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Monday, June 10, 2019 - 19:14 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Mixed Bag

"In a country as rich as Singapore with no absolute poverty, economic inequality just means some people have become richer than others..."

- Brook & Watkins, for The State's Times

Gee, I suppose the stubborn refusal to define a poverty line might have helped justify the bold assertion on a total lack of absolute poverty from the Ayn Rand Institute here. The libertarians did make their point about how inequality might not be undesirable as long as everyone gets by, but the ease with which that last assumption got accepted was bemusing nonetheless. This did at least get questioned in the forums, which pointed out Prof Tommy Koh's indirect acknowledgement of absolute poverty in last year's IPS conference - coincidentally, the one in which he skewered The State's Times for biased reporting.

Tellingly, the above article came right as a couple of local Catholic churches announced that they were allowing homeless to bunk in for the night - which could be interpreted both ways in the existence of absolute poverty debate. The move towards mixing residents of varying economic statuses in the same block is probably a step in the right direction - and as it turns out, it doesn't even cost much if anything to zhng one's HDB flat to condo standards. Automated bicycle storage may however be an example of public sector funding inefficiencies - how many are there willing to cough up S$48 a month for vaulting their bike? At that pricing, they could get a whole new bike every few months, and it's not like they get the convenience of islandwide availability either, as was the case with the mostly-exited rental services.

As it turns out, trying to help the needy out can be a thankless task here, from how an undergrad's initiative to collect five-cent coins got roundly panned. But, as the government's selling: does a problem even officially exist, if one simply chooses not to own up to it?

Money Management

After receiving a call from a DBS representative touting their Multiplier account some weeks back, I agreed to meet up with him to go over the terms & conditions. The lure was tantalizing - rather than a paltry 0.05% p.a. interest on a regular savings account, the Multiplier account offers up to 3.80%! Given that I had been familiar with poor fixed deposit rates of 2% or less from a decade or so ago, I could not help but be curious about the catch here. As it turns out, there are a few.

Firstly, the interest rate applies only for the first S$50000 (recently extended to S$100000, with some further conditions). Secondly, the maximum 3.80% interest rate applies only if over S$30000 in transactions are made per month, with four conditions being met: salary crediting (compulsory), and three of credit card spending, mortgage payments, insurance and investments. If the transaction volume is lower, or if fewer than three of the optional conditions are met, the interest applied decreases accordingly.

From this, the bank's intentions might be deduced: the generous interest offered is a loss leader for their ancillary services, in particular insurance & investments. Consider the analogy: if one spends on something he doesn't really need, just because of the generous cashback on his credit card, does he really benefit? Note that the maximum interest obtainable per annum - S$3650 from an effective 3.65% interest rate - can realistically only be obtained by taking out some mammoth policies; from another direction, how many people chasing interest on S$100k, naturally spend over S$30k a month?

That said, Singaporeans are, if nothing else, always up for maximizing offers; the relevant EDMW thread has tons of tips on how to best exploit the system, which extends to cycling cheap term insurance policies yearly to satisfy the insurance component. Others seem to have been suckered into dabbling with equities for the investments component, at which I can only imagine some smug moustache-twirling from the bankers. Like, the additional bonus interest from the second S$50000 for a third category is but S$150 a year; it may not be nothing, but does optimization to that extent make sense?

Well, it wasn't as if the representative was much interested in selling me term insurance at any rate, as it quickly became apparent that he was angling more a more lucrative whole life-type signup, same as the rest of them. In any case, the unsuccessful spiel concluded with the revelation that an in-person meeting was not, after all, necessary for account activation - that could be achieved via the i-banking app. Fair deal for an extra thousand or so a year, I'd say.

Virtualization Marches On

In another blow to the physical (e.g. land, retail space, electronic hardware) as commodity, Google has announced its Stadia cloud gaming-as-a-service. Before this, gaming had arguably driven much of the computer hardware market, most significantly with graphic processing unit (GPU) cards, but also other components such as RAM and the CPU - the everyday user running Word and Excel would probably do just fine with a PC from fifteen years ago, really. And this is before we get to the pricey dedicated consoles: the Xboxes, PlayStations, Nintendoes etc, that get obsoleted every so often.

Enter Google and the age of abundant fibre bandwidth. Stadia's approach is for Google to deal with all the hardware headaches invisibly - no more agonizing about whether to upgrade GPUs or consoles. Instead, all users have to do is to connect to Stadia via Chrome (they've implemented Remote Desktop directly as a Chrome tab recently, which I'd suspect is related), and select a game (which also eliminates installation, compatibility and disk space headaches). Any user instructions (e.g. keystrokes, mouse clicks) are then sent to the Stadia servers for interpretation (greatly reducing hacking opportunities), with the full HD screen output streamed live back to the user, kind of like with Netflix.

Let's view this development in light of the last big leap in games distribution: Valve's Steam. Launched back in 2003, Steam was itself driven by bandwidth availability, after they realized that having customers download games, instead of buying them on a CD-ROM, was feasible. The benefits were clear: no more worrying about losing physical CDs, and far less bother with bug fixes and patch applications. Unsurprisingly, Steam's rise and dominance has led to the impending demise of brick-and-mortar games retailers such as Gamestop, who seem destined to go the way of Blockbuster.

Retail hardware such as GPUs and consoles remained afloat, though, since Steam merely distributed the software, and required the processing to be done locally. This is no longer the case with Stadia, and if their cloud gaming paradigm takes off, one would expect the end of the retail hardware market, since all users would require would be input devices such as a keyboard/mouse/gamepad, and screen.

Personally, I wouldn't have guessed that bandwidth had progressed to this extent, and I'd wager that purists might bemoan the added latency on twitch reaction games (the sort that checks out refresh rates on monitors, at least). The broader issue here would be the increasing trend away from local control; yes, if there's any firm that can sponsor hardware for everyone - Stadia will have a free tier - it's probably Google (see: Gmail). However, this would appear be leading to a world where an individual's data and virtual identity is entirely under the purview of corporate interests. And from how Google has been handicapping ad blockers to safeguard their main revenue stream, I'm uncertain if they can be trusted on this trend.

One thing I'm willing to bet on, though - watch for China to release a Qiuchang clone in a year or two.

Stemcells vs. Organs

The latest outrage for the American set is on the TRUMP administration's curtailing of funding for medical research that utilizes tissue from aborted fetuses, which ties neatly into the whole abortion uproar that's been making the rounds (note: a former Hwa Chong alumni is all for empowerment in this regard). The reaction was expectedly near-uniformly negative amongst the usual Reddit bunch. I reproduce a selection of representative comments here:

"Polio vaccine... was created decades ago via fetal tissue research. Experts estimate that tens of millions - hundreds of millions of lives have been saved due to said vaccines."

