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Sunday, July 17, 2016 - 23:57 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Here To Stay


Aren't we both getting too old for this, human...

Mr. Ham: ...seriously, haven't you got anything better to do?

Me: The craze is sweeping the globe, hamster. If you thought it was big last week, why, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. Sure beats smelling paint dry, which is what's happening in the lab - and in the renovated washrooms at home, but at least one doesn't have to spend too much time there.

Mr. Ham: Well, I've got to admit that Pokémon Go is getting asses out of seats, at least. It won't be officially rolling out in Singapore just yet, unfortunately - which has already cost one eager Aussie trainer his job - but... stop throwing the bleeping replica Pokéball at my head!

Me: Not a team player, are you? But yeah, gotta be careful with bootleg versions, too many ne'er-do-wells are out to get you these days, as with all those DHL scams. They've caught some of the perpetrators at least, which is more than can be said for bank robbers here. It appears that you can walk into a bank, demand S$30000 with a piece of paper - ok, safety first, fair enough so far - then bloody walk out and eat a strawberry cake, before hopping on a plane to Bangkok. Personally, I'd say the guy deserves the loot.

Speaking of travelling, it's sad to hear that tourism to Istanbul - already way down since the airport bombings - will probably not be recovering anytime soon, with the recent failed coup attempt. Historic city, friendly place, would recommend from experience. As covered then, military-backed coups to preserve secularism in Turkey - which Erdoğan has certainly been eroding - are actually something of a tradition.

However, thing is, Erdoğan was mostly-fairly democratically elected despite his authoritarian (but not the fun TRUMPY LARGE HAMMY type) streak, which makes support for a coup tricky to justify unreservedly, and it had little hope of succeeding once the USA publicly pledged to back Erdoğan. Sadly, it appears that all this has done was to give Tayyip a stiffy, and he appears to have used the coup as an excuse to further consolidate power, sacking thousands of judges. Some are even suspecting that the coup was a false flag for just this purpose, but given the hefty death toll, the Turkish regime couldn't have done this to their own citizens... right?

But, if tanks and fighter aircraft can't save secularism in Turkey, maybe Pokémon Go will...

[N.B. It may be instructive to note here that Erdoğan being democratically-elected was at best an incidental consideration, given how many such rightful leaders have been overthrown by the Central Intelligence Agency in the past; you gotta give it to them, though, these spooks are impressive actors]

The Triumph Of Big Tech

Last time, hari-kiri... oops, sorry, is your line, now where was I...
(Source: edmwimg.wordpress.com)

And the latest on the cracked train cover-up: the Transport Minister (no doubt cursing his luck for landing this portfolio) has clarified the official stand, which was that there would be "undue panic" had the "non-major" cracks been explained, and that his ministry was sibei suey for getting caught in a crossfire between Hong Kong factions and mainland China, thus becoming collateral damage (i.e. we're not even sorry that we got caught, not happy walk to work lah - on towards the face-saving nationalization-but-not-nationalization, because the opposition suggested it first...)

Of course, as various commentators were happy to point out, this was far from convincing - had they stuck a brief notice somewhere in the middle of The State's Times, they could probably have escaped much of this criticism, especially since not many actually read through it. Heck, they might even have gotten away with describing it as "routine servicing"! Moreover, given that having to walk down dark tunnels following train breakdowns has not in fact sparked panic, one supposes the good minister could have more confidence in Singaporeans...

Anyway, the point here is that these revelations could mostly be written down to technology - beginning from the crowdfunding organization of the FactWire reporters, to the video cameras and possibly drones that they used to gather evidence, and on to the wide dissemination of the findings through the Internet, bypassing traditional state-controlled media channels. While citizens could quite easily be kept cloistered even a generation ago, the emergence of a camera and printing press in every pocket has made efforts at the censorship of "improper" information, an exercise in futility.

