Sudden torrent of reviewing assignments, but on to another very rapid development that may or may not have relevance to the concern raised in the previous post, on having national assets tied up; just a few days ago, the Chinese Communist Party has officially announced plans to exert control over the country's "private" sector, not that it was ever all that private to begin with (similar to us truly, come to think of it). Well, since it's come to this, we might just pray that our incumbents manage to stay on the right side of the CCP power brokers, and not have our considerable investments there get Suzhou-ed, or rendered effectively illiquid and unwithdrawable.
This comes as GEOTUS goes forward with the WeChat and TikTok bans in America, as decried in The State's Times; the Chinese authorities have apparently pledged retaliation, but as noted by many commentators, what are they gonna do? Ban Google, Facebook and WhatsApp? It's fairly telling that the obvious angle that maybe China should have, like, opened their Internet ecosystem in the first place went entirely unexplored. Of course, there's the argument that the U.S. should not mirror China's policies on banning foreign web services, but Taleb's "dictatorship of the intolerant" would seem to apply in practice here. Consider two largely-equivalent web services, but one is currently available to the entire world, while the other is cut off from 18% of the global population; all else being equal, consumers would tend to be driven to the former service for the convenience of universal access, thus rewarding the initial intolerant behaviour. Well, it might be time for granny to learn how to set up a VPN to perform finger dances?
Perhaps room to do what we do best, i.e. act as the middleman?
(Sources: fakewhats.com, fakedetail.com)
For now, TikTok's parent ByteDance has fled to Singapore together with Tencent and Alibaba etc., but our very intelligent leaders might well be feverishly contemplating the amount of business and largesse it would be prudent to accept in the opening salvos of Cold War II, and this is without going into whether these injections of funding would actually create jobs for locals - currently a very big sticking point in domestic discourse. On this, the breathtaking spin of The State's Times merits closer examination: a Page Four article has highlighted the woes of foreign graduates of local universities in finding jobs, with the proximate cause raised in the opening sentence as due to "raised minimum salaries for hiring foreigners"; the rather more substantial factor, that we're in a bloody pandemic with job support schemes having wound down, and everybody being affected by the Wuhan flu outbreak, was glossed over.
This, by the way, follows a piece on how "Singaporeans don't deserve Piyush Gupta", which has been making the rounds on social media, especially amongst incumbent supporters. The main thrust appears to be that Singapore needs the best talent regardless of nationality, and asserts that the country will decline - no, has already declined - due to a supposed bias towards local CEOs: "A host of Singapore Inc. companies run by real, born-in-Singaporeans - Singtel, Keppel Corporation, Sembawang, SPH, Singapore Exchange etc. etc. are all floundering right now and yet nobody turns the story on its head and asks, 'hey, what are our own people doing for us?' It is these companies that are shrinking right now. Go read the share price of each of these companies over the past two years - they have been on permanent decline long before the pandemic. Singapore is in serious trouble. They are broken, every single one of them and it's a topic that requires urgent parliamentary debate."
On that point, the (accurate) Reddit response was that all these failing Singapore Inc. companies had the incumbents' army cronies parachuted in though global talent searches that somehow always conclude with re-hiring SAF's finest, so what could one expect (and on Sim Wong Hoo being "smothered with love" by the authorities... well, I guess my take on this differs)? In any case, netizen outrage has tended to be based on the government and its apologists liking to dodge the real issues by promoting such articles - having good foreign CEOs and top management, fine, but why is the nation being run such that 70% of created jobs go to foreigners? Are there really no Singaporeans capable of taking up all those desirable entry-to-mid-level openings in finance (with attested cases where no locals were hired at particular banks for years), without resorting to "linguistic chicanery"?
And now the FTs are starting to complain about other FTs...
The way I see it, however, the explanation is actually quite simple, if one takes a cold, hard and unsentimental look at Singapore's economy. There was honestly not all that much choice. While it appears fashionable to spout phrases such as "deep tech" and "innovation" in recent times, the fact remains that our growth engine has remained fundamentally warm-body arbitrage on geographic advantage and relative political stability. In this model, cheap labour is imported en masse both to do the work (manufacturing remains 20% of national GDP, mind), and as a critical driver of demand. As supporters of this strategy are wont to crow, foreign workers and PMETs eat at our hawker stalls, patronize our shops, and rent our flats too! Of course, an immediate implication is that productivity and efficiency naturally takes a back seat, but on the other hand, how many landlords does a deep learning A.I. support?