"So instead of it being used in research that could save lives, it's going to be discarded. And... this is a victory to pro lifers? I'm honestly perplexed."

"Drumpf's crusade against science is going to cost lives!"

The most pertinent parallel that occurred to me did not, however, warrant a mention - that of organ harvesting from executed prisoners in China; the abhorrence against this is so strong amongst scientists, it seems, that there has been a call for the retraction of over 400 scientific papers over concerns that such organs had been unethically used for research.

The insistence by Chinese authorities that the prisoners were legally condemned to die in any case, and that their organs might as well be put to life-saving use, does not seem to have found nearly as much purchase amongst Redditors; an obvious objection would be that if organ harvesting were officially legitimized - and profited from - then the relevant authorities might just employ the death penalty more freely, to keep up with demand. Indeed, this profit-seeking motive has been observed with the private prison industry in America.

Given this, is it not out of the realm of possibility that a demand for fetal tissue could nudge some medical institutions towards encouraging abortions, more than they would otherwise have had? Whither the distinction between unliving tissue, and unliving organs?

Grants & Tenure

Some interesting recent research from the MIT Sloan School of Management on how academia grants are awarded suggests that "broad" and general terms are positively correlated with better outcomes, as compared to "narrow" topic-specific words. Examples given were "bacteria"/"detection" (broad) as compared to "community"/"health" (narrow). Frankly, I'd have guessed it went the other way around; anyhow, the message of the paper was on gender: female scientists, so it seems, tend to use narrower terms than males, which resulted in lower grant proposal scores. This was deemed a discovery of sufficient impact to have been featured in Nature and Science.

While I have admittedly been unable to access the paywalled working paper itself, my own suspicion is that the division may be less broad/narrow, and more technical/non-technical; I'll be keeping an eye out for the final published version. That said, academia was always supposed to be more a marathon than a sprint - former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has just made tenure at Emory after 37 years there, at the tender age of 94. What's the big hurry, huh?

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Friday, May 31, 2019 - 20:31 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Fingers & Wicks

I'm torn as to whether a spoiler warning is really required for John Wick 3, frankly. You know the guy - lethal with guns, but any sharp object will do in a pinch (don't let him borrow your pencil). Parabellum doesn't deviate from that formula, but starts him off gently against a basketball giant, in unmistakable homage to Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Persona non grata amongst the criminal underworld after having violated Holy Ground à la Highlander regulations in the last instalment, Wick goes on to espouse an admirable dedication to ethnic diversity, by brutally slaughtering a bunch of Chinese gangsters in an antique store, before moving on to Caucasian/Hispanic generic toughs in a stable.

At its heart, however, the John Wick series exists as the greatest tribute to man/dog love since Lassie. Guy gets home-burgled, that's one thing. Vintage ride got stolen? Shrug, this ain't Fast & Furious, and ya gotta take the lows with the highs in da hood. But they shot his puppy?

One implacable murder machine coming, stat.

Our brave Pup Avenger soon finds the going too hot for him, which feeds into his backstory reveal - he's a Belarusian orphan, who happens to have one last ticket to call in from home. He expends it for a boat to Casablanca, where he catches up with an old flame and fellow K-9 admirer, who agrees to arrange a meet-up with her nominal boss, after some cashing-in of blood-oaths. The Master of the Mint dispenses some sage advice (follow the Little Dog star - sure, real subtle there), before shooting one of his visitor's dogs, after being refused it as a gift. Bring back any memories?

Yeah, wasn't a smart move. Much shooty-stabby and groin-gnawing ensues, after which Wick gets dumped in the desert to seek out The Elder, who seems to be the biggest boss of it all. Back in New York, the High Table has sent a suitably-androgynous Adjudicator to express their displeasure at Wick's continued survival (but really, a US$14 million bounty's on the low side for such a legend), and she duly recruits the nearest sushi shop to her cause. Of course, they're all ninjas, and Wick's adoptive mum gets literally stigmatized for her pains. Wick's past acquaintances don't get off easy either, with both Winston and the Bowery King given a week to retire.

The Japanese influence begins to seriously sink in now, as Wick is requested by The Elder to chop a finger off as penance. It soon transpires that the Adjudicator had made a serious miscalculation: she had basically hired the John Wick fan club to kill him. Head sushi chef tries to cozy up with Wick in the Continental, and all but asks him for an autograph. His main underlings have, like, two or three clear openings to slice Wick apart or headstomp him in the following gauntlet, but desist, probably out of fear on what head sushi chef would do to them if they stole his date. A slightly-embarrassed Wick has the decency to spare them in due course, and the final showdown ends with chef fanboy demonstrating proper seppuku form. That's some impressive plot armour going on there.

Well, one doesn't watch John Wick for the realism, so I'll probably be back for the fourth movie (scheduled for two years hence). Myself, I'm pumped for Ip Man 4 next. It's been plagued by the same powercreep problems; our Wing Chun master started out with some no-name Japanese soldier in the first film, went on to a British brawler in the second, and then throws down with freakin' Iron Mike Tyson in the third. It was always gonna be hard to top that - who could they bring in? Dave Bautista? Dwayne Johnson? Captain Marvel?

As it turned out, the producers exceeded all my expectations.

It's Ip Man versus FLAMING GROOT
(Original source: r/movies)

Chart Wicks

Thousand-buck swings
(Source: bitcoinwisdom.io)

The Bitcoin price chart candlesticks and wicks have been burgeoning recently, with the meme US$9000 level again breached yesterday, before immediately creashing back down to US$8000. Mayhaps a little earlier than I had expected, but with Malaysia the latest to propose a return to gold, the case for crypto might be getting more compelling...

Finger Fun

John Wick might have lost a finger, but on the bright side, at least it might save him from being banned for life from stadiums. Yes, that's exactly what the Chicago Cubs did, after one of their fans went all okie-dokie on live television; for that, he might as well have flipped the bird - heck, he probably would have gotten off lighter with that.

The magnificent 4chan trolls are probably rolling on the floor laughing at how their OK sign prank succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings, as they associated a previously-innocuous hand gesture with white supremacy through some cleverly-positioned social media campaigning, amply aided (as they had expected) by the PC outrage mob:

One doesn't achieve this level of trolling without much practice
(Source: twitter.com)

Emboldened by their flawless victory, said glorious trolls are targeting the Twitter hashtag next; having dubbed it the Fashtag with a convincing reconstruction of its fascist origins, the Internet's greatest troll machine is currently working its MEME MAGIC, with Twitter shareholders at their absolute mercy. But why stop there? Indeed, there have also been rumblings of WP in Trudeau's yoga pose (the arms form the W, and the legs the P, you can't unsee it), as well as the double V for Victory sign (they obviously come together to form a W). No pointing or knife-handing either, because they reference the 14 Words.

