December 31, 2007
Can you tell me the future? We shall try, assembling the largest team ever - our panel of hacks have all screwed on our Nostrodamus hats and will ruminate on the major trends that’s likely to feature in 2008.
Topics include the major socio-economic & political trends; Are we heading for another recession? How are job prospects? Is the price of petrol going to keep heading upwards? If 2007 was the year of run away train inflation will more of the same pan out for 2008?
To summarize; three main drivers will muscle their way to the lime light in 2008.
Food is going to be big for producers, retailers and consumers. We are not referring only to quantity, but also quality.
2008 will be the year when some of the most radical regulatory changes to food in the primary markets [EU and US] will take effect redefining how it’s produced, distributed and marketed.
2008 will also feature as the great year of economics. Expect it to make headlines as never before. In 2008 even your friendly auntie in the NTUC outlet will be able to give you a 5 minute lecture on ‘cost driven inflationary pressures.‘ If 2007 was the year that oil prices went crazy, 2008 will be the year when the world finally begins to make sense of how to get on top of this problem with the help of economics – so expect economics to be the main actor in TV, newspapers and magazines in 2008.
2008 is also the year when the large teutonic plates of the US and EU collide with those in the Indian continent and North Asia. We know this has been an on-going story, but no time in the history of financial markets has it ever reached such a watershed. Or aligned itself to cover so many topics of interest ranging from migration, defense, economics, oil and security.
(1) First East to West, Now West to East.
The good news next year is the world economy will still grow albeit at a slower rate – with Asia taking up much of the slack. in 2007 Global growth hit 4.58%. This is unlikely to fall below 4 per cent in 2008, despite an expected US recession.
One reason is due to the rise of North Asian economies e.g China which has over taken the US as the major contributor towards GDP growth. These days China, India and Russia between them now account for more than half of global growth.
If the story of 2007 was the great “disconnection” of the world economy from the US juggernaut, which once colored the rest of the world i.e What happens in the US economy has the ability to affect the rest of the world.
The narrative in 2008 will be about how the economy of the world “re-connects” with the new power houses in the East.
This signifies a shift not only in the way we typically make sense of stuff. It will also have a profound effect in re-defining the balance of power between East and West.
Expect the trilogy of China, India and Russia to feature more prominently in the world stage. As they assume greater roles on issues ranging from monetary control to the environment – China as usual will lead the pack, as her wealth lies in it’s endless reserves of ultra cheap labour and unparallel ability to deliver cost leadership.
Russia by virtue of her vast oil reserves assumes a clout never seen before except during the days of the cold war. Unlike the family run oligarchs of the sheikhsdom who have always been cautious about investing in the West. The Russians have no qualms about hedging their foreign reserves in businesses in the West. The question with Russia is whether it is able to shed it’s zero business sense successfully and take to the sophistication of the role demanded. As for India expect it to move up the value chain in innovation. Unlike China that only has a numerical superiority. India leverages on it’s base of quality nowledge workers. In 2008, we are confident at least one major IT innovation will emerge from her.
(2) Oil, Oil all Around, But Not A Drop….
Will taxi fares continue to escalate in 2008? How much will it cost you to put a tiger in your tank?
Our prediction is the price of crude oil will continue to remain high for years to come.
2008 will continue to see increases, albeit at a controlled rate as oil extraction currently isn’t the main problem as much as bottlenecks in the refining process – these shortfalls will even out sometime in the first and second quarter of 2008.
I remember during university doing a paper on “peak oil” – the conspiracy theory that global oil production and prices will continue to defy the adage, “what goes up must eventually come down” – where the price of oil keeps going up and up for decades and then starts falling rapidly like the market in 1929 – the lecturer wasn’t amused and failed me.
In 2007 when the price of crude did an unexpected runner the black arts of economics went mainstream and started dominating much the fiscal thoughtware.
Just to give you a short historical trend line of how high crude has gone up recently – in the second quart of 2006, crude prices fell from $80 to $59.7 a barrel – the biggest drop in 20 years. Pundits expected it to fall further to $35 or even lower – within a span of a year throughout 2007, the price of crude crossed the $100 psychological level!
Apart from lending credence to my pet theory of the age of ‘peak oil,’ this also shows you how much of forecasting has to do with rain dancing and studying pig entrails – when you think that the price of crude has gone up by a staggering 87% from it’s Q2 benchmark of $59 that’s the main reason why we have been seeing the sharp shocks of the recent rounds of price increases – much of it is has to do with businesses knee jerking as they frantically try to adjust these increases with their financial projections earlier in 2007. And behaving very much like the crew on the Titanic 2 minutes before she rammed into the iceberg.
If 2007 was the year that businesses were completely blind sided by the sudden increases in oil. Expect 2008 to be the year when governments, firms and individuals begin to develop methods to deal with the paradox of how to sustain growth with ultra-expensive oil.
While some in blogosphere have been describing 2007 as the year of run away train inflation and they’re probably telling you, 2008 will see more of the same wild inflationary increases.
We do not believe this to be the case. Infact, we don’t even see the threat of hyper-inflation featuring in the local, regional or the global economy in 2008.
If you look at this type of scare mongering rhetoric it’s fostered largely by hitherto hawkish talk from central banks rather than industry watchers. And much of it is driven by ignorance and a lack of appreciation; how elastic oil prices can be under prolonged conditions of resource scarcity.
We believe 2008 will be the year when inflation remains relatively kwai kwai i.e stable. There will still be rises, but they will be tacked.
If 2007 was the year when most financial planners were caught with their pants down as they were blindsided by wave after wave of cost spikes.
In 2008, they’re all wearing chastity belts – and plenty of provisioning has already been factored in to dampen the volatility of rising oil prices [for at least 1.3 years, after that no guarantees. Tip: take this year to prepare for 2009]
There are several reasons accounting for why we are unlikely to see the run away type inflation that scissored its way across 2007.
Firstly we have studied three drivers; organised labour [cost of doing business] capital goods [machines that converts raw materials into goods] and money supply [how much cheap money in the market] in the West.
Wage cost is consolidating. This is good, it means 2008 is the year when less people will be talking about superman and extraordinary people. If 2007 was the age of the 2.2 million dollar man and master of the universe rhetoric.
2008 will be the year when many of us will be asking; why does Superman wear his undies outside? Why is his tongue sticking out? What is that green thing? Is it krytonite? Did we overdo it in 2007?
Expect 2008 to be the search for value; it is no longer; what time did you come back from work yesterday? That’s the easy part. The question is will be; what did you accomplish for the salary – 2008 will be big on value.
Real or actual, wage growth [salary rates] has been falling steadily in EU, US and Japan for the last 2 quarters – we have been monitoring this development very closely, as it also has a direct impact on our game - this is good and if all the indications are to go by, 2008 will see an end to the helium filled days of run away salaries.
Given that labor usually makes up 25% to 30% of most corporate cost bases [what firms usually spend in a year]. This should offset upward pressure from oil costs.
Second, if you look at the credit rating agencies [how much money is floating out there] there is a credit crunch [no one is money laundering these days], historically this tends to be deflationary rather than inflationary. So again this is a good – it means we are headed towards a soft landing rather than another round of price hikes.
Thirdly, the consumption of capital goods [machines that make stuff / used as aggregate to calculate MIC – manufacturing conversion cost] in EU and US is at all time low. So again this is unlikely to exacerbate the already high cost of oil to trigger off run away inflation. Stands to reason; less machinery = less electricity required = less demand on oil = stable to moderate price for oil.
(3) Food Glorious Food!
If 2007 was the year when the price of Maling Luncheon simply went up and up till it finally disappeared. Expect 2008 to be the year when it returns back to earth again, only in better shape and form albeit at a slightly higher cost. Due to a plethora of regulatory measures to be introduced by both the EU and the US next year and this is where it goes screwy – even oil shortages feature as ethanol a fuel substitute is made from corn. The problem is when it goes into the tank less of it goes into the wok and so the crop prices of corn goes up. Corn oil is in everything from potato crisp to giving mee pok that springy bounce. It’s added as a stabilizer to bind the flour.
Now don’t go catatonic and start hoarding maggi mee, we know that recently the USDA Economic Research Service observed the average American who spends roughly 10% of our household budget on food is expected to spend 15% in 2008. The alarmist say this 50% percentile increase signals the end of affordable food and heralds the age of expensive food for all of us. Not true, in both the Singaporean and Malaysian context.
Firstly Americans already enjoy the lowest price to ratio food in the world.
It becomes all too evident when one compares this with France, its almost double at 18.5%, in the UK shoppers typically spent 22%. Japan, over a quarter at 26%.
Another anomaly in the calculation is the type of food consumed , for example, I usually have laksa for breakfast, but the average Brit sausages, bacon and egg.
So just because the price of food is expected to go up doesn’t mean that it will go up by the same percentile basis points, there is considerable elasticity associated with the calculations – we have not been able to finish off the calculations as we are still compiling data on how much veggies and makan stuff come over from Malaysia etc, but it’s fair to assume with improvements in sourcing and supply chain technology food prices in 2008 will also be relatively well behaved – imported chiat kantang variety food is definitely expected to go up e.g imported fish fingers, chips and everything that gives you a heart attack.
This is largely a function of shifting values in how the average American has come to appreciate the benefits of higher quality foods. As they guarantee both proper nutrients and the right safety procedures such as educating workers not to regularly wipe their bum bum with chocolate cakes.
Food increases in 2008 is also a function of how marketers in the West are increasingly targeting oldies as major makaners observing their incidence of major health ailments including diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure actually double or triple from munching lousy food.
2008 will be the year when food is really food. We are definitely observing a shift in policy. From one that moves away from spending more time and money to hire lawyers like Dotty to put out fires and issue out cover your ass health disclaimers to actually marketing the wholesome benefits of highly nutritious food.
As a quick recap The Outlook for 2008
1. Slow down in major markets in the world, US and EU / pick up in North and East Asia.
2. Don’t sweat the inflation – it will be quiet well behaved / 2009 may see another round of spikes, so take 2008 as a breather and it may be a good idea to defer those big ticket purchases.
3. Less interventionist policy expected in global and regional markets – may even see a shift from Fed style monetarism policies to something laissez faire policy.
4. The world financial system is weaning itself off the dollar as a reserve currency, expect a shift to Europe currencies – for example: UK – the most attractive fixed income market.
Happy New Year from all of us. Remember only Dummies drink and drive!
[This report has been compiled by the Council of the Wise /All the Guilds of the Interspacing Fed / Vollariane. Memphisto. Cerebus / Kadjel, Harphoon, Scholarboy, Atomic Monkey, Pumpman, Astro-Boy, Keith Ho – guest readers LHL, Dr Lee TB, Chandra and all the members of the Imperial College Mafia – The brotherhood Press 2007]
Disclaimer: We are all idiots here, so please don’t believe everything you read in the internet, check it out yourself!
Find Out What’s Happening In Our First Travelogue of 2008. Right Here
December 30, 2007
(Live Location Report)
December 30, 2007
(Live Location Report)
Somewhere in the west edge of the Badain Jaran some 2 days ride from Dunhuang – we pulled up on a small farming village. It’s not much - a few thatched roof mud huts – a few goats – a few old men. It’s being a long ride and our local guide who was supposed to see us through this leg of the expedition hightailed off because he claims to be sick – we left him in Dunhuang sneaking out of the hotel without paying the bill, so that’s fair – should have known better than to trust computer geeks who moonlight as tour guides one regular meets in the internet, but none of us are complaining. We have been on the saddle for nearly 9 hours straight. There are more pressing issues at hand, one the radiators on our bikes is leaking coolant and the manifold on the other is making strange growling noises.
This is desert country, we don’t take these things lightly. It’s no joke to be stranded in the middle in the middle of the desert.
The trail is bone dry this time of year, hot in the day and so cold at nights that even the coolant freezes up – added to that the winds billowing from the North West is relentless, it whips up everything in it’s path making it impossible to travel in single file – instead we have to ride off road abreast, that just plays havoc on man and machine, our nerves are all on edge, our machines have seen better days. We’re exhausted – all of us pretty much stopped talking yesterday and we are still not talking much today – ridding rough across sand dunes was something that we didn’t count on being so sapping. It demands every ounce of concentration, one misjudgment at 110 kmh and you’re as good as done for.
I don’t even know where we are. The maps we are relying on is outdated by 20 years (I’ve explain later while we are using old maps) and the folks around here speak a strange hoarse like dialect that none of us can understand – we try putong waoh – it’s no use. The farmer, who claims to be a certain Mr Chou Weishian, yet frequently calls himself Henei or Wen on several occasions wears a faded olive green army uniform, hiding half bodied across the door way he might be hiding a AK 47 or a cast iron skillet, we look abit like aliens in our skin tight leathers and helmets – it takes him a while to figure out the tripods we are carrying slung across our backs aren’t semi automatics. We’ve here on an experimental project sponsored by the Mercantile Guilds to test out a scaled version of a solar cooker a few of us have invented. It’s called a heliostat cooker, a parabolic dish concentrates the suns rays like a death beam to heat up a pot of water or cook something. They tell me if connected in series, it can even drive a decent sized turbine and generate enough electricity to power a whole city. I don’t really believe them. Another dumb idea if you asked me. So dumb that even the guide who was supposed to shepherd us here said, “if it’s such a clever idea we (the Chinese) would have already invented it a long time ago – didn’t you dumb Singaporeans realize we invented paper and gun powder?”
Life in these parts sucks big time, from the looks of it the sand dunes are slugging it out with the arable land. The former seems to be winning hands down.
Desertification is a major problem in Western and Northen China. According to farmer, brigand or smuggler Chou (he claims to be a farmer) who has been farming here for the last fifteen generations, the desert used to be somewhere over the crest of hills in the far distance – peering towards a sliver of dark ochre he claims the land once held it’s ground there against the encroaching sands during his grand pa’s time – we take a quick compass reading and tack off the position with Theodolite and check it off against our dodgy map. It’s a fiddly soviet find one of cheapest that we could afford with our meager funds, everything is pretty much busted up except the distance finder – that’s all we really need for this project. Finally after 10 minutes, we get the approximation – 21.6 miles SW. We took a whole lot of similar reading through out our journey from Duo hang and guess what?
There’s a big deficit between what the map shows and what we are seeing. That’s why we are using an old map to trace out the before and after image. It’s starting to piece up very nicely, the desert seems to be swallowing up everything around it like a whirlpool – what happened? Is it a natural phenomenon? Or was it man made?