This observation ties neatly into the designation of local property (prices) as the citizenry's retirement nest egg, also from the last blog entry. Following this logic, property prices die die cannot drop by any significant extent. These property prices fundamentally require (a large and increasing) population to support. However, very conveniently, the government can induce such demand through allowing more immigrants and foreign workers at a whim, while expending basically zero effort or "innovation". Do you think that any ruling party would willingly abandon such a golden goose?
The PM has tried to reason that the government would not create jobs for foreigners if it doesn't benefit Singaporeans, which the online bunch have rebutted by noting that the influx benefits some Singaporeans far more than others, i.e. the higher-SES employer/landlord/capitalist set who thrive on lower wages and expanded demand, as opposed to employees and the working class, who endure the competition for some vague assurance that the rising tide will eventually float their boats. Actually, I do sort of understand the incumbents' logic here, and quite like growth and new developments myself; however, given that the big plan seems to more or less be "let's import twenty to thirty thousand extra workers every year!", it's perhaps not unreasonable for voters to eventually go "fine, we agree, but let's maybe get another party to implement it then, because cheaper faster better!"
Personally, I suspect that some incumbent politicians are secretly itching to just admit the reality, as certain more-charismatic straight-talkers - whether sterner ones like LKY (who really stuck the spurs in with references to "coolie genes"), or nicer ones like TRUMP (who would at least have promoted "Singapore First") - might have: "CB lah, limpeh agah swee swee every year take in 30,000 new kaki forever, new money new customer new kah kia, comprain what comprain? Later HDB resale price go down, you can tahan? Tolong lah, we also kena squeeze until jialat jialat outside, we got Amaravati-ed just last year, tell you all f**k you all even f**k also dun want, now fertility rate 1.14, no new taxpayer, what you want us to do?"
You see this marker? Marker placed by Deng Xiaoping.
Deng very smart man, never poke GEOTUS. Be smart, be like Deng.
One consolation is that at least some better-informed locals appear fairly clear-eyed about the predicament we're in, if the fresh r/singapore thread on the brewing U.S.-China conflict is anything to go by, with the more-decisive fellows long taken concrete action (not that I necessarily agree) having sensed the way the wind's blowing. I do think that the U.S. has gone too far in certain respects, though. We worked very hard to build our money-laundering hub! It's modern, upscale, very class, one of the best money-laundering hubs in the world, okay? Why would anybody risk doing business in some rickety underground gambling den in Myanmar or the Philippines, or some disreputable offshore junket boat, when he could perform his laundering in comfort and luxury at our purpose-built hubs? We are a honest, legitimate and non-discriminating money-laundering hub, and it's just bad manners for the U.S. Department of Justice to poke their noses in our affairs!
There's been quite a bit of settling-in and getting in on projects at the new gig, all those reviews aside, but a bit of time has opened up. First off, some local coverage. It appears that there may be a drive to disallow one's CPF from being used to help pay for one's housing, which relates to the "population and property Ponzi" raised in the previous blog post - I hope it evident that "property prices can only go up (in real terms)" is patently implausible (in the long run, at least), as first illustrated here in 2012, and revisited in 2017 (which is also about the period when The State's Times finally deigned to model leasehold depreciation): how the heck can an asset with a finite lease, only get ever more expensive?
One might, of course, understand this trend from another perspective - that of the CPF (i.e. purportedly retirement) funds being tacitly redirected to the service of the Government('s investment vehicles), which I believe is more commonly termed as "pension raiding" - though this is probably more benign than the usual. The general mechanism would be similar to that which allowed college tuition costs to balloon in the U.S.: once you restrict access to a pot of money solely for some purpose (e.g. education, property), it's no surprise that the price of that asset or service goes up, whether justified or not, especially if that same authority can control its supply (clearly true for Singapore property)
Now, local property policies have arguably been a net benefit for the populace thus far, in that previous generations enjoyed price appreciation above and beyond what they would have garnered, had they left the funds in the CPF. Sure, the median worker might have had to labour incrementally more years to afford the same apartment, but as long as he figured that this dance was continuing (i.e. he could pass-the-parcel on), there was no real cause for complaint. It should be remembered that those vehemently against high property prices online may after all statistically be a relatively small percentage of the population as compared to those already on the property ladder, and it's interesting to note how quickly one's attitude can shift, the moment he signs a mortgage.