Who knew having fingers could be so complicated?

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Saturday, May 25, 2019 - 21:59 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Future Peek

In the interests of rehabilitating my reputation slightly (but not really), this blog post will be about improving the world - and in serviceable ways, mind. Fittingly given that this was written on Vesak Day, the first item on the menu is plant-based meat, with Our Most Successful Investment Firm having picked the right horse for once with their backing of Impossible Foods, who are rolling out their burgers locally to rave reviews.

The environmental benefits of faux meat over meat-meat are obvious - it begins with a close to 90% reduction in carbon footprint - more or less inevitable given the huge inefficiencies involved with using plants as animal feed - without even considering animal suffering. While there remain certain nutritional concerns, particularly about the use of soy leghemoglobin, I'd gather that mass-produced plant-based meat would be the most significant agricultural development since the Green Revolution of the 1950s (but please do not push vegan sensibilities on babies). And unlike solar and other renewables, there appears rather less handwaving over reliability concerns and the like.

Ideally, prices would continue to fall as the faux meat producers scale up and refine their techniques, given that there's no lack of demand currently. Who knows, in the near future, there may be no difference when ordering veg or meat for cai png (a sure marker of social, or at least financial, class) at the economy rice stalls, since they would be the same...

Revisualizing Transport

Not long after the collapse of the bike-sharing industry here, Grab's been introducing electric scooters on campus (safety helmets included recently). I'd expect would-be riders to come to the same realization, however: much of Singapore is simply no place for bikes/e-scooters - in the absence of dedicated bike lanes, cyclists and scooterists would have to either weave between pedestrians (which has seen its fair share of accidents), or risk the ire of motorists (to similar road rages). We've covered this some seven years ago, actually, and it's no surprise that cycling has never quite taken off on campus, even as scooters have had their speed capped at a sad 10km/h.

To reiterate the main observation then: modern conventional vehicles are ridiculously over-engineered. To move a human (average weight: 80kg) from point A to B, the average car hauls along a frame of some 1400kg; the robustness afforded by such vehicle designs are basically overkill in well-maintained urban environments. What really makes sense would be far lighter and cheaper go-kart-style builds, which would be particularly suited to autonomous operation from a safety perspective (getting hit at 80km/h by a 100kg+ payload is much preferable to that from a 1400kg+ one), without even going into the energy savings (both in construction and operation) for the environmentally-conscious.

The problem, of course, is the initial buy-in: even relative visionaries such as Tesla have remained wedded to the traditional concept of unnecessarily-weighty cars, given the necessity of fitting into the existing road use paradigm. As such, implementation of electric karts would probably be most suited to the campuses of rich tech firms... or alternatively, countries with a meek, captive citizenry that would tamely go along with whatever their government mandates. I say that we should not pass up on this incredible opportunity.


This blog has never shied away from presenting opinions on controversial topics, and today's pick is - abortion. Before the discussion, I will first present my currently-held stand, which I believe happens to be quite close to the status quo: abortion should be allowed in the first trimester for any reason, and in the second trimester under extenuating circumstances (health of mother, rape, incest). I am aware that this opinion is fundamentally subjective - but, on with the background.

The evergreen debate over abortion has reignited over the passing of new abortion laws by several U.S. states, but most prominently Alabama, which moved to impose a total abortion ban with no exceptions; in contrast, other states such as Missouri have set the limit at eight weeks, with Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio basing their bills on the presence of an embryotic heartbeat, i.e. six weeks (N.B. coming to Singapore too!). These proposed laws have all been contested by pro-choice groups, on the basis that such restrictions on abortion are illegal under Roe vs. Wade. The objections were in fact entirely expected by the various bills' sponsors, whose not-so-hidden intentions are to use the challenges to bring the matter of abortion before SCOTUS for a second hearing.

Before continuing the discussion, we define two extremal stands on abortion. The strong pro-life stance asserts that a fetus is human at the moment of conception, and any efforts to remove it from that point onwards would therefore be considered murder. At the other end of the spectrum, the strong pro-choice stance has the fetus not being a person, until birth. Given this, the mother is free to abort it at any point prior to that, for whatever reason at all. All other possible stances on abortion then fall between these two limiting points, disregarding preventive contraception and the killing of viable babies after birth (which, it seems, is a thing for today's Democrats)

Oh, okay then.
(Source: r/politicalhumor)

We might as well delve into the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling here. Contrary to popular understanding, it doesn't grant a blanket right to abortion come what may, and instead sets parameters that individual states have to obey. No prohibitions could be imposed in the first trimester (i.e. abortions had to be allowed in the first three months), and abortion could only be permitted to save the life of the mother in the third trimester (from the seventh month onwards, i.e. effectively prohibited). This left the widest latitude for interpretation with regards to the second trimester. This middle three months has been where most previous activism has raged around, with more liberal states tending towards allowing abortion during this period, and more conservative states towards preventing it.

It might be noted that this trimester-based classification aligns quite closely with my current view, which is no coincidence. In practice, setting a cutoff much earlier than three months would be effectively banning abortion, since it is quite possible that a pregnancy can go unnoticed for some time. At the other end, fetuses are generally acknowledged to be viable after the second trimester, with a 50-50 chance of survival at 24 weeks, and a greater than 90% chance at 27 weeks.

Note that the polarization of attitudes on abortion has also seen pro-choice legislators push on third trimester abortion rights, with a Governor copping much derision for his statement that, if a baby were born after a failed attempt at abortion, that "the infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother". This was quite understandably taken as a licence to kill perfectly-healthy babies, which thankfully remains distasteful to the population at large.

Slippery slope...
(Source: baby-lonbee.com)

This scenario, as it happens, relates to perhaps the strongest defence for abortion - the mother's bodily autonomy. Once the baby is born - whether intentionally or due to a failed abortion - the autonomy argument no longer applies. Definitely, there can still be a hardship argument, in that the baby imposes time and financial costs, but such costs cannot justify the death of the child, whether a day old, or ten years old. Personally, if such a thing as morality exists, not murdering newborns must be some sort of a minimal baseline to meet.

