how it all feels like slowly falling apart globally. The much-vaunted personal U.S.-China summit appears to be more pleasantries exchanged with little yielded on either side, and on this subject I am happy to report a compromise achieved with Mr. Ham, after some very long and difficult negotiations through the last month - we now both call it a running wheel, and he continues to use it near-exclusively for napping.
The State's Times has by the way just printed headlines admitting that high inflation levels are no longer transitory - quite the about-turn - despite this being by far the most probable development since April or May. Well, this sounds like an occasion to revisit some Cold War I classics:
Not too many surprises, sad to say. Cheerleading for COP26 both in the international media and by impressionable local youths aside, it's looking increasingly like the usual photo-op and exchange of grand but vague and unenforceable statements, as with China's deal with the U.S. after being absent initially. In China's defense, being the cut-price factory of the world implies plenty of emissions, and it's looking form over function for many other nations anyway; as The New Yorker is reporting, the game of trust isn't going over too well with Malaysia and the Central African Republic in particular claiming utterly absurd carbon absorption rates, and frankly it's not as if our hands are all that clean either - petroleum refining aside, there's all the (largely-unspoken) involvement in sand dredging and deforestation, and to be frank it's not like there's much appetite for doing more, annual bellyaching aside.
It can't have escaped most of the participants that concern over "climate change" largely reduces to posturing and good public relations in the (not very informed) public mind, as demonstrated by the expansive vows by a gaggle of financial institutions worth a supposed US$130 trillion - does that much money even exist? If so, maybe the cabal could consider dishing out just US$20 billion to the U.N. World Food Programme right now, to solve world hunger three times over, and throw a deserved party with the change. By the way, the Taliban's in on the climate gig for gibs too - quick learners, you've gotta admit. From their recent parade with vehicles generously donated by the U.S. Army, their organizational ability can't be much worse than the American-led coalition, given the graft and nonexistent legacy sustained. Perhaps they deserve a bit of a chance?
Well, China may have their own other concerns at the moment, with Evergrande perpetually on the brink of defaulting (or has already, depending on who you're listening to). Whether or not one believes these financial capers are part of some larger conspiracy, it seems incontrovertible that inflation can no longer be ignored by the Washington elite. The far-above-expectations October CPI report of 6.2% has finally put a number to what the man on the street has been taking all along, and in a sign that the official narrative might have been forced to shift, the current POTUS has just acknowledged combating inflation as the top priority, with MSNPC having to delete their tweet claiming inflation is a good thing, because there's only so much suspension of disbelief that their readers can take. To their credit, the MAS has clarified their stance on crypto speculation, as the headwinds are poised to strike - and hard.
Mr. Ham: See, this is the problem with hoomans - out of nothing, so much trouble and bullshit. And there you are, veering into spirituality and voodoo in recent posts.
Me: It's a life philosophy, hamster. Maybe it's a bit cope, but many belief systems do contain some truth, in the most general sense; for example, from a distant enough perspective, it's evident that the Buddhist concept of the fundamental emptiness of all phenomena appears true, if somewhat antithetical to continued striving in, say, conventional science. Perhaps not something to immerse oneself too deeply in - otherwise I'd be bald and secluded in a mountain somewhere - and I kind of like my ego-identity too. But, I figured, hey, just take what is helpful from all those systems, it's not as if that deprives others.
Mr. Ham: *checking Wikipedia* Yeah, what do we have here on Buddhism... main objective is to end suffering permanently... meh, doesn't work for me, I'm a bit of a masochist, but I can do sadist too. Say, visit my basement someday?
Me: Emergency change of subject. But look, there are quite a few other benefits; absence of self-doubt, for one.
Mr. Ham: Have you ever known me to second-guess myself?
Me: I think the term for that is pathological narcissism, but I guess it works too. Absolute wisdom and self-knowledge?
Mr. Ham: But I already know everything. And if I don't, not saying that's ever the case, it can't be important anyway.
Me: ...well, I suppose extinguishing of ego and renunciation of pride isn't up your alley, then.
Mr. Ham: *shrugs* Assuredly, I am definitely the most humble being in all existence. Please don't feel bad about that.