One clue lies in the history of China itself in the tumultuous period just before the cultural revolution when millions of cadres flooded into the countryside in an effort to barrel China into the industrial age. The commissars set up communes to produce everything from pig iron to uranium. Result: they cut down every single tree to fuel their furnaces. Fast forward today: The Chinese government is facing an ecological disaster of it’s own making. Gone are the natural wind barriers offered by trees. Gone also are the natural retaining walls of shrubs that used to draw a line in the sand. Now nothing stands in her way, the fast-growing desert makes up more than a quarter of China’s land mass. There’s a renewed urgency to combat desertification and drought, and step up a drive to halt the ochre menace. The danger is greatest in these parts in Northern China which is battling its worst drought in a decade.
The lack of renewable resources is the No.1 reason accounting for desertification. It’s such a big problem the government has even installed communal methane gas facilities that use animal dung and human waste to produce energy so the people no longer need to chop down trees. This is the reason why we on this expedition, to show case our new solar invention and hopefully go one stage towards redressing the need to use precious natural resources. We need to test it first and gather empirical data for our home team to research on further – our mission is critical.
To hold back the desert, the Forestry department has planted shrubs, they look like the hardy variety. According to the locals, the roots go deep and hold the ground firm – Mr Chou tells us that his donkeys like to munch on them when it gets really hot – the government has since warned the farmers not to allow their livestock to stray into these anti-desertification measures. It doesn’t seem to be working – we see a few goats munching on them indolently. From where we stand the dunes look menacing. Peering at us through leather worn faces, a group of elders brew tea with a dash of aniseed oil, we trade cigarettes for petrol, they’re getting a better deal judging from the poor quality of the fuel but we don’t have a choice – our tanks are nearly dry. I consult one of boys and there’s a possibility we may have to abandon one of the bikes here and proceed on only 3 remaining vehicles, the leak on the radiator needs a spot of welding and the nearest village is a good 3 days ride from here – I decide to put off the decision and turn my mind inwards sitting around a camp fire, listening to the old men as they take turns to look at 1:15 scaled parabolic dish holding it up towards the setting sun. “This looks like something we could use in the kitchen” Says one, the others burst out laughing, their tobacco stain teeth mirroring the splendor of the coopery sun – they spit so do we. Everybody learns to spit in china, even the donkeys spit and those who don’t just choke and die on the sand. Miss Manners will die in China.
In these parts the farmers grow mainly cotton and condiments – it’s not the high grade variety because there isn’t enough water to irrigate the land properly – the government has built a pipe line, but the farmers lament that the pump station breaks down all the time. Long before that according to one of the elders pointing to a rusty Soviet anti aircraft gun some distance from the moat during Mao era. The farmers were trained to fire off silver iodide rounds skywards to facilitate condensation in moisture-laden clouds. In the beginning, the idea worked like a charm to ease the drought. It was so successful that it was even used to control sandstorms and avert famines. These days as one of the elders lamented “the kids use it as a play ground.” Some looks up at the steely cloudless lapis sky to punctuate the statement, he spits and we all do the same.
I look around, the women folk are looking at us through thatched screens. A few of them are giggling. One of the elders nudges me, “I think she likes you?” Another adds in, “Who, the donkey or the goat?” Another round of rapturous laughter breaks out followed by another spitting fest. As night approaches, we slip the old some money and trade him a 12 volt motorcycle battery – I tell him, it’s foreign, it will last forever, he looks at it suspiciously and throws it to another elder, who nods agreeably – that’s sorted out.
I am reminded even in this remote outpost at the edge of the Badain Jaran desert capitalism has scissored it’s way cutting across values and cultures, people in China these days only get off their butt for one thing – money. It highlights the constant struggle against trying to eek out a living in an environment of acute scarcity – here in these parts the encroaching desert is the nemesis. During the days of Kublai Khan and army fully armored even marched against an ochre sandstorm historians document as the “Rah-Mat-there” – this is what life is like for most farmers in situated at the Northen provinces. It’s a hard land and inhospitable land where live hangs perpetually in the balance – it wasn’t always like this, 2 days ride from where we are about 300 kilometers straight across the delta that over the lip of a salt lake used to be one watering holes along China’s famed ancient silk road. We passed it three days ago and although the sand dunes had engulfed the once prosperous trading outpost, there was plenty of evidence to suggest a lake even once existed there.
These days, only old men and slivers of land is all that stands against the path of the menacing desert.
I better save some batteries on my Nokia Communicator. I may need it tomorrow, just in case. Just in case.
(Nacramanga / Memphisto / Atomic Monkey / Keith Ho – travelogue – The Brotherhood Press 2007 – This Post Has Been Brought To You Live By Aurora your trusted Interspacing Logistics Teamster – Your Trusted Com-Sat Provider)
Take A Peek At The Future. What Lies In Store For You In 2008, get tomorrow today, only in the Brotherhood Press.
Find out from our panel of subject matter experts how to ace the curve – remember Knowledge is Power!
December 29, 2007
[Breaking News! Political Analysis - Pls Adjust The View Size For Your Reading Pleasure]
Benazir Butho has been assassinated. Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for bagging her. How was this tragedy allowed to happen?
Pakistan a country with a stellar economic growth (8.4%) second to only China last year. With an all-time high foreign exchange reserves close to $13.73bn and a vibrant Karachi stock exchange – a country which was even feted and held out for special praise by the IMF as a “model economic reformist regime” – which managed to score top marks in every single World Bank target.
Where did it go so wrong?
Based on a recent US think tank’s congressional report 950023 – Capitol Hill / one likely reason forwarded by Washington is
“President Musharraf is no longer able to keep domestic affairs in order”.
In diplomatic speak, it means he’s no longer in the equation, not even in a position to effectively influence the outcome of events. He’s just like one of those space monkeys blasted off to space. He’s just there for the ride - no one’s expects monkeys to design and built spaceships to go to Mars. In the same way, no one expects him to be able to control the socio-political situation in Pakistan – it’s completely out of his hands.
How did it go so wrong? How is it possible for all the levers of power to be connected to nothing?
Despite having all the righter than right ticks for democratic institutions – civil liberties and even a press that enjoys unfettered freedom – problems continue to plague Pakistan.
One reason why Pakistan is axiomatically Islamic and still suffers uncontrollable spates of terrorist inspired violence stems from the historical baggage of having being a proxy to train extremist and insert them into various theatres to support her border security. Most notable was during the heady days of Reaganism. Only then the same terrorist were referred too as “freedom fighters.” They fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. At the height of the war nearly 3 million refugees poured into the Eastern border of Pakistan, importing with them their blend of Islamic fundamentalism that the CIA nurtured as a strategic resource to fuel the war against the Soviets. In certain North East states such as Peshawar and Rawalpindi, the influx of these refugees changed irrevocably the demographics, economics and cultural attributes of the local community forever – In the small town of Bannu, some 190 kilometers south of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s rugged North-West Frontier Province, the sound semi automatic gun fire regularly rents the air.
Here weapons, including tank busting stuff such as rocket propelled grenades are produced in warrens of family owned shops and sold predominantly to Taliban extremists and militia forces fighting in tribal areas located along the North-West Frontier.
The fact that North East provinces, namely Waziristan is a tribal territory, lying outside Islamabad’s writ and beyond the ambit of Pakistani laws, has complicated the situation further. Here tribal laws mix with state laws uneasily, only for the rule of law to fritter away. Without a credible means of enforcing laws, violence seems impossible to stop, extremism flourishes despite government efforts to strike deals with the militants or to suppress them through armed action.
Tribal communities pose a real challenge to the will of the Islamabad central government. Recently Agence France-Presse estimated that this year alone at least 700 soldiers and 1,000 militants had been killed in border skirmishes.
The scale of the warfare can only be gauged but they are a stark reminder that Pakistan is no where near as monolithic a society as it’s always depicted to be. In truth, it’s demographic make up is a polyglot of assorted interest groups, interspersed with plenty of fiefdoms. Some brazen and demanding like militants in the East border of Pakistan. Others less vocal but equally dangerous such as the Kashmiri Separatist Movement – Islamabad has been secretly funding and training to consolidate it’s power over the disputed territory with India.
As each layer of intrigue gets increasingly wrapped up in statecraft, religion and sectarian interest what’s starting to emerge is the paradox of Islamabad’s inability to juggle so many interest groups yet secure it’s own hold on power – that, of course, was the issue in several Italian city states of the 15th century, where citizens had become too mercantile that they resorted wholly to militia to protect their lucrative trade routes. In such circumstances it is their employers rather than the enemy that mercenaries confront with threat; they take sides in quarrels, they lend themselves out to the highest bidder as political ballast. Is it so inconceivable that they may even be prepared to kill to further their own political agenda? That is the harvest that Pakistan reaped the moment it pursued a systematic strategy of protecting it’s territorial interest and furthering it’s geo- political agenda by resorting to militia’s when partition saw her set adrift from India in 1947.
The problem is while such a strategy may be expedient to solve short term problems in an economic way. Over reliance on the militia system brings with it, it’s own set of long term problems.
Firstly, it fragments the power structures; accounting for why warlords and tribal chieftains are still able to exact both cultural and political mileage throughout the 1,300 kilometers of the North East border regions to even influence political events in Islamabad!This they do, to the greater detriment of the rule of law by insisting on their rights to hold on to their archaic ideals about god, family and state – it is these tribal communities who live very much by their old martial codes that continue to pose a real threat to the Musharraf administration. Since very little has been done to osmotically integrate them into mainstream Pakistani society precisely because doing so would have the effect of nullifying their usage as militants.
As economic growth continues to course through the social network empowering more Pakistani urbanites with opportunities for western education and wealth creation. The divide between cosmopolitans and traditionalist will grow even wider exacerbating the already fractious nature of how communal politics is conducted.
Recognizing the growing bedrock of extremism and how reticent it is to all forms of state inspired reform. Since 2001, Islamabad has spent over USD$3.5 billion to overcome the influence of the extremists by attempting to modernize religious seminaries under the Madrassa Reforms Programme. Measures have been introduced to stop their use as centres for inflammatory teaching, and Ulamahs have been subjected to security screening. However, despite the best efforts of the government to establish a model madrassas (religious training centers) to provide modern and useful education – this has proven to be universally unpopular. Many traditionalist see this as yet another attempt to erode their elemental rights. Others see it as simply an attempt by Islamabad to dismantle the tribal network that features so prominently in Pakistani politics, where the Ulamah is both a religious and political figure head.
This accounts for why the pace of reform has been described as sedentary - resulting in archiac laws like the shariah laws, blasphemy laws and enacted land reforms sitting uncomfortably besides ‘new’ reformist laws in a state of perpetual limbo.
Along with this there is also a reluctance to address anomalies within the party political coalition between bureaucrats and the establish Mullahs who still continue to exact a hold on the electorate.
As with all basket cases. The hubris lies somewhere between knowing what to do and coming heads to heads with the limits of knowing what cannot be practically accomplished – this question will continue to form the main montage whenever we speak about Pakistan now and in the foreseeable future and probably a very long time to come. Meanwhile, rest in peace Mrs Benazir Bhutto.
You’re be glad to know, we are christening a newly comissioned “Dimitri” space station after you – may you continue to beacon the murk in a happier place, faraway from a place called Pakistan.
Vollariane, Harphoon, Astroboy, Montburan, Dotty and Scholarboy – A Strategic Analysis – The Brotherhood Press 2007
What lies in Store For You In 2008? Read The Brotherhood Analysis:
Have You Ever Wondered;
December 29, 2007
Read Our Live Travelogue Fresh From China!
December 29, 2007
Yes, it seems these days moon fever has griped every country. British scientists recently confirmed at a meeting in the Open University Nasa would be considering another version of Beagle-2, the ill-fated British lander that should have reported from Mars on Christmas Day 2003, but transmitted a groan and promptly died.
In 2006, the European Space Agency (ESA) ended a three-year mission called Smart-1 with sent a probe on the moon. Japan has followed suit by launching a spacecraft called Selene. Not to be out done China is frantically preparing for the launch of it’s own reconnaissance probe Chang Ee. Even India plans a lunar probe called Chandrayaan if their astrologers can all agree on an auspicious date to blast off.
Everybody seems to be getting into the moonie act. Why is everyone suddenly going ga-ga over the moon? I mean this is hardly new news, if you consider since the advent of moon fever in the late 50’s there has been over 60 attempts to lob something at the our pockmarked satellite, some ranging from probes as small as a coke can others weighing as much as a Volkswagen.
One reason why the moon has come into sharp focus is because many space pundits see it as a stepping stone to a bigger space chapter; Mars. The logic goes like this: if humans are to stand any chance of succeeding in the 6 or so months journey to Mars, the moon is the best locale to test out space gizmos and more importantly conduct practice runs.
Having said that there is a theory floating around the internet that the real reason why everyone is really suffering from lunacy these days is because the Americans faked their last foray there – yes believe or not! It seems the Americans one to get there first this time, to stomp on the moon and leave tire tracks along with loads of antique space junk, so as to make sure no one discovered, they actually didn’t go to the moon!
Believe it or not there are actually some people questioning whether the whole lunar project even actually took place. Much of their basis for disputing the official claim is what they perceive as some discrepancies in some of the photographs, like why no stars featured and how could the stars and stripes be fluttering in an environment with no breeze. Generally, for various and other assorted reasons – they believe that the Moon landings were mocked up in a some secret studio in Area 51 and that the Apollo crews never left low earth orbit. The whole idea was, the US never had the technology to go to the moon and to convince the Soviets not to go there, they decided to fake it!
Whatever the real reason for going to the moon this time – because it holds the answer to the origins of whence we came from as a planet and people – or that deep beneath it’s cold pockmarked surface there could actually be stores of hydrogen reserves and precious metal – or whether it just a convenient place to train astronauts to go to Mars.
One thing will remain certain, some of us here will only be interested to find out where Neil Amstrong’s golf ball ended up in the Sea of Tranquility.
Astro Boy – Space Exploration Expert – Brotherhood Press 2007
December 28, 2007
We all have our opinion of the war in Iraq, but as the Guardian and other media outlets have been reporting, lately people have been getting back to their daily routines thanks to a decline in violence in Baghdad. This is undoubtedly good news for people and planet alike – I for one have always wished the best for the soldiers and Iraqi citizens alike, but a side effect of the return of boon times has been the traffic jam’s and the spike in automobile related accidents in central Baghdad.