The motivations for such a policy are understandable - a government does need some pocket money, after all, if it is not to be arbitrarily held ransom by outside forces. Viewed this way, the higher-than-absolutely-necessary public housing prices were a means towards raising an initial developmental nest egg, which is alright to an extent, I suppose. The trouble, of course, then comes when it becomes evident that prices can get high enough to be untenable, coupled by the population not reproducing sufficiently to create a large-enough next batch of
Having close to a third of those national savings locked up in what's essentially a one-party state-controlled economy can get stressful, I suppose, and as such we might forgive the incumbents for 5v1 ganking Jamus for free-riding on a minimum wage proposal (though Tharman did have a point in noting that the WP didn't have a monopoly on compassion). We should perhaps empathize with the PM's protectiveness and anxiety over the reserves (if perhaps not the supposed inseparability of party and government) too; as Cold War II develops, it's far from unlikely that smaller nations discover that assets they thought were theirs, become negotiable.
Anyway, back to cross-disciplinary studies, the president of NUS has followed up with a piece about tearing down subject silos, which as also acknowledged, has been mostly less than well-supported in universities, where being known as "interdisciplinary" has oft been a kiss of death, due to being far less likely to earn departmental champions for funding and support, or appreciation in established journals (by the way, R.I.P. to anthropologist-economist-sorta David Graeber, whose Debt: The First 5,000 Years I enjoyed, with some reservations). Then again, it could be argued that many recognized fields nowadays, were cross-disciplinary in their time - one imagines pure mathematicians sneering at second-rate talents who spent their time pondering how rocks fell.
There's been quite a lot going on lately, which explains the lack of updates, foremost of which has to be my first job outside of the university (sorta, since I've managed to maintain an adjunct position for the time being). This in turn necessitated turning up in long sleeves and tie, a thoroughly alien look; that said, other than the slight discomfort (I suppose I could always loosen the tie), I have no real gripe against dress codes - it was more that a more... casual ensemble had been more reflective of a "computer guy". Let's say a plumber turned up in three-piece suit and derby hat; sure, he might be dapper, but myself, I'd go with the guy in functional overalls, sensible work cap and optional walking mushroom, thanks.
Certainly, there is another line of thought that "fashion is not something one does for their own sake", and that "people who stop caring about how others see them become self-satisfied, and besides, manners are very important" - and indeed (and frankly, mildly to my dismay), it does seem that apparel and appearances might have a slightly outsized effect on treatment received (see: jaw-dropping Photoshopping and blowhardry by a sorta-shady firm going for a takeover of Newcastle United, to the extent that one wonders how they ever thought they were getting away with it)
In any case, the local fitness trainer-turned-Grab driver whom ferried me after that session was kind enough to congratulate me on my new job, and there would be a nice chat about the country's economic direction, in which he expressed the hope that Singapore could remain "Asia's Switzerland" - but more on that in the future. About this, the current employment doldrums have seen various ministers defending our longstanding policies allowing relatively-lax movement of labour, which has however (justifiably) taken a protectionist turn, with an incumbent MP actually going as far as to remark that he "felt like a foreigner in my own country", after visiting a certain infamous business park.
Unfortunately, there's no quick and easy fix, since there's always been a bit of a population and property Ponzi going on, so I expect basically more of the same despite all the requests for "heart-to-heart (national?) conversations". And, as noted by an astute Redditor, this pattern of behaviour encourages voting against them - return a strong mandate, and it's business as usual, lose a GRC or two, and popular voices start getting heard. Well, I suppose it can't be helped.