Me: Fine, so what do you believe in?
Mr. Ham: Ah, I knew you'd come to that. Well, the hamster community has anticipated this, and prepared simple introductory pamplets, for the moral edification of inferior lifeforms. *rummages through cheek pouches* lottery ticket... shopping list... ah, here you go:
[Larger version with readable text]
(Original sources: reddit.com, knowyourmeme.com)
Me: *raising eyebrow* Your opinions have been noted, Mr. Ham.
Mr. Ham: Oh, don't take it too hard, it's just the truth. It's just a pity how far you lot have fallen, the ancient Egyptians and Indians came close with their animal-headed deities after all, but then you hoomans got too self-centered, and lost the light. But it's not like you guys are too far behind; in our cosmology, you're right behind the various gods and devas - hamsters on top, goes without saying - then other animals, then the ghosts and hell-creatures, and cats at the very bottom.
Me: Coincidentally, this arrangement is actually not that far removed from standard Buddhist doctrine; always thought their assignment of Brahmā - and by association, similar Abrahamic Creator gods - to a relatively low realm was a cute dig, mind. Not that I think your theory is a true representation. But since I've some time to kill, tell me more.
Mr. Ham: *ahem*
Me: What? Oh, the usual?
Mr. Ham: Yeah, your Buddha himself didn't give away his precious scriptures for free, cough 'em up.
Barely adequate, but I'll accept it
Master Ham: That'll do, make yourself comfortable, cross-legged seating will do. We will begin with a small mindfulness exercise. Focus on your breathing, visualize an object of your choice, and observe your troubles and thoughts pass before you.
Me: Wait, this practice doesn't seem congruent with what you have just revealed of your philosophy?
Master Ham: Heavens, no - we hamsters, being perfect beings, have no need of such cultivation! It's for you only. But keep it up, and if you're nice enough to me, perhaps you will one day too enjoy the insurmountable bliss, of reincarnation as one of us, with your own hooman servant and everything!
Me: ...only to fall back to lower states of being, as our merit diminishes over ages?
Master Ham: Nah, hamsterhood is a once and done thing, there is no concept of degradation in perfection, after all.
Me: ...I am withdrawing my mind... fixed on a shape... its edges clear before my mind's eye... it is a sphere, a ball...
Master Ham: Ah, yes, the most exalted of shapes.
Me: ...I see its texture... it is furry...
Master Ham: And the holiest of beings!
Me: ...I imagine it in my grasp... I squeeze it gently...
Master Ham: Uh, this may not be necessary.
Me: Squeeze, squeeze...
Master Ham: Is it at least a generic hamster?
Me: Oh no, it looks curiously, exactly like you. Squeeze...
Master Ham: *shivering* Okay, exercise cut. Perhaps discourse would be more to your taste. We will start with a classic koan - does a hamster have Buddha-nature?
Me: Yeah, everybody has flipped to the answer section for this one, everything has Buddha-nature.
Master Ham: You dolt, the right question would have been - more importantly, does the Buddha have hamster-nature? Pretty unintuitive and hidebound, aren't ya? Never mind, next one. Observe this painting of Confucius, Buddha and Laozi drinking from a pot of vinegar. What is your interpretation?
Me: ...it's right there on the page; Confucius has a sour expression since he saw life as sour and requiring proper rules and regulations, Buddha has a bitter expression due to lives being unending suffering, and Laozi has a sweet expression due to natural living by the Tao being wonderful in itself.
Master Ham: ...Idiot, you have three old men drinking vinegar by the cupful from the vat, who the hell does that?! A single tablespoon can cause oesophageal injury by itself! Any guy with half a brain would be stopping them and calling poison control! But never mind, let us try one more.
A beautiful girl in the next block has become pregnant, and after repeated pressure from her angry parents, she claimed a neighbouring Zen master as the father. The Zen master's reputation was instantly ruined, but he simply said "Is that so?", and accepted the infant girl and brought her up as his own, despite being viewed as a pariah by the community. A couple of years later, the girl could finally bear it no longer, and admitted that the true father was her lover. At this, the girl's parents hastened to apologize to the Zen master, and asked for the baby back. At that, the Zen master again merely said, "Is that so?", and returned the child. What do you understand from this story, hooman?
