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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019 - 23:15 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Not Here

Conference & holiday scheduled for the next two weeks, so don't expect updates.

Byebye! See ya! If you don't come back, can I keep your stuff?

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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019 - 22:24 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Unsubscribe Nao

Mr. Ham: Hola, human! What are you doing, typing away, instead of being out in the sunshine?

Me: I'm cancelling my subscription to reality, hamster. It's had a good run, some memorable plot twists in the 2016 season, but it's been all downhill recently. Take the Epstein subplot; as called last week, the "suicide" has been pinned on two guards, who supposedly fell asleep, and together at that, for three hours?! And one of them wasn't even a regular correctional officer? And they moved his cellmate out? All of this despite Epstein probably being the highest-profile inmate in the correctional center's history, and the entire US of A currently, bar none?!

Come on now, that's just lazy writing to me. I understand if they didn't want to splash out on pyrotechnics and CGI, this being a crime drama and all, but I do still expect a certain baseline of plausibility, if not originality, from a long-running production of this pedigree. They couldn't afford even a single camera for Public Interest Prisoner Number One, when a guy can't even pilfer a twenty-dollar basin tap from Singapore washrooms without being recorded, and teenagers can tweet from refrigerators! This is frankly preposterous. And they've now confirmed the "suicide" despite finding broken neck bones, with the "body" already whisked away by an "unidentified associate"? How basic can they get?

Mr. Ham: Yup, they're kinda jumping the shark now. Methinks the guards are gonna disappear in mysterious circumstances, along with any remaining loose ends... which reminds me, Maxwell was found reading "The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives"; hello, who telegraphs the plotline so blatantly these days? You gotta let the audience speculate, man. Maybe go with the fad and set up a Battle Royale scenario on his private Caribbean island, or dip into sci-fi with a cryopreservation angle, if they're feeling ambitious?

Me: What really pisses me is that one can't even claim credit for predicting this accurately, given how obvious it was. I can't get over how the average family has likely been surveilled far more intimately than Federal convicts, what with about all major tech firms admitting that they had regularly snooped on their users' supposedly-private communications: Facebook with Messenger voice chats, Microsoft with Skype and Cortana, Amazon with Alexa, and Google with Google Assistant. It's hilarious, actually; were a government to attempt to force citizens to install eavesdropping devices in their homes, there would rightly be huge and potentially violent outroars. However, fold it into a cool-looking gadget - who'll oh-so-innocently deny any ulterior motives, mind - and there you have the citizens paying for the privilege of having strangers listen in on their sexytime!

Mr. Ham: Well, I for one always knew that humans are not on balance a very intelligent species. All that liberal indoctrination in the guise of education has been rotting their brains.

Me: Remind me to brush up on my Fremen sand shuffle and Jackson moonwalk to stymie the gait recognition A.I. that's starting to get implemented. Gotta push the HK post back again, don't want to rush the job and not do it justice, like somebody has been doing with this timeline...

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Sunday, Aug 11, 2019 - 21:06 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Complete Lack Of Surprise

You know the feeling when you're reading a novel, and the author goes for the telegraphed plot twist that had been out of fashion since before the last dark and stormy night, and you wonder how he thought he could get away with it? That was how I felt when 4chan got the scoop on Epstein's "suicide", about an hour before it reached the mainstream media.

It's no exaggeration that this was how most every experienced pundit who'd been following the case expected it to end: the guy had, by all accounts, collected child abuse dirt on the great and the good of the world: former President Bill Clinton (it's nice to know that Lewinsky's doing well though), Britain's Prince Andrew (who I had thought was the model of a dignified gentleman, at last year's InnovFest), a prime minister, another prince, what looks like representatives from each chamber of Congress, and various high-profile financiers; a desultory tally then suggests that Epstein had the Arkanciders, the British Royals, various Middle Eastern potentates, scores of deep state hacks, and quite possibly the Mossad and the CIA, all out for his head. Jason Bourne himself couldn't have survived this.

The accusation that shook me the most was about Marvin Minsky, one of the fathers of A.I. - of all people, him?! What makes it worse was that it was a first-hand accusation, rather than mere one-time circumstantial connections such as with Steven Pinker (who's made his clarifications), Hawking (who we can determine was probably innocent of coercion, at least) and the current POTUS, who was one of the few to have the moral fibre to disassociate himself from Epstein, before it was cool.

Given all this, I'd gather that engaging in some conspiracy-theorizing should be a very reasonable response; apparently, despite everybody and their dog suspecting a "suicide", and a possible attempt reported in July, the guy apparently wasn't even on suicide watch - which was the only logical explanation, given the many precautions that would have been in place on said watch: no material suitable for fashioning a noose out of, nowhere to hang it from, round-the-clock surveillance, etc. While some are hopeful that camera footage will be available, this seems unlikely given the wording of the press release.

Well, there *are* some photos of his guards
(Source: r/fakehistoryporn)

I'm eagerly awaiting the official incident report, from how politicians on both sides of the aisle could not help but be united in seeking an answer for once, and the FBI has opened an investigation. Ten to one it'll be some poor low-level corrections officer or two taking the fall, for abandoning their post due to a sudden tummyache or somesuch. Personally, it's very possible that Epstein may even be checked in at a South American plastic surgery clinic after the ol' playin-possum switcheroo, as rumoured on the best early-breaking news source on this subject, that I know of. It makes more than a bit of sense, really - if the Ghislaine Maxwell data dump had somehow convinced the guilty that Epstein had maintained a credible dead man's switch, this could well have convinced the powerful implicated to arrange Epstein's extraction, and to hell with the consequences. Indeed, there're already signs of ongoing online cover-up operations...

Either way, the lesson is clear - to pull off such outrages for generations and escape justice, it pays to be backed by ancient and powerful organizations; adapting an Ian Fleming quote, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but over ten thousand separate cases in eighteen jurisdictions might suggest some systematic issues. And perhaps they might revive the old institution of royal mistresses while they're at it, rather than subject present-day dignitaries to the sham of having to simulate that condition through serial divorce - the good chaps would minimally have to live up to their responsibilities then!

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Friday, Aug 09, 2019 - 22:42 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Mundane Enjoyments


Ordered some budae-jjigae takeout for dinner one of these evenings - always had an affinity for budget mashups containing generous helpings of spam and the like, though I'd probably have preferred it with less spice and more unami/bakkutteh-ish, were I to whip it up for myself.

I've got to say that foodpanda's been good to me so far, given that the delivery fee has got to be considered against transportation costs were I to head out by myself, and this is without going into the random vouchers for not requesting cutlery, cancellations, and the like - they've been sighted quite a bit on campus too, what with the business canteen coming under renovation, amidst other scheduled construction.

Food delivery remains a cut-throat industry here despite the clear demand, with Honestbee recently hitting the news for going US$200 million in the red, an impressive feat given their relatively limited purview; the big boys are putting the squeeze on, with Deliveroo and GrabFood apparently making to shut competing kitchen operators out of the space already. It'll be fun to watch what creativity ensues, with my favourite tale of the month in this regard being the manufacture of aluminium pallets to dodge tariffs, which recalls the old sand-smuggling joke.

On leisure, Pokémon Go has just released exact IV values upon appraisal, which allowed me to fill in the egg-hatching data that has been put off for the past year or so, since when the last external site failed. Also switched over to scripting Hardcore Community Service (HCCS) ascensions on Kingdom of Loathing for a change from meat farming, and put in a few rounds against the bots in Counter-Strike 1.6, for old times' sake.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

So, they went and ripped off the formula of Pokémon Detective Pikachu for this: big, derpy guy with unresolved family drama and unseemly childhood peccadilloes reluctantly teams up with small, dapper guy with a penchant for criminal trespass and blowing the joint sky-high, only for them to become best buds after much canned repartee and the moderating influence of the Best Supporting Action Girl. The antivax plot sees them hook up with a bunch of retrenched Victoria's Secret angels in Moscow, do the haka with WWE wrestler Roman Reigns in Samoa, and finally beat up on cut-price Black Panther, after derisively referring to him as "Black Superman" throughout. One can almost taste the salt from Universal Pictures at Disney and Warner Bros here. On the marketing side, there was an unmissable gratuitous close up of the Chevrolet logo - seems like they did have some budget left over, after getting totally hosed on the Manchester United jersey deal, after all!

Information Credibility In Football Transfer Muppetry

"Dybala has repented for his sins and now he would like to go to Manchester United."

