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Sunday, May 26, 2013 - 00:28 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Off And Away We Go

Up for ICT the next two weeks. Hope the change of environment does me good. Then again, there's probably nothing like being away from a computer for that long to engender job appreciation.

What's In A Name?


It seems that taxi uncles are also unimpressed by the rising trend of posh estate branding, with one of them commenting that "As a rooster doesn't become a phoenix just because you say so, neither does a HDB flat become a condominium through renaming". Speaking for myself, I would happily hang up my own sign saying "Gilbert's Green Gables" or something if I wanted to; why wait for somebody to do it and pay extra?

Now for a little pick-me-up:

We apologize for the recent negligence in provision of bunnies
[N.B. Someday I'll get mine... someday]

Bad week for local anthropomorphic personifications all around, as after Singa quit, poor Water Wally has gotten himself hauled up for watching a child bathe. On the human end, a workplace bullying incident involving a supervisor striking an employee has sparked online outrage.

While regrettable, the far more stunning revelation was that said 29 year-old university graduate employee had been working as an intern for three years, making just S$500 a month while slogging from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day! For that sort of dedication, he should have just washed dishes for S$3000 a month - and the hours are probably better. Evidently, he's snagged an offer paying just that, so all's well.

To his credit, he has done his utmost best not to be undercut, and if I remember rightly, a recent news article has pegged rent and labour to account for 70% of business costs here. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I don't see commercial rents coming down much if at all, at least while it's an oligopolistic seller's market with carefully controlled (and sadly non-transferable) supply, and pumped-in demand.

As for domestic properties, I can well see the attraction of renting them out, with common asking prices for 4 and 5 room flats apparently in the range of S$2.5k to S$3k per month, close to twice that of the monthly loan payment required, over a 25 year period. This is, I suppose, one way to justify flats as being subsidized - after the five-year Minimum Occupancy Period, it is not inconceivable that a HDB owner can clear over a thousand bucks in no-hassle profit each month, and indeed in ten years (fifteen from the start of the loan) recoup all the capital sunk in, with everything after that being pure profit.

By the way, I don't see how Singapore is listed as having a price/rent ratio of 34 years here, unless they're taking the very top end of resale prices. The Economist's estimate of rents being 57% overvalued (i.e. not worth it) probably strikes closer to the truth - I was slightly horrified at how much my colleagues were paying; even considering a dual-income household, it could well be over 40% (i.e. near 80% for single-income, assuming a take-home pay of S$3750 - of course, one wouldn't rent a whole flat for oneself then, but still)

Still, it's clear that the current trend has been one where the rich get richer, even more than usual. While it can be argued that the Government is actually putting free money into peoples' hands through their policies - just have enough capital to upgrade, and you'll have a passive income stream from your HDB flat - the issue is that it mostly benefits the already-wealthy (or irresponsibly daring) in the first place.

The whole situation is probably justified on the macro level, as the result of a simple interaction between strong demand (from the burgeoning population) and controlled supply, both factors largely in the hands of the authorities for now.

However, continued asset appreciation must be the borrowing that dare not speak its name. Insidiously, it comes up on no balance sheets, commits itself to no obligations, yet too has to be paid eventually. The whole situation reminds me a bit of a case study encountered in an entry-level management module, that had the CEO of a nationwide retail chain raging that their growth had slowed. Well, I thought, it's a mathematical certainty that it slowed - they already had an outlet in about every city worth the name! It was a matter of learning to rein it in and live with it, or hitting the wall later.

We're already (supposedly) the richest - where can we go?


No Information Forthcoming

Update on the 23andMe genetic test results - nothing to report. I was hoping to put together a post like this or this, but alas.

The initial return took just days after a DHL guy picked the kit up from home, but all I had to show for it was a message that there was an insufficient concentration of DNA in the saliva. Not a problem, they sent another kit, and this time I figured out how to provide the required quantity quickly - leave mouth open - and added an extra buffer, just in case.