Me: Sure, there are many possible reactions, but the main takeway, I think, is that it illustrates that equanimity is possible in all situations, when there is no self to defend.
Master Ham: ...Bloody heck, it is illegal for a single male to adopt a girl, the whole story was clearly made-up FAKE NEWS. Your discernment is sadly lacking, hooman, and I can help you no further. Please go home and reflect on your shortcomings.
Me: ...Right, O Rotund furry one. But just one last question - you have pooped on my bed, although I have thankfully made the precaution of covering your seating area with tissue. Why would you do that?
Master Ham: Why would I poop on my own bed? For a fellow supposedly holding a doctorate, you ain't very bright, are you?
Me: ...I want to check your credentials, and a refund.
[N.B. I would never hold frugality against a fellow Chinese, mind.]
[N.N.B. Come to think of it, does that explain this?]
[N.N.N.B. In short: Be a man, or get kicked in the nuts by inflation!]
Day off thanks to Deepavali (or how we've always known it as here, until "Diwali" made its incursion recently, that is), and topic for the day is: doing the right thing. Definitely one of those big questions plaguing be-a-mankind from antiquity, what with the Mahabharata - the longest and amongst the oldest epics known - offering the wisdom of keeping to the process*, and detaching oneself from the outcomes. This early expression of stoicism has been restated in many forms across history, with one celebrated example found in Kipling's If—:
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim†;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same...
[*Trouble is, of course, that given the complexity of life, one often doesn't even have real assurance that the process itself is right; a relevant formal construction might come in the form of the multi-armed bandit problem, which acknowledges that the only way to gain knowledge about the optimality of some process, is to try other processes too. This can get very dizzy.]
[†One unavoidably detects hints of Buddhist philosophy from this reference to "thought without thought", to which one might consider that Kipling wrote it circa 1895, just a few years after his visit to Japan, and the subsequent penning of Buddha at Kamakura; the first stanza of that last has in turn accompanied the completion of Kotoku-in in Civilization 6, though it should be noted that it's a pretty underwhelming wonder in the game.]
Digressions aside, the point here is probably that "doing the right thing" is not easy - and by not easy, I don't mean in the "working harder is not easy" way. Those presentations are a shonen manga trope: get beaten up by the Big Bad, just pop into the Hyperbolic Time Chamber and do push-ups non-stop for a few years, emerge with the Next Level Power Up, and wipe the floor with the baddie with the entire universe supporting you. If only it were that simple in reality! Instead, it's schemes behind shadows behind schemes, cloaked in a veneer of science and "democracy"; the true measure of being a man (or woman, or whatever one identifies as), might then be: would you hold fast, were the entire world itself against you? Would one do and say what one thinks is correct, shorn of the promise of immortal fame in the recounting of the Gita, with nothing but scorn and oblivion threatened instead?
As usual, Liar Game gives it straight
[N.B. Chapter released in Feb 2012, thus referencing COP17 in 2011]
Leaders suffer from that quandary more than most, one might expect, with Biden's burdens being a timely case study as to the toughness of "doing the right thing". As previously stated, my main disquiet with the current unifying "Let's Go Brandon" craze, is that it was probably at least partially down to his (right and long overdue) commitment towards withdrawing from Afghanistan. It seriously makes most sense for the abject operational failure to be attributed to the military leadership, but that's how it goes - guy at the top takes the fall. In my view, the U.S. has all but fallen to special interest lobbies and their symbiotic relationship with the entrenched bureaucracy (i.e., colloquially, "The Swamp"); slashing billions worth of defence-spending pork can't be very popular in certain quarters, and as the previous incumbent found, one can't even mandate affordable insulin without earning a lot of enmity either.