According to Reader’s Digest, it’s not uncommon to see cars piled up tail to tail, to exacerbate matters checkpoints add to the already slow grind. Recently what has happened is tens of thousands of Baghdadis have found an antidote (to the traffic) in the venerable bicycle scooter.
Now the bicycle scooter isn’t really a new invention – it has been around for yonks and marries two technologies, first the internal combustion engine and on reserve your leg power. Of late made in China scooters have been making their way into Iraq for the same reason they are popular all over the world, they’re cheap, easy to maintain and they’re a fast way to weave through the jam. But Iraqis also have one added motivation to go pedal power: soldiers at checkpoints often wave them through. Soldiers tend to view two wheelers as hardly the preferred carriage of suicide bombers. One reason is because unlike cars which can be rigged with all sorts of explosive devices, two wheelers are pretty skeletal and they allow for quick checks. Besides unlike cars that have to negotiate through tight S bends in barricades, two wheelers do it in a jiffy with plenty of room to spare.
As the number of scooters on the road has dramatically risen, a thriving support network for the care and maintenance of scooters and motorbikes has sprung up as well. In middle east internet forums the No.1 topic these days is not how to make a bomb as much as how to patch up a tire leak or change a spark plug – all this goes a long way towards revitalizing the entrepreneurial spirit of Iraqis which took a nose dive when the US rolled in, in 2003. Recently with the increased strain placed on gasoline supply, eventually even mopeds will be phased on in place for electric scooters. This we foresee will be a new and exciting market in Iraq. I would make more sense as a long-term solution for a country that frequently faces an intermittent supply of gasoline.
Pumpman – 2007 (The Brotherhood Press – Far Out Business Enterprises)
Did I scare you, for dropping in like this? Hey, I am sorry man. What you just read from Pumpman is one of the formats which we will be introducing next year in 2008.
We call it the mini skirt, it’s short, clear and concise, written exclusively by our team of industry watchers, next year we will be dividing articles according to our team of subject matter experts e.g pump man is oil and gas, Trajan would be space, Cerebus physics, Atomic Monkey – finances and investing etc – the whole idea is to make sure, we cover every possible angle so that you always get the best analysis to make the best informed decision.
Look at the bright side, at least you wouldn’t have to keep reading the rubbish I churn out?
See you yah! Reg Darkness 2007
December 28, 2007
Much has been written about the skills needed for success in creating and running new enterprises. Are there any natural born characteristics that a person would need to increase his chances of succeeding as an entrepreneur?
Start up’s or the art of deal has always been one of my fav subjects. I am always looking for the most efficient curve, the best way to slice the pie, that sort of thing. So what I really like to do is talk to business folk to make sure that I have the latest thoughtware.
I have always believed it’s best to get it straight from the oven, rather than mulling through a tome to beacon out the murk as to what really accounts for success and failure – reading a book just doesn’t capture the realism of business, all it really does is reaffirm the whole marketing manifesto of how to sell a book!
One recurring theme that keeps cropping up is “efficiency.”
I don’t know of any entrepreneur who doesn’t take efficiency seriously. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the latest PDA or just something really simple like a very quick way to tie their shoelaces in the morning.
Businessmen are big into beating the curve. One aspect of efficiency that is seldom mentioned in books is the issue of return on energy. It seems curious to me that while industry pundits are often fixated with return on investment, no one really bothers with the whole idea of tacking efficiency by tracking the amount of effort needed to accomplish the goal. As a regular climber, I am only too aware of how failing to factor in ‘effort’ to get the ‘desired’ outcome spells trouble – it’s not only prudent to get the whole ‘energy’ equation right, but in my view even critical!
Nearly every single entrepreneur told me that during the initial start up phase, it’s key to pick and chose your battles. As one businessman who runs a solar heating firm in Kuala Lumpur told me recently, “Darkness, there are only X number of hours in a day and it’s important to make every working minute count. You cannot kiah lai kiah keeh and still expect to get good results!” This clearly acknowledges the fact that creating any new enterprise, be it a startup or a new idea at a large company, is a very long and arduous road, one that can’t be traveled without the need to first address the basics such as capacity, stamina and how one should best apply oneself.
The first rule is not the business or even your customers, it’s you! Stay healthy and keep your energy level high – most entrepreneurs are big into sports – it stands to reason, if you can’t even climb a flight of stairs without having to take a siesta, how the hell are you going to stay focused?
Remember the first rule starts from within – I have observed many a time how entrepreneurs are very different from most salaried men, they’re naturally competitive and one good way of honing that sort of killer instinct is to continually mix with people who are equally obsessed about wining.
The second rule is attitude. Always keep this in mind; in business your attitude determines your altitude. Every single entrepreneur I have spoken too has emphasized the benefits of keeping a positive attitude. However, many have also shared with me, this is also the most misrepresented idea in the field of how to successfully run a business. As one businessman who manufactures chicken coating powder told me, “Yeah sure, everyone say keep a positive attitude, but if the Ah Long keeps on coming to your office and all your staff and customers sees it all the time, keep positive lan chaui lah!”
I guess what he’s trying to say is one needs to be able to seize control of any hairy situation in the way a skipper takes control of a ship heading into a maelstorm and turn it around.
As he went on to emphasize, “So one day, I speak to this Ah Long fellow, I told him, you siaow ah! You come like you are some pasar malam koy yok vendor, do you have any idea what you are doing to my business? If I cannot make money, how to service your loan stupid? Now I met him in the car park (big smile).”
Being able to set the attitude is key – what I notice is successful businessmen don’t have a problem with confronting lousy performers or people who they consider to be just bad for business – it doesn’t matter whether it’s dealing with a lousy salesman or if they feel they’re just getting a raw deal from their bankers or authorities – they just deal with it! Just as their attitude affects the bottom line, they’re also mindful how the attitude of those who make up their sphere of influence has the capacity to do the same. Every successful business man must be able to seize the day by being able to set the mood of the ambience. He cannot allow events to overrun him or allow others to just step in and start setting the mood of doom and gloom – again this makes perfect sense, if you cannot even control what’s happening in your mind, how can you expect to come across as confident? What we are able to see very clearly here is; how keeping a positive attitude isn’t so much a matter of psyching yourself up with self hypnosis or telling yourself and others around you that you will be successful.
It has everything to do with, managing the perception as another businessman who runs a plastic injection business in the West shared with me,
“Hello Darkness, you think I can afford a Mercedes? You siaow ah! Now a days the petrol is so (censored) high. You really want to know the truth? Wah boh pian leh! – if I don’t project the right image, puah kang la, liao lah! – how to am I going to even ask my customer for a deposit? They will think, I will kam tiauh or chau lor! – understand or not, why you so stupid meh! Mah chee bai you! (censored)”
Many noted scholars have considered this idea of attitude and report that its roots lay in the personal value system of the individual. Although entrepreneurs must be attuned to the importance of money, most are motivated by the internal rewards of creating new ideas that solve real problems, or indeed change the world around them – that simply means putting a premium on attitude. It doesn’t matter whether it is a girl friend or someone you are going to have to work with seven days a week – if you get someone will a lousy attitude, it’s just going to bog you down and eventually slow you down to a standstill.
Another important attribute which all entrepreneurs expect and demand of those who they work with; is the ability to separate the important things from the unimportant – now if you really think about it – this goes a long way to feed a whole pantheon of business requirements typically required for enterprises to hum along efficiently, such as goal setting, allocating resources for your priorities and making sure you do the first things first.
As one businessman who runs a semi-conductor printing workshop in Jurong shared with me, “Darkness, to be very simple one, you look at my business, I only have maybe 2 or 3 customers, but they are big fish and I really jaga them properly. My competitor all lan chu lai. Go around the whole island like monkey king lidat , at the end same some more. So quality more important than quantity.”
What our debonair entrepreneur Ah Thiam is trying to say is this: He notes that a huge chunk of being able to “separate the important things from the unimportant” lies intrinsically in the ability to listen and understand the real meaning of what people are saying (especially his big customers) that is paramount because the most important information never arrives in reports or email but rather in karaoke lounges in Geylang. So what Ah Thiam has created is basically an intelligence network that makes Matahari look like a someone playing the slot machines – he regularly “jaga” takes care of his key managers by making sure, he gets key facts about their expansion plans and keeps regular tabs on what they’re going to do in the foreseeable future. That way he always remains the man of the hour because he is in a position to offer them his services as a valued manufacturing partner. Frankly, it stands the test of reason: Reports only convey facts while people can share the real meaning of facts as well as offering a view on what may happen out beyond the edge of what is knowable today.
So remember stick to your partners like glue! Besides, in my experience being able to call a business partner a friend goes a very long to make your business enterprise a memorable and enjoyable life journey. One thing that really sticks to my mind till this day is an incident when I really needed some test materials to conduct some experiments. Every where I went, everyone was just either telling me they didn’t want to deal or giving me the cold shoulder – then finally, I came across this factory owner that said, “you can use any machine you want in my factory and if you want any materials, I’ve order it for you, now don’t be distracted and just work on your thing.” Many years later when I asked why he did what he did, he simply said, “It’s a jungle out there, it’s a rat race, we all have to work hard to stay human, otherwise even if we win the race, we will just be a big money chasing rat!”
You go figure that one out.
And this brings us to the end of our first segment on how to ace it as an entrepreneur – meanwhile stay tuned for our next episode.
I hope you enjoyed this as much as we did!
Astro Boy / Scholarboy / Harphoon and Darkness 2007.
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December 27, 2007
The question highlights much of the debate surrounding what experts have been debating for the last 500 years: Are entrepreneurs born? Or are they schooled to turn great ideas into successful enterprises?
Now the reason why I am discussing this topic is because I am one of those who strongly believe that many of our problems as a small nation with zero natural resources can really only be resolved if we can leverage on more small to medium scale enterprises. I am not talking about the juggernauts like Temasek and Singtel as much as I am referring to the God of the really small here; small private limited firms.
Now don’t look down on the small guy who runs a small enterprise, on paper, he doesn’t look like very much, but if you look at it cumulatively, he packs quite a punch. Small to medium sized firms for example all but makes up the U.S. economy as it struggles to claw back 2.4 million jobs lost to the recession. Entrepreneurs historically have led the nation out of hard times. Start-ups, often begun by laid-off executives, create as many as 80% of jobs! So there you go, there’s a god to small, but how true is it that entrepreneurship can be learnt?
Judging from the way universities have poured $1 billion into the subject in the past 10 years. Along the way, they’re upending business schooling — adding hundreds of instructors and thousands of classes to beef up business know-how, it seems that entrepreneurship can be taught. Then again, I am rudely remind there was once a time, when kings and princes of ages poured huge amounts into the science of alchemy – hoping to transmute lead to gold. Doesn’t mean it works, just because there is a whole lot of people who are gainfully employed in doing something, publishing papers and even regularly filling up lecture halls with dead wood. All it means is they’re going through the motions like rain dancing.
Personally, I don’t really believe it’s possible to school someone to be an entrepreneur. Only because I don’t really believe a lecture theatre is where one actually hones and sharpens the skills to be an entrepreneur any more than I believe a harem is a good place to train gladiators – there is much more to it then just learning the financial skills how to balance accounts along with the whole of idea of profiling a business plan to max on the return on investment (ROI). Now I know that I have just linked blood sports to the whole idea of being a successful businessman, but that’s really how I see it. If I had to pin down only one attribute what makes any entrepreneur successful, it has to be killer instinct.
Most people will tell you killer instinct is just a technical skill, like being able to find water in the desert or knowing 10 ways to cook your grandma if you’re trapped in the basement when the aliens invade this planet – not true. I have done a lot of research into ‘killer instinct’ and one of my most interesting finds is how far it actually goes back into the memory most successful entrepreneurs. For example, I know this chap in school who every called a ‘piah kiah.’ To cut a long story short, he’s just about failed every single subject, a good for nothing. Well fast forward to present date, Mr good for nothing is probably one of the largest suppliers of aluminum ingots in south east Asia!
How did he get all the way to the top of the hill? This is what ”Piah Kiah” shared with me one evening in a KTV lounge after polishing a quart of brandy,
“You know what darkness, I just want to show all you atas people that I can hantam you all left right and center lah. I really hate all of you! You have no idea, how much I hate you Darkness especially!”
I guess what ’piah kiah’ is trying to say in not so many words is he didn’t like my pencil box very much when we were back in school. He had this burning obsession to prove us all wrong i.e we used to think the only thing he was good for was to slow down cars - impersonate road humps.
So one day, he just got sick and tired of all that humiliation and snapped – hold on there – freeze the frame – that’s also what I call the killer instinct.
Now I want to emphasize this, paih kiah’s example is not all together unique in the genre of those who typically make up the ranks of successful entrepreneurs – Edison was well know to have suffered from a chronic case of inferiority complex, he was often made to feel like the lowest of the low by the academic establishment of his day who looked upon his dubious qualifications with suspicion – the Wright brothers were largely driven to invent the Kitty Hawk because they were considered the aka bird brained brothers, the equivalent of the village dunce – Christopher Columbus resented the aristocracy in the Spanish court and regularly picked fights because he was regularly ridiculed for believing in the New World – I mean when you really peruse through the list of great entrepreneurs it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s pretty close to a rogue gallery.
The inventor of the Colt repeating six shooter that sold by the millions during the cowboy days was even an unapologetic huckster and charlatan when he actually admitted, “Well you see, I used to sell snake oil for a living, but I just as well figured out, people were willing to pay much more to kill each other rather than to feel better.”
I am telling you, I am very serious, if you really study the life of successful entrepreneurs – most of them are either so psychopathic or unhinged that they’re probably the people who you are least likely to emulate or model your life on, unless you’re seriously considering being a serial killer – if there’s one reason that accounts for their trail blazing success, it has to be this. They all share a profound sense of discomfort. A sense of estrangement even from the establishment - as to how they either see themselves or believe that society sees them – that’s to say, they’re are an unhappy lot and often perceive success as the only way of alleviating their status and liberating them from their deep seated fears or feeling that someone is stomping on them.
