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Tuesday, Nov 20, 2018 - 22:44 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Moving In!

Me: Ho hum, don't often get visitors here. *opens door* A prank?! Wait, that doesn't make sense... *something brushes by feet* what the...

Mr. Ham: Okay, Mr. Robo, drop the luggage here. *turns nose up* I say, these digs aren't really done up to my taste, but we all make do, eh? First, that bookshelf has to go, and...

And what do we have here?

Mr. Ham: *urgh* Hi, human. Was going to give you advance warning, but you know how those dang crypto markets don't cooperate when you want them to. I told those investors that it was a long-term play, you know. Who could have known that exchanges foreclose your positions so promptly on 10x leverage? You wouldn't leave an old pal in the lurch, wouldja?

Me: I must admit, the thought is tempting...

Mr. Ham: *hops off* That's a yes, then. Great! I knew I could count on you. Mr. Robo, rummage through the fridge and see if there's anything suitable to mark this occasion, though I wouldn't hold out too much hope.

Me: Uh, just a second there.

Mr. Ham: *knocking table over* Whoops. Kind of cramped in here, isn't it? I'm requisitioning this bed, thank you. Please have the room cleared of your personal effects by tomorrow. My, that corner of the room wasn't on fire when I last saw it. Very careless of somebody. But not to worry, I have a line on the best insurance you can get for your money in Singapore, scout's honour, if you'd just put your name here...

*one extremely flattened hamster later*

Mr. Ham: You know, a ten-gallon tank isn't that bad either.

Me: Well, that's settled then. So, since you both are here, a couple of updates:

Hash Wars

The latest dip in crypto prices was likely precipitated by the telegraphed BCash split, which has seen Wu Jihan and Roger Ver become the good guys (to most BCash devotees, anyway) by beating off a hostile takeover attempt by the Calvin Ayre-backed Fake Satoshi. The latter had commandeered what had looked like a majority of hashpower in support of their Satoshi's Vision (SV) fork, but Ver's metaphorical resurrection by deploying his own miners decisively won the battle for the ABC upgrade, with the drama playing out in real time over multiple channels.

This happened to be a war that would have no winners, for the BCash community at least. Jihan and Ver might have prevailed, but only at the cost of committing a disproportionate amount of mining resources to the ABC fork, thus foregoing some half a million a day in opportunity costs. It's even worse for the Fake Satoshi gang, obviously; although the SV fork has maintained a nominal value of around US$70 somehow, there are nearly no public trading avenues for the SV token, and chances are it'll sink towards zero - the historical destination of most alt-coins and ICOs - once Fake Satoshi figures out his exit plan.

The tragedy of it all, though, should be how expected this outcome was, as Real Satoshi knew from the earliest days: all minority forks, given some hashing algorithm, are ultimately at the mercy of the majority fork. A few more-aware BCash supporters indeed realised that, in celebrating their power over the rebel SV fork (which has already attracted its own parodies), they are also acknowledging the ascendacy of the true BTC chain over BCash.

While the price movements have not exactly been ideal, they aren't much of a deal for those who have seen far crazier crashes, back when Bitcoin was rising from the low double digits. It may be all doom and gloom now, but the big boys are slowly moving in, and let's just say that it's nothing we haven't seen before.

Local Observations

Mr. Ham: About that, recall when Temasek Holdings explicitly denied investing in Jihan's Bitmain, which we lauded as a wise move for once? It looks like they've just bought into Binance, who've opened shop here. A classic case of see what they do, not what they say, in my not-so-humble opinion. Doesn't extend to the other kind of hash, note.

Me: Been relatively quiet on other fronts, with former PM Goh releasing his memoirs, and Ambassador-at-Large Koh keeping fresh with some big swings - there was his support for repealing Section 377A to keep up with the liberal paradise that is India, before his sounding-out on biased reporting by The State's Times (whew). Perhaps realising that he might have overreached somewhat, however, it was back to slamming the President of the United States for not attending the locally-hosted East Asia Summit, instead sending Pence in his stead.