Again, I'm not entirely discounting the "protecting women and children" slogan for Afghanistan, but perhaps consider it this way: for two trillion bucks (actual figures hover around US$2.3 trillion, but what's a few hundred billion nowadays, eh?), what concrete legacy has been left for the people of Afghanistan? Compare satellite photos of the country from 2000 (before all the nonsense started) and today, and I'd gather there might not be much of a difference, craters aside. From this, one understands the general cynicism over the ongoing COP26, what with the luminaries jetting in and scooting about in massive motorcades whilst berating commoners for their consumption on luxury yachts. There was some hilarity, at least, when the executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme called Elon Musk out on solving world hunger with US$6 billion**, to which the budding shitlord offered the sum were he to be shown how that could be achieved (spoiler: it can't), before tweeting a Daily Express exposé on how starving minors were forced to give U.N. officials blowjobs for food. They kinda walked into that one.
[**Musk has, if you've missed it, become the first person worth over US$300 billion, after more Tesla booming together with his crypto portfolio. I have to repeat, however, that the whole crypto space has gone mad again IMHO, and I cannot in good conscience recommend getting in (even if MAS is in on the hype), not when my cousin's sixty year-old teacher colleague is buying Dogcoins too. While all the talk has been about whether SHIB will pass DOGE, the issue should be how these joke memecoins have attained market caps north of US$30 billion each, with no shortage of new entrants either. And then there's a Squid Game-branded coin rocketing in price only to turn out to be a rugpull scam (for now), but that is at least to script. While the premium versus junk tiers for crypto have emerged as posited via physical analogy in 2013, I confess to never having expected the latter to be able to attract such investment.]
But if it's any consolation for Biden, America has responded by voting in Virginia's first Black female lieutenant governor, together with their first Latino attorney general, in a resounding denouncement of white supremacy. To top it off, they have a new Governor who has made education his top priority. If this mood carries into the midterms, the U.S. may well see a return to saner and more competent administration throughout!
Eh, still couldn't resist
[N.B. Embiggen! Embiggen!]
[N.N.B. But really, this duty is not to be shirked.]
(Original source: cbr.com)
I'm aware that it's been quite some time since the last update, but that's life getting in the way. That, and being caught between two enormous and increasingly-foreboding backlogs, on getting the blog up to speed on the coronavirus and realgeopolitik situations. Thus, I figured I'd split the difference with this post. Otherwise, things have been going much as sketched out - the third phase of inflation propaganda as laid out in August has been going full steam ahead, with recent commentaries in WaPo, Bloomberg, Reuters etc. extolling the joys of paying more, and Krugman going "nobody knows" in the NYT; concurrently, The Economist is musing whether anybody actually understands inflation, which strikes one as akin to a co-pilot poking his head out of the plane's cockpit, and asking whether anyone knows how it all works.
The effects on Main Street are getting harder to deny even as word games are being played on "transitory" versus "temporary", with the most obvious cause - excessive monetary stimulus - somehow a dirty phrase at the insider-trading Feds, or so it seems. The explanation for that is, however, probably straightforward. Never mind raising rates, merely tapering bond purchases has a fair chance of crashing the markets at this point, which may be why Powell - up for reappointment next February - is doing his darndest to hold off the worst of the medicine until then. In the meantime, then, it's Potemkin store shelves and pizza on instalments, with Transportation Secretary Mayor Pete no closer to resolving all those gridlocks after returning from his ill-timed paternity leave, it seems (granted, his bowing out of the Presidential race for the post was a sweet deal, as analyzed last year). Perhaps The Washington Post happens to be right on this state of affairs: it's time to lower expectations... by a lot.
Also spent some time going through Kaiji, oft mentioned as one of the biggest influences on Squid Game, and I have got to say that it deserves more mainstream attention (which it has, happily, been receiving). Comics are, after all, one of the most-accessible introductions to new cultures/languages, given how context is provided by the graphics. Moreover, with woke culture (which based France and Quebec have just allied against) apparently infecting the U.S. comic majors, there has been a flowering of alternative publishers, and perhaps a resurgence in interest in Eastern manga and manhua - much of which remains nakedly and unashamedly nationalistic.