So here’s a good tip that has served me very well, if you’re looking for a real entrepreneur to partner with – don’t be surprise if you find him with his motley gang bitching away in some dank corner in blogosphere, cursing the world and slagging off everyone and everything – find a stool, sit down and take a closer. For despite all his anger that he’s just spewing out like a volcano, you may just be in the presence of someone who might just have the right stuff to make it successfully to the other side – he just has it, the killer instinct, that is!
“How does one find a diamond? In the deepest bosoms of a place so dark, smelly and god forsaken. That no man in his right mind will even go there!”
This is to you Piah Kiah, reader No 88376/39.
Darkness & Harphoon -2007
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December 26, 2007
As I mentioned in the first part of this three parter on how to blog successfully, strive to be a consistent producer. It doesn’t matter if what you write is even littered with grammatical and spelling mistakes or even if your thoughts come across as screwy.
Always remember quantity is a sort of quality – no one is going to turn away from your blog just because you cannot spell or string a decent sentence. They’re only going to do that if you’re short on the creative content – let me just prove it by letting you into a trade secret.
The Brotherhood Press regularly mangles up spelling, sentences and diction, in the way fake antique dealers season furniture by deliberately giving them the rough treatment. Yes, we actually, go through the trouble of grinding up our articles to give them that dog eared feel – what do you call it?
Well I have term for it, it’s call the Wabi Sabi feel. What did I just say? Wabi-sabi. Learn that word, write it down and carry it in your wallet or something, because if anything is going to take you further in life, it has to be Wabi-sabi-ing.
Wabi-sabi in a nutshell represents a view classical Japanese aesthetics; it is difficult to explain precisely in western terms, only because it doesn’t have an equivalent in the western sense.
If I was really pressed, I will just call it 5 o’clock shadow, polished timber, dog eared books and the suppleness of old leather – it’s the perfect balance between the beauty of all things that manages to capture the fine balance between imperfection and impermanence.
The story goes something like this, some 500 years ago, when the teacher told Sen no Rikyu to tidy the garden as a test before accepting him as a pupil of the tea ceremony, he worked until it was absolutely perfect. Then before finishing he has another look, and thought again. Then he shook the cherry tree so that a few flowers fell on the ground, and by doing so passed the test. Rikyu’s final touch with the tree was the essence of the concept of which he became the leading advocate; known for the last five centuries as wabi-sabi. It emerged originally as a reaction against lavish ornamentation in 16th century Japan, but it has survived there as an elusive concept.
I discovered this by sheer accident when I published my first internet novel, popularly known as the confessions – it ran with a circulation of nearly 40,000 and at it’s height it was read in nearly 36 countries – what surprised even me was how many of readers actually like the lousy grammar and spelling.
In a sense it had a lot to do with the whole idea of wabi-sabi i.e authenticity. Here for the first time, readers had to grapple with the whole idea of someone who had absolutely no skills trying to narrate a story – what did they do? Did they turn away? Did they say this is crap? Au contraire – what they did was to take up equity in the enterprise. You guessed it, they helped me out.
There was even a read club in Sweden that regularly corrected me and one in Thailand that kept on hounding me that red shoes didn’t go with an indigo cheong sam, so there you go – this shows that when you’re a consistent producer. A sort of magic is produced. One where a deep spirited trust is produced between writer and reader. Where the latter is not only content read, but feels compelled to take a stake in the enterprise.
For me the lessons are; what emerges as the belief that unifies us is not that a lousy novel or blogging can really change anything but that it offers people an avenue to preserve something. The thing being preserved really depends on the reader; it may be as private as “my right to read this during by daily tea break while I munch on my goreng pisang.” I can only reason, when the pace of life grows ever faster and we are regularly being told the age of globalization is frittering away our rights to even choose and even keep “our way of life.” It also means there has to be some counter reaction to that sort of inexorable tsunami. I realize people being people will always try their best to preserve what’s important to them, irrespective of what governments and firms try to drum into their heads – it could be something very small such as preserving a community of readers and writers, and the way in which members of this community recognize each other is that nothing in the world seems simple to them.
But do it they will, even if it means sooner or later all of us would probably be wiser to raise the white flag and surrender to the stormtroopers of globalization.
However in this new age, where everything increasingly becomes processed, sanitized and packaged, it stands to reason, the possibility of terminal boringness looms particularly large. From surreal and heady architecture to contrived ‘reality’ TV programming, from chemically enhanced fast food to artificially planned corporate communities, we live in a world increasingly devoid of spontaneous human. In the face of such dizzying post-modern innovations, surely there has to be a growing movement to return to the natural, the unspur – the authentic – the wabi-sabi way of life.
Chew on it. Even if the digital revolution evolves into some kind of Stalinist totalitarianism, the perverse effect may be elevation of writing and reading on this humble scale which blogs and lousy novels offer.
The world of samizdat, ought to serve as a reminder ”a little goes a very long way” and as long as there is such a thing as a writer and reader even on this homespun microscopic scale that one can only refer too as the statistical insignificant - blogging will not only survive but will even flourish, even in exile amid the endless profusion of hype and spin. Only because the struggle for genuine experience has to be the real reason why people regularly put up with lousy spelling, grammar and diction. Otherwise why even bother? My friend, you can even say, it is the new revolution. Do you understand now? Do you?
Have you read this!
The Latest “Live” Travelogue Is Out!
December 30, 2007
December 25, 2007
How long should it take you to write an article in a blog? IMHO, an article should take no more than 20 minutes to write tops. Researching it however is another story and that I believe is where most people run aground. If it takes too much time then it’s just going to cut into your free time – it’s no good. You’re not going to be very productive. You’ve lose the momentum.
What’s the best way of balancing effort with productivity? The key is in getting the basics right.
Rule 1, never follow the crowd and this includes commenting on the MSM, if possible. There is a very good reason why, firstly if you position yourself as just second fiddle, then you’re competiting with everyone out there – too many sound bites chasing too few readers. How the hell are you going to get noticed?
Worst still you just sound really boring like Mr Wang and Mr Brown – what I call grand canyon blogs. Nothing majestic about them, if you think about it, it’s just a giant sink hole and if you shout loud enough, you can even hear your own echo – that is what these blogs usually do, they parrot the news, they never make news and this thrown together with bits and pieces of nanobites and voila, that’s the article of the day. Result: it’s good if you want to induce yourself into a semi-comatose state but be warned it adds absolutely zero to the learning experience.
Strive to be original. Start by keeping your mind open, but don’t be so open minded that your brains spill out. It’s got to be mainstream, yet far out to catch the imagination of the readers. What I usually do is read broadly. I don’t watch TV because I believe it corrodes the brain – so in the course of a week, I can cover quiet a lot of ground and while wading through all that material. I usually keep a note book and log down bits and scraps of information – I am always asking, “Is this or that interesting mmmmmmmh?”
Keeping an open mind is key, don’t buy into the rote mentally of keeping to the yellow brick road – remember keep it loose. Always remember blogging is like Jazz, there’s plenty of room for improvisation. Never ever box yourself in. Besides it’s more fun that way – as even you don’t have any idea where it’s all going to end up. Stands to reason; if you can’t even keep your own interest alive, how do you expect to light the fire of others?
The other thing that I really find useful in coloring articles is by leveraging specifically on the vocational skills of others. One thing I have noticed about blogging regularly is it’s bound to transform one from a talker to a listener – I mean in the course of a normal day – this is probably one thing, I do at least 10 to 15 times a day; I ask alot of questions – what do you think? What’s your take as a [put in the profession]?
I do this wherever I go and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Ah Pek who runs the local bike shop or when I am having a power lunch with a CEO. The reason is quite simple. I realized pretty early on, if I am going to beat the journalist corp, there’s no way to go head on with them, don’t even stand a chance.
So it makes perfect sense to skirt them, to hit their weakest point. You see, I figured out most journalist don’t have any dialectic training beyond wordsmithing, sentencing and grammar – they’re just word technicians. That’s why if they tell you, they see the whole clearer than the rest of us, it’s just like the pastor who claims Jesus asked him to impersonate Donald Trump. That’s just a crock of shit! That can really only be true if their skill sets for verifying and proofing information is so different to qualify as unique – it isn’t, not by even a long shot. In reality, their skill sets already exist in every manner, form and shape in virtually every vocation; circus acrobats, dog shooters, prostitutes, policemen and even plumbers use basically the same deductive reasoning skills as journalist albeit with a different twist.
leveraging on that “twist” is key, as a mathematician, stock broker, call girl or scientist sees the world in infinitely more interesting terms. For starters they don’t start life expecting to write anything that anyone would even want to read, so when they have something to say, its usually so specialized and unique to their field of interest that all too often it’s 100% free from hype, spin and the marketing manifesto. That sort of authenticity just goes a very long way to offer a very unique and personal perspective to an issue, that you will never get in magazines or newspapers.
If you think about it that’s why reality TV is so big these days, it conveys the ‘real’ amid the ‘fake.’ There is an element of voyeurism to it all, we see how ordinary folk have to struggle with real life issues by learning to use rubber bands, duct tape and super glue just to get through a day.
So here’s a tip, work hard at getting really ’real.’ Don’t try to be someone who you are not. Just focus on shaping yourself, the rest will just fall happily into place.
Another thing, don’t be afraid of variety and diversity, they’re your friends, not your enemies - (inside peek) for the brotherhood press what we always try to do is match the highest level of difference into one working unit, we try not to put let’s say two dentist together, so if you look at Astro Boy and Scholar Boy. The former is a stock analyst, the latter a strategic planner, result: they gel pretty well, there is always a happy tension in their articles as if the writer is always trying to juggle two opposing thoughts – the key, that makes all this happens is keeping the tension springy all the time. In my opinion you can never have too much of it – so never confine yourself to only Singaporean issues, cast your net wider, embrace the whole world, if possible..
The third rule of thumb is try not to be distracted by fly in the ointment issues such as negative comments, daily visitor count or what other bloggers have to say about what you write – the most important thing is just be true to yourself (but also remember there is a law of defamation and libel, so if you call someone an idiot on-line make sure you have the bullet points to back it up and plug him, if you go to court. Otherwise shad dap!) – one good yardstick that has served me very well is just call a spade a spade – if you dunno, just say, dunno – don’t try to make it up or pretend! You will end up coming across as a ‘real’ idiot.
Being able to insulate yourself from distractions is key if you want to remain effective and productive. That’s really important, if you want to make sure, there are no dead zones in your blog. One of the reasons why the Singapore blog scene is deader than dead is not because there is a shortage of producers, they’re lots of them. The problem: not many of them have managed to buy into the discipline of producing regularly and consistently.
Now if I had to choose let’s say between one really good blogger who occasionally produces stellar writes up’s to let’s say an average blogger who produces every single day – I will opt for the latter, only because quantity is a form of quality.
Now you know why I don’t really pay much attention to the daily stat counter, not even if one of my articles scores thousands of hits, which is not uncommon. If you want to retain your level headedness you simply cannot afford to go down that road otherwise you will just end up resting on your laurels. Having said that I do put a lot in analyzing the monthly counter – there is a big difference. They are not the same.
While the former really tells you nothing - the monthly visitor count accounts for the cumulative take, so it’s a more accurate representation of actual reading habits. Generally, the rule of thumb is, your monthly counter shouldn’t go up and up and up, neither should it go up and down either or down all the way – if any of the three is happening, it’s not turning properly and something is definitely out of synch – what you should try to look out for is a moderate upward curve – Remember, be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day, keep the pace and stay balanced.
As I mentioned earlier, strive to be a consistent producer. IMHO there is no such thing as having no time to blog. If it’s really important then you would probably find some way to weave it into your daily life. I don’t have a problem there; I consider blogging a value added activity, it doesn’t subtract as much as it adds value by clarifying and sharpening one’s sense of understanding to regularly make sense of stuff - it’s a form of mental conditioning like being able to stay really intensely focussed in short burst in Kendo. Or developing the discipline to successfully negotiate the pain barrier in cycling. Blogging compels you to work things out from the inside out. You have to find your way out of the maze. You have to connect all the dots. You have to take a position. You have to draw a line and say, this is what I believe in and supply the reasons along with it. And all this is usually accomplished within the constrains of having to juggle greater work, life and play - so anyone who tells you doing all that regularly doesn’t make you a more versatile, organized and disciplined person simply doesn’t know what he is talking about. He’s a fool!
I am always awe struck by the depth of knowledge that many of the writers in the Brotherhood Press display once they have penned an article. You can just tell from his body language and intonation. The elan, panache and aplomb is unmistakable, yes sir re! He’s like a sportscar who clearly has ample horse power to tear up the road along with the competition - for me, I just cannot imagine a more fun filled way to live, learn and discover a deeper meaning to what life has to offer!
That’s why I am never apologetic about blogging. And I always try to impart a sense of pride to those who regularly blog. If you notice, the people who usually go around slagging blogging are also the same erudite lot who have the most to lose from it. Yes, folks, it all boils down to one word; job security. They have a vested interest, like Count Dracula (You know why they call him the “count” don’t you, you’re a statistic) running the blood bank, either way you cut it, it’s always a deficit. You go and connect the dots on that one!
I say, blog on!
This is the first part in a 3 part series of how to blog better, stay tune for the next series – meanwhile, may I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones Happy Christmas! Darkness 2007
Read up on this!
December 22, 2007
Tis the season for good cheer so says Rudolf the red nose reindeer and his motley crew. Only I wish that were really so. As we prepare to close this year, it’s always good to take stock of the things that really went wrong? To learn from of course, if nothing else. Remember Shin Corp? What about the Golden Age? Where is it? Aha and where may I ask is our great experiment, the great Bio tech push heading? Was it a wise decision to raise the pay of ministers?
You remember the Segway don’t you? The machine that it’s creator, Dean Kamen said “will change the world.” Only one problem; the world decided to change without it.
The Segway is a classic case study of how a really good idea can go wrong big time.Why did the Segway die? What really went wrong with the business plan?
Before we dive in let me just share that I don’t usually read up on successful case studies – there’s a very good reason why; winners don’t really interest me as much as losers – for starters, I don’t believe they add very much to the learning experience.
People who draw out lessons from studying successful people, businesses and countries are very much like the rah-rah brigade who attend cult churches where – they all suffer from a few thinking flaws; “they only hear what they want to hear.” – “see what they want to see.” and “think only what they are allowed to think.” What else can possibly account for building a shopping mall in the name of sweet Jesus? Result; everyone imitates everyone, that’s well and fine, if you’re jumping out of a plane with a whole lot of folks, but if you are a businessman whose trying to carve out a niche or find a sweet spot in the competitive quadrant, it does absolutely squat.