Anyway, the constant excuse of having to import talent due to a local shortage has been diagnosed to be poor planning by some, with particular reference to computer science and IT (which was honestly not too far from being a dumping ground, around my undergraduate days). This has led to calls for the government to refocus on those subjects, to the extent of making computer science compulsory in secondary schools, but IMHO this might be making the same old mistakes again (just interview all those lured into the life sciences from about the same period, without going into how those in the know are observing a saturation in hyped-up areas such as machine learning in the near future)
On this, my take is that cross-disciplinary studies (as belatedly getting pushed by the university) towards solving real problems is probably the way to go; as Dilbert cartoonist and prophet of the GOD-EMPEROR Scott Adams notes, he's not a very good artist, nor a very good writer, nor even that outrageously funny - but the combined and comparatively-unique talent stack of being good enough in them all has brought him global fame, visionary wisdom and an all-around good life - so what's to hate?
Me: *shakes head upon umpteenth time of PC suddenly freezing up* This is it, then. I need a new computer. What do you lot think?
Mr. Robo: *installs halo above head* Okie-dokie, human! You earned this! It's for your work anyway! Well, mostly.
Mr. Ham: *brandishing trident languidly on other shoulder* Sure, knock yourself out. See if I care.
Me: Wait, aren't you guys supposed to be in opposition, or summat? Like, Mr. Robo tells me it costs too much, and Mr. Ham encouraging the profligacy? Or Mr. Ham saying no to prolong the suffering, while Mr. Robo argues against it?
Mr. Ham: We're dwarf hamsters, human. We don't really bother about such things, it's your money anyway, unless it's earmarked for my food, in which case it's my money and... hey, I could always do with more money. Don't buy it.
Me: Alright, down to Sim Lim Square I go, while it's still around.
Mr. Ham: Fine, at least I didn't get flattened this time.
Long story short, all reasonable efforts to live with and/or rectify the PC situation had gone badly, and since I couldn't rule out that any of the existing components weren't the issue - and, let's face it, we all love the lightning-fast feel of a spanking new install - it was time to splurge abit:
With a new copy of Windows 10, and S$30 for full hardware assembly and installation (I brought my existing hard drives along), because, well, I needed it fairly urgently. Kudos to Fuwell, they nearly managed to get it done same-day despite my visiting in the early afternoon, and were only stymied by my original choice of the Silencio S600 case not having sufficient 3.5-inch drive bays (four were promised, but one was a behind-backboard mount that was impossible due to the thickness of the drive [I thought these had a standard form factor?]). This was frankly a regression from my existing Silencio 652s, about which I had no complaints other than there being less room for wiring behind the backboard, than might have been ideal. On this, the Fractal Define 7 has won me over big time.
On the transition, most of my settings and projects could be successfully reconfigured (darn all those Visual Studio parameters), and it's probably good to restart with a clean slate, once in a while. And, as it turned out, the trouble was likely with my SSD system drive - solid state drives have blazing speeds, true, but it appears there are no warnings when they begin to fail. The new Transcend M.2 does come with an SSD Scope utility that might help to mitigate this, together with occasional CrystalDiskInfo checks.
It was also a good time to leave out stuff that may no longer be needed, and after studying online feedback on antivirus software, I've decided to entrust the system to the default Windows Defender, all the more as my old antivirus was getting naggy. I suppose there're little tips like backing up one's environment variables, but really, a clean Windows install can be such a joy to work with. Storage wise, I see myself increasingly relying on external enclosures, which should hopefully minimize fiddling with internal connections.
What's It Good For?
The sole President's Scholar for the year (due to a change in practice by the PSC on announcing only recepients who will be pursuing their studies immediately, thus postponing it for the guys doing National Service) will be doing her degree in linguistics at Brown, which had netizens scratching their heads at, well, the field's utility (with EDMW further being EDMW, though with scattered amateur analysis of their own). Fortunately, there were at least some who lauded her taking the path less travelled, and having just gotten a Masters in it, I'd have to say that a degree is pretty much what one makes of it; it's surely not too hard to coast through many programs for the piece of vellum, without absorbing much of anything.
I should really do a more in-depth review of those courses someday, yes, but offhand, language has been how humanity interfaces with one another, and if one specializes in the right subdomains, there are probably some pretty lucrative jobs dealing with acoustics and speech, especially in FAANG-type companies. Or yes, the graduates could always become teachers; a fine calling that's extra-stable, as far as I know. Even legendary football managers such as Ferguson have a literary side to them, one recognizes.