The VIP baddies in Squid Game are pointedly foreigners, for example, but returning to Kaiji, it's more of one loser against the world. In the six story arcs thus far, the eponymous hero of the series has gambled his way on and off a ship, escaped from involuntary servitude in a mine, attempted to make his fortune via mahjong (itself having endured several waves of popularity in America), became an unwilling saviour (which has him back near-penniless), wagered his very life on one-card poker (and survived FAKE NEWS-like mindgames), and go on the run in the latest ongoing series. His main antagonist throughout has been Teiai Corp, who have been humanized somewhat in a gag spin-off (with social media and A.I. explored in Chapters 45 & 58 respectively). The art might not be up to say Vagabond or Sun-Ken Rock, but for raw heart-rending drama at points, it's hard to beat (yes, Squid Game included)
In which the significance of a broken stroke is discovered
The main course for this post will be another manga, however, since it seemed remiss to neglect just how closely one of Liar Game's contests has mirrored reality, with some imagination. Any allusions drawn here are, of course, a work of fiction in themselves, and just for entertainment's sake.
Without further ado, Chapter 85 introduces the Pandemic Game; as the masked host for the round explains, "...there are people down with the cold and are spreading the (corona)virus around. The objective is to obtain the vaccine to rid yourself of the virus". Sounds entirely logical enough.
On to the mechanics. Of the participating players in the Pandemic Game, two have initially contracted the (corona)virus; all players' health status (virus-free or virus carrier) will be recorded on their provided TraceTogether-like tracking devices. However, the recorded status will only be revealed to the players upon taking a private PCR/ART-like self-test. The individual player's objective of the Pandemic Game, then, is to be virus-free when it concludes*.
[*N.B. Actually, one would suppose that this should rightly be the objective, but for the Liar Game formulation, it's actually to stockpile a lot of vaccines, rather than just getting oneself healthy; this may be prophetic, as we shall see.]
This doesn't seem much of an issue for the vast majority of the players - who start out virus-free, after all; as for the infected virus carriers, they can be healed with a vaccine (more properly an early treatment, given that it works only after they are infected, but whatever). An issue is that the player that administers the vaccine to an infected player will become infected himself (if not already), which represents a risk to that player. However, creating vaccines in the Pandemic Game is seemingly extremely easy: all that is required is for two virus-free players to come into contact. When that happens, both players receive a single vaccine (with notably no storage limits or requirements), which can then be administered as required. This might be taken to simulate international cooperation, with the players representing different countries; if (largely) virus-free countries are honest with each other and maintain their trade routes (as in a travel bubble), the manufacture and distribution of vaccines and other health products (including cheap mitigations) becomes possible between them.
Taking stock at this juncture, this Pandemic Game appears trivially winnable by all players. If the two initially-infected players identify themselves at the beginning, all that is needed is for them to isolate, while the rest of the players merrily create vaccines amongst themselves. With ten virus-free players, that makes nine vaccine samples for each virus-free individual, clearly far more than enough to cure the two initially-infected, and then themselves as needed. Since the arc goes on for seventeen more chapters, however, it obviously didn't happen that way. Let's see what happened:
And we're off and running!
[N.B. With contact tracing theory introduced next]
(Original source: mangakakalot.com)
The easy, "foolproof" way out, as suggested by the innocent Nao, does indeed work - if the initially-infected were honest from the beginning. As happened in both the Liar Game manga and in our latest real-life pandemic (where the relevant action would be a public declaration and the prompt closing of external borders), this did not happen. The motivation for lying is easily understandable in both cases - a desire to avoid becoming a pariah and/or being responsible for compensation in the aftermath. More than that, though, is the potential to gain power through the continued misery being inflicted. But first, recall when we noted last May that there was no plausible (scientific) way that The Lancet could have ruled out a lab leak then? Well, it turns out that the NIH-linked EcoHealth had indeed been involved in creating more potent coronaviruses. The latest defence from Fauci and company seems to be word-weaseling about whether this qualifies as "gain-of-function" research, and that the viruses that they have just admitted to messing about with were too distant from SARS-CoV-2, to have evolved into it. About this, one might properly suspect that they might not have come completely clean about the matter quite yet, given the huge climbdown from their initial assertions.