- Tony Damascelli (spoiler: it didn't happen)

FAKE NEWS detection is currently one of the hottest topics in A.I., what with the formerly-dignified New York Times reduced nowadays to baselessly altering published headlines likely under severe financial pressure, and NBC posting clickbait that purposely misrepresents the source of threats. Fact-checkers are themselves becoming increasingly unreliable, with Snopes - never quite as unbiased as they would like to present themselves - going after satire websites such as the Babylon Bee. Locally, SPH has predictably continued its slide into irrelevance, and Pioneer magazine - that auto opt-in drain on impoverished National Servicemen's wallets best remembered for spawning countless pleas for instructions on unsubscribing - has also finally bitten the dust. I mean, it's seriously too much to expect people to pay for propaganda nowadays - despotic as the Imperium of Man is in Warhammer 40K, they at least have the decency to give out their pamphlets for free!

Even as the unending War of Information rages on between The Establishment and alternative media, though, tiny enclaves of relative calm and good sense do exist, with dedicated community members diligently curating sources and rumours; the best example bar none would be by football supporters obsessing over what new players might sign for, or existing players leave, their club.

Indeed, evidence from Reddit activity suggests that this "transfer muppeting" may be of more interest to fans, than the actual matches - for example, the transfer discussion thread at the opening of the transfer window attracted over 5000 comments on the main Manchester United subreddit, compared to only about 3700 comments for the incredible comeback Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain. Not only that, a spin-off Muppetiers subreddit dedicated solely to transfer rumours has regularly outdone r/reddevils in traffic.

For all their differences, both forums have been organized in their curation; r/reddevils maintains a comprehensive Tier List of media sources, which ranks just about every pertinent news outlet or reporter from Tier 1 (highest quality) to Tier 5 (aggregators, known shitposters, banned sources) or worse... and unlike Snopes et al., there is no pulling the wool over their eyes. Under the unblinking gaze of thousands of sleepless fanatical muppets who go as far as to research flight schedules and track individual airplanes, every last pronouncement by these media worthies is impassively scrutinized, and their reputation is adjusted depending on whether they turn out true.

In contrast, the focus of r/muppetiers is not public sources, but the insiders, better known as ITKs. These international beings of mystery are, for their own protection, known only by colourful codenames such as "The Count", "Kermit", "Big Bird" and "GAITAN 5"; are they players' agents, bored club secretaries, Bernabéu baristas, or even Jürgen Klopp out for some fun? That's the magic of it - nobody knows for sure, except maybe the mods, but they're not telling. All regular muppets have to go on is their predictive record, which to be frank, hasn't been very good at all this preseason.

Red Devils Going Forward

It didn't start out that badly - Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace was an obvious target, and his signing was completed by the end of June, for probably about fifty million quid. Earlier that month, Swansea winger Daniel James had transferred on an £18 million deal. However, while exciting young lads, they didn't seem the sort of talent to close a 32 point gap on the noisy neighbours (with the only real consolation being Liverpool not winning the league, especially if you're Paul Scholes), and United had money to burn, so Woodward sez.

Talk turned to Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt, but he duly snubbed United for Juve. Given the obvious lack of depth in midfield with the departures of Herrera and Fellaini and decline of Matic, names such as Bruno Fernandes, Thomas Partey, Saúl Ñíguez, Christian Eriksen and Sergej Milinković-Savić were constantly bandied about, though rumours had Solskjaer fixated on Sean Longstaff. Gareth Bale on loan wasn't too popular amongst the muppets, and probably unlikely given James' arrival anyway. As for right wing, once a key strength in the days of Beckham yore, but lately a void since Valencia lost some yards of pace, Douglas Costa was a possibility; the club's supposedly willing to wait for Jadon Sancho, for a long-term fix.

The days passed, and... nothing.

Well, yeah, there was that quite improbable Dybala saga, where Juventus looked to offload him in exchange for Lukaku, who already had one foot out of the door with his tweeting of teammates' sprint results. Muppet spirits rose with Juve seemingly willing to throw Super Mario Mandzukic - a Fellaini upgrade - in as a sweetener, but the deal hit a standstill with Dybala unwilling, and who can really blame him? United wound up paying a record fee for Slabhead Maguire, not managing to get Leicester to budge on their valuation. The excuses came in for Dybala on image rights and whatnot, Lukaku fannied off to Inter just in time, and United are left with a lightweight midfield.

Sure sounds familiar.

But perhaps it's not time for doom and gloom yet - for all Ashley Young getting quite unfairly booed at the National Stadium during their visit - which some have connected to local bullying rates - the team has actually been fairly impressive in the ICC friendlies, having managed wins over Inter and Spurs, and a penalty win over A.C. Milan. And lest we forget, Solskjaer had a fairytale introduction, garnering a record 26 points in his first ten league matches, before it all went to pieces. He's made no secret about it being about fitness, which makes a lot of sense if they're going for heavy off-the-ball pressing. Allow me to pass further judgment after the Chelsea opener, then.

It was not meant to be...

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Monday, July 29, 2019 - 18:36 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Career Advice

The Hong Kong retrospective's delayed once again, what with several strands converging irresistibly for a topical post. The first hints arose with the International Conference on Cohesive Societies conference here last month, attended by representatives from various faiths and luminaries such as Karen Armstrong, author of A History Of/The Case For God (covered back in 2016). This was followed by the news that the organizations garnering the most donations locally were generally educational and religious, with the National University of Singapore and the New Creation Church topping the list with takings of S$227 million and S$122 million respectively. Then, a few days ago, it was hinted that free speech would be further curtailed through choice amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

This came as I chanced upon Twilight of the Money Gods, which seeks to view economics through a religious lens (rather than a physical one, as in Mirowski's works). Today's exposition will be framed by another - certainly funnier - book, though:

The only manual a worthy divine needs
[N.B. Full text of this out-of-print classic available online!]
(Source: goodreads.com)

Truth & Mistruth

Upon the death of a unified China's first Emperor, an eunuch decided to gauge the loyalty of the court officials to his puppet successor. He arranged for a deer to be brought before the court, and praised it as a superb horse. A few brave officials protested the obvious - that it was a deer, and not a horse. They were executed. Others bowed their head and kept silent, unwilling to acknowledge the farce, while also fearful of offending the new Emperor's favourite. They were exiled. Some loudly praised the deer as indeed a magnificent horse, and lauded the eunuch's eye for stallions. They were promoted.

Such tendencies, alas, persist to the present; honesty and truth is in actuality scarce treasured by humankind as a rule. Typically, it begins with "does my ass look fat in this", progresses through "sure, of course I'd love the in-laws to stay over for a week", and ends somewhere like "clearly we can run large persistent aggregate deficits without real consequences".

Many will rationalize the expected untruthful responses, under the umbrella of discretion or social savvy. This is entirely understandable, inasmuch as it transfers or defers the costs. The lady might eventually be upset that her skirt was two sizes too tight; the in-laws, who actually would much rather be put up in a nice hotel too; future citizens, who wind up bemoaning the previous generations' profligacy and rejection of firm leadership. But they were happy to be lied to before...

Untrammeled Power

The astonishing observation about humans, then, is not so much the dishonesty, but rather the banality of its expression. In certain respects, it is forgivable, say in the customary response to a greeting: "How are you? Fine, thank you."; the cashier, who has somehow escaped being replaced by an automated checkout line, is not likely interested in a detailed recounting of one's poor life choices. In the case of organized religion, however, the dogmatic insistence on the acceptance of statements that would be deemed blatant falsehoods in just about any other context - e.g. deer as horse, as we have seen - can hardly be seen as anything other than a pronouncement of absolute power and authority.

Lo, the priest begins. A man born of a virgin rose into the sky. Another who rode a flying donkey split the moon in half. A baby walked immediately after being born, and a lotus flower bloomed with each step. Surely then all this is some allegory or colourful myth? Too often, there is no straight answer, for if one did in fact admit that his prophet could not, in fact, multiply loaves, the fellows next door who insist that theirs could turn night into day naturally gains the ascendancy. Other, more honest, scholars who state mere facts such as "apples fall from trees", moreover garner rather less devotion. There is no mystery in it. The apples fall for everyone, whether they believe it or not. What about it - figure out the math?

Therein lies the power. If a man is a scholar of the latter type, and is expected to present a rational justification for his actions and opinions, one might expect certain unhappy outcomes to be less likely to pass - "the apple fell from a tree; therefore, enslaving people is acceptable" is, hopefully, patently ridiculous. However, consider something like "Our deity can throw a mountain into the sea; therefore*, we must invade Iraq." The opening assertion already places the argument outside the realm of logic. The second statement not following from the first then breaks no new ground; it is unremarkable.

[*several intermediate steps omitted for brevity]

It is this disregard of rationality, then, that is the hallmark of organized religion. Impressionable children are inoculated against logic through the liberal memorization of entirely unreasonable axioms, and woe betide the precocious kid who dares question. How can a man float into the air without aid? Having demurred thus, the recalcitrant finds himself friendless, or painfully dead in certain environments even in the present. Before, recantation was oft sought through torture, but frankly, what does that prove? Stretch a fellow on the rack for long enough, and one would likely be able to get him to admit that his mother was a hamster. No, it is hard to see this as anything but the crudest assertion of power.