That’s the real problem with confining the learning experience to just ‘winners.’ At the end of the day it’s just a self-selecting exercise and if you follow it – the odds are probably every Ah Kow, Muthu and Ahmad is probably reading the same book. It’s no good! Just wasting time!
Fortunately, I realized this very early on in life, when I interned as an air crash investigator for the NSTB during my Master’s Program – there’s alot to be learnt from ‘losers’ and people who regularly pilot million planes into a mountain. If I was pressed for one reason why, it’s because when a plane is all splayed out across 3 square miles in the full glory of twisted metal, spaghetti wiring and broken shards - you can’t get more honest than that. Any more honest and you would be coming down from Mount Sinai carrying the ten commandments. So there’s a life tip; if you really want to get ahead, look out for the ‘fall guy,’ he’s a treasure trove of valuable life lessons.
One of the my main gripes about trying to glean anything from winners is half the time, the people who made it big are usually also big on lies. Am I calling them liars, yeap pretty much so, because success is bound to change people and that’s usually the cue for the myth making or PR machine to roll out. Winners would definitely come across as more believable, if only some of them didn’t regularly behave, talk and premise their decisions like Forrest Gump (“Momma used to tell me life is like a box of Chocolates” – That’s because Mr Gump, you have never tried Prima Deli bfr!) – so take my advice, next time some idiot in the net tells you this or that firm or person made it big because of this or that, it’s time for a reality check.
Don’t believe me, just consider how many young and so called entrepreneurs have been feted through the years only for them to do a swan dive latter on, proving time and again, one flash-in-the-pan don’t maketh a winner.
But please remember, don’t take the tip too far. I am not asking you to brush up on the 7 habits of highly consistent losers, as much as. I am trying very hard to impress upon you why very little can be gleaned from studying the 7 habits of highly successful folk.
OK now that I have qualified myself why I like to learn from the losers and not the winners [pls don't say that's not important, because that's a lesson in it'self, that's why I spent so much time preparing the ground], let’s dive in.
Now there are many reasons why the Segway went the way of the Dodo bird, bad marketing, getting caught up in bureaucratic quagmire etc, but you could just as well boil it down to one main reason; the Segway was a victim of ’push ‘technology – ‘push’ technology as the word implies, means it requires people to buy into a new idea of doing something really old.
Usually ’push’ technology is OK, if the increments are real small. The problem kicks in when the ‘push’ factor features so prominently, it even sabotages whatever benefits great engineering can offer.
So at the onset of any business plan, it’s critical to get away from the myth that good engineering = a better mousetrap =success. Nothing can be further from the truth. I have seen plenty of good inventions fail, because the people who drive it just don’t spend enough time auditing the cost of “pushing” a product. Usually, when I bring it up the topic during working sessions everyone gives me that “why can’t he play ball for once” look, that’s usually the cue for me to say, “do what you want!” and the results are usually not so different from trying to sell off the charge of the light brigade as a sound military enterprise – the whole plan just takes a swan dive and dies magnificently crashing and burning all the way.
This brings into sharp focus, the need to continually ask; how big a ‘load’ do we really need to first ‘push’ when appraising the merits of any enterprise. The main problem with the Segway was the ‘push’ factor was too great i.e it’s not always possible to change human behavior. Now this is where the zinger kicks in, because I am going add another layer of complexity here and say that sometimes if the load is too heavy i.e change is too radical, you are not going to get very far, even if it’s the best idea in the world or you’re the rightest person – that’s because it’s like trying to shift one of those bollards, might as well go and move a mountain.
‘Push’ logic is something that never ever gets taught, not even in places like Harvard Business School, because. Firstly, it doesn’t really make sense, but that’s exactly my point, it doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense. I mean you could just as well use ‘push’ logic to explain why the gay rights movement didn’t fair very well with the establishment on 377A issue. Sure you can say, you are morally right till you are blue in the face, but it alters absolutely nothing on the score card, the ‘push’ factor was simply too steep.
In the same way one of the compelling reasons Kamen forwarded for why it’s easier for the Segway to succeed rather than fail was because according to him, “it didn’t make any sense for someone to drive a 1.5 metric ton SUV and use up 2 liters of gas per kilometer when you could just as well cover the same distance with less than a dime and save the planet a whole lot of grief.”
You would imagine, it’s pretty difficult to argue with that sort super duper logic.
Guess what he was dead wrong – what Kamen didn’t reckon on was the extent to which humans are generally tied down to cars, trains and aeroplanes – I would even go so far as to say, using ‘push’ logic, he didn’t even stand a chance of succeeding! It was uphill all the way.
The fatal flaw in the Segway was simply this; it made too much sense and leverage wholly on the belief people will buy a better mousetrap. And to be honest, you cannot get a better mousetrap than the Segway, it required only 2 minutes of training, had a zero carbon footprint and even came with a green tag. Despite all it’s brownie points, the Segway still failed and the lesson is really this: people will ONLY buy a better mousetrap, IF it doesn’t require them to change their behavior and values too radically. I mean this isn’t too hard to understand, just a few days ago, I had a profound conversation with someone who regularly drinks his own urine to cure everything from high blood pressure to stopping nose bleeds (could this be the ‘golden era’ everyone is talking about? You tell me!). Hey, does that mean I am going do the same? No fear lah, I’ve stick to Ribena, thank you very much.
My point is simply this: the Segway case study illustrates very clearly how sometimes having a good idea is just not good enough. Similary when we consider whether Singapore’s bio-tech push is going to be a viable business, we really need to take a closer look at the ‘push’ factor – is it a bridge too far? What kind of load are we talking here? How good is the ‘push’ technology?
I am not just talking about stuff like how many scientist we can fit on a pin-head or how many patents are registered, that’s really a dead end if you ask me. A patent is just a right to an ’original’ idea – you could even patent a really dumb invention like how to cook your grand ma using solar power – doesn’t mean it’s worth millions, it just means you’ve been awarded a piece of paper that has roughly the same utility as the variety you usually wipe your ass with. Let me give you some sobering statistics to put a sense of scale to it all. For every patent that makes it i.e manufacturing run exceeding 1 million / there about 709,996 losers – see why I mean – possibilities don’t make for probabilities.
So if this year your resolution is to wing it as a businessman and lose that salary man tag, always remember the ‘push’ factor, may not be a page turner, but I guarantee you, it will certainly be a life changer – happy hunting!
December 21, 2007
You know something? I love to bike. I bike all the time. At least 3 times a week. Recently, the brotherhood was asked by a buddy to join a bike ride to shepherd about 100 folks ranging from their 20’s to their 80’s – not conditioned athletes, but people from all walks of life from East Coast Park to Changi Village via the new bicycle connector – it runs about 20 km each way, the ride is very moderate with plenty of shade and in no time, the pack was progressing at roughly the speed of a motorized wheelchair.
It’s being a long time since, I have biked with ordinary folk: of late, I have notice people are starting to realize the benefits of biking over driving, especially with the crazy fuel hikes – it’s not solely a matter whether, they can or cannot afford. Most of the people, I spoke too just didn’t want to exacerbate the fuel hikes – one auntie said to me, “price so high alredi, if I can ride to the pasar, then hopefully I can say, I never contribute to this price rise.” Can’t argue with that clever aunty, I never really thought about it that way, but I believe a lot of folks are turning to biking because while they don’t mind driving, they don’t want to do it at the expense of their fellow human beings or adding on to the crazy fuel hikes.
We all know biking is supposed to be fun. Right? Or rather it should be. First thing first, if you really want to ride in confidence, safety is key: TIP – give foldable bikes a miss – even the best are pretty useless.
If I was the head of state, I would just ban them, because foldable bikes are just a con-job, like the pastor who goes around telling people that God asked him to build shopping malls – that’s why my 10% goes directly to the RSPCA to honor the descendants of that donkey Jesus rode on when he entered Jerusalem!
Why should anyone even want to ride a bike that folds up like origami paper crane is completely beyond me! You wouldn’t step into a plane that folds up into a suitcase would you? For starters, they’re darn expensive as most of them are designed in countries where fat people usually buy them as security blankets to convince themselves that’s the only reason why they’re not jumping on board the fitness bandwagon – once the novelty wears off, it usually ends up rotting in their attic - foldable bike mentality is very much like those elixir of youths moisturizers which sell for a bomb and promises anti- ageing along with anti- gravity, but falls short only because water is the only active ingredient in that jar of gunk. To put a sense of scale to it all, a recent survey showed that three things are least used in any Western household, first are ice cream makers, second the fire extinguishers and third, you guess it! – so be kind to yourself and your wallet give foldable bikes a miss.
Another reason why I don’t particularly like foldable anything is, because if you really think about it. It’s at best a compromised design, so at the end of the day, you’re just going to end up trying to accomodate it, you probably end up being a contortionist or something. Besides it just ain’t safe, through the years, I have seen a lot of falls because people just don’t realize that biking is really about matching only two things; form (body) to function (bike) – it’s just incredibly silly to try turning a wheel, the size of plate to get you from A to B. If you really need to put the bike in on a car, go and figure out how to strip out two wheels or better still get a bike rack!
That’s what smart people do – I mean if you didn’t have space in your car for your grand ma, would you fold her up like a transformer and bung her into the glove compartment?
Look am I saying ALL foldable bikes are shit? Nope, there are some really good one’s, only when they transform, they look exactly like standard bikes, not golf trollies - but they cost a bomb. Am I going to spend 6K on a bicycle? Go and die lah!
The best ratio to body/bike is what the Dutch call ‘bottom pocket wheel size.’ That’s to say, if you stand next to a bike and put your hand into your pocket that should be the top height of the wheel. Anything smaller than that just doesn’t go around, it’s no good, may look hip, dainty and cool but it’s just really dumb, because you are going to waste a whole lot of kinetic energy and probably grind up all your joints and probably lose control and bang into something hard – so give your chiropractor and international caskets a break and go get a standard bike.
Besides it’s way cheaper and if anything dies on you, you could just as well send it to the local Ah Pek to get it fixed at a fraction of the cost.
Don’t bother about chasing components either, that’s only important, if you bike competitively, like moir. The most important thing is to keep the chain clean and well lubed all the time – the rest you can more or less throw out of the window – it’s just spin, hype and adds absolutely zero to your biking enjoyment.
Now you are ready to go. There is a lot to be said about biking, the jovial camaraderie between all ages, which would not have reached such a level if we were driving all alone in your SUV talking to yourself. Everyone I know would do their mental health a dose of good, if they learnt to bike at least once a week. Mind you, I am not one of those who think, that its practical to ride to work, not without running the risk of ending up in hospital. Besides the weather just isn’t conducive to support that sort of lifestyle. However, I do believe biking is an excellent supplement for going to the gym, store or just visiting nearby friends. A funny irony to me is people driving to the gym to use a stationary bike in order to impersonate a hamster on a wheel – that’s just incredibly dumb.
I hope that more and more people will try out biking as a sustainable and fun alternative to driving a car. And hopefully cities will follow suit, implementing more bike lanes as well. Until then, ride safely, stay alert and remember only dummies skip the helmet!
How to Get The Right Fit For A Bike
I know this part is a bit brain numbing even for me, but work it through and remember, when you buy a bike, never allow the store keeper to lead – you need to really do some research as to what really suits you and never the other way round. Trust me, he always has a vested interested.
I am reminded there is nothing inherently wrong with rewriting history. After all, all of history is the story of someone who lost, rewritten by those who won. The entire slant of the narrative favors the ape, who made it all the way to the top of the hill. Well and good. That’s just how it goes. The problem with rewriting history occurs when it begins to peel off from the whole idea of reality, that’s to say, history becomes so far fetched it’s no longer believable. Stalin shows how terribly wrong it can go. When rewriting history is taken to its illogical end, mass persecution is replaced with the term, enlightenment – tragic mismanagement of human resources is justified in the name of the great patriotic struggle– the happy life is repackaged to include concrete walls, barbed wire, border guards and searchlights.
In matters of faith, reality takes a nose dive, when the pastor decides to wake up one morning and buy into the idea God asked him to play Donald Trump – and off he goes building shopping malls in the name of Jesus Christ. Stands the test of reason. Eventually, it has to happen, the truth can only take so much abuse without snapping if it’s pushed too far into the realm of incrudelity, it leads to the inexorable collapse like the Soviet reality. Not even rehashing the daily rag as ’the truth’ in the guise of ‘Pravda’ can raise the dead – once it’s dead, it’s dead. Kaput!
I just need to qualify myself, I don’t really have anything against people rewriting history per se – Actually I believe certain things should actually be rewritten only because they are better off glossed over. According to Melvilles notes Moby Dick was originally supposed to be a novel about the pursuit of a white walrus. Had his publishers not persuaded him to switch it to an albino whale, the novel might languish in obscurity today. So there you go, these are examples of how rewriting things actually adds value to the final product – but again one always needs to be mindful of what folks call ‘reality’ – take the whole idea too far and it may just back fire. I mean all of us have been there before we all know that all too familiar sinking sensation when we have been taken for a ride. What am I referring too? Well a hundred and one things from re-branding to product launches which claim to offer ‘new’ or ‘improved’ only to for us to just wince and say, ‘go and die lah.’
One of the things that really bothers me is the whole idea when rewriting history just slips into the no-man’s-land of historical tweaking? Let me just explain; take the idea – if you want quality you need to pay for it? How true is it? In reality not very true, because I can argue quality doesn’t need to come at an extra cost, it can be built it - don’t believe me? Go check out Japanese manufacturing technology, there’s enough empirical proof to sink 10 battleships.
That notion may not be any thing near marrow-curdling or anything. But consider this; what about the idea that the only way to get social stability is by imposing limits on the freedom of press? How does that whole idea measure to the reality score card? How true is it that more press freedom = anarchy?
See what I mean, it’s really scary when you actually consider how many perfectly intelligent people actually buy into that crock of shit! It begs the question how did such a preposterous notion even manage to whirl itself and establish a beach head in your mind?