That didn't take long at all
(Original source: mangakakalot.com)
Where most saw crisis or tragedy, a certain unsavoury type saw only opportunity; all the more when their business had been ill-health all along. Through back-channel conspiracies (i.e. unfounded proclamations somehow published in top medical journals) and straight-up rumour-mongering (i.e. the FAKE NEWS mainstream media), these players quickly sought to muddy the waters as much as they could (i.e. the outright assassination of HCQ and related plausible accessible early treatments). The payoff, then, was control over the cure. If these snakes succeeded (as they have, to a large extent), then they would attain a position of power where they could decide who lived or died, by choosing to whom (and at what price, both monetary and hidden) they would deign to distribute the vaccine to. Sound familiar?
Why would you even consider using "their" vaccines?
Why not commit to our bloc, I mean, partnership?
(Original source: mangakakalot.com)
In the Liar Game manga's Pandemic Game, the two major blocs would be formed by the big shots - Yokoya and Akiyama - soon enough (ahem, America, ahem China). What happens next is a fuckton of underhanded dealings, incongruous behaviour, tussling in the shadows, propaganda and mass psychological and social manipulation, secret deals and contracts, all that sort of thing. Akiyama would (correctly) identify trust as the essence of the Pandemic Game (which may not be saying much, as it is after all the major theme across many of the other contests in the series) - and as we have seen with the NIH etc. in the actual play-out, it is little wonder that such trust is in short supply.
Akiyama would have to resort to petty parlour tricks to try and corral his group into trusting him, which soon backfired as Yokoya easily demonstrated that his presentation was a sham (which may very well yet happen for early treatments). With this, Yokoya entered into profit-taking mode - with his group under his domination, he would aim to hock off their vaccines to the highest bidder. I will leave exactly how Akiyama defeated that for the interested reader, but suffice to say that sometimes, the only way to combat bad-faith propaganda is through a healthy dose of (mis)information; personally, I am not a big fan of emotional appeal in scientific matters (e.g. the puppy-killer gambit against Fauci, if coincidentally related to our previous post), but sometimes, drastic measures are required.
Scene: a fire station, in some country; a new employee reports for his first day of work.
Blonde Guy: Well, well, lookie what we got here.
Black Guy: Don't mind him. I'm Lemarcus, that joker's Payne, and our crew leader's Greybeard over there. Welcome on board, sonny.
New Guy: Thanks! I've always wanted to follow my parents into the service, and I'm looking forward to learning from all of you!
Payne: That's the spirit! *deafening alarm rings* No rest for the wicked then, we'll have to do it on the job. All stations go!
New Guy: Uh, it's just the four of us?
Lemarcus: Ain't a very big town, and a bunch of us have been calling in sick due to some mandate or other. Barely have time to keep up with the news nowadays, not that it's a huge loss.
*Ten minutes later, at the site of the fire*
New Guy: Wow. This looks... really bad.
Payne: *suddenly serious* Yeah, it may be the worst that I've seen, in my fifteen years here.
Lemarcus: Yeah, no way to get in through the ground floor now. This definitely isn't up to code, but knowing that doesn't help us at this point. Windows and balconies barred too, no getting out that way, poor things. It's a ten-storey building too, unlikely we are going to save them all with our single truck.
Payne: Bad news, I've been calling for assistance all this while, but the other departments are all engaged and can't send anyone until tomorrow or the day after. It's up to us. But yeah, with our ladder and hose we can reach up to... three floors? Maybe five? What do you think, sir?
Greybeard: *shakes head solemnly* Realistic estimate, we may be able to save a quarter, perhaps a third. Perhaps half if we are very lucky, and some of those on the upper floors made it down early... but we can't prove that. In the worst case, as little as 10% if the building's near full occupancy, and those on the inside have asphyxiated. At least there are a bunch of survivors still screaming for help at the windows, thank heavens.
Lemarcus: So the course of action is clear, then?
Greybeard: *sadly* I am afraid so.
New Guy: Let's go!
Payne: Yeah! Poker, Spades or Contract Bridge?
New Guy: *stunned* Uh, excuse me, but what?
Lemarcus: Safety regulations? We are not allowed to attempt an intervention unless we have published evidence that efficacy is at least 50%, with statistical significance? Didn't you pass your theory test before getting this job?