Still on bodily autonomy, I must confess that I had never been very convinced by the famous violinist thought experiment, in which it is argued that a woman kidnapped to provide dialysis for an unconscious violinist for nine months, is not actually obliged to do so. In most cases, a more accurate refinement of this analogy would have the woman meeting the violinist at a party, and the duo fooling about with melding their circulatory systems, with full knowledge of what could happen (i.e. said violinist becoming dependant). Further on this, it can be noted that restrictions on bodily autonomy have commonly been imposed by the state (e.g. imprisonment, conscription)

Related to this is the self-harm argument - so the logic goes, if abortion were outlawed, unwilling mothers could simply attempt it themselves in an unsafe manner (e.g. by coathanger), and possibly perish. Here, it might again be noted that the crux of the argument remains the status of the fetus - if the fetus is a person, then abortion is unjustified. For the sake of argument, consider an adult that hates a child for some reason. The adult credibly threatens to cut himself, or otherwise attempt suicide, until the child is killed. While a regrettable state of affairs, this does not appear valid justification for killing the child. Of course, if it were merely a clump of cells, then anything goes. Note that the "mother's health" exception tends to be viewed with suspicion by pro-lifers, who regard it as allowing an easy cop-out for late terminations.

While this is no place to delve into all the intricacies, suffice to say that the pro-life stance, as I understood it, is pretty straightforward: the fetus is a human as much as any helpless quadriplegic in a coma, full stop, and any attempt to define a cut-off point in the development of the fetus would be arbitrary. Consider a comatose person whom qualified doctors have judged to be almost certain to recover consciousness within nine months. Is there any call to take him off life support now?

Photos of mum not included
(Source: r/videos)

Recall, the pro-choice counter to this would be the bodily autonomy of the mother, which is where futurology comes in. Roe vs. Wade, in considering fetal viability as a key concept in their ruling, has also opened the door to reinterpretation as viability improves with technology - the current record is just under 22 weeks, but one can envisage the possibility of extracorporeal pregnancy with artificial wombs becoming commonplace. Frankly, if the tech becomes established, carrying babies to term the natural way could well be considered regressive, like how hardcore anti-vaxxers are regarded today (though making them would probably still be done traditionally, because fun); if and when this happens, we might discover exactly how far the autonomy reasoning goes.

And a final thought experiment to end off: one five year-old, against a thousand viable frozen embryos. Or three non-pregnant women with the five year-old, against three pregnant women. Does it matter? What's the difference?

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Saturday, May 18, 2019 - 22:02 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Buddy Flick

Me: *closes door* It's refreshing to have people over once in a while, Mr. Ham. Nephews included. I always like to think of myself as being good at tutoring children. Like, for history, I like to go over the story of the Immortal Queen Elizabeth of the Seven Kingdoms, who rose to prominence due to her unmatched skill at dual-wielding sword and handbag, whilst telepathically controlling an army of killer robots - all backed up by photographic evidence, mind. Sure, so the kids might not score very highly in exams, but I like to imagine that I'm imparting something much more important: critical thinking.

Heh heh heh
(Source: time.com)

Speaking of education, the College Board will be including an "adversity score" with their SAT assessment, incorporating features such as the crime and poverty level of the student's neighbourhood. The last time Singapore did this for entry to desirable schools, wealthy parents merely domiciled their offspring within the requisite radius, which is what I'd expect would happen in the States too.

Okay, okay, on to Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Mr. Ham. As you were saying, it sure reminded me of us - young, intrepid Pokémon hunters back in the day.

Hamchu: Righto, only I'm more adorable than Pikachu, and you're dorkier than that guy.

Me: Modesty was never your strong suit, Hamchu. I almost forgot why I stopped doing the rounds with you.

Hamchu: Hey, don't blame not being able to keep up with my scintillating intellect. These insensitive put-downs are good for ya, human. Can't improve if you don't know what you're poor at. Fortunately, there's no lack of such areas for further attention. *condescending pat pat*

Me: Eh, speak for yourself. I sure don't see you running and jumping about like that Pikachu can.

Hamchu: I dunno, I can do maybe three kneebends.


Hamchu: Fine, two.

Me: And it's not like you get a cool evolution.

Hamchu: *swivels around* Ta-dah! You didn't notice, but Hamzilla at your service!

Me: That's not an evolution, you just put on weight.

Hamchu: You too.

Me: Fair enough. You can't charge a handphone like Pikachu can, though.

*Hamchu retrieves powerbank from cheek pouch*

Me: Huh. Well played, I'm genuinely impressed.

Hamchu: Don't mention it. And seriously, I have so much in common with Pikachu - he's not modest, I'm not modest too. He wears a deerstalker, I wear a bowler hat. We both love caffeine. Neither of us wear pants, and I'm proud of it. But, I'm so totally the type of Pokémon that invites others back to his apartment after the first date.

Me: ...I didn't need to know that.

Also weak to chin scritchies

Hamchu: Now you know anyway. And come to think of it, the film was predicated on humans and Pokémon not being able to communicate, whereas I, Hamchu, have always been conversant in both English and Mandarin. While you, human, remain hopeless in hamsterese. What do you say to that, huh?

Me: Hmmm...

Hamchu: Don't even think about it, human. This isn't something you can pick up through an hour a day on Duolingo. Hamsterese is intricate, nuanced, a work of divinely-inspired art, as opposed to what passes for language amongst hairless apekind. Humans simply don't have the internal cultivation to attempt it.

*squeeze squeeze*

Okay, maybe a few useful phrases. Here goes. *chirp chirpp chirrrrppp*

Me: *chirp chirrp chirrrppp*

Hamchu: This is my disappointed Hamchu face.

Me: So what did it mean?

Hamchu: "Hello, gormless human", or alternatively, "Gimme sunflower seed". From you, however, it was some unholy cross between invective and unintelligible squeaking.

Me: Aren't those two meanings somewhat far apart?

Hamchu: *sighs* It's a feature of hamsterese, not found in far less sophisticated human languages. Here, let's try a slightly longer example. *chirpp chirp chirpp chirp chirppp*

Me: Sounds Greek to me.

Hamchu: That's "A human shall be judged by the plumpness of his hamster", or "Gimme another sunflower seed".

Me: Actually, I think I'm getting the hang of it.

Hamchu: *ccchirp chiirp chirp chirppppp*

Me: Here, sunflower seed.

Hamchu: *deposits seed in cheek pouch* My word, fast learner, ain't ya? We may make something of you yet, human.

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Monday, May 13, 2019 - 22:05 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

The Mystery And Madness of Modern Monetary Theory

It was unfair, I felt, for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's opponents to hold her college dance moves against her (they were pretty decent, I thought). The same goes for her provisional adoption of audience-specific speech features - politicos gotta do what politicos do. It is, however, fair to knock her asinine policy suggestions, such as the Green New Deal that fittingly obtained a grand total of exactly zero votes in the U.S. Senate; astoudingly, the elimination of farting cows wasn't even the greater part of the lunacy on display in that proposal. That distinction must belong to the proposed funding mechanism: Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

So, what is MMT? Its essential idea is that since the government can create new fiat money at will, government expenditure does not - and should not - depend on taxation. In other words, if the government wants to pay for some assumed-socially-beneficial project (e.g. solar power plants, tertiary education, universal healthcare, bovine buttplugs), they can just print the cash and pay for it.