If it's of any consolation to our Heroes in White, they are hardly alone in confronting this threat to classical governance strategies. In particular, one can imagine just how much more actual power multinational technology corporations have, compared to many "real" nations. With more and more of the Internet implementing end-to-end encryption by default, it is easy to pity authorities for having to flail about blindly, as it is (perhaps part motivation towards the recent move for Internet access being restricted in the civil service? Hmm)

Just imagine having de facto full access to the bulk of a population's data, which is exactly what a relatively small collection of tech giants have... and, oh, remember the disquiet towards being locked into paying for software as a service, from last week? Well, it seems that Microsoft offering free upgrades to Windows 10 might have an ulterior motive behind it after all. We'll see just how valuable customers are as products soon enough, then...

And, come to think of it, who owns Pokémon Go? Well, it's developed by Niantic, which in turn is owned by... Google.

Yes, they're taking over the world, one Eevee at a time. That said, it's become quite well-known that Pokémon Go is basically a stripped-down version of Ingress, which has been around for years already. Proof then, perhaps, that it's mostly in the packaging after all. China's resisting for now with its own clone, but we'll see how long that lasts...

A Contradiction In Terms?

"Eh bro, you going reservist next week ah? What unit?"
"Bomb disposal, why?"

(Source: reddit.com)

"Singapore must take advantage of technologies to create better jobs... task at hand is to lift productivity all-round."

- DPM Tharman, this past year,
alongside an Automation Support Package in the Budget

"Singapore's retirement age has to go at some point."

- DPM Tharman, last week

As we all know, our minority Deputy Prime Minister is probably among the more popular of our incumbent representatives, but this hasn't prevented him from taking some flak, particularly on his suggestion these past few days that the retirement age "has to go". Now, lest we unfairly impugn the learned minister, let us try to tease out the true underlying meaning of the statement.

Was this aimed at those personages - like our esteemed former Ambassador-at-Large, Professor Tommy Koh - who are eager to continue contributing their wisdom to society? Well... to be frank, such jobs never exactly had mandatory age limits in the first place, as a delightful EDMW denizen noted well; or, maybe this is directed more towards the likely rather more numerous cardboard exercise enthusiasts, who aspire to see out their twilight years carting corrugated boards around?

Now, not that long ago, there was this concept called a "pension" - one could reasonably expect, upon reaching a certain age, to stop working and draw a modest stipend for previous work rendered. Yes, some companies went overboard with it, but on the whole the idea was, I don't know, kinda reassuring.

And, so the story goes, the previous decades have been characterised by a constant increase in productivity - by definition, we have gotten more and more done, with fewer and fewer work-hours. Note, even a very modest annual growth in productivity becomes sizeable when compounded; just 3% annually, over forty years, would mean that a worker's output had more than tripled over that time period.

And, so it seems, the reward and end result of managing to get more done in less time is... to spend more time at work.

Hmm. As it happens, this brings to mind Russell's timeless observation, from In Praise of Idleness:

Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price.

In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work.

There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness.

Can anything more insane be imagined?

The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich.

Eh, at least Paul Scholes' role will probably be secure for a while longer, even if #WeAreAllLeoMessi might have benefitted from the availability of better robo-tax-lawyers...

Anyway, the biggest concern here seems to be on how this "no retirement age" thing impacts the CPF withdrawal age - once upon a time, it was a retirement savings plan, after all. Or perhaps the "long-term investment horizon" of Our Most Successful Investment Firms, turned out to be slightly longer than expected..? Eh, protip here: maybe it's too late to load up on Nintendo stock, but they might yet be in time to buy up the local Pokéstops, and revitalize the local retail scene. Come to think of it, the beleaguered California Fitness chain could do with some quick creative rebranding. Plus, residents opposed to a columbarium? Fear no more, Koffing is here!

Pokémon, is there anything they can't solve?

Banding Examined

[N.B. Don't worry, the kid's fine, had a Hyper Potion]
[N.N.B. Still less stressful than the Asian education system]
(Source: facebook.com)

The long-awaited new PSLE scoring system has just been announced, and it's a band-based adaptation of the 'O' Levels system, as expected. There will be eight bands/Achievement levels (AL) for each subject, tighter at the top than at the bottom, which will result in an aggregate AL score of 4 to 32. A score of 20 or below will be needed to confirm entry into the Express stream, with at most 30 allowable to progress.