An interesting realization, however, would be that there was no parallel comment about President Xi not making it, given that one can't quite mistake Premier Li Keqiang (who did attend) as being Numero Uno in China. About this, our own PM Lee seems to have seen the writing on the wall: the time of reckoning and picking of sides may be very near. My personal analysis on how this goes hasn't changed since 2017 and before. Closer to home, there may be... interesting... alliances in the works, as Singapore gears up for a probable Chan Mali Chan era.

On the Media and the Herd

Mr. Ham: ...and let it not be said that Mr. Ham is ungrateful. Nah.

Me: Murakami's Colorless? Second-hand, it seems. Eh, to be honest, I already have too much on my to-read list. Cigar? No thanks, I don't smoke, although it would have been welcome. Envy those fellas in a way, it appears an easy escape, but no, I'm afraid such habits turn into a crutch.

*settles back on couch*

It has come to my attention that... I may have been overly enthusiastic in my promulgation of certain political views. Too hortatory - just learnt that word, by the way. This sort of thing, it seems, can drive wedges between friends. I do believe I'll have that cigar, Mr. Ham.

Mr. Ham: Nuh uh, no takebacks. But, I hafta parable for ya:

An old man decided to buy some grain at the market, and brought his young grandson along. The duo were riding happily on their donkey, when a group of young ladies passed by.

"Poor animal! How can that wretched creature bear the weight of two people, and under the hot sun no less? These rural people are soooo cruel, can't you see."

Chastened, the old man hurriedly dismounted, and continued on now leading the donkey, with his grandson remaining seated on it. Soon, they passed a middle-aged couple.

"Look! Youngsters nowadays, no respect for their elders! He looks so pampered, alone on the donkey, while his poor grandfather struggles on rickety feet! For shame!"

Red-faced, the grandson begged his granddad to get back on the donkey after the couple had passed, and got down to walk beside it instead. No sooner had he done so, however, that some teenagers hanging out by the side said:

"What a heartless old git! Riding all high-and-mighty-like, while his grandson suffers trying to keep up! He doesn't even look eight years old, can his tender feet withstand it?"

With no other option, the old man too came down yet again, and both granddad and grandson set off walking alongside their donkey, until they came to a roadside inn. Upon witnessing the sight, the customers erupted in laughter.

"Have you ever seen such country bumpkins? A perfectly good donkey, and they don't ride it, and instead walk with it? The tales of inbreeding in those parts must be true, lads!"

At his wits' end, the old man knocked the donkey out, so that he could pretend it was for sale by hauling it with his grandson to the market, thus avoiding further criticism.

Me: Yeah, oldie but goodie. The usual telling does neglect another option they could have taken, though.

Mr. Ham: *puffing on cigar* Yep, they could have set off without the donkey in the first place, if they had applied forethought.

Me: Or just stayed home. Which is, in our case, the equivalent of not having any opinion, on any topic that could be construed as controversial. That's the only sure way to escape offending someone or other. But, we were never exactly Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, were we? We take stands, defend them, promote them, as it should be.

Which, as it happens, is why group conversations are seldom "deep". Topics are interesting, as it happens, because they are open for debate, oft from many perspectives. When multiple views can be passionately held and argued for. Honestly, very few groups - even among academics and the more-educated, in my experience - thrive under this dynamic. I believe that humans have been socially evolved to seek consensus and harmony within in-groups, with truth and procedural logic coming a distant second, as previously noted.

Maybe let's try a concrete example. Remember xenophobia? The favourite catch-all derogatory label of the local administration through the mid-to-late 2000s (seriously, you can DuckDuckGo to relive its prevalence in that period), as they cranked their issuance of permanent residencies up from 30000 a year to 80000 a year? I still recall the worried response from more than a few acquaintances at the university, when I expressed the view that perhaps it might not be the best idea to have immigration on this scale:

Are you xenophobic?