Note that the above assertion that governments can, indeed, print as much fiat money as they want is not at all controversial. The problem, as any competent economics undergraduate - or any right-thinking citizen - would immediately identify is: sure, maybe there's no strict need to tax to spend, but this is just additional money chasing an unchanged amount of goods and services. As such, wouldn't price levels simply increase (i.e. the inflation rate rise) as a consequence? To this, the MMT advocates have a ready answer - to combat any inflation, simply raise taxes.

Wait, what?

Let's try to interpret this charitably - MMT agrees with conventional basic economics that creating money tends to create inflation; the difference is that instead of trying to predict the effect and budget for it beforehand by pre-emptive taxation, MMT proposes that any inflation can be dealt with after it arrives. Interestingly, this by itself isn't that crazy either - inflation in America has for instance been lower than expected in recent years, despite all the quantitative easing, probably due to the consolidation of wealth by the already-rich.

MMT Compared

Stripped to the bone, one realises that the major thrust of MMT is simply towards transferring control of production and ownership to the state. Consider the following scenario: the state wishes to build a school. Under a sound money regime, the state would have to tax the people (i.e. convince them to give up their gold, silver, etc) to pay for the land and construction costs. Under the current fiat money regime, the state likewise has to either tax (admittedly in fiat dollars, which can indeed theoretically be created at will) or issue bonds (i.e. borrow from the future). Under an MMT regime, the state simply prints the required monies and observes what happens.

A couple of important clarifications here. Firstly, we do not deny that the provision of education is generally a worthy deed. Secondly, it is acknowledged that in all three regimes (sound money, fiat money, MMT), "the state" ultimately does not produce anything by itself ex nihilo; the state merely redirects the resources and effort of its citizens. The key distinction rests in the upfront transparency of the appropriation. Under sound money, the people know exactly what is being taken (e.g. one gold coin per family); as such, there can be - and in fact were - nasty pushbacks against authorities, up to and including revolutions, if such taxes were felt to be onerous.

Within existing fiat money systems, despite it being true that governments can create money at will (i.e. directly monetize debt), there has been a studied reluctance - at least in thus-far-surviving economic regimes - to rely on this power. Instead, they tend to follow two defining principles. Firstly, control over fiat money supply is devolved to an independent entity, generally a central bank (e.g. the Federal Reserve), that is supposed to be able to tighten the pursestrings over the exhortations of the spenders (i.e. the rest of the government). Secondly, there is a commitment towards recognizing the very real costs of such spendings, through borrowing (by open market operations) instead of simply printing money, the contemporary version of having a bondsman whisper in the ear of the all-conquering bankers in their triumph - you haven't earned this yet. Admittedly, from the national debt figures, this discipline has hardly been absolute - but it was something.

Under MMT, however, any remaining pretensions towards respecting the costs of spending are further abandoned. Superficially, MMT is free - no upfront taxes, no need even to borrow; it is not difficult to see how such a system could be popular, at least initially. Of course, the costs don't actually disappear - they are just obscured in inflation. More critically, presentations of MMT by Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk appear to discount oversight over money creation. Arguments tend to be along the lines of "climate change is an existential problem, we will therefore pay anything it takes".

This is a dumb idea. It happens to not even be a new idea.

A Tale As Old As Time

"The Bitcoin community ironically supports MMT in order to accelerate the decline of traditional financial institutions. I can't believe people take MMT seriously."

- identity_zero, Hacker News

Back last August, we have explained the cyclical nature of monetary systems in history, from representative to fiat and back again. The story seldom differs much - a state first conducts its business with some sound money or its representation, before realizing that chartalism (and the ensuing additional power & control) would be so much more convenient by fiat (removing as it does the distasteful need for murdering one's creditors, as King Philip of France did with the Knights Templar). There were always the concomitant excuses, some of them even good. The flaws then arose from the administrators, and while not strictly unavoidable, tended to pop up sooner or later; once it is established that money is basically make-believe, it seems, people are uniformly driven to regard "then just make more of it" as a legitimate solution to challenges.

This process can happen either overtly through unabashed industrial-scale printing, as has happened recently in Zimbabwe and Venezuela, or more insidiously with pseudo-intellectual backing, as we have seen with MMT. Re-releases follow the same script either way: the state claims more and more control over production through issuance of fiat money, before discovering that both resource allocation and corralling of inflation are a lot trickier than they thought. Realising this, former users of the fiat currency get out as quickly as they can, the currency collapses under mismanagement, and citizens turn to sounder money for their needs, until next time...

The debate over MMT, one realises, is inextricably tied to that of the government's intended role - the more a state is expected to intervene directly in production decisions (as in a command economy) as opposed to private citizens, the more it will be aligned towards MMT. If MMT is implemented in the manner that Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders are supporting, the separation between the monetary (the Fed) and fiscal (the executive/legislative branches) levers of government would likely no longer be respected. The usual outcome, regardless of the nobility of the original intent, is seldom pretty for most, as Commiessar Ham and Secretary Robo have realized.

In Search Of A Neutral Monetary Standard

"So my real estate finance manager classmate objected to real estate prices being a risk. She told the professor in front of the class that if things ever get bad, the Chinese government will step in and take care of everyone. This prof advises the government about their economic risks and she's telling him there's no risk."

- PakG1, Hacker News,
on the perceived safety of "real-estate-money" in China,
where some 80% of private wealth is held
(hmm, does this remind us of somewhere closer to home..?)

We might, then, recognize the matter of money as a perpetual struggle between self-determination by individuals and smaller communities, and hegemonic states. With state-issued fiat money, individuals are at the mercy of the state, in that they have to trust the state not to dilute their wealth through the ever-convenient creation of new fiat. An obvious recourse, certainly, would be for citizens to transfer their wealth out of the fiat money, and into harder assets (e.g. foreign real estate), as much as possible. As covered in January and before, this behaviour can be interpreted as individuals choosing to store value in a non-fiat money; instinctively, people understand that unlike fiat money that can be created at a whim for whatever excuse, property and precious metals and the like cannot be manipulated thus. It has also been noted that the "inflation tax on wealth", has as such tended to fall more on the poor than the rich, since the rich would tend to hold a far smaller proportion of their wealth in freely-creatable fiat money (clever them).

An interesting hypothesis would then be whether the end of a sound, representative reserve money (Nixon's termination of the gold convertibility of the US dollar in 1971) has been a major factor in the broad-based rise of property prices and housing costs since then. Greatly simplified, there is some subconscious (and well-founded) baseline level of demand for a sound monetary base, one that is independent of state machinations. Gold has famously filled much of this role for millenia, but has (once again) been ousted by the reigning hegemon [Nixon 1971]. Since then, all substantial paper currencies have been essentially pure fiat (make-believe).