Unfortunately, as long explained beforehand, such a banding system is unlikely to usher in any real changes (according to the official site: "more holistic, better nuture well-rounded individuals, etc"). In any case, to begin with, the fundamental flaw in the argument for bands against fine-grained points persists: MOE's take is that small differences, e.g. 89 points vs 90 points, are not meaningful. However, with bands, this particular difference instead becomes magnified from 1/300 (very approximately), to 1/32! In other words, the change has mostly amplified the effect of luck.

Well, okay, perhaps the whole point was to dampen the selectivity of so-called top high schools, level the playing field and reduce elitism at a go? As most probably recognized, the main reason for gunning for a high score, was to enter a "branded" school in the first place. Then, if there are a lot more students with the perfect 4 points than can be admitted to these traditional brandnames, maybe the stranglehold that they exert over our educational landscape can be weakened?

Of course, this was anticipated and considered years ago here, and the analysis mostly stands. There are three main ways to handle overdemand - do balloting, consider other objective records, or hold interviews. For the first, it would be natural for ballot losers to feel cheated; for the second, it'll obviously spiral into parents loading kids up on CCAs to gain that added edge, or a "side door" in (it's already happened); for the last, we'd likely see legacy admissions boom with our branded institutions, and yes, Harvard might do it, but do we really want to go down that road?

Anyway, as it happens, MOE appears to have done its simulations, and they have reported that "...based on past cohorts' performances and choice patterns, about nine in ten students would not have to undergo balloting" - which leads me to suspect that the scores and ALs have been finely weighted to provide sufficient discrimination for the top league of schools. Or, in other words, nothing's changed actually, and the sentiment over at the Kiasuparents forum appears to be that the change will only increase the level of stress. Well done, our good and faithful civil servants!

I'll just put it as briefly as I can. Why are parents and students so anxious to get a place in Raffles, Hwa Chong, etc? Because it in practice greatly improves the odds of getting into Raffles, Hwa... wait, they're even largely through-train now. And why try to get into top junior colleges? Well, have you seen how disproportionately major scholarships and swanky Ivy League places go to their students? But, ministers say, every school is good school with their own strengths... but how many of them are willing to start their own kids off at "good neighbourhood primary schools"? Well...

The Master Of Them All

Saving the best for last:

[N.B. TRUMP's WWE chum Vince McMahon is a fan too]
[N.N.B. Can you just imagine the sweet trolling opportunities here?]

We'd love to believe that factors such as "policy details" and "strategic knowledge" are the major determinants of who gets elected as The Most Powerful Person On Earth, but frankly, they pale in comparison to considerations such as "ability to deliver inspiring speeches (follow-up action not guaranteed)", "will I get lynched if I support him, in this part of town", and perhaps above everything else, "do I like the fellow?"

And, boy oh boy, does TRUMP have that last locked down.

On one side, you've got Hillary Clinton, the impeccable establishment political machine - every word scripted, every twitch calculated, in every position considered... for a price. Far more comfortable trading lobbyist favours than discussing her vision and principles - it's been over half a year since her last official press conference, despite long being the chosen Democratic nominee in all but name - she's been flinging ad money around like there's no tomorrow, plowing US$46 million into battleground TV ads thus far, compared to merely US$1.2 million for our self-sufficient GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP.

And then, Hillary goes and tries to ride the hype with a lame "Pokémon Go to the Polls" quip (like, uh, what?), which honestly isn't a fraction as snappy and memorable as TRUMP's "Crooked Hillary NO". Is it then any wonder, that after all that money, all that horse-trading, it remains a virtual dead heat? Mind, this is after Bernie sold out his "revolution" for Confused Clinton (bye, and thanks for the US$200 million!), as was expected by all too many wise CENTIPEDES (no refunds)

TRUMP on the other (yuge) hand has been going about his business as usual, adding a Supreme Court justice to his growing list of Stumped! foes, before mopping up the few remaining #NeverTrump losers, and making his VeePee pick. And, that epic logo; we are not worthy, people:

Let's face it, TRUMP knows exactly what he's doing
[N.B. Sweet fan-made alternate logo]
(Source: thehill.com)

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