The study of linguistics, moreover, allows one to understand how language trailblazers such as the current POTUS introduce or popularize extant variation (like, I always thought that one refers to the Thai people, and not the "Tai" people, for starters), while taking time out from brokering historic peace accords in the Middle East, raising US$30k for a Jewish museum with another innovation, and musing the possibility of compulsory bilingualism in America. How can one man do so much? By the way, I'd completely lose it if HIS TRUMPNESS responded to AOC's challenge to release his college transcripts after his calling her a "poor student", by offering to show his bank records for that period instead ("Yeah, I was a heckin' rich student, no question about that")
Completing the circle, this brings me to why I like computers - tell a computer something through a program, and the computer works the same for everyone through its interpreter; computer don't care if you're white or black or brown or yellow or green with pink polka dots, it doesn't care if you're prince or pauper, male, female or otherwise. The computer kicks all their asses equally if they make a mistake, such as misplacing a semicolon. However, on the other hand, if one is careful and precise and keeps to the agreed-upon rules, the computer doesn't hold grudges - it does what one expects, now and forever (or, at least, until the next major compiler update). Can't ask for much more than that, in the current affirmative milieu. To clarify, I'm not even that against less-advantaged segments of society receiving a leg up in admissions, but once evaluations begin to get touched, well, I can't be for that.
To start off with, some follow-ups on past predictions: firstly, Joe Biden has just announced Kamala Harris as his running mate, in fulfilment of our March projections that she could just lie low and get on the ticket based on her quite wonderful intersectionality credentials. This didn't go over particularly well with the progressive Reddit bunch, all the more given that she's been a particularly merciless prosecutor, in the current ACAB climate on the left. The choice was made only the more awkward by Harris being one of Biden's greatest detractors on segregation during the debates, and believing that Biden had committed sexual assault, but then again he's not her usual demographic for throwing into the clink, and what are some minor indiscretions when they're in the way of the second-highest office in the land? In any case, the stage has been set (and records scrubbed), although EDMW commentators for one have some pretty incisive assessments of this team.
A very woke and based Kanye West is concurrently working hard to get on the ballot in swing states, with assistance coming exclusively from generous Republicans (though Kanye's confident with write-ins alone), because it's not like the Democrats have been particularly enthused about Blacks thinking for themselves (or even capable of being diverse, according to their presidential candidate). GEOTUS for one is relishing the challenge, and while Kanye has confirmed that his objective is to siphon votes from Biden (as offered last month), my take is that Biden should perhaps read the room, and gracefully back out so as not to split the Kanye vote.
Geopolitically, Iran's nuclear enrichment plant and various military and industrial sites have gone boom, most likely at the hands of Israel as foreshadowed in January, because some developments are foreseeable like that (and if one reads the correct subreddits, there are not entirely unwarranted rumblings about the Beirut explosion being an Israel-Hezbollah affair, as later affirmed by the Lebanese president; pity the common people though). The CANZUK Anglophone alliance suggested in the same post also seems to be drawing closer, what with joint statements being released on human rights in Hong Kong, along with the United States. Our Foreign Minister and Trade and Industry Minister appear to have understood that there's no going back to the old days now, with an acknowledgment that the current status quo is probably not a net benefit to America, as also pointed out in January. Still, the tightrope-walking continues, if with the State's Times cooling down on the foreign propaganda, as with the New York Times.
Just a short round-up on the local elections, after the worst of it has cooled down (i.e. the flood of police reports towards the end). It was mostly as-foreshadowed here - largely status quo, with Chad Jamus into Parliament via a cheering Sengkang GRC, because let's be honest here: is being described as a "lite" version, actually bad in these belt-tightening days? I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds like an invitation to obtain most of the performance, for half the price (further significance later). How many wouldn't want in on that deal?
Y'all know the results, no doubt: after all the muzzling of clever high school students (who famously and accurately MAGA2016-ed), personal attacks and not-so-subtle hinting at the necessity of a strong mandate (with CCS the victim of another leak on taking advantage of another crisis like they did LKY's passing), the incumbents were confronted with one of their lowest vote shares ever (61%), with the WP entrenching themselves in Aljunied GRC, and moreover taking Sengkang GRC to boot. Not only that, they came within a whisker of losing both the West and East Coast GRCs - the former to hypebeast uncle Tan and his merry band - with the SDP continuing to crawl towards general respectability, and perhaps finally a seat.