However, given that the baseline demand for sound, independent monetary backing has not actually changed, it was just a question of where that displaced demand would manifest. While it could not easily return to gold and other precious metals, due to concerted international efforts to break that relationship, it remained far too strong to simply disappear; therefore, the demand merely diffused into various hard assets, but most significantly the real estate sector, with houses and apartments serving as a "proxy sound money"; which explains why their being uninhabited is of no concern to many owners, since that is no longer their main function.

Flight to Alternative Monies (save end-WW2 bump)
(Original source: observationsandnotes.blogspot.com)

This de-facto elevation of real estate as an alternative money (and not merely pensions, as suggested back in 2016) has been tacitly encouraged by many governments, given its ubiquity as a resource (a country is defined by its land boundaries, after all). This conception of "real estate as sound money" has in many places been ingrained to the extent that there is a popular expectation that the state will stabilize its value - which, you see, is what one might expect of a money, and not of a general investment (see: Hyflux).

To be explicit, this attitude has taken root locally (with 99-year public housing now breaching S$1.2 million) and in China (with Shenzhen to adopt Singapore's housing [i.e. alt-monetary] policy instead of Hong Kong's... which, to be frank, is an easy upgrade), and has been - dare we say - irresponsibly fanned with semi-official promises that "property prices will only go up". This is clearly hardly tenable, especially for limited-time leases, and has belatedly been recognized by measures such as limiting CPF loan quanta for aging flats. In response, the government's just expanded the integrated resorts casinos by up to 1800 new slot machines on top of their existing 2500 bandits, which is exactly where the little guys get raked over the coals (although our national funds aren't above a spot of gambling themselves). I sure hope this works out.

The appeal of cryptoeconomics - note Bitcoin's price bursting back above US$7000 after a half-year slump - should then be apparent to more open-minded and historically-inclined students of the dismal science: crypto serves as a flagless and neutral sound money, that has been explicitly designed to excel on many of its classical properties. As discussed back in 2018, this presents an inextricable dilemma for central banksters: if they ban crypto-money, they'll get locked out of the new sector entirely; if they allow crypto-money, their control of the economy via fiat measures (e.g. negative interest rates, which the IMF seems to be resorting to) naturally weakens.

Given that the idea of cryptos can't be un-invented, our expectation is that states will eventually seek resumed control through ownership of the asset, as China and Russia are returning to with gold. This is evidenced by the increasing legitimization of crypto by the financial establishment, with Fidelity - a Top 5 global asset manager - next to offer crypto trading. An interesting property of crypto is that financial shenanigans, such as rehypothecation with "paper gold", should be in theory harder to get away with, given the innate transparency of blockchains; myself, I'm just eager to see how various governments deal with the new sound money.

Unus Sed Leo

A Sow who had delivered a whole litter of piglets loudly demanded of her: "How many sons have you had at a birth?"

The Lioness laughed at her and said:
"One, but that one is a lion!

- Aesop's Fables, The Sow and the Lioness
[N.B. Also employed by Taleb to explain
(stubborn) minority rule]

And like clockwork, Bitfinex's back at it again. Having lost 120000 Bitcoins back in 2016, the naughty ruffians behind the exchange have managed to get US$850 million tied up in a rogue payment processor this time, and stand accused of transferring funds from the Tether stablecoin backing to cover those missing funds. Say what you will about Bitfinex's past deficiencies in computer security and character judgment, you can't accuse them of being short on chutzpah, and their latest maneuver has seen them simply up and raise a billion bucks - mostly predicated on the next few years' of profits - just like that. Cheeky fellas - but I like them.

Trade War, As Expected

The most surprising thing about the expanding U.S.-China trade war, it seems to me, is how few surprises there actually were. The key parameters were all out in the open since at least early 2016, when we called an eventual American trade war victory, having observed that even if they don't win much in the short term, China's economy will be by far the harder hit. Remember, if GEOTUS has a signature platform, this is it.

In-depth analysis will be deferred, as the tariff slap-fight plays out in this game of chicken.

The Bowl That Was Promised

Yeah, so maybe the final season of Game of Thrones absolutely mangled the plot, but hey, at least we got the Gregor vs. Sandor fanservice bout. And just to add on to last week's Kengan Asura recommendation (how did the resemblance between Hatsumi Sen and Hokuto no Ken's Juza get left out?), it turns out that there may be unofficial Fight Clubs going on in our secondary schools, from a recently-viral video. Thin guy had reasonably good technique, I thought, although red guy could have done much better had he tightened his punches, or used his weight to take it to the ground; he seemed slightly reluctant, to be fair. Glad to see them hug it out at the end, unlike with that higher-level duel a few years back, when only one fellow had a parang. Extremely unsporting, if I may say so, despite the passable footwork and overall much grander atmosphere.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2019 - 23:12 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Avengers: Box-Office Endgame

"There is only one god,
and Her name is Death.
And there is only one thing we say to Death:
Not Today."

- Syrio Forel, Game of Thrones

Yep, I got caught up in the hype to the extent that I headed down to the cinema to get gouged on popcorn and commemorative cups, and nope, no spoilers here.

Behold, the all-star cast!
(Source: r/marvelstudios)

In fact, just to keep on the safe side lest some very bad things happen, I'll keep the following commentary to the state of the Marvel Universe up until and including Infinity War, which I suppose should be fair play by now. So, back last year, a determined fighter has scoured the universe for six cosmic-level artifacts, which when gathered, entitle the holder to one wish. Unlike Dragon Ball, however, Thanos' desire is not life, but death - more specifically, the death of half of all intelligent life in the Universe, which perhaps turned out to be less than he expected.

[Cue almost all of Earth's defenders remaining after the snap; "Wait, why are you all still here except for Iron Man? Oh..."]

Deconstructing this superhero yarn, as we had for Batman vs. Superman and Gods of Egypt, it must first be recognized that Thanos' arc was never about action. No, Thanos is all about romance. More than Superman with Lois Lane/Lana Lang/Lori Lemaris, Batman with Catwoman/Wonder Woman/Talia al Ghul, Spider-Man with Gwen Stacy/Mary Jane Watson/Felicia Hardy, or "America's Ass" Captain America with Jane Foster/Sharon Carter/Scarlet Witch/Betsy Ross/assorted thots, or any of the so-called "good guys" that airheaded liberal women fawn after while denouncing TRUMP, Thanos is steadfastedly loyal (well, other than Thane, but eternity is hard to bear). There was only one lady who ever had Thanos' heart, and for her, Thanos would give anything and everything, even unto death.

For She was, quite literally, Death.