It should be clarified here that I am not claiming that everything important can be handled through rational means - sure, some things can only be felt by the heart, and all that; I am, however, of the opinion that the record of organized religions on these heartfelt matters has simply not been very good.

Religious vs. Pious

It is, however, probably also unfair to caricature members of said organized religions as entirely unreasonably bellicose in spiritual affairs. Most such assemblies are entirely respectable institutions, one hopes, that will actively refer true-true believers (as opposed to merely ordinary "true believers", which their congregation indubitably qualifies as) for prompt medical care, with a view to the safety of the community at large. Some are even entirely serviceable as purveyors of entertainment. In the same way that I cannot impugn the freedom of zealous boyband or K-pop fans to splurge most of their salary on concerts, recordings and other merchandise, I can hardly begrudge the accidental but outstanding success of more classical productions in this respect.

I further reserve a special esteem for wits such as the Irreverend Smith, who have the good humour to be not at all serious about the whole organized religion business, while going about his duty. In this, he fits the trope of the sensible and irreligious (these traits tend to be correlated) biscuit-nibbling English vicar, who attends faithfully to the well-being of his parish, while remaining blissfully untroubled by any pretense at actual belief (although it would be exceedingly rude to call him out on it). The first big lesson in How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious, then, is to clearly distinguish religious from pious.

A truly religious man, he writes, is inner-directed (think perhaps Pope Celestine V, or in the secular sphere Cincinnatus); his conviction derives directly from his God, and on matters of faith he is inflexible. Thus, Rev. Smith correctly ascertains that truly religious men tend to "...make enemies unnecessarily [and soon become] an embarrassment to the church". Far more likely to be successful in the church, then, is the pious man, who consciously tailors his external appearance and behaviour to match what the average churchgoer would regard as religious (Rev. Smith hastens to add that it is unnecessary to discuss the finer details of religious vs. pious in public)

At a certain point, ministerial dignity has to be maintained
[N.B. The lambo was auctioned off for charity in this case]
(Source: gq.com)

The rest of the relevant chapter contains excellent advice on how to construct this extrinsic image. Rev. Smith recommends a sombre off-the-rack two-piece suit as work attire, with newer and gradually more-expensive suits rotating in as Sunday best. Clerical garb, while seemingly the most appropriate, is not recommended assuming a Protestant denomination, since that could cause confusion with the Roman tradition. An exception is when ministering in rough neighbourhoods, to help protect against being shot or robbed out of hand. Doctoral robes, however obtained, should be flaunted. Vehicle-wise, Rev. Smith provides a handy table indicating acceptable car models and expected price ranges, depending on the wealth level of his parish. Given that the guide was published in 1966, the information can be regarded as slightly out-of-date, so suffice to say that the idea is to project a genteel respectability, that of being slightly poorer than the congregation at large (but not too much, lest they be unduly shamed at their lack of largesse)

Smoking, drinking, gambling, profanity and related sins are, definitely, out too; the Rev. advises the cultivation of a "slight frown and brief, tolerant, superior smile", for application when a congregant gets out of line. Non-vigorous recreation is recommended - long walks are always safe, while pastimes such as chess need be carefully considered, lest the clergyman be thought to be "too intelligent" (college communities excluded). A dash of gluttony can be tolerated - nay, even advisable - to display the generosity of his parish. Literature wise, Rev. Smith advises subscriptions to entirely bland publications such as Reader's Digest and Time, with a hint of high literature (again, not too much). If art is displayed, they should be clichéd pieces such as Head of Christ or The Last Supper, as the "arty" image and the pious image are fundamentally incompatible, in Rev. Smith's opinion.

I hope that the relevance of the above to the construction of an academic image is self-evident. Personally, an exception should be made for technical specialists - I'd honestly be suspicious if a self-proclaimed hacker turned up in suit and tie instead of hoodie and jeans, and the recognized uniform of elder gurus is that of scruffy beard, unkempt and optionally-stained (Hawaiian) shirt and maybe socks and sandals (i.e. "homeless couture"). Note that this look is also far from uncommon amongst tenured profs in more scientific fields (as opposed to say business and finance, where they remain beholden to keeping up appearances)

Rate of hair-brushing found inversely correlated with tenure
(Original source: phdcomics.com)

Rev. Smith also recommends that the ambitious pious man be married for several reasons: that his wife be able to provide additional services to the church such as Sunday school teaching, to avoid resentment from female congregants (unless he's going for the dashing boybander vibe to draw them in), but most importantly as the mainstream Protestant position was that "a clergyman who remains unmarried for more than a year after graduation from seminary is suspected of being abnormal, immoral or chicken". I always thought this attitude wise of them, compared to the Catholic insistence on priestly celibacy - the Big Guy Himself unequivocally stated: "go forth and multiply"; some disciple comes along and countermands this with some incel ramblings, and they all just go along with it?

Essential Preaching

Rev. Smith, as with H.L. Mencken, recognizes that preaching - or, at least, the content of the preaching - is ultimately unimportant in the grander scheme of things, despite it being the distinguishing role of a clergyman. Rev. Smith recommends "1000 parts style to 1 part content" as a good proportion to maintain, and that "...no one cares very much what you say when you preach, as long as it is not radically controversial and disturbing. Your acceptability as a preacher depends almost wholly on how you say it. A really gifted preacher can deliver an exegesis of 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' or extol the virtues of the single tax and send the congregation home in a spiritual trance, while a bumbler can bore it to death with a sensible and relevant exposition of the parable of the prodigal son".

[N.B. The above clearly also applies to university lecturers. However, such teachers operate under an additional handicap - their students may have to be tested on the retention of some minimal knowledge at the end of the semester. As such, their delivery unavoidably has to be biased more towards the actual material, since repeat customers tend to be unamused]

The good reverend then suggests to mix-up three basic objectives - make them laugh, make them cry and make them feel religious. About that first, Rev. Smith advises that clerical joking actually takes quite some skill, because unlike professional comedians, many popular and reliable gags would be regarded as lewd, unbecoming or simply unkind. To illustrate an appropriate pick, Rev. Smith gives "The Joys and Advantages of Being a Christian":

A Jewish man was converted to Christianity. After he was baptized and received by the church, he went home and was met at the door by his son who said, "Pop, I need $5000 for a new sports car," and his father gave it to him. As he came into the front room, his daughter came in and said, "Father, I'm going to Europe and the trip will cost $5000," so he gave it to her. As he went into the kitchen to see what was cooking, his wife said to him, "Dear, I've ordered a new mink coat and it costs $5000." So he gave it to her.

Then, alone for a moment, he meditated on all this.

"Here I've been a Christian for a half-hour." he said to himself, "and these darn Jews have taken me for $15000 already!"

Rev. Smith regards the above joke as near-ideal, because the "middle-class, standard-brand Protestant congregation is anti-Semitic" (but not blatantly so); thus, in one small quip, the pastor has slyly managed to express that "(a) the Jews are actually like we all think they are, (b) if Jews would only become Christians they would immediately become generous, warmhearted and unselfish like us, and (c) the Christian religion is demonstrably superior to the Jewish religion, and by implication, to all other religions". Explained this way, it is undeniable that hitting such a trifecta is no easy task!

Having softened them up thus, the next step is naturally to pull out the sob-story of the day, and appeal to the congregation's better nature (now, it should be noted that this skill can be entirely good, if turned towards genuinely needy cases). Some speakers are simply naturals at making such appeals, although one supposes that this is a skill that comes with practice - Rev. Smith stresses the importance of preaching without notes, to attain the highest levels of credibility. To objectively illustrate preaching ability on a scale with contemporary personae, I'd put the current POTUS as a 10, given his unprecedented approval ratings with his congregation (because, let's face it, that's what matters); Lee Kuan Yew and Kong Hee, then, would be about a 9 with their crowds, while Reagan and peak Obama - who I'll admit is an excellent conventional orator, even if I may not align on his stands - rate about 8. Bernie Sanders was in the 7 to 8 range in 2016, Hillary perhaps near 6 at her best, and fellas like Jeb!, Kasich and Elizabeth Warren sub-5, just as a reference.

Staying with politics for a bit, Rev. Smith cautions against being specific as to one's religious position. Even if totally untrue, it is expected of a responsible clergyman to keep up the fiction that his religion's moral stands are divinely-ordained and therefore eternal and unchanging. For example, one might handle the contradiction of being utterly segregationist according to church doctrine in the past, to ardently preaching against racism today, but why risk it? Far better to be vague and non-committal.