I cannot answer that question. You need to seriously work it out yourself. One clue why this regularly happens is because rewriting history is often done subtely. By that I mean, the reasons are designed in such a manner, they offer the most expeditious way out of having to explain, justify and even rationalize anything. You what? You don’t believe me? OK consider this attempt at rewritting history: competition is good, if we don’t compete we just die!–how true is it? Like all believable lies it’s a mixture of truth and myth, but in reality unless you’re tadpole trying to evolve into a George Clooney or something, it doesn’t make any sense – but what is really beautiful about it is this, the person leveraging on this tag line does not even need to supply even one morsel of reason why he needs to do the things he does. Why? Because we know exactly what he means when he says, “if we cannot compete, we die.” Or do we really?You work it out yourself! I ain’t going to connect the dots for you! Not this time!The Soviets played the idea of ‘fear’ so well, that shoppers regularly bought one black sock and a white one and dyed the other black. The idea may not make sense to us, but it made perfect sense to those living in that sort of regime.
See what I mean? The danger is when history is rewritten to such a degree it has the capacity to warp out brains, everything just loses a sense of perspective - the insignificant gets conflated at the expense of the cogent, which makes it almost impossible to make sense of events, situations and things.
I try to keep this at the back of mind, every time, I pick up the daily rag, switch on the TV or even listen to anyone – I mean just because some reporter tells me that the BCC conducted a poll saying that most Singaporeans are apathetic about the freedom of the press doesn’t mean, I am just going to believe him, what I usually do is go beyond the two dimensional reportage and dig out the actual source of references and winnow the truth out from the hype and spin – usually if the reporter does a decent job, the stacks measure up, but there are times when what they tell me is so different, it might as well be a case of heaven and earth.
Now at this point some of you will probably be saying; this is another hari raya rant that the resident hack probably spend 15 tapping on his Nokia Communicator just to fill in some space in this blog!
You are wrong! There is a dead pan serious logic to all this and here comes the kicker: if you get it, you get, if you miss it, then it’s just too bad. What you really need to understand is this, rewriting history is a noble tradition that goes all the way back to Cain and Abel, when they latter just decided to treat ‘dying’ as a minor detail – so it’s never ever going to go away – doesn’t matter whether it’s the BCC or even the CNN or even the Mother Teresa Press providing people are in the equation, they are going to bring along with them their own culture, experience and perspective into the ‘truth.’ As long as that remains the case, I will even go as far as to say, ‘rewritten’ is the only kind of history there is (period) and there is no point in trying to even search for Veritas press, it doesn’t exist. And this brings into focus the need for one to really invest time and effort in sharpening the power of discernment to seek out the truth.
You see this is where I feel the policy makers have got themselves all terribly mixed up, they’re falling over like bowling pins. If they really want folks to say “no” to terrorism, fundamentalism and pornography. It makes absolutely zero sense to control the source by regulating, censoring and filtering. You might as well go and plough the sea and sow your seeds there or something, it’s just a really lousy way of getting a good return on anything. I am not saying that approach will not work, put in enough resources and I am sure it will – only from a efficiency curve. It’s as streamline as chucking out canon balls to propel a boat forward, makes far more sense to leverage on the power of collective efficiency by empowering people with the ‘right’ thoughtware to say “no” – that of course requires a paradigm shift which also requires policy makers to buy into the whole idea of empowering people. That also means they have to consider opening up the channels of information as a matter of strategic pre-condition otherwise how do you really expect folks to develop their critical thinking skills?
That’s why, I don’t believe the key towards resolving 377A lies in decriminalizing or fighting for gays to have equal rights, that sort of approach sounds good in theory, but it makes a lousy proposition when you consider how entrenched positions really are, might as well go and fight trench warfare in Verdun or the Somme. Makes infinitely more sense for gay activitist such as Alex Au to buy into the idea of changing the general perception of straight folks by deconstructing much of the myth associated with gays – that of course leads us all to ask, how much equity do policy makers want to take up in such an exercise?
The way I see it, coming to terms with the truth is far better than saying everything is going according to plan. That’s no good, as it can never change reality, not if the situation is really lousy; when the price of luncheon meat goes up 20%, it’s 20%, no matter how you cut it! No amount of hype and spin is going to change that reality – coming to terms with the facts of life is the only reality-based approach. Or at least have a plan to begin with. Unless readers themselves start catching on to this revisionary approach and begin empowering themselves with the knowledge to continually discern, winnow and distinguish the truth from the hype and spin, things will never really change – because one thing will remain sure fire cock 100% certain, either way you cut it, history will always get rewritten by hook or by crook. That’s just one of the inconvenient truths in life.
Happy Raya and that’s the pick me up for the day in 15 minutes flat!
Related Article –
December 20, 2007
Have you ever wondered, why some things just die will others go from strength to strength? That’s to say what really accounts for the success factor? What’s that one enduring factor that makes all the difference in the world? What really accounts for their timelessness and ability to beat the odds time and again? While others can hardly even maintain a foothold as they’re swept away into the garbage heap of “has-been’s” I guess you could ask the same for businesses, music, film stars, relationships, leaders, philosophies, ideologies or for that matter anything under the sun.
Hey, this is a serious question, if you consider that nearly 78.5% of the corporations that once made up the fortune 500 fifty years has packed up and disappeared into the sunset, it has far reaching ramifications, not only on your investments, but also whether you will thrive or go the way of the dodo bird. I am serious, understanding why things just fritter away while others latch on only to grow from strength to strength is what business schools all over the world have been trying to figure out for the last 100 years and guess what? They can’t do it! No one really knows!>Perusing the landscape of winners and losers suggest, most don’t make it simply because nothing is supposed to last forever. The dinosaurs didn’t make it – so why should the Roman Empire – the same goes for Communism – remember Enron? What about Arthur Anderson, Worldcom, Panam and so on, the list goes on and on.
One clue to understanding why some things wax and wane, while others remain ageless and timeless is to be found in the science of life expectancies. To cut to the chase the math is pretty screwy here, so I’ve spare you all a comatose inducing lecture, but if I had to hammer it down to one phrase it would be this simply this:
“Stuff (and this includes everything from hamburgers, firms to governments) that endure are designed to beat the law of averages.”
Of course, I am simplifying big time here gutting out whole chunks of math, stats, axioms and even disquisitions so I know some of you out there will probably be hollering at the top of your voice, “You idiot, what about wear and tear, weather and a number of other factors can influence life expectancy like a lousy attitude?” OK, I hear you, but if we square off the irritating details with our broader than broad rule or ladle and discount anomalies like housewife’s who regularly electrocute themselves because they don’t know how to use a power tool or drive their cars into bollards etc – the whole of idea of beating the law of averages is actually quite a robust theory that does a very good job of explaining why some products, firms and stuff manage to thrive long before the end of their expected life spans.
A big chunk of the reason is because we don’t usually use all the functions that’s regularly offered in a product or service. Don’t believe me, when was the last time you took a picture, saved it and printed it into a photo using your phone? Or how many programs do you regularly use in the latest Microsoft Vista? Even the number of songs you listen to in an iPod, if you really take the trouble to list it down, it would probably be less that the regular 100 odd despite the capacity to hold 1,000 tunes. By the same logic, I know the latest PDA offers probably 1,000 new functions complete with all the bells and whistles of regression curves cum extrapolation that basically even allows a novice engineer to build an atomic bomb, but if I really squared off the day to day usages of functions I regularly use – I would probably end up with a staple of only 4 or 5 main functions (20% of the functions) 80% of the time.
So the key to understanding why some things have this enduring capacity to remain ageless and timeless is to look deeper at the 20% instead of trying to figure out the larger than large picture of the 80%. Now this is hardly a new concept, its being around for the last hundred years or so and it’s called the Pareto principle (aka 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. That means if you’re in business, “80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. Or what you do really well in the 20% makes the 80% which completes the 100%.” Now I tempted to tell how I use this to increase my chances of landing a bird on the sofa every weekend, but I have been getting death threats recently, so let’s get back to the topic.
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Now to understand the 20/80 rule, I am not saying that you should just grow a perfect moustache that roughly takes up 20% of your face and not bother with developing a winning personality or sprucing up your appearance. If you don’t pay attention to the rest of the 80% and dress like Gandhi or go around like the elephant man, the only thing you’re going to attract is flies and the only attention you’re going to get is from those boys in white from the IMH, so let’s get real. There needs to be a sense of scale here.
What I am saying is this: if you want to really maximize your return on your investment / energy / opportunity and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re well past your sell date, even as a “Bo lang aih,” it pays dividends to focus on developing the 20% strengths to carve out a comparable advantage – this could be anything really, but you really need to be so good at it, that you’re probably much better than the next guy next to you.
The trouble with most products and service offered by firms and even people they try to be “everything” – a Swiss knife – that’s to say they’re trying their level best to offer everything under the sun and that’s where they run smack head on into the brick wall of the law of averages! It just doesn’t work, because time is always will always be a constraint and so will opportunity, so however, you cut it the math just churns on varying degrees of lose/lose.
But if you focused on just improving the 20% your chances of success could be so dramatic, it may even be the tipping point that allows you complete the 100% by turning around the dysfunctional 80%.
We all know Swiss knifing is good when you’re stranded in a island and need out to dig out eyes in coconut to make imaginary friends, but if you’re really serious about setting up a book shelve, nothing beats a dedicated rubber grip screwdriver (hey don’t read more into it, I am just talking about home renovations otherwise we will be dead meat again – remember the sisterhood has a contract out on me already).
Focusing all their resources on the ‘all’ instead of the 20% means result the focus gets diffused and all they offer is stuff that fail to rise above the law of life expectancy. That’s the reason why if you really look at what firms and individuals offer, the really good one’s who manage to thrive in an age of change are the ones who just focus on one or two things which they do really so well that no one can even come near them.
They’re playing the 20/80 game. Gaining a deeper understanding on how to beat the law of averages could well apply to even building and sustaining strong bonds in relationships. Whenever I reflect on my best friends, the definer is always the 20% that distinguishes them from the faceless “hi and bye’s” crowd. I can’t really go as far as to state specifics or even define them in absolute terms, but I know those 20% stuff standout from the regular 80% of the crowd– they are the people who I know will matter to me today and tomorrow.
(This has been brought to you by your friend Brotherhood Controller, Aurora / Written by Darkness / Technology / Economics/ Sociology – ES 9908210E – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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December 20, 2007
December 19, 2007
May I humbly take this opportunity to wish our Muslim readers happy Eid ul Azha, this goes out especially to our Turkish, Morrocon, Spanish, Algerian, Malaysian and Gulf Muslim gamers who constitute about 6% of the ’Internationale’ gaming network.
May I take this opportunity to wish all of you and your loved ones good health, peace and prosperity - As a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu and citizen of the world, let us all unite with our Muslim friends in this season of joy and celebration in the spirit the Internationale, Sportmanship and brotherly love.
Long live the brotherhood! Your partner in the gaming world.
It is has been a privileged.
Yours Very Humbly – Darkness 2007
December 18, 2007
You know I just want to tell you all that I have a lot of respect for Catherine Lim, but of late, she has been spouting a lot of crap, here. One of which is the so called ‘Climate of Fear’ that she keeps harping on and on about. Now as much, as I would like to agree with her – I cannot, only because the last time I bought into such a load of claptrap was during my averagely miserable university days. When I found myself wearing bedsheets and waiting on a side of a hill listening to some holy man who had convinced me to sell everything because the end of the world was coming. When the rivers of fire failed to appear, I just took a bus home and felt really cheated. Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying the whole proposition that they may even be this abstraction called the climate of fear – only I can’t help but feel this whole idea of promoting ‘fear’ is closer to Reiki power than to any notion that really allows me to get a handle on it. I am reminded, what really supplies the missing ingredient which completes ANY cycle of fear isn’t really based on reality, as much how I am prepared to fill-in-the-blanks to make that illusion a reality. This leads me to question Catherine Lim, what is she really trying to accomplish here? If her goal is to empower people to gather the marbles of life to make sense of it, then she is certainly not doing a very good job by propagating the abstraction a climate of fear. That says absolutely nothing!
If you really think long and hard about it, all she’s doing is mythologising the whole idea of fear by elevating it to some mystical proportion that ferments ignorance and sharpens the very fear of fear itself – this whole business remains curious to me, because I would have imagined someone of her vintage and breadth of intelligence would at least have the cow sense to figure out the gold standard in dealing with anything that induces a state of fear should always be the: ‘hey if I don’t want people to fear, then I have to share with them how to de-construct the idea of fear’ attitude – but no such luck, instead what we seem to get from Catherine is the same trite, aiyoh we live in a climate of fear blah, blah, blah, blah. Look here do I deny we may live in a climate of fear? No but let’s just try to put a sense of scale to it all, do we live in an age where my privacy is being infringed? Well not really when I consider that 50 years ago folks had to live in a room with 10 other families separated by just a sarong partition. I mean under those conditions, a man couldn’t even indulge in the simple pleasures of life. Scratching his guli’s under those panoptical conditions runs the danger of provoking an international incident from the nosey parker brigade. Does the garmen regularly hassle me? Nope, only the fat dengue uncle and perhaps those pesky car coupon aunties seem to be doing that – so again, where’s that mother of the climate of fear that we talking about? Oh Mr Brown incident…Oh, OK I see. I tell you that if that’s the so called climate of fear, then you’re better off living in some cave in Nepal – the way I see it, someone wrote a letter to someone and all he did was jump up and down behaving like the exorcist – all he did was put up a vodoo doll in the internet so that all of you could stick pins into it. So how the hell do you expect the thinking crowd to buy into that dumb idea?
My point is this, I don’t like the idea of framing fear as an abstraction like some hole somewhere in the polar ice cap – believe me you’re not going to get very far with the whole idea of managing any ‘fear,’ let alone the great climate of fear, if you cannot even pin it down and hold it up with a pair of forceps and say, “here it is!” In fact, I will argue, if you can’t even do that then you might as well spend the rest of your life chasing your own tail or something. Stands the test of reason; if fear exist, then it must have a form and shape, a name and face, a case along with all the issues. Otherwise where is it? Now I happen to know a few things about fear. I climb, bike and sail extremely, so fear is hardly a concept that is all together alien to me – you would think that the best way to deal with fear is to keep repeating the words, “I do not fear,” guess what? That doesn’t work, not even a bit. The only way to deal with fear is to give it a name and a face and to say, OK, this is how you actually look like and sized it up, there are no short cuts – for fear to really take hold, it needs to leverage on ONLY one element; UNCERTAINTY – that’s usually enough to reduce even the best of us into shambolic mumblers, doesn’t matter whether it’s a guy trying to get laid on a date or if you happen to be caught in the upper reaches of 16,000 ft without a can opener – uncertainty exacts a real estate in your head, as it promotes the whole idea one should fear because fear is fear – its perfectly circular, perfectly energy efficient and perfectly portable, so you could just as well turn it in your head all day with hardly any loss in kinetic energy – the perfect mind game.