No dice, of course. What is it with me and medical procedures? They can figure stuff out about a guy who lived over 230000 years ago, but not me? Anyway, I got the refund, and will probably try to get to know myself better when DNA extraction technology has advanced further.

A Split

I was about to have a chat with Mr. Ham again after last week's most illuminative session, but then overheard an ongoing conversation as I was about to enter his office:

Choked voice: You're lying! Santa is real! Have you checked all of the North Pole? Every last snowdrift? *sniff* He might even hail from Polaris! How? His sleigh is magic, don't you know? What's 400 light-years, when he manages to deliver presents to every kid on Earth in one night?

*muffled pause*

No, I don't want to hear that! Millions and millions of us believe in Santa! How could we all be wrong? Absence of proof is not proof of absence! Why would anybody pretend to be Santa? What is in it for them? You can acknowledge that Santa is real, or accuse him of being a fraud, but don't you dare describe him as merely a "benign custom amplified through crass commercialism"!

*a longer pause, with Mr. Ham saying something*

A... And I don't like your Ultimate Ancestor, so there! He's the sort who kills people just 'cause they look at him funny, and then wipes out almost everyone remaining, while claiming he loves them and insisting that people say that he's good, or else! I know that type! *spits* Santa would never do that! He... he only giv... gives presents to the little ones, he would never harm them! And you... you say he's false, that he doesn't exist? I hate you! I hate you! We're done!

*Mr. Robo throws the door open and dashes out, weeping*

Me: Well, well.

Mr. Ham: *defensively* How could I have known that he was a Santaist? But good on him, he's shown more backbone today, than in all my other days of knowing him. Still, that leaves me one supporting actor short. I wonder...

Me: Nuh-uh. Don't even think about it.

Mr. Ham: Be it on yourself, then. Tom's probably ready to take the next step up, anyway.

Me: Suit yourself. In unrelated news, I'm starting to like the new Pope more and more, with him conceding that it's the doing of good that's what's important, and not merely belief. Even if that wasn't what was truly meant, I suppose it's still a huge step forward when he acknowledges that the Disciples could have been mistaken when they were adamant that those that are not one of them cannot possibly do good things.

Now, that's some revelation! Though it took like two thousand years to get emphasized, better late than never; who knows what wonders we might witness before this millenium is out?

Mr. Ham: I dunno. Not a fan of revisionism myself. But he does seem like a very nice fellow.

Me: I concur. Well, the lead-up to ICT has seen another sad incident, as in 2011, with two attackers who emphatically do not represent any religion at all, gruesomely eviscerating an off-duty soldier in London. They then trotted about with bloody hands, before getting shot. This came in conjunction with riots in multicultural utopia Sweden, that were delicately reported on in politically-correct passive sense: "cars were set alight".

Mr. Ham: Isn't too hard to see, it's the usual - sudden mass immigration and a growing rich-poor divide, made worse by rising unemployment and being a relatively soft touch on law enforcement - which is where I think your authorities have got it right, if perhaps overdone it.

But in a very twisted way, the terrorists did have a point - when unmanned drones blast their targets, it's simply regrettable "collateral damage" and completely legal, even when the bodies might be far more mangled than the unfortunate soldier's. However, since the act was done under a recognized chain of command and executed remotely such that no entrails splattered on the operators, it's civilized.

Me: Quote, "If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you can not do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die... A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is."

Maybe, in the end, it's all just about whose side you're on. But it doesn't have to be like this, does it?

This spirit does not, it goes without saying, extend to Pepsi

Mr. Ham: I certainly hope not, or I would be out of business!

Me: ...

Well, humans are complicated creatures. Love, hate, nobility, vainglory, wisdom, foolishness, bravery, cowardice, ambition, acceptance, reverence, forgiveness, vengeance, jealousy, sincerity, calculativeness... there's a little of each in all of us, expressed even in the same instant, and though one may starve the wolf, it never really dies.

When you think of it in this way, life is interesting after all.

Mr. Ham: It's a nice story. But wolves? Aren't hamsters getting short shrift again? We hunger too, you know!

Me: My finger!

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