Monday, November 28, 2016

Don’t be a Prisoner of Your Own Style

As an ethnic Chinese who grew up in the Western world, Bruce Lee movies were and in many ways, still are one of the greatest forms of escapism. Bruce