To really get on top of fear, there are no short cuts. Trust me, none means none, to cut off it’s head, it requires nothing short of understanding. I am not referring to bullshit reader digest understanding, I am specifically drawing your attention to the deep spirited understanding that comes from knowing something for what it really is because you have invested the time, effort and brain juice to really know it inside out and through – that level of understanding is the difference that allows a climber to choose the right knot out of maybe 500 knots that he has committed in his memory within 5 seconds to do the task and win the day! Or for an ordinary person to cross swords with even the establishment, his lecturer or even someone that appears three or four times his size and still emerge scoring a few cut lasses and making the other side look like a complete idiot.
A corollary of that line of reasoning also means, if I allow others to subject me to the yoke of fear, then I really to ask myself the simple question; whether I am at least as culpable as those who choose to impose this sort of mentality on me, by allowing them to gain a beach head in my mind in the first place! You don’t have to be a Mensa member to figure out that in this melee between fear vs truth – light vs darkness - blissful ignorance vs reassurance of knowing – a few truths bear out and the rest is just grist to the mill. Firstly, no man can run away from the accountancy of logic doesn’t matter who he is, could even be the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Dalai Lama or even LKY himself. I mean if he starts spouting rubbish one day and if it goes on for long enough, someone will just come around and pack him off to happy homes with a year supply of diapers. Same goes for corporate leaders who goes around passing the buck shareholders are simply going to vote him down the chute with their wallets. As for derelict ministers who rely on fear. They wouldn’t last for very long and if they don’t wise up they’re not going to get very far with just a hammer and one day another bigger hammer is just going to come along and give them a decent clobbering – besides no leader in history has ever managed to hold on to power by alienating a sizeable segment of the thinking crowd. Don’t believe me go and check it out, the historical odds are stacked firmly against them! Not even Stalin could do that because in any society thinkers form the movers and shakers.So there you go – you are now a thinker, knowing your calling empowers you, not knowing it simply means someone is just going to step right in and tell you to go left, right, sit, stand up and don’t be surprise, if you even have to raise your hand up to even ask for permission to urinate – you did it to yourself, you never fortified your mind. You allowed your mind to be invaded.In truth, the only thing to really fear is the fear of fear it’self. So one day if you end up really old, miserable and poor, don’t go blaming some author, political party, pastor (who regularly hear voices that Jesus asked him to build shopping malls) or even some man who you listened to on TV – you just didn’t bother to work it all out in your own head. You got no one to blame but your dumb ass self and I don’t have any sympathy for you. Not even a bit, you deserve to live in this place called the climate of fear and I hope you brought along a good book written by Cat Lim.
Time to go to work!
Darkness 2007 – This is a Brotherhood Press Article
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December 18, 2007
See what I mean, trying to pin down the real reasons behind why Singapore has a shrinking population isn’t so simple. One clue that may shed some light into the mystery is to be found in; how economist have traditionally defined economic man and more important codified what he traditionally aspires to do, if he were faced with a series of life decisions – generally, it wouldn’t be wrong to say, Economic Man only has one thing in his mind - $
Why is that a problem? It’s a big problem - as it means when economist talk of money supply, (it’s a bit like watching a continental movie, what you hear is not as important as what you read), it doesn’t half mean quite the same thing in English as it does in Economese.
Economist only refer to money as in the traditional sense of the word i.e paper money, currency, checks, credit cards, you know the stuff that makes the world go round and that’s where I suspect the calculations may have gone awry straying off the mark. Just as economic theory attempts to explain the abstraction of life by imposing some intellectual order on events and phenomenon, it also means it will always continue to remain blind to the other dimensions of life which defy quantification such as health, peace of mind, quality of life or whether you have the opportunity cost to luxuriate in the privacy of your little room hunching over your computer reading this while picking off dead skin from your big toe.
Nor does the model of Economic Man take into account the phenomenon called “downshifting.” As the word implies, it’s the direct opposite of not having a choice rather it emerges from the full consciousness, one is reconciling a lesser utility or return in exchange for another equivalent utility, only its one that cannot be possibly recognized by the formulaic economic approach.
Downshifting looks like the stuff of irrationality, it’s reminiscent of the hippy culture during the 60′s: opting for being less busy, taking time off to meditate, getting off the treadmill of life to do something which Economic Man cannot possibly even fathom, such as smelling the roses.
One reason why downshifting is yet to register in the radar of economist and policy makers is the very idea of attaching the word “deliberate” to earning less – still sounds nonsensical to those who still cling to the infallible model of economic man. However, denying it does little to make it disappear. Downshifting is rapidly gaining recognition in the age of globalization. Even sociologist have recognized an emerging phenomenon of downshifters in Western countries, as many of 15% of Americans have already made the decision to opt out of the rat race preferring a slower paced life. Neither does it take much conceptual acuity to understand why either: as the pace of life increases exponentially with Moore’s law, new levels of complexities brought forth by the new paradigm management such a multi-tasking, strategic rotation and having to understand the entire length and breadth of the business process – brings into stark focus Thoreau’s dictum that:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Against this bleak world, downshifting is a reversal from the idea that we are somehow only alive during rigorous leisure time stolen from “dead” time of work. Yes, I do not discount there are those who may find comfort and joy and even eventually discover the meaning of life from work (like most erudite lot in SPH), but for the mass majority of well balanced workers, work fortunately is still perceived as a poor substitute of life – it’s simply a means to an end. There are moments granted when the hair at the back of neck does stand up along with other body parts, but the vast majority of time. It can at best be described as a tedium or repetitive litany. That’s the reason why 76.8% of heart attacks in the Western world occur on Mondays in between the hours of nine and ten in the morning. (so that’s a career tip, lay the bad news thick and furious on your manager early on a Monday, when his eyes start rolling over and he begins to turn slightly bluish, it simply means you are going to get that promotion over his dead body!)
Contrary to popular myth neither are only white collar workers the ones necessarily opting out of the rat race, presumably because they no longer see the merit of living the a battery chicken existence. Even professionals such as lawyers are downshifting en mass as they give up legal practice preferring an in-house counsel job that takes them out of the mind dumbing long hours and dead days. Again these decisions are usually made with foreknowledge of cost penalties which translates into a lower salary, but it is a decision that obviously has pay outs.
The trend of downshifting goes a long way to explain why couples these days are not only deferring their plans to start a family, but they are consciously making decisions to say, “no.” To posit the factorial money, cost of living, time and opportunity cost lies at the root of the baby crisis is at best an oversimplification of a very complex problem. Yes these factors do certainly feature in the decision nexus, but if the solution were that simple then how can on account for the paltry baby birthrates of most EU countries after having addressed all these structural shortcomings?In short, the real problem is one that goes beyond the structural and even the notion of Economic man. It’s one that is firmly rooted in uncertainty which invariably breeds fear in our inability to exert full control over our destinies. Our own fears, refracted and enhanced by ever increasing demands to work smarter, faster and harder is simply reaching a point of diminishing returns when its no longer perceived as an enduring utility that’s even worth chasing. One where it may even be argued our level of fear is no longer a reflection of the actual risk level. As 9/11 as shown us what constitutes “fear” and “loathing” is largely a matter of perception and has very little to do with perceived truth and even less to do with reality. Rather much of what actually makes up the reality of fear is largely imagined.
Downshifting offers the promise of reclaiming these lost chapters of life, putting them back into perspective and harmony – work and leisure, work and family and much more – its not simply about escaping the cacophony of modern life, that may be possible in America or Canada, but in a city state like Singapore, that form of escapism just isn’t physically possible – if anything, downshifting if I was pressed to define it, is a conscious decision; to live with less in the hope of getting out more out of life.
If you really think about it, downshifting makes alot of economic sense from an energy conservation perspective at least – if nothing else can be severed to yeild an advantage; not work, not if one simply doesn’t have the qualifications that firms are willing to pay for. There really is only one option –forestalling the stork permanently.
To suggest the dismal baby births can be arrested or even reversed by “more education, day care centers, monetary incentives, parental holidays and medical provisions without first addressing the root cause: fear brought forth by an age of uncertainty is to miss the point entirely.
The cost of living in fear is huge, people don’t start businesses, they don’t speak out, preferring to tow the line, they look down when others challenge them, they don’t make eye contact preferring to avoid conflict. Above all is it such a wonder when people fear as they often do – they dowan to make babies.
(By Harphoon, Astroboy & Pumpman / Socio / Politics / EP 99037739 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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December 18, 2007
December 17, 2007
In the early 80’s the trend of forestalling the stork first surfaced predominantly affecting the ranks of professional women (but that was alright. Besides they were all batty and fortunately there wasn’t too many of them. The government even created a spinster happy home to accommodate this erudite lot, called, SPH “Sisters of Perpetual Hesitation.” Neither did it affect the baby bottom line either. In fact, the government saved all the men in Singapore from the purgatory of endless bitching.) Recently on a more disturbing note, we are told even the likes of Sengkang Sally seem to be hanging up their eggs while a chorus of “dowan’s” resound against the backdrop of the heartlands. It’s serious time; is everyone delaying the arrival of the stork? What’s really happening?
Yes, I know the usual run of the mill suspects: cost of living, time constrains, an uncertain future, stress and the impossible demands of juggling jobs and kids etc.
It’s a tough nut to crack: falling birth rates in Singapore or in any part of the world don’t even make the slightest sense not even to an economist (or for that matter even sociologist or any subject matter expert, though watching them field questions on the subject one is left with no doubt they know what is going on. When in fact they are equally as baffled as all of us). According to economic theory, the choice “to be or not to be,” hinges entirely on the concept of “Homo Economicus.” The hypothetical “Economic Man” who knows what he wants; his predilection can be expressed mathematically in terms of a “utility function.” And his choices in life are driven by rational calculations about how to maximize that function: whether couples eventually decide to start a family of one, two, three or more or not at all is based on comparisons of the marginal utility, or that added benefit that comes from making those decisions. If we consider the facts: no point in our history, are we richer, healthier and safer than ever before (so the tome of statistics tell us again and again).
Why then are couples shelving the whole idea of starting a family?
It’s easy to make fun of homo economicus, that sort of theory smacks of zoo keeping and poke it full of holes by suggesting: that model only holds true if human beings are numbers who can easily be reconciled, manipulated and coaxed into yielding a desirable value – fair enough, but it still doesn’t explain, despite the flaws of economic man albeit people do have preferences. Even if those preferences can’t really be expressed by a precise utility function; they still can be counted to make sensible decisions, even if they don’t maximize utility!
Sociological pundits would of course say, “Aha! There you have it Harphoon, the smoking gun!: economic man no longer sees the utility or benefit of raising kids, apart from being a perfect ball and chain, it’s a liability these days. After all Harphoon every industrialize country in the world is experiencing the same phenomenon. It’s not just Singapore who has this problem, its endemic! Duhhh!”
OK, but that argument only holds water if you didn’t realize that both France and Finland are exceptions to this general “Phillips curve” rule. That’s the cue for policymakers to step in and say,“Well that’s obvious Harphoon, those Scandinavians have a comprehensive welfare systems, Economic Man isn’t dumb! He knows that by having babies, he is going to get goodies in the form of day care centers in his work place not to mention tax breaks and parental holidays, which I might add, we don’t half get in Singapore because all those things cost money and the electorate just isn’t going to pay for it! Geez you must really be dumb Harphoon!”
Well, if that’s such a truism then why is there such a “big contradiction” in that argument vis-à-vis baby birthrates are proportional to the quantity and quality of the welfare. Why then are the poorest countries in the world (and don’t tell me its because poor countries are predominantly culturally agrarian, because you would be hard pressed to even find one inch of square footage greenery in either inner cities of Buenos Aries and Dhaka) experiencing the highest birthrates in the world, when they don’t even have the basic structural framework of a welfare state? See what I mean, it’s a tough nut to crack.
Like I said, this is a tough nut to crack and this is where we have to stop for the moment as this is the first segment of a two parter series.
(By Harphoon, Astroboy & Pumpman / Socio / Politics / EP 99037739 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
Con’t Reading Part II Here
December 18, 2007
December 15, 2007
On 0930 GMT today, our forces have launched an all out attack in the Sardonyx Sector in locale gaming locale 983-0083-0038. This is a broadcast;
” Dear Sardons,
As you all know we have been fighting for nearly 6 months with hardly any resolution. Today our interspacing forces along with 18 of the ‘Internationale’ have broken through the salient, east of the Arullian plains in a surprise lightning attack. There are almost 170 divisions in the order of battle.
It gives me no pleasure to say that we have tried every possible avenue to explore peace, but failed, because of the corrupt leadership of the Sardonyx Senate who are intent on prolonging this mischief at the greater detriment of the Mining Federation.
Great people of Sardonyx, I Darkness have no quarrel with you. I give you my word, our troops will abide by the order of Kanly and we come in the name of peace.
Please welcome our liberation force with open arms – as we are here to free you.
Kind people of Sardonyx, you have nothing to lose but your chains.
[ALL COMMENTS AND POST WILL BE TEMPRORILY SUSPENDED, THIS SITE IS NO LONGER IN OPERATION- KOHO / UNDER ARTICLE 903, IT HAS BEEN COMMANDERED - KOHO]
December 14, 2007
I wonder when was the last time you had a conversation with a bio-conservative? You know who they are don’t you? People who don’t believe in stem cell research or the sale of organs etc. Generally they tend to be technophobes, often seeing science as some pesky kid that’s building sand castles with plutonium or something that will bring the whole roof down – they worry no end, telling us how this was not meant to be or how if God meant it to be this way, then he would have provisioned for it yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Actually what these bio-fundamentalist are trying to say is: we should all register the “puih” factor associated with runaway biotechnology and instead draw a line between what science should and should not do. A large part of their argument lies in the notion of trusting the wisdom of nature – mother nature knows best – Yes, she does doesn’t she, that’s why we regularly have earthquakes, typhoons, tornados, mudslides and the odd tsunami. If mother nature was a human being she would certainly be a cross dressing Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.