Definitely a better love story than Twilight or Titanic;
cue more Groove Coverage

(Source: Thanos #18; readcomiconline.to)

Thanos and Death, you see, is the Greatest Love Story Ever Told. Superman mourned, but moved on quickly when Lana was taken from him. Ditto the other "heroes". So many of the popular pairings from our glorified bodice-rippers are ephemeral - Rhett left Scarlett O'Hara, Napoleon divorced his Joséphine, Diana perished in a Paris tunnel sixteen years after her fairytale wedding, long estranged from Charles. Then there are those that were tragically done apart by Her, as ever promised in summer vows: Xiang Yu and Consort Yu, Beren and Lúthien, and of course Romeo and Juliet. Most lovers, then, were never true, or where true, did not have the means to prevent their parting.

All, that is, save Thanos.

Where lesser men might give of trinkets such as sparkly stone and shiny metal and other such manner of unworthy childish toys, only a single sacrifice would ever grace Thanos' altar: life. If he was called the Mad Titan, his madness arose but from a singular purity, and was named thus by those who could not comprehend its totality. He killed, not as other "heroes" or villians did, out of Boredom or Malice or Vengeance or Ambition or Honour or Justice or Righteousness or any such paltry excuses; nor even Loyalty or Duty, though there may have been some slight element of those in his doings.

No, Thanos killed for Love; for Death alone did he kill.

But the Greatest of these is Love.

His Lady, you understand, had granted him both that greatest of blessings, and the most painful of curses - Thanos could not die. She had, then, gifted him what myraid would-be conquerors of the common run would have given anything for: inevitable victory. For where other faithless heroes would eventually age, wither and fall, their might scattered to the winds, with even the barest of their memories one day lost to the ages, Thanos alone endured, and grew only stronger. He won - there was so much winning, but he had long wearied of it. All Thanos had ever wanted, ever longed for, was a simple home and hearth. Perhaps a chicken on the table, a warm, cosy fire going, and his lady Death seated by his right side, snuggling up with him.

Alas, it was not to be.

Thus for countless eons Thanos gave, of the only coin that he and his beloved recognized. Without rest, without complaint, he delivered unto Death that which She yearned for. Human, Asgardian, Kree, Skrull, Celestial; he did not discriminate, for She did not. And Thanos could only watch, as his beloved welcomed into Her everlasting embrace, literally everybody else. Knaves and weaklings, cowards all, She held close to Her breast; and to Thanos, greatest of Her lovers, who had dedicated everything in his power to give - not a single word.

Now, this is not to say that such arrant cockblocking is unknown. We have seen, for example, Rose not thinking to get it on with Jack on that door, which was so totally big enough, and they were gonna die anyway. More recently we have the hopelessly-friendzoned Ser Jorah Mormont, being utilized as a living meatshield by his Daenerys. Still, as we have explained, Death mercifully took them in at the end. Thanos? Well, let's put it this way. Ever wonder why he's purple? Ever heard of blue balls? Yeah, the whole of him changed colour. It's that bad.

But what could Thanos do? Helpless romantic that he was, he persevered. He kept on killing, kept on giving, as the stars dimmed and the galaxies themselves burnt out, ere Valinor and the Silver City and the Higher Realms had long crumbled to dust. He reaped mortals and deities and demons with extreme prejudice, until only himself was left, waiting in an ageless citadel with a single table, a table with only two seats, on one of which was placed a single, black rose. For Her.

And on that final day, when Thanos had, by definition, given it all, his true love Death would arrive; but She would not yet cross the threshold. Instead, he got:

LOL IDK not feeling cute today, maybe tomorrow?
(Source: Thanos #18; readcomiconline.to)

Move on, man. You're too good for her.

But, seriously - Marvel Studios had this epic love story on their hands; there were so many ways they could have taken it, so much untrodden ground, so many fresh subtexts to be tenderly explored. Instead, what did we get? A none-too-subtle lecture on environmental sustainability, from a sad, half-arsed pale simulacrum of the real Thanos who had his entire canonical reason for being completely ripped away from him, with the gaping hole amateurishly filled by incomparably-weaker ships like Quill x Gamora, Tony Stark x Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers x Bucky Barnes and Captain America's butt x Black Widow's butt.

[N.B. Thanos is no slouch in that deportment, just saying.]

Well done, Marvel Studios. You screwed this one up.

Sustainability by Halves

On to Thanos' (disappointing) movie motivations - too many people, too few resources. Ergo, get rid of half the people/aliens/whatever, and there will be enough for the remainder, who will live happy lives of plenty. If this sounds like some crazy Green New Deal bullet point, well, it's not a coincidence. This is probably the largest plot hole in the series - surely Thanos, insane as he was, would have realized that this was at best a very temporary solution? Let's say that some disaster befell a large-enough habitat, and killed roughly half of each and every species living there; would they stay at the new population, were the habitat to recover to its original condition? No, one suspects that they would merely return to their original population in equilibrium, too.

Evidence from history supports this view: Consider the Black Death, which destroyed from between a third and half of the European population in the middle of the 14th century; they were back and bouncing within a century or so. We can discern similar patterns with more modern famines as well. Plainly put, Thanos' grand flashy masterplan was never gonna work in the greater scheme of things anyway, which only goes to show that they should have kept to his classic romantic intentions. Yes, so they absolutely smashed all box-office records thanks to tying together like twenty previous films - but it shouldn't be about the money, gu... eh, who the heck am I kidding.

Kengan Asura

And this month's manga recommendation is... Kengan Asura! Probably one of the best in the fighting genre that I've come across, the artists have certainly done their research with the moves and posing of characters, with plenty of homages too - it's difficult not to recognize the resemblances between Mokichi Robinson and Souten no Ken's Zhang Taiyan, some of Sekibayashi Jun's attitude in History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi's Diego Carlo, or the signature stance of Hajime no Ippo's Mashiba's Hitman style in Agito and Wongsawat's bout. Plenty of painful-looking unnaturally-broken limbs as seen in Souten and Battle Royale, however, so it may not be recommended for the overly-squeamish. Nice way to pass the time before Detective Pikachu and John Wick 3.

And meanwhile in Singapore, a man holding a potted plant fought a man with a recorder. Gives off vibes from fictional Chinese martial arts, I hafta say. Both of them sadly lost after the police arrived, before the question could be settled.

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Sunday, Apr 28, 2019 - 21:14 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Return To Blogging

It's been a fairly busy month, but it's mostly done with, and graduation looms once more; may give a review of the process someday, right after the Hong Kong/Hawaii trip gets covered. But for now, I'll just ease back into the business...