The irony, of course, was that they then proceeded to drop PR issuance back down to 30000 a year by 2010, due to various problems. Gee, sure looks xenophobic of the government. The point, then, is that there definitely were very good arguments against that degree of immigration. However, there was next to no effort made to discuss those tradeoffs over official and mainstream media channels, but instead an appeal to anti-xenophobia (of course, one suspects that they would have gone for the evergreen racist, had the immigrants not largely been ethnic Chinese themselves). How does one fight that?

Mr. Ham: It's like, they give you a cupcake, and you say, thanks very much. Then they tell you to eat three more cupcakes, and you start to politely hint that that's enough. Then they show up with twenty cupcakes, and then it's, are you cupcakephobic?

You... you... *dairyist*!
[Source: flickr.com]

Me: Yeah, that about captures it. We might also point out Roy Ngerng's arguments from a few years back. While some of his more personal accusations might be unwarranted, I believe his general complaints about the intertwining of CPF funds and HDB assets valid, as evidenced by the incumbents' latest walkback on HDB values - but, of course, you won't hear this acknowledgement in The State's Times.

Same goes for the plastic straw situation. While it may have driven some homegrown innovation, some NUS students have rightly lashed back on whether the gesture actually makes much if any sense. The extensive use of plastics in other foodware and packaging aside, the general effect of a straw ban by certain outlets appears to have merely knocked the demand on to their neighbours, making this seem destined to be another of those short-lived feel-good campaigns. I suppose they could force a token fee if they really wanted, but I've never seen it work for plastic bags - which tend to be recycled for the trash, mind.

I think, then, that we have established a long and consistent record of contrarian - more specifically, contrarian towards the party line - analysis. This too is for a reason: support for the common, standard, "accepted" view would have been well-trodden in the mainstream media. The question would then be: are those actually good supporting arguments, or are they actually expected to be taken by authority alone? Interestingly, our - we think justified - extended skewering of local politicos seems to have enjoyed tacit acceptance, unlike about others.

Now consider the ongoing Honduran migrant caravan story. While the establishment media has near-uniformly portrayed the deployment of the military to the border as a waste of effort, with reference to unnamed officials, the implications of simply allowing the thousands of migrants through remain tacitly undiscussed. What signal would that send? Wouldn't this mean that, if any group unilaterally wishes entry into the States, all they have to do is to gather into a large enough mob and force their way inside? Now, while I can be somewhat sympathetic towards those who have already resided within the U.S. sans documentation for years, especially those born there, surely some common sense has to come into play here. The Mexicans' patience seems to have already worn thin, and I'm not sure Good Guy Canada is willing to live up to their pledge and pick up the slack, but hey - cool socks, good P.R.

There should be a distinction made, I think, between respecting individual journalists, and respecting the mainstream media. Yes, there are many brave reporters sacrificing their lives towards uncovering the truth, but no, from what I can see, the press is collectively being an ass. And no, this is for once not a minority opinion: multiple polls have the American people ranking the American media as significantly more divisive than the current POTUS, and from how misrepresentative the media have been about ground opinion and actual happenings, I can't say that this breakdown of trust is undeserved.

Mr. Ham: Fascinating. Oh, look at the time, session's over. Will bill you later. Any last words?

Me: I'll go into it more in the future, but just this: if the Democrats are to mount a resistance, they need to master the meme - serious. Or the meme will master them.

In all of magic there is an incredibly large linguistic component. The Bardic tradition of magic would place a bard as being much higher and more fearsome than a magician. A magician might curse you. That might make your hands lay funny or you might have a child born with a club foot. If a Bard were to place not a curse upon you, but a satire, then that could destroy you. If it was a clever satire, it might not just destroy you in the eyes of your associates; it would destroy you in the eyes of your family. It would destroy you in your own eyes. And if it was a finely worded and clever satire that might survive and be remembered for decades, even centuries. Then years after you were dead people still might be reading it and laughing at you and your wretchedness and your absurdity.

Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They're not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being; that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment; things with which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we're waiting to die. It's not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn't be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.

- Alan Moore

[R.I.P. Jin Yong and Stan Lee, giants of fantasy; the former had a closer connection to Singapore than I had known]

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