I am sorry! I don’t believe everything should be left to mother nature. Neither do I buy into the idea she knows best either. Just in case you didn’t know, the experts are telling us a bird flu pandemic is heading our way and it will make the bubonic plague look like the common cold. Just wait till those bio-conservatives get the shakes and make a beeline to the ICU in Tan Tock Seng. Trust mother nature, my foot!: no Tamiflu for you! Instead we call we will gladly call an African foreign talent the brotherhood knows called Mamba Jambala Yaba Da Badu – a registered witch doctor who even has his own set of tribal drums to dab a dab away the bird flu. Or better still we will get dai Sensei Fuk-ya-mah! From the Singapore Reiki Center to put some colorful crystals on your tummy while you, the trust mother bio-conservative melt happily away.
No I jest. To be really honest with you I have quite a lot of sympathy for bio-conservatives. For starters lets be open minded (by the way, your brains are spilling out), they do have a point don’t they: especially when they regularly point out, the questionable morality of organ sales or how genetic engineering simply smacks of God playing Sim City. I am not against the bio-conservatives per se, Believe it or not, I nurse my own reservations concerning the issue of where genetic engineering should start and end. Usually it hits me whenever I find myself wandering into a hypermarket wondering whether those tomatoes the size of footballs were grown next to the nuclear reactor. It’s scary when you consider what modern science can do these days. I am told even battery chickens these days have smaller brains, kidneys and stomachs. Modern science makes it all possible, to breed chickens with long and supple legs (why cant they do the same for women?) In genetic science tinkerland, nothing is impossible. Everything can be grafted, transplanted and fused. Crossing a scorpion with a cabbage get means creating a veggie that is naturally resistant to bugs – it makes good horticultural and business sense, but who is really going to eat it? (Oh silly me, that’s just a minor detail). Crossing a parrot with a Gorilla? Gets you, eerh I don’t know, but when it starts talking you better start listening. You get my point. You get their point. Those bio-conservatives do have a case after all, but how cogent is it? Are their fears about run away train technology closer to fiction or reality? Is it premised on hard evidential facts or is much of it simply conjecture?
Well consider the bulk of criticism concerning genetic engineering actually comes from religious adherents, namely the Vatican. They argue that at the moment of conception, a supernatural figure (‘God’) implants an invisible attribute (‘a soul’) into a mitotic cluster of cells. From that moment onwards the cells are magically transformed into a person with inalienable rights. Homo Vaticanus is alive! According to Catholicism to even probe them is morally the equivalent of gagging you and spreading you out on a pelt rack performing bondage. Stem-cell research it appears is Mengelian. Disposing embryos is murder. And having compelling conversations with Petri dishes is the in thing. This position is given currency on an international platform and its one that many bio-conservatives cite whenever they argue the case for reining in science.
I am not suggesting for one moment embryonic cells are for one moment insentient spittle on a Petri dish. Not at all, but lets consider their (the Vatican’s) logic. If there was an earth shattering earthquake and you happened to be just loitering around the biopolis would you plumb to risk your life to save a petri dish or a cute girl in a mini skirt? Exactly, you get my point, only because what at the end of the day, it makes more sense to save an actual human being rather than some seminal abstraction of life decreed by a bunch of old men.
And there’s an even bigger contradiction in terms. Human embryos are regularly flushed out in women’s menstrual flows. So why aren’t the erudite wonder girls in SPH, “the sisters of the perpetual hesitation” hauled up before the international court of justice in the Hague? Shouldn’t they stand trial for genocide or ethnic cleansing?
One clue accounting for why the bio-technology and genetic engineering continues to be a lightning rod is because so many misconceptions surround it. Most people find the concept of cloning repugnant, because they typically conjure up the imagery clones will be “robots” and “automatons”. Or worse still some uber man to even replace the likes of you and me. Neither is there are no shortage of scaremongers like Francis Fukuyama who have even conjured demented visions of “armies of the automata” based on cellular manipulation. But really is cloning that bad? I for one wouldn’t mind having two of me, just to pat me from time to time on the back just to tell me what a good job, I am doing. If the truth be known, there are already thousands, if not millions of clones in the world. They are called identical twins and triplets, and we have no difficulty understanding that although they share the same genetic profile, they are nonetheless individuals in every sense of the word. Does anybody really believe they are automatons? Or robots? That’s only true, if you subscribe to the belief genes exclusively maketh the man, but nothing can be further from the truth. As it discounts the value of how upbringing and inculcating the right values is usually a decider.
I don’t for one moment doubt given the proliferation of dystopian films like Ewan McGregor’s movie ‘The Island’ or Andrew Nicoll’s “Gattaca,” we may all harbor reservations about clones. But they are based on a flawed premise – that we would treat clones as lesser beings, not deserving of the basic rights as the rest of us. Why should that happen? We don’t treat IVF babies as we do slaves or even remotely close to anything resembling sub humans do we? That incidentally was what bio-conservatives once predicted.
The only argument that really lingers in the mind is where do we really draw the line? Do we say no to organ sales? Is it morally repugnant and wrong? Or does the sale of human organs fulfill a real humanitarian need? One which bio-conservatives are content to deny at all cost, even if it means extending or improving the quality of life of ordinary people like you and me. They warn that the encroaching reach of biotechnology may create a world divided between the exploiter and the exploited, the haves and the have not’s. Its a cogent argument none the less one that even has a respectable lineage qualifying as rational.
At the end of the day, do these bio-conservatives deserve even to be heard? Do they have a valid case premised on logic or diatribe? Really I don’t know just yet. In the meantime, perhaps we should follow the advice of C.S.Lewis in “The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe.” If you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, keep your eyes on it and feel for the hatchet.
(By Astroboy, Keith Ho & Agnes P / Socio / Politics / Science – EP 9902393 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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December 17, 2007
December 10, 2007
This being the holiday season and all, so I am going to take this opportunity to share with you some of our travelogues. This happens to be one of my all time favorites, a tour headed by Nacramanga to Chernobyl.
I can’t describe to you all, how it’s like to visit Chernobyl on a muggy day. The feeling is weird, bordering on the surreal, but this report goes a long way to capture both the mood and the nadir of it all – the travelogue is about lost hopes and dreams, its also about the great experiments that go awry and how in the middle of it all people just have to pick up the pieces and carry on as best they can.
One of our greatest travelogues ever. I hope you enjoy it as much as me!
In the infamous “Red Forest” just 30 km away from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor nothing ever survives. There are no roses or sunflowers; there are no geraniums or wild mushrooms. Only an endless stretch of sickly yellowed canopy. The locals in Prypyat call the red forest – the Sakura of Russia, here everything grows at double or triple the rate – from one day to the next, the once empty fields fills up – they blossom. Then, just as quickly, they die. It’s an apt description of life in the dead zone.> Biking through the red forest to the South towards “atomic city,” the once prosperous model Soviet city of almost 60,000, is a mere 15km away. We needn’t have bothered with maps the Geiger counter is already generating disconcerting crackling noises. It reads nearly 1470 micro-roentgens. A few kilometers deeper into “the zone of death” and the counter, begins to whirl off the scale. We have to proceed by foot from here, vehicles are strictly prohibited.
In the distance lies the silhouette of atomic city beyond it across a barren plain the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear stack. There entombed within an enormous steel and concrete sarcophagus lies the number 4 reactor. Twenty odd years ago on April 26, 1986, the reactor core exploded. The complex simmered for fourteen days, contaminating tens of thousands of square miles in northern Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia’s Bryansk region. It was the worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen.> The fallout, 400 times more radioactivity than was released at Hiroshima, drove a third of a million people from their homes and triggered an epidemic of thyroid cancer in children. Over the years, the economic losses—health and cleanup costs, compensation, lost productivity—have mounted into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
As we pull up at the edge of Prypyat a tall barbed wired fence cordoned off the city area. It too had seen better days like rows of rusting soviet vehicles which stood frozen leaning against each other like drunkards splayed out. We slipped through the fence. Curiously radiation levels here were lower than the red forest, but as soon as we climbed a platform, it stirred up the dust and the counter began whirling again.
‘Better get down from there,’ said Atomic Monkey. He should know, he was the science officer on this exploratory mission. I complied. We stood in a row embalmed in the eerie silence clicking away on our cameras. Like a tour through a gigantic cemetery, it’s a trip that provokes the question, “is this the end of the world?” The mood that Chernobyl imposes on the visitor is almost climatic, oppressive even. Here and there strewn all around us, remnants of the past – a ragged doll, decaying bumper cars in an abandoned carnival, a skeletal Ferris wheel squeaking against the wind – not a sign of life except for a few stray dogs. We might as well have been on the surface of Mars.
In and around atomic city, creepers grow in profusion. They grow in the ruins of an old hospital and outside it stacks of medicine boxes appear to be haphazardly stacked some with even decomposing trailers of parachutes. They grow along the dilapidated town hall, beside the remains of the barracks, around the hollow shell of what used to be a nursery. They grow inside the partition of apartment blocks, built in the days when the city still believed it would continue to grow on the dream of the nuclear promised and abandoned when it became clear that the great experiment had turned into a nightmare. In the distance as the sun began to dip the clouds looked dark. The day was ending and with it the wolfs howled.
“Kakh vamn nravitsa Prypyat ?” asked the guard: “How do you like our little Prypyat?” It is hard to imagine the contemporary inhabitants of the dead zone asking visitors to share their civic pride, but those who once called this wasteland home do expect praise even if they it’s a sprawling cemetery which once boasted the best facilities in the whole of the Soviet Union. For Prypyat was more than just an embodiment of a nations hopes, it was the short lived realization that Soviet man had managed to successfully conquer, tame and harness nature to produce in vast quantities a cheap source of energy. The Soviet authorities fashioned Prypyat as the model city where the forces of nuclear energy could subsist along side modernity, it was a sort of show case with its modern apartments which boasted even lifts, malls, swimming pools and schools: those who once lived, worked and played here were the brightest in the Soviet Union, they came from all over Russia, united in their goal to see the dream through – well-paid, praised, flattered and fêted these Soviet heroes of labor, patriots represented the hopes of the entire communist party and beyond that cradled the great hope to the masses throughout the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.)
Walking around ghost city, around the cemeteries, around the ruined theatre, a once proud structured, complete with Corinthian columns, Leninist portico and red emblazoned star – one cant help but feel the cost of the dream finally proved astronomically high; its enough to make one stop and ask the question;
“Where did it all go so wrong?”
Not that anyone else readily admits that this is what happened either.
“There will always be hope,” one of the former residents of Prypyat told me a few days later. Hundreds have since returned to ghost city around the periphery of the “dead zone,” reclaiming their former life’s in the contaminated region outside and even within the zone.
I soon realized the irony of it all: If your whole life has been associated with a place, it is hard to admit the place never once existed. Even if that place is widely famed for being the most radioactive spot in the world and a monument to Soviet stupidity, mismanagement and inefficient, it makes little of no difference, not to those who once called this ghost city the star of the East – it’s even harder to admit that it ought to be shut down good.
“This is our home!” 67 year old Yuri banged his fist, a touch over-dramatically, on the table. Then he proceeded to share his radioactive vodka with us and even offered a slice of radioactive wild boar meat that he hunts regularly in the red forest, to explain why recently pensioners and old couples have begun the pilgrimage back to ghost city. It offers one way of closing the chapter of sorrow in their glorious past – it helps them to move on, to even make peace with their broken dreams – as Yuri shared with us a sepia print of a young man who once lived and died here during the first few days of the Chernobyl meltdown – his only son – Vladimir an engineer, the pride in the fleet, who once worked in the fame star of the East, Chernobyl.
“They will come back someday,” the old man insisted banging the table again.
“They always come back. I see them sometimes, I do. There is nothing out there in the world. Nothing! Here is where it all began the dream and we will live it through again with or without the damned government.”
In between swigs of vodka and mildly radioactive ham, Yuri punctuates his sentences with the words, “Etuh bolshayar problyemah?” (It’s a small problem isn’t it?) His wife Olga nods silently in one corner her eyes wide with excitement or radiation sickness we’re not sure whenever her husband talks of the glorious days. When Brezhnev and before him Stalin visited Prypyat with foreign dignitaries. He was young and strong then one of the elite who were considered the classic candidate for resettlement in atomic city. Looking out of the window I couldn’t help but feel a sense of passing of a great era – sort of lingering death. A pack of wolfs howl in the distance it cuts through the conversation. We fall all silent.
As the night seeps deeper into the darkness, it begins to rain. Stepping out into the verandah I looked out across the horizon towards, the great soviet star that once showed the way for all to follow. It was so very dark. In the foreground Yuri prepared to cut his quota of radioactive firewood, his wife says – it’s a form of therapy. He has been suffering from depression lately.
Turning towards us, the once proud soviet man smiled weakly. I couldn’t tell if his face was wet with rain or tears. That I am certain was how he wanted it.
Footnote: According to our guide the radiation dose you get from a day at Chernobyl is less than the dose an cosmonaut gets in orbit for 3 days. It’s very safe though certain places require a face mask – just keep your hands in your pocket and don’t lick anything. Two types of tours are currently conducted in Chernobyl – tourist and scientific – they have been going on since December 2000. They cost between US$140 per pax which includes two non radioactive meals transport and a complimentary guide book, but because we ran out of money, we realized that it can be had just as well for USD$50. Please note photography and filming is strictly prohibited by order of the ministry of information – that just means you need to bring along a carton of cigarettes to smooth the way.
Scientific tours are free but booking ahead is a must (roughly one and half years); the KGB need time to vet you. Scientific tours are preferred as one can explore the ghost city unescorted – but bring along a Geiger counter (can be rented!) and some Yeo Hiap Seng tin curry.
The Chernobyl mission was conducted recently by a four men scientific team from the 130th and funded by the Interspacing Guild – its mission objective being to document first hand the aftermath of a radioactive fall out and its effects on the environment – the information will be used for a book which darkness is currently working on. This exclusive travelogue has been brought to you exclusively by the Intelligent Singaporean and the Brotherhood Press. All travel in Russia is conducted using BMW touring motorcycles.
“Trust me, when you’re on the saddle 10 to 12 hours a day and tearing through god foresaken stretches where you dont even see a single human being for hours – the last thing you want to do is worry about is your bike dying on you – its not a matter of choice, BMW takes you there and back again.”
Only Dummies Drink and Drive!
(By Nacramanga, Trajan, KOHO, Atomic Monkey – Exclusive Travelogue Special Series – Chernobyl Revisited – EP 9902382 – 2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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