In the aftermath, the parties that missed out have begun selling their posters and mashed potatoes to help make ends meet, while perhaps brushing up on their second-language diction (but seriously, some kudos to Charles Yeo there for daring to take the podium; was slightly taken aback when the WP skipped the Mandarin debates due to self-admitted inadequate proficiency. Yeo then got more bonus points for calling out the "158 ranked state media" for FAKE NEWS). Others, like Jamus who really shone in the debates (with some detractors), will now have to carry on from having one's heart's cockles warmed (trivia: a phrase utilized here not all that long ago), to delivering on promises.
The incumbents cannot have missed the writing on the wall, that said - blatant gerrymandering and upgrading carrot/sticks are unlikely to continue being effective, and a problem with the GRC system is that, if it allows a party to claim 90% of the seats with just over 60% of the votes, that same party could be shut out with a bare 10% of the seats with 40% of the votes. Sure, this may not happen the next election, or even the one after that, but as Dr. Catherine Lim and others have noted, the current scholar-eunuch toe-party-line culture of the PAP has become totally uncool, and let's just say that New York Times-style FAKE NEWS propaganda and spin is beginning to turn quite a lot of people off, from what I've observed.
Don't worry too much about phonetical accuracy in translating names, the semantics are probably rather more important
[N.B. Maybe an app to do this phonetic-semantic balancing one day?]
On this, the incumbents appear to have conceded an olive branch of sorts, in formally designating WP chief Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition, which comes with staff support, a doubled allowance and additional parliamentary privileges (which will hopefully allow him to veto responses such as "what is the point of this question?"). Singh wasted no time in handling the subject of the allowance by pledging to donate the extra to the poor, which while not quite at the level of GEOTUS TRUMP yet, remains well worthy of applause. This act was coincidentally followed by the PM's wife pointing out that many have donated privately, and the PM adding an appeal for public officials to be paid what they're worth, to prevent them from camouflaging their compensation. Fair enough, one supposes, but as one wit figured: what about the Second Lady, then?
Anyhow, the incumbent party are left with a number of headaches, one of the largest of which must be their succession plan. This had notably never been much of a problem, because recall the circumstances of our three Prime Ministers thus far: the incomparable LKY was, of course, LKY, then we simply needed a competent fellow to keep the seat warm for awhile, before the current PM could ascend (who, as the elder Lee was wont to say, would have certainly gotten the post earlier had they not been related, a verdict definitely untainted by a father's love). This triumvirate of the Father, the Son and the Holy Goh has kept Singapore floating up till today, whatever else what one might say.
The big problem is that a clear option has not presented itself, as coffeeshop talk has it. Supposedly, Heng's nice and smart and a team player (evidenced by him taking the East Coast bullet) and all, but one can't shake the feeling that he might be eaten alive by the sharks on the international stage, without going into how he's holding a mere three-plus percent margin in his constituency (but, at least, he's got The Plan for that). CCS, the other favourite, seems to have more "seh" and be somewhat more decisive (keechiu!), but also seems to have his fair share of detractors (all those leaks!)
Amonst the dark horses, there's Tharman for a one-term bridge as always, but he has said he doesn't want it, the current DPM has said that elderly locals aren't ready for him, and he's busy carrying Jurong GRC by himself anyway (on Ivan being presented as part of the winning team, I can kind of see the logic there - as assurance that the party won't just dump its members). Going further, there's TCJ, who's been whispered to be just a little too religious maybe, and probably not enough of a party man anyhow. Lawrence Wong has been mentioned on and off, and Balakrishnan might have had a shot at going the Obama route - but being viewed as condescending doesn't play well these days. Then again, foreign affairs is probably where all the action will be at, for the forseeable future...
Because make no mistake - it might not feel so yet, but this is almost certainly the most dangerous period the nation has had to weather, since our independence in 1965. There were the Brits for a few years after that, then a hop over to the Yanks, and then coasting as the third point in a triangle with America and China afterwards. I'm not saying that it was easy - there were plenty of little nudges and shoves - but nothing that was irreconcilable, because the giants were making nice (and profits hand over fist), after all. For the first time in our history, this is likely not to apply any longer, and those that insist on clinging to old ideas of how the world should work, might find themselves re-learning many very hard truths about realpolitik and the position of tiny city-states within such, from scratch.
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