Payne: Guys, if you don't mind, it's getting pretty hot down here; how about we set up the table slightly further away? Newbie, if you want to write up the report, be sure to continue observing closely.
Greybeard: I vote Bridge.
Lemarcus: Me too.
New Guy: Err, guys, I don't think those trapped in the building look very happy at us moving off. They seem to be jumping up and down and yelling something, but it's hard to make out over the crackling of the flames.
Payne: *shuffling deck* Sounds to me like "Let's go Brandon!" - say, wasn't that your name, new guy?
Brandon: *blushing* Gee, they shouldn't have! I haven't even done anything for them yet!
Lemarcus: Mr. Popular already, eh? Word, many of them are giving us the Hawaiian good luck sign! Never knew so many of them were from my old state! *stands up* ALOHA 'AINA! 'OHANA! WE LOVE YOU TOO!
New Guy: ...guys, maybe we should really try something...
Payne: Fine, fine, freshie eager to make a difference, I was like that once. You be the dummy, I'll turn a blind eye and do the bidding this round. TWO NO TRUMPS!
New Guy: Yessir! *Grabs firehose*
Greybeard: Wait! Hold up! Urgent missive from the higher-ups!
To the best of my knowledge, they haven't
(Sources: tweetgen.com and flickr.com)
Lemarcus: *Looking at screen* Oh my word. I never knew.
Payne: Yeah, the headlines are suddenly full of drowning reports. Like this elderly chap who never swam in his life, fell off the side of a cruise ship. He was dead when they recovered him, family is furious. Never knew water was that dangerous. *eyes tumbler suspiciously*
Greybeard: Yeah, just read this report of a fellow who suffered a concussion after he ate a hose point-blank at full blast. *shakes head* Plainly irresponsible. Thankfully, a company has just swung around to inform us of their new product called "retardation foam", that avoids such issues. True, it may be a hundred times more expensive than dihydrogen monoxide by volume, and we would have to purchase their custom delivery system, but you can never put a price on safety! Understand how foolish your attempted actions are now, Brandon?
Brandon: Ye... yessir. Sorry sir.
Greybeard: Just take that as a lesson, son. Don't listen to those conspiracy peddlars online. You'll go a long way.
Top: Squid Game Invitation Card;
Bottom: Zen Maru-Sankaku-Shikaku (Universal) Motif
(Sources; r/wallstreetbets, wikipedia.org)
You know a show's really hit the popular consciousness when you get to hear of it as a reference in an official workplace communiqué, as was the case for the latest Netflix sensation, Squid Game. About this, it has been noted that the premise of a mass deathmatch for a huge (cash) prize* isn't all that original or even less-explored in recent years, with similar implementations such as Alice In Borderland, Divergent, The Hunger Games, Liar Game (formerly discussed here in 2015, but perhaps less suited to a big screen adaptation due to the relative complexity of the schemes; they have been scarily prescient on the YouTube censorship and deplatforming going on willy-nilly nowadays, though), Battle Royale etc. still fresh in the memory - or, going slightly further back, works like Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept or Battle Circle series.
The craze has seen replica Squid Game invitation cards being offered for sale by many enterprising vendors, about which I thought it interesting to comment on the possible provenance of the symbolism. The shapes have been noted to remind of the buttons on the Playstation controller and even the logo of LOONA, a K-pop girl group, but for my money the closest resemblance - including the arrangement - would by far be the Buddhist representation of The Universe as first conceptualized by Sengai (perhaps extended from older imagery, and later apparently inspiring a by-now largely-forgotten Japanese rock band). That said, I suppose usage of the three most basic shapes** is hardly the unique providence of any philosophy.
[*Perhaps not even that huge at slightly less than US$40 million, from how even hamsters have been killing it in the market recently; the four-hundred plus entrants should have more realistically mortgaged everything to throw into crypto before this last resort, all the more as it's Korea. Well, inflation appears finally getting acknowledged after a thirty-year high could not be hidden, so let's see how much longer this lasts]
[**Actually, the three shapes are equivalent in topology, make what of that you will; claiming equivalence can get tricky once one gets into more-impractical mathematics]
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