In particular, never bring up local controversies with anything more than platitudes, and instead rail against faraway injustices. As Rev. Smith writes, "You can denounce the government of South Africa with all the vigour at your command, but be careful about denouncing political corruption in your own city, because some of your good members might be involved". This should also be obeyed in academic circles. As one of my favourite posts on r/singapore about Sinkie students gone Oxford goes, aspiring social minglers should "[learn] to distinguish the right kind of woke (environmental charities and effective altruism) from the wrong kind (Rhodes Must Fall) and shut up about the latter while running to be the face of diversity initiatives".

Rev. Smith also goes into what makes hymns desirable or not in a later section. "A Mighty Fortress", for instance, is not very good because it "gives all attention and praise to God and none to the worshipper" throughout, and "lacks any warm, human, comforting, inspiring sentiment". "Blessed Assurance", in contrast, is worshipper-focused (lots of "mine", "me", "I", etc), and can be depended on to evoke nostalgia due to its popularity. This is also the case for what Rev. Smith regards as the best hymn of them all, "In The Garden" (some musical theory analysis is also given, but I alas would know nothing about that). Bad hymns would then contain uncomfortable and situationally-awkward lines such as "...Take my silver and my gold/Not a mite would I withhold..."; as Rev. Smith puts it, imagine the president of the local bank chanting that!

Choosing Friends & The Importance of Money

"History reports that the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all."

- Will Durant

And, make no mistake, bank presidents are exactly the sort of valued member your church wants, so Rev. Smith emphasizes. He covers the harsh realities of religious finance in a chapter entitled "The Administration of a Church, which is A Polite Phrase for Raising Money", which to me was the most directly transplantable to academia, of the lot of them. Replace some nouns, and there you have a wonderful primer for freshly-minted bright-eyed assistant professors.

Rev. Smith's wisdom begins thus: "A congregation (read also: university/lab) is fundamentally a business enterprise. No one mentions this to the ambitious young theologs (read also: assistant profs) during their period of professional training... do not plunge out of seminary (read also: postdoc stint) and into your first pastorate (read also: assistant prof contract) heart and mind aquiver with the solemn thought 'I am now in charge of a community of faith (read also: community of the mind)'. To do so is to invite professional disaster at the first stage of your career. What you are in charge of is not a community [of whatever] but a business enterprise".

It is a sordid truth seldom mentioned, that by and large, the final metamorphosis of a clergyman or professor at the pinnacle of their career is into a money-grubber towards the sustenance of their mini-empire (recall, this is supported by evidence on the top donation-wheedlers locally). One might, conceivably, become a celebrated theologian or theoretician without much in the way of funding. It is however probably unwise to bank on that. As Rev. Smith so accurately describes, "Fundamental to success here is your self-image as the chief executive officer of the Lord's corporation... as the member of a private club".

In this case, however, the church is at a disadvantage compared to the lyceum. A reputable university cannot be faulted for imposing admittance standards, and indeed, the stricter these standards are, the more prestigious (and richer) the university tends to become. The same goes for top journals, at which it is a point of pride to seek single-digit acceptance rates. However, as Rev. Smith reminds, "...theoretically anyone who wishes to may join a Christian church. We aren't supposed to exclude anyone". The unsaid problem is the possible quiet ghettoization of one's church, if the membership distribution tilts overly to the unwashed end. But rest easy, according to Rev. Smith, "...the trick is to load your membership with enough of one kind of people so that other kinds of people will not ask to join"!

But in both cases, wow 'em with grand architecture!
(Source: www.trin.cam.ac.uk)

Rev. Smith notes that in each community, there usually are one or two "status churches" that high society gravitates to, and that once established thus, it is extremely difficult for a status church to fall out of that class, regardless of the actual quality of preaching and education (the application to the Ivies etc need not be belaboured, I hope). The goal of a pastor, so Rev. Smith says, should be to turn his establishment into said status church, though judicious targeting of new members ("...just observe what happens when a new doctor or well-to-do lawyer moves to town. The status churches go after them like hungry tigers chasing a tasty young gazelle. The winning church will gloat, and the loser or losers will try to hide their chagrin")

Towards this end, Rev. Smith has very kindly included a handy Status Value Scale Index, to help inexperienced newbie pastors out. It starts from old aristocratic family scions at 10 points, then 9 points for a multimillionaire (rarer back in the 1960s), and 8 points for single-millionaires. Big businessmen and specialist doctors rate 7 points; G.P.s and dentists rate 6 points, same as corporation and tax lawyers. Criminal and divorce lawyers get 5 points. Academic professors weigh in at 4 points, with teachers going from 3 points (for administrators) to 1 point (for grade school ma'ams - same as chiropractors). Celebrities rank from 7 to 9 points, accounting for personal taste.

Below this, alas, we have clerks, stenographers, other white-collar flunkeys and factory supervisors, who Rev. Smith describes as "good people, no doubt, but they confer no status on the organization". Entering negative territory, we come to blue-collar factory workers at -1, and day labourers at -2. Rev. Smith then gains my further respect here, by not shying away from racial animus, which should be understood in the context of Sixties WASP-culture America. Japanese and light-skinned South Americans are assigned a further -3 penalty, with Chinese at -5. Dark-skinned South Americans and light-skinned Negroes get -7, and dark-skinned Negroes complete the scale at -10.

The problem, as Rev. Smith goes on to address, is that while a status church doesn't want negative-rated fellows tanking their prestige (still in evidence today with Ivy League colleges and Chinese), they cannot openly admit it, and moreover are usually desirous of looking nominally "liberal, decent, Christian in attitude and integrated". The best strategy, the clever Reverend goes on to suggest, is to adopt a "coal-black, poor, semiliterate Negro bachelor, the 'Old Black Joe' type. He is no threat whatever to any of your people (a Negro schoolteacher, for example, would be better educated than some of your staunch members and they would resent this bitterly). And he would remind them of the days when racial relations were clearly defined and tranquil, not ambiguous and tension-filled as they are in the present society. In short, he would be looked on with affection as a pet. He would be coddled, protected and prized. And he would not encourage other Negroes to follow him because they would be a threat to his privileged position".

I make no further comment as to the academic implications.

Social Aspects

While personal ego is officially disdained in both the ministry and academia, it is unavoidable that the men (and lately, women) who have dedicated much of their life to these institutions nonetheless wish to feel important. It is probably not a coincidence that both these esteemed cultures have hit upon the same solution: form committees. As Rev. Smith writes:

"The ambitious young divine wading into his first parish is often confused by the abundance of church committees through which he is supposed to carry on the work of his ministry. There is a committee for the promotion of missions, a committee on music, a committee on ushering, a committee on social relations, a committee on worship, a committee or board of Christian education, a house committee, a parsonage committee, a pulpit committee, a committee on finance, a benevolence committee, an interchurch relations committee, etc (it goes on for eight or nine more lines)"

This must be familiar to those in university departments.

Rev. Smith goes on to inform the reader of the true nature of these manifold committees: "What you must understand is that the committee structure of a church (also: university) was never intended to be used. It is strictly for window dressing, to give the appearance of a democratically operated organization... [it] was devised to give the appearance of everyone in the church (university) feverishly engaged in [some proper] work."

Now, I must add here, it does no good to be too cynical of this state of affairs. While most committees are admittedly bunkum, being invited to participate still indicates a smidgen of recognition (and another item on that C.V.); it also implicitly certifies that the individual involved has some slight facility towards normal social interaction, a trait that is unfortunately sometimes missing in otherwise serviceable academics.

Furthering my suspicions of the close connections between church and college, Rev. Smith confirms that only two committees are of any real importance: the pulpit (read: promotion) committee and the finance (read: grants) committee, since they control the tenure and salary of the aspiring clergyman. Sadly, unlike their priest-equivalents, junior academics usually have no say in the formation of these two.

The Kings Of Fund Raising

It felt only appropriate to complete the circle, by featuring the champion moneymakers of the year. Honourable mention goes to the banks engaged in the local savings-rate war, with CIMB knocking the "torture of multiple conditions to earn high interest" described last month (their rates are simply uncompetitive though; was always partial to the cute DBS ad myself)

Third Place: BoJo A Go Go!

In with a brief to get Brexit done, Boris Johnson has declared himself for Singapore-style tax-free zones, perhaps seeing as to how their former colony has snagged billionaire inventor James Dyson, who's been making quite the splash with his property purchases. While seemingly counterintuitive, this might just work - but just remember the Integrated Resorts too, Boris.

Second Place: Belle Delphine

This is called entrepreneurship in its purest form
(Source: junkee.com)

It is to some regret that she didn't take the top prize with her latest caper, if only due to the stiffness of the competition; but a girl who's managed to sell her used bathwater at US$30 a jar must be doing alright in my books, however you slice it - and she didn't have to walk on it or turn it into wine either. Sadly, she wasn't able to keep up with the demand after a 500-jar run for her hydro-homies, though she did at least try her best with US$10k storage tubs of said blessed liquid.