Been There, Done That

Did manage a visit to the newly-opened vaguely Avatarish Jewel at Changi Airport for a family dinner, which hosted, amongst other attractions, a Pokémon cage fighting arena:

More brutal on the pocket than Mortal Kombat 11;
that said, it may yet save our economy

(Source: channelnewsasia.com)

Unsurprisingly, the place was completely packed with middle-aged locals, and so I popped down with my trusty Hamchu to the Sentosa Safari Zone event for a short few hours - it helped that it was just a few MRT stops away, nowadays. Snagged some rare Unowns and a Psyduck plushie, but no shinies, sadly.

Lightning Bans

While Pokémon might have survived in Singapore thus far, thanks to high-level uncles and aunties that know their rights and give no shits, the influence of local fundamentalists* hasn't been flagging; not content with driving Watain off, they've managed to get Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga sanctioned for offensive lyrics. In particular, Grande sang that "God is a woman" (wait, haven't the Ah Bengs been blaring the "God is a Girl" trance anthem since 2002 or thereabouts, to the extent that it was covered by Jocie Guo?), and Lady Gaga for "loving Judas" - but then, she's of age and doing it of her own free will, which is more than can be said for the offended; one wonders if AWARE will be roused on such discrimination...

[*N.B. That said, Easter worshipper, seriously?! I'm quite direct on this: a community gets me a holiday, I address them by name. Blatant double standards don't play well...]

This seems just the next stage in the local front of the global War of Information, with the authorities determined to push through the Fake News law, come what may. Perhaps far more insidious than these overt moves, however, is the invisible manipulation available to search engines. Both Google and Reddit have been quietly curating sources that they don't like, while subtly promoting handpicked viewpoints that may not conform to the actual opinions of their users, unlike what is expected behaviour with their autocomplete feature.

The clear concern here is about the death of discourse, from the precedents being set. This is, I feel, an area in which American classical conservatives have it spot-on: in general, if they disagree with or don't like something, they just don't do it; those on the other side, however, tend to insist that the government force everybody not to do it, and actively set out to shun and shame those that do not align with them. Fortunately, this attitude is coming under pushback in Great America, with an executive initiative towards free speech on campus - and not a moment too soon, given that the preferred mode of counter-rhetoric by students moves towards senseless disruption.

In the local context, the government reliably catipulating to popular pressure - with Watain, Grande, Gaga, etc - looks like a loss of principles, and devolvement of policies to mob sentiment. The lesson, then, seems to be that if a group can muster enough outrage, they can get interpretations of rules bent in their direction - as we shall see in the following blockbuster:

#MeToo Arrives In Singapore

You've heard of it, of course - a randy, drunk chemical engineering undergraduate from NUS films a fellow undergraduate in her hall shower, gets caught, and is slapped with a semester's suspension, and a twelve-month conditional warning. Dissatisfied with the punishment, the victim publicized the case on Instagram, after she felt silenced. Shit exploded as the cybersphere gleefully doxxed the perp, who quit his insurance job after getting suspended as a result. Faced with snowballing outrage, the university's President was moved to pen a missive on sexual misconduct over the weekend, and they would hold a town hall on Thursday - not that it was particularly well-received, mind, with basically nothing said.

First off, it was interesting that the #MeToo movement was near-entirely unmentioned in online comments on the matter, given that it was the obvious antecedent. It should be noted here that I broadly agree with the exposure of previously-hidden cases of sexual assault; however, as always, there are caveats.

My university certainly hasn't been weathering the subject well, from how this has arrived so soon after concerns about increasingly-sexualized orientation games. However, in their defence, I'd say that the responsibility of law enforcement ultimately falls on the cops and legal system. NUS's options more or less extended to suspension or explusion, the latter of which one might suspect was what the victim was after. Anything further would be up to the police and AGC, who have since explained their sentence of a conditional warning as due to the perp's remorse and high chance at rehabilitation.

This decision to give a conditional warning, it should be recognized, is actually pretty consistent with that of comparable cases in NUS, of which there were at least eight in the past few years. Given NUS's hard-on for benchmarking themselves against the Harvards and Yales of the world, it might also be recognized that their previous best-practices seem largely the same as such hallowed institutions - suspension for voyeurism without physical assault, if only because they might not be left with much of a cohort otherwise. Given how the Education Minister has stepped in, though, one expects things to change, even as new cases pop up over at NTU.

The concern, then, is when accusations begin to get accepted at face value without critical examination, as #MeToo morphed into "Believe (all) Women" in the States - who can forget the ultimately baseless allegations flung against prospective Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for having the temerity to like beer, and run for SCOTUS whilst Republican? Sadly, I fully expect such accusations to function as an on-demand political bludgeon, given the propensity for selective application by the "woke" left. Biden will be a hoot, I tell ya, but let's save this for the coming Democrat lineup review.

A telling revelation with the NUS case would be the early assertion that the perp's parents were "powerful people", which after being seized upon as further confirmation of the law working against the little people, turned out to be entirely false - his father is a taxi driver, and his mother, a housewife. That this question of background took on such significance might be considered as part of another emerging trend - the recognizance that hard work and ability are becoming less and less important in today's Singapore, as compared to wealth and connections.

The College Playing Field

There happens to be direct support for this view, from the recent college admissions scandal brewing over in America. These are not some second-tier outfits, mind; you've got Harvard, Yale and Stanford, various UC campuses, Georgetown and UT Austin, amongst others. How it happened was surprisingly simple - given the exalted position of U.S. varsity athletics, coaches had pretty wide latitude to admit valued recruits, who in these cases however had nothing to do with those sports. Oh, and there was outright cheating on entrance examinations as well.

The problem, one recognizes, was the method. No-one would have batted an eye, had an old-money scion simply pledged tens of millions for a new building or stadium or whatever, and had his distinctly-unscholarly offspring admitted. No, the first problem was that these upstarts were cheap, and the second was that they didn't bribe the colleges directly, as any gentleman worth the name would have done. People these days, no respect for tradition at all.

Two Docs

And, as a coda to the fading of free speech, we have an EDMW legend suspended from medical practice in Australia, for baring his mind online. Redditor response was, predictably, not to expose one's identity online, to avoid such trouble - it should be noted that the doctor's statements were arguably unremarkable by EDMW standards, and as such, the only issue was that the powers that be could put a face to the words. My own position on this, however, stays - people should speak, and not be cowed into not speaking, just for fear of offending others. Is there any sight more wretched than that of a supposed academic, who after dedicating decades to the pursuit of knowledge and the process thereof, clamming up like a mute?

While we're at this, it could be interesting to delve into Mahathir's background: supposedly, he got ostracized when studying medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine (now part of NUS), partly due to being allowed admission on lower standards (ironically, still the case in Malaysia), and never quite got over it; it remains to be seen how much that honorary doctorate might help to banish those memories...

In support of gender equality
[N.B. Yeah, He's definitely that kind of petty and vindictive]

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