Humanity is wonderful, isn't it?

First Place: TRUMP 2020

Who else could it be? Not content with filling stadiums to capacity wherever he visits, to the enduring consternation and telling silence of the biased and failing mainstream media, the reigning President of the United States continues his never-ending crusade against irrational gestures (when we said he knows exactly what he's doing, we meant it)! With mindf**ked consumers slowly coming to realize that, wait, how did I get so woked-up over refusing a plastic straw when there's so much more plastic involved in the cup & cover, and did the corporations sneakily play along as a cost-saving virtue-signalling combo, The Donald is fueling the enlightenment by hawking packs of ten tremendous TRUMP-branded laser-etched plastic straws on his campaign website, at the low, low price of US$15 a pop:

Every day, in every way, his TROLL POWER gets stronger

Completely sold out (like his rallies) the initial stock of OVER NINE THOUSAND, by the way. And hey, they're recyclable - note a local fast food chain offering a free metal straw with selected meals, and consider the tradeoffs with analogy to plastic bags and reusable bags. Very stable genius, indeed.

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Friday, July 19, 2019 - 22:48 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Signs Of Life

Too much has passed in these few weeks to be adequately covered, really - there's the graduation from my Masters in English Language & Linguistics, but that deserves multiple recaps of its own. And then there was WWE Live! back in Singapore, which however was probably not quite up to their visit in 2017. The high point for me was when Cesaro drew out a Singapore Cane from under the ring in his bout with Strowman, before shaking his head and flinging it aside, which was about as subtle an in-joke as could be expected in pro wrestling. That aside, I was rooting for Alexa against "The Man" Becky Lynch (who, I daresay, is making a refreshing statement in an age where men are proving to be better women than actual women in sports), but yeah, no way they were having the title change hands during a house show. Other than that, Ricochet laid on the acrobatics, but overall it was relatively meh - which was reflected in the attendance.

Where The Action's At

"The world that Satoshi Nakamoto, author of the Bitcoin white paper, envisioned is an unstoppable force. We should not attempt to deter this innovation... those who have tried have already failed."

- Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.),
during Libra Congressional hearings

The trouble with juggling too many balls at a go, has always been deciding what section of the to-do list to knock off first - and the list's been getting quite long as it is. Good trading, however, demands a non-negotiable urgency. Among Livermore's timeless gems in Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is a warning against trying to force trades in a market that doesn't support it: "...the desire for constant action irrespective of underlying conditions is responsible for many losses in Wall Street even among the professionals, who feel that they must take home some money every day, as though they were working for regular wages". This is also implied in Buffett's baseball analogy - in a world where institutions have the advantage of capital and brokers the advantage of controlling the order flow, retail has only one real saving grace: that of being able to decide whether or not to take a swing. And since there are no outs, one can be very, very patient indeed.

Well, the Bitcoin market's time had come in the past couple of weeks, which put the firm of H.L. Ham back on high alert.

Illustration of concepts, Bitfinex daily chart
(Source: bitcoinwisdom.io)
[N.B. From the Financial Econs intro module, Dead Zones can technically be profited from by means of short straddling, which one supposes is approximated by providing funding in the crypto markets. Gains, however, are generally nowhere near when there's actual movement]


Mr. Ham: Sheesh, I'm here, you didn't have to yell.

Me: So how's the swing & scalp going?

Mr. Ham: On track for a few M's, looks like a classic double top's playing out. You won't believe the crap that's still going on, though, take the rise on the eighth - who the f**k market buys that way?! And even that doesn't come close to the latest bullshit, when it pumped back up a thousand bucks in half an hour, with buywalls set up to defend each hundred-dollar checkpoint along the way. You gotta watch it happening live to truly appreciate the magnitude of the asslordery. But yeah, we don't go on margin here, so we can wait it out.

Me: Good job, Mr. Ham. And what of our analyst?

Mr. Ham: Mr. Robo? he's still running about in circles screaming, from when that first big dump hit. Should be back operational in some hours, not that there's much to do now.

Me: True that. In any case, our consistent stand on Bitcoin's value proposition over that of altcoins appears to have played out more or less as anticipated. While Bitcoin has managed to recover to nearly 70% of its all-time high on this run (and over 66% dominance), before resting about 50% currently, I daresay almost all altcoins have remained down by 80% or more from their ATH, while still bleeding on the Satoshi ratio. But it's not as if all this hasn't happened with the first alt wave, way back in 2014. It's a whole different mentality required for dabbling with alts successfully, I'll leave it at that.

The State Of The Alt

"There's Bitcoin, and then there's shitcoin."

- Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), ibid

It should be clarified here that Facebook's proposed Libra cryptocurrency doesn't belong in the latter category... but only because it doesn't exist as yet. By the way, recall when we professed to be "eager to see how various governments deal with the new sound money" just a couple of months ago? Turns out that we've gotten some big answers since then:

[N.B. Superb follow-up comedy by the Treasury Secretary there too: "I don't think money laundering and nefarious activity has been successfully done with cash". Why, this is golden, people! Move over, Jon Stewart.]

Yup, things are getting serious quickly, with the U.S. Congress demanding public hearings with Facebook over their proposed Libra cryptocurrency (as to why the name, there's speculation that it's a reference to the Winklevii's groundbreaking regulated crypto exchange, Gemini; perhaps a sequel to The Social Network in the making?). With Zuckerberg having apparently tired of the seats in D.C. after his grilling last year, it was David Marcus who had to face the marathon gauntlet this time, testifying first before the Senate, and then the House.

Unavoidably, there was the usual showboating from a selection of the politicos, with more than a few demanding vaguely-defined Yes or No commitments that the Facebook rep had little option but to deflect, and others launching into lavishly-prepared one-way condemnations of Libra and Facebook that brooked no reply (note, I'm not saying that Facebook doesn't deserve it, which is why I have weaned myself almost completely off the platform, save for the odd like and troll post). There was no shortage of posturing on Facebook's end either, as they touted Libra as a remittance method benefitting women, and that they would only have a single vote in the cryptocurrency's managing coalition. Of course, the last time that happened with their Internet access initiative, they were in sole charge pretty quickly.

It was kinda painful watching Marcus dissimulate poorly on why Libra would be based out of Switzerland, since he couldn't very well admit that it was to be out of Uncle Sam's reach. AOC's critique that Libra would be "controlled by an undemocratic selection of largely massive corporations" was unintentionally amusing, given that this also mostly describes the Federal Reserve system. Privacy and censorship concerns aside, though, the main objections boiled down to: why a new currency, and why crypto-currency?

On the first point, it was noted that Facebook's marketing use-case of cheap and fast money transfer doesn't actually require a new currency; services such as Venmo and WeChat already provide such a functionality with the U.S. dollar, Chinese yuan, etc, while possibly earning from the reserve float. As such, it is difficult not to suppose that Facebook's attempt to create a fiat money from fiat is basically a play at appropriating a power that has been reserved for nation-states in the modern era: that of fiat money creation. Sure, Libra will be backed by a basket of major currencies and commodities, but that just means that they will be able to implement monetary policy through adjusting that basket - curiously, likely similar to how Singapore operates.

Having a private entity issue money is not all that uncommon in history, mind - for example, the United States had a Free Banking era in the mid nineteenth century. Methinks Marcus had sneakily dodged a bullet by placing the focus on regulating onramps and offramps; personally, the goal was always to create a self-sustaining financial ecosystem here. Instead of Toshiba having to buy Taiwanese dollars to pay say Microtek for sensors, and buy Euros to pay maybe Bosch for other components, and then have to exchange the American dollars they received for their washing machines back to Japanese yen, all these trades could be conducted in Libra, if it gets big enough; if Toshiba and Microtek and Bosch and thousands of other companies figure that they can just use the Libra that they earned directly on business expenses and inputs, instead of paying exchange fees, one can imagine them maintaining a fair portion of their reserves in Libra.

One question here would be why these companies aren't doing that with the current king - the U.S. dollar - and the answer is that they probably are. However, it can be argued that private companies such as Facebook can be international in a way that countries can't. For one, they have no true dependants (i.e. citizens), and far fewer critical responsibilities. This, indeed, has also been realized by some House representatives, who recognized that "[Libra] may lend [itself] to an entirely new global financial system that is based out of Switzerland and intended to rival U.S. monetary policy and the dollar".

Which brings us to the second point, that Libra isn't actually even a cryptocurrency. Fundamentally, any realistic regulations placed on it, however minimal, would destroy its ability to be open, public and permissionless, properties that the O.G. Bitcoin has preserved to this day. In fact, the nature of such regulations tend to destroy decentralized crypto's advantages over centralized money transfer systems such as Venmo/WeChat, which is part of why we asserted that state-sponsored and/or regulated crypto products would not be able to directly compete with Bitcoin etc, back in 2018 (save for special China logic). But might the U.S. government come to regard Libra and the like as a compromise against true crypto such as Bitcoin? We will see...

Here's to a possible alt-season, but if it doesn't transpire, losing shirts & pants can be an experience too...
[N.B. They're all over the radio again with a pending visit.]

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Saturday, June 29, 2019 - 22:49 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert


I had been planning on a review of Total War: Three Kingdoms, but got my evenings caught up in other unfinished business instead. Having last played Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM) in my secondary school days some twenty years back, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the ASCII-based roguelike had been revitalized with sprite graphics on Steam.

Before continuing, what's a roguelike? Well, from Wikipedia, it's "a subgenre of role-playing video game characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player character". The other elements aren't particularly remarkable, and have persisted in popular RPGs of various stripes such as Final Fantasy, Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Witcher, etc. However, in all these games, character death is rectifiable by simply loading the last save - yes, the final boss might be ridiculous, but victory is nigh-guaranteed with some additional grinding of items and experience levels, or sheer dumb luck in combat. Diablo for one markets their Hardcore permadeath mode as a special challenge. To old-school roguelike players, however, it's just Tuesday.

Okay, there's always the option to savescum - i.e. simulate the normal savegame paradigm of other RPGs - by manually maintaining savefiles in ADOM, but it's against the spirit of the game. The modern paid Steam version of ADOM has introduced a "Story Mode" that allows reloading after death for the newer generation of strawberries, but that takes all the thrill out of it. No, I'm going to play it the classic way - when men were real men, and were reduced to blubbering wrecks after their pimped-out character representing hundreds of hours of hard work perishes due to a cat running over their keyboard.

Fair warning: the following narration unavoidably involves some spoilers for ADOM, but in fairness, it's unknown whether anyone has legitimately won the game without external help. Could be a fine challenge for a retiree, but I'm not sure if they'll have much of their hair left, before long.

To dip my feet back in, I began with probably the easiest-to-sustain combination: Candle-born Trollish Healer. Surviving wasn't any trouble, but as with all good trolls, gaining experience points was a drag. Also tried out a Dwarven Paladin, before my first serious attempt with a Gray Elven Archer. She got as far as the top level of the Pyramid, before discovering that being surrounded by mummies and jackal demons was no fun. Whoops.

Nonetheless, playing an archer allowed an appreciation of ranged classes in general, following the logic that if hostile mobs can't reach you, then pesky details such as hitpoints and armour becomes mostly irrelevant (until they do, as I realized). Next up was an attempt at combining the best of all worlds, with a Hurthling (i.e. repackaged hobbit/halfling) Wizard. With a racial predisposition towards slinging stones, the plan was to develop this cheap talent together with spellcasting ability. It all went very well indeed, and Baggins reached level 36 (out of a maximum 50) without much trouble. His ignominious end arrived when he tried to shave it too close in learning a new spell whilst Strength of Atlas was expiring, and got crushed beneath his overloaded backpack. That really sucked.

After hammering my face into the keyboard for awhile, I took stock of what I had learnt, and concluded that extending play for more than a couple of hours at a stretch was a major factor - the longer one plays, the more corners get cut, and unnecessary risks start to creep in. Not much of a problem with conventional RPGs, but ADOM's an entirely different beast.

Well, I went for the Small Cave start with a bunch of new Hurthling Wizards after that, but none survived to the High Mountain Village; I washed my hands of the short bastards after running out of LOTR-related names, and rolled up Gimli, the Dwarven Weaponsmith. This is his story.

Gimli's Tinder profile
(Source: gatherer.wizards.com)

With takings not being too swell at the forges thanks to the internecine Gold Wars, I figured I'd have a go at this "saving the world" gig, and packed a couple of my best warhammers for the trip to the Drakalor Chain. It's 2d3 damage in either hand - very respectable. Not to forget the anvil, of course. What would a smith be, without one?

Made my first stop at the sleepy little hamlet of Terinyo, as all the guidebooks advise, and stocked up on a couple of large rations. Briefly pondered heading northwest upon observing all the hurthling footprints on that path, before realizing that none of them came back. Resolved to play it safe in the Infinite Dungeon for early levelling - when in doubt, simply escape upstairs or downstairs. This got me some remarkably sweet gear, including a ring of speed [+0, +4] {+5 speed}, a worn pair of seven league boots, and the quicksilver bracers. Cool, that's the bracers slot sorted, then.

It was all going quite productively, I daresay, and I was building quite the stash of useful knick-knacks in Terinyo... only to find it all gone on my third trip there. My anvil!

"Alrighty, 'fess up, you lads." I told the villagers. "Who nicked all my gear? I'll look the other way if it just turns up - I'm not even here to turn a profit, guys."

Well, there were a lot of shifty looks and denials, but no confessions, though I did note that the resident village fool Yggaz was happily quaffing some primo Black Label whisky. No civic consciousness at all, these peasants. Here I am, trying to save reality as they know it, and they pilfer my stores!

Fine, no point getting worked up over it - got the village elder's quest to learn Bridge Building and Healing, and discovered an altar on the sixth level of the Village Dungeon. Time to farm some piety through live sacrifices! The whole business of luring monsters over the altar to sac them got old quickly, but I kept it up, and eventually successfully got precrowned at character level 11. Basically, suck up to a patron deity enough, and he'll reward you with an artifact. Now, artifacts are typically high-quality items with rare attributes and all, but one of their best properties is that of being indestructible. Unlike many other RPGs, gear in ADOM can be destroyed in normal use, and sometimes at an astonishing rate.

Now the proud owner of the rune-covered halberd "Wyrmlance", I made sure to wield it once in a while to train up some weapons proficiency in polearms. I somehow scrounged up another anvil from somewhere soon enough, together with assorted rings of resistance, and was thus willing to let bygones be bygones. Couldn't learn any spells from the several spellbooks found due to low Literacy skill, very unfortunately, and attempts to procure a blink dog corpse to obtain teleport control failed miserably too, likely due to the lack of the Food Preservation skill. This dropped my alignment down to Neutral from Lawful, luckily repairable through some quick sacrifices.

It was time to venture further, and I sought out the moldy dungeon for the very useful tome of donors, from which I got the very useful death ray and confusion resistances in the first two readings. Unwilling to play pool roulette, I continued farming up better gear, and found a very nice suit of white adamantium full plate armour. Thus encased, I popped over to the Ice Queen Domain - another new area - and couldn't resist clearing the ice statue rooms. Managed to complete the frost jarl quest with some difficulty, which included running like mad from the titans in the greater vault on the fourth level.

One piece of advice here: due to the permanent nature of death in ADOM, it is understandably wise to have a means of reliably avoiding danger, because even the strongest characters can easily get trapped in unwinnable fights. In practice, this tends to be access to either teleportation or invisibility. I had the latter effect available from a ring, which saved my bacon against those twenty-five feet tall freaks out for my ass. Oh, and the cats. Those wild cats and cave lions are allowed to attack you, but slay one of them in self-defence, and the cat lord will eventually seek to claw you to shreds. Completely unfair, I tell ya. Fortunately, being a dwarf with nice armour, I could afford to allow them to wail on me for a few turns.

Next plan of action was to descend the main Caverns of Chaos, to gain the dwarven portal quest, such that I could complete it about when the experience level limit for the Pyramid came around. Managed to stock up on enough stomafilla herbs to last the remainder of the visit in the Big Room, despite not knowing the Herbalism skill. Note to future adventurers, for whom starvation is a looming menace: buy out the stocks of cooked lizards from the ratling traders on the Arena level. They might be an acquired taste, but each one is as nutritious as a standard iron ration, while weighing like thirty times less.

There are almost too many ways to handle the food situation nowadays really, with the Fungal Caves also yielding a guaranteed renewable source through an artifact. I snagged the cornucopia, which additionally granted the Fate smiles and luck intrinsics, and a massive +13 to the Mana attribute. Not that I had managed to learn any spells yet, thanks to poor Literacy scores; worse, since I had raised it above 50, I was unable to get the potion of literacy from the elder as a quest reward, despite protestations that we were all dwarves here.

But fine, what did book-mugging ever do for me anyway? Swinging hammers is where it's at! I had by then upgraded to an adamantium warhammer and shield, and picked up a large eternium hammer with 2d10+10 damage in Darkforge. This, as it turned out, would be my primary weapon for the remainder of this adventure. Darkforge itself was tolerably comfortable, and the one-on-one steel golem duels gave pretty good experience. Completed the Pyramid and dwarven portal quests next, and also the old barbarian's Courage quest; never quite figured out how he keeps track of my kills, when I can't even recall the number myself.

This, as it happened, was also a trying period. Some of my best equipment had gotten destroyed in quick succession, including the seven league boots, my cloak of protection, and even the white adamantium full plate (that last didn't even make much sense - surely there should have been something left to salvage?). I was actually seriously considering quitting the adventuring business due to the indignity of it all, but resolved to at least give the greater vault another go - they're rumoured to usually contain several useful artifacts. Now shielded with Rolf's Saviour, the assorted giants and titans nonetheless remained very tough going... up until I found an unprepossessing gilded amulet. It changed everything.

Recall, hit point (HP) recovery is a major limiting factor to advancement in ADOM. In more forgiving realms, HP either regenerates reasonably quickly, or sources of restoration such as potions are abundant and/or readily purchasable. None of these are true in ADOM. There is no reliable method of getting more healing potions - well, other than maybe some very tedious work with Jharod, and even that has prerequisites - herbs are situational, and natural healing is extremely slow. To put it into perspective, healing a single HP can take many dozens of turns, while a single successful attack from a powerful mob such as a giant can easily take dozens of HP in a turn. One solution, as mentioned, is simply not to get into a position to be hurt, by relying upon ranged attacks and spells. Unfortunately, I had no real recourse to either, and my main body armour at this point - the ancient mummy wrapping - was not particularly impressive in terms of raw protection, despite its many useful intrinsics.

Enter the amulet of indomitable life. In addition to a very good +4 to both DV and PV, and incredible +10 to Toughness (which grants plenty of additional HP at maximum), it regenerates a HP every turn. The quality of life that this single ability grants can hardly be understated. Now, while other gear such as bracers of regeneration grant the same effect, they remain vulnerable to the ever-looming threat of item destruction.

With the amulet, even titans could be taken down in a reasonable amount of time, and clearing the greater vault produced two more artifacts: the circlet of the pure mind and the vibrating rapier, "Hornet's Sting". Now, neither were that impressive as equipment statistically, but +8 Willpower and the (albeit random) ability to teleport remained welcome.

Given this haul, it was time to descend further down the main dungeon, but other that that, I was itching to do some smithing - that's the whole point about being a Weaponsmith, after all. Quite unfortunately, I hadn't managed to locate any forges (other than in Darkforge, which remains a decidedly subpar place to smith, due to the heavy background corruption and annoying mobs). Glod, the resident smith in the Dwarven Village, owned one, but the stingy git would charge 2500 gold a pop for its use. As such, I thought to try the ol' insurance scam of sorts. It goes as follows: the dwarven elder's last quest involves slaying a greater daemon that's been terrorizing the village; it would be sad, therefore, if the daemon slaughtered a certain rent-seeking dwarf in its rampage, no?

And thus the epic duel began - I lured the greater daemon to the forge building, where it somehow ignored Glod - who frankly was an easier target - to flail at me. While it didn't hurt too much, the accumulated damage remained annoying. I had given up on Plan Free Forge and made to end the daemon, when a critically-wounded dwarven guardian staggered out from my blind spot, and expired after impaling himself on my hammer. On cue, the village alarm rang.

Oh, come on.

The penalty for killing a village inhabitant, intentionally or not, was self-proclaimed shopkeeper-turned-lawbringer Waldenbrook summoning muscular dwarves to exact vengeance. The minions weren't much trouble by this point, but shopkeepers can be nasty business, and I wasn't about to stick about to find out. On went the ring of invisibility, and I snuck to visit the dwarven elder to get his opinion on my accidental manslaughter. Turns out, he understood.

"Oh, accidents happen. Here's your reward, Big Punch, and good luck with saving the world."

"Great, how about calling Waldenbrook off my ass?"

"No can do, he's on a power trip."

"Fine, how about that potion of literacy then? I'll tank the GRE or ACT or whatever test you have, if you need justification."


Well, it was worth a try, I suppose. Now, careful readers might have surmised that I'm of Lawful alignment, i.e. a goody-two-shoes, save for a very brief dip into neutrality. Then, how does the failed Glod manoeuvre - which sounds shady at best - come into this? It turns out that the definition of law is... not always intuitive, in these parts. For example, sneak up and bisect a cutpurse or similar low-life with a sword, and the Lawful deity Morodwyn will be all a-ok with it. In fact, sacrifice the cutpurse on an altar, and you'll get piety brownie points. However, pickpocket the guy? That's naughty.

The loss of Waldenbrook's shop as a buyer of strange items was regrettable, but then he was a bit of a gouger. Given that I had gotten my skill trainings from Bart for the golden gladius, there wasn't much left for me in Dwarftown anyway. I stashed Big Punch and Judge & Jury - as well as my potions of cure corruption - in the cleared Ogre Cave, before searching about the chain a bit more... and found a forge on the second level of a random dungeon near the Gremlin Cave. I pacified the level somewhat and dropped my anvil there, but held off smithing for lack of good-enough (i.e. eternium) items.

My main concern, at this stage, was whether to try and save Khelavaster. Without an amulet of life saving to hand to him, descending below the 16th level of the main caverns would cause the sage to die, and forfeit his very nice rewards. However, since there's no guarantee that such an amulet - or even a source of a wish - would appear, there was no way to advance the big quest without bypassing Khelly, dead or alive. I decided to go about my crowning earlier than the originally-planned character level 32 (which would have eliminated fire immunity as a possible outcome), and received Perion's mithril plate mail, which gave +19 to PV, and +9 Charisma besides. To be entirely honest, smithed-up eternium plate mail or full plate would likely be superior eventually, but needs must.

Then, great good luck! I had ducked into the crumbling dungeon for one last go at finding a way to preserve Khelly, and found an ordinary ring almost immediately, from a ghost lord. Yep, ring of djinni summoning! Not about to take any chances, I kept the ring under my artifact elemental gauntlets - having freed Griff Bloodaxe for the portal quest already - until I was face to face with Khelly, and wished for the requisite amulet right in his mug. Stashed his reward of scrolls of corruption removal in the Ogre Cave too.

Next on my bucket list was the Tomb of the High Kings for the Eternal Guardian's ring, and not wanting to haul logs down six levels to fail to build a bridge with my crappy skill in that respect, I went looking for a wand of cold. There was one guaranteed in the dungeon of the Ice Queen Domain, but I noped out real quick once an ultimate doppelganger turned up. They're probably the only monster that even the strongest melee fighter really, really doesn't want to fight mano-a-mano, due to their faithful copying of attributes and entirely-unfair percentage-based damage. Thankfully, I found a couple of wands not too long after, built the ice bridge across the piranha lake, and took care of the skeletal king easily enough (yay, circlet and intrinsics)

Given that I was on the surface already, I figured to try the Tower of Eternal Flames next, it being the only elemental temple not sited in the caverns. I had dropped most of my gear in the top level of the caverns, but would quickly lose my cloak of protection and best longbow to the flames. The fighting itself was routine - nothing had been truly challenging since my first attempt at the greater vault in the Ice Queen Domain - though I was surprised by a tension room of, get this, frost giants. How does that even make sense?

Digging across to the temple proper on the top floor was easy enough with high Mining skill (a dwarven specialty), and I was soon face to face with the big nasty - the Ancient Chaos Wyrm. I had quite sensibly been fighting around a corner to avoid the wyrm's energy blasts, but there was no chickening out now, and I first smashed a potion of blindness on its face, to hopefully buy a few free attacks. Time for Wyrmlance to show its power, I figured, and gingerly stabbed with the pointy end...

One hit kill.

Huh, that was a bit of a downer. Now, to get what I came for. I stepped around the corner, and was immediately met by a deluge of fire blasts from the wyrm's underlings, which happened to cook its corpse; by the time I took another step to the corpse itself, it had been destroyed by the blasts. Kind of humiliating, to be honest. Not like it'll have to live it down, though. Grabbed the Chaos Orb of Elemental Fire and immediately equipped it for a +10 Strength boost, and scooted back to the caverns at character level 30 to prepare for the big dive. Drank a potion of insight to track my intrinsic status, and confirmed that I had all the important resistances, as well as shock immunity from the crowning. Looking forward to the Blue Dragon Caves already given that and Wyrmlance, then.

My cat-avoiding patience would finally run out in the dwarven graveyard while searching for the Water Temple, after getting teleported into a mass of mobs. Couldn't be helped. Smashed the Snake from Beyond, and ate its corpse for +4 Dexterity and Mana, and two corruptions: mouth tentacles and shrouded eyes. Technically, neither were particularly bad, but I didn't want to run around with Appearance at 1, given how it affects further corruption nowadays. Popped back to my Ogre Cave stash to consume a couple of mushrooms of purity to remove these afflictions.

Spotted a non-hostile ki-rin in the Eternal Guardian level, with the Guardian allowing passage upon verifying the ring. Had faced down a diamond golem, which turned out not to be that scary after all, and also a tension room of shadow wyrms, where a dropped potion of gain attributes got fried before I could react. Reminded myself once again to fight around corners wherever possible.

Checked out the Integrated Resort shop below the Eternal Guardian level, but unfortunately didn't spot any item of particular interest, even after identifying a number of promising prospects. I didn't want to bother with amassing cash at this point either, and soon descended further, to discover an altar on the next level, and a forge after that. Extremely convenient, given the shortcut to the surface via Darkforge about here.

Popped up to retrieve the crown of science - not that I had much use for it - and attained character level 32 and intrinsic fire immunity after killing an ancient black dragon on D:33. An ancient blue dragon would drop a wand of destruction too, and some chaos knight dropped an ultra-heavy eternium plate armour weighing 1920 stones, along with other sweet loot like eternium boots and green truesilver plate. Polished off the bunny master quickly with teleportation, and found the cat lord generated neutral, which was something of a relief.

Finally, it was time to do some smithing! Being too lazy to retrieve my anvil from the other dungeon, I bought one for about 30k gold pieces from the Integrated Resort, and melted my collected spare eternium gear into a few dozen ingots, with the ultra-heavy plate yielding fifteen by itself. This allowed me to smith up my eternium boots from [+0, +5] to [+6, +10], which was probably enough to have me favour it over the seven league boots, had that survived.

This done, I decided to finish up the remaining useful surface quests, while farming wilderness chaos knight encounters for more eternium in passing. Completed the Blup quest - though I neglected to receive the trident anyway - and gave up on Barnabas ever restocking. Said hi to Khelavaster and some guilty villagers in Terinyo, with Yggaz swapping my three potions of booze for healing this time - but given he's supplied me with at least one potion of gain attributes, I guess I can't be too disappointed. Received the Unicorn quest and completed it easily save for a 110 damage critical hit, and unexpectedly found a map fragment from a random lizardman encounter.

Time for the final descent, then. I smithed up a recently-found eternium girdle from [+0, +4] to [+6, +8], and after replacing my girdle of strength, I was walking about with a PV of 83. Gave up replacing the doors to the forge after awhile, but took some pleasure in slaying an intruding cave tiger, without the cat lord to worry about. Found a cavernous level below the cat lord level, and hammered a titan down without resorting to backing up. There was a lesser golem vault on D:38, where I made character level 34 after disposing of more titans, eternium golems, and a karmic dragon.

The Air Temple was on D:40, which was uneventful but for the loss of another very good cloak. I was running out of skills to raise by this time, and was reduced to raising Literacy, point by painful point. D:38 would have another ultimate doppelganger, which was turned into an ettin and dealt with by potion of exchange. Figured that I might as well learn some spells given my improved Literacy status, and revisited my spellbook stashes around the map, though only a couple of bolt spells, Lightning Ball, Light and Teleport would ever be really used. Grabbed my remaining corruption mitigation scrolls and potions from the Ogre Cave. Had a tad of bother with quickling kings, where I was thankful for having learnt Lightning Ball.

Only about ten dungeon levels remaining. Found and converted another altar on D:41, and sacced some gold to bring piety back up. D:43 had a lesser vault of red dragons, where Wyrmlance happily feasted. Got a spellbook of Cure Light Wounds, which might have been better received had I not gotten the amulet, and also a tract of order from the great red wyrm, Thrunderuxur. Also found a large eternium shield [+11, +7] that was strictly better than Rolf's Saviour, and an eternium warhammer of slaughtering that somehow managed to produce less damage on average than my large eternium hammer. I didn't have too many ingots left for smithing them up, sadly, and so pressed on.

Regained the mists of chaos corruption about this time, and got constantly surrounded by earth elementals and grues in the Earth Temple - but it wasn't as if they could get through my armour's PV rating anyway. Ate the Ancient Stone Beast corpse for +2 Strength, +4 Toughness, and four corruptions that took all my remaining potions to remove. Not sure whether it was a good tradeoff. Reached character level 40 in a greater air elemental room on D:45 for a further +8 Toughness, which had me at some 800 HP, and +156 to-hit, 2d10+81 damage on berserk tactics with my favourite hammer.

More experience delivered itself, with a greater giant/titan vault turned up on the next dungeon level, and level 41 was reached before even really stepping within. Learned Magic Missile and Magic Map from dropped spellbooks, and found a couple of great blue wyrms - Okla & Oondarabadekes - on D:47. Encountered a greater moloch on D:48, but really, they're a cinch as long as there's room to retreat. Get a hit in, immediately retreat, and they'll never get an attack in. Otherwise, they can do hundreds of damage in a single strike.

The end was nearing, with only the Mana Temple remaining at the bottom of the Unreal Cave system, where I gained the bronze skin corruption - one of the better ones, I guess. Got ambushed by greater earth elementals, which turned out much the same as the Earth Temple, and quickling kings - once a real irritation - were zapped with Lightning Balls. Got rid of my first balor for 92k experience, along with another greater moloch. Discovered that I had picked up the mana battery corruption too, which drained all wands when I dropped them in preparation for the Blue Dragon Caves. Having 499 max PP as a consolation wasn't that bad, and I really only needed the wand of destruction by this late stage.

The caves were more varied than expected, what with a ghost king room - their ageing attacks wouldn't trigger against 91 PV, though. A third greater moloch gave me perhaps the biggest scare of the entire adventure here, with a 500 damage critical hit, that had me immediately praying for HP restoration. Surprisingly, giant rust monsters would be just about the only other monsters that could reliably damage me, though at least there wouldn't be any vulnerable worn equipment that could be corroded. Dealt with an ancient karmic dragon with missiles, found, blessed and drank several potions of gain attributes, and read a scroll to get rid of poison hands/bronze bones, before completing Sharad-Waador's quest.

All that Wyrmlance-poking of blue dragons had maxed out my character at level 50, and I moreover found the glowing green cloak "Venom Mantle", which settled my remaining cloak and acid troubles. I had also found a long bow of accuracy (+10, +5), and gathered over 880k gold without even trying, which was really starting to weigh me down. With 23 potions of holy water, I blessed and ate the remaining mushrooms of energy, and blessed all my gear, because why not. Realized that I had forgotten the potions of uselessness, and surfaced to the borderland settlement shop to grab them. Drank three potions and read two scrolls to remove all corruptions but tough scales, which left me with my last two scrolls of corruption removal. Well, no more dallying about - time to complete the Mana Temple, and close the Chaos Gate.

Incongruously, there would be a pet shop selling figurines of wondrous power right before the Mana Temple, and I figured, why not have some fun? Spent about half of the 100k gold that I had kept on a couple of great karmic wyrm figurines, and a greater titan figurine. Summoned the wyrms and greater titan on the Mana Temple level, and predictably got all my PP drained, before managing to get to the entrance proper - but then again, I wasn't a Wizard, so no big deal. Sadly, the greater titan got killed early on due to a misunderstanding over a fireball trap, but the two great karmic wyrms managed to accidentally slay the chaos archmage Nuurag-Vaarn, before I managed to close in myself. Well done, boys!

Sadly, the wyrms were unable to follow me down to D:49, and as such I left them to mop up the Mana Temple. Didn't consume the chaos archmage corpse due to corruption concerns either - simply using all five Chaos Orbs on D:48 gave me the sulphur corrpution once more - and also because extra Mana wouldn't be of much use anyway. Dug around for some rocks to propel myself on D:49, but ended up resorting to arrows, which turned out to be much more effective. The potion of uselessness gift was the bracers of pure might, which conveniently mitigated the corruption issue, and compensated for the loss of the Strength boost from the Chaos Orb of Elemental Fire to boot. Final showdown time!

So, just for the record, I had 1007 HP, 755 PP and 96 PV entering D:50, with 53 DV in berserk mode, and 132 DV in coward mode - not that I had to resort to that. The chaos mutants were mostly a yawn, though they yielded a nice potion of cure corruption, and potion of gain attributes. I wasn't about to take any unnecessary risks, not now, and carefully cleared first the bottom corridor, and then the top, without disturbing the central chamber. It was really kind of anti-climactic, as I was never down by more than about 30 HP at a go.

With both corridors cleared, it was time for the cheese victory. I pulled the bottom lever, and immediately zapped it with my recharged wand of destruction, destroying both the activated lever and a huge chunk of the chamber wall at once. I then teleported to the top lever and repeated the same, before teleporting to the exit. Yeah, I just wanted to record my first win - playing with Fistanarius will have to wait.

World saved, thanks to Gimli! Visited the unicorn glade to clear all remaining corruptions, visited Terinyo one last time, and exited the Drakalor Chain. Memorial file follows, for completeness (realized that I had failed to pick up a bunch of artifacts, such as the lead great axe and Nature's Companion; probably wouldn't have made much of a difference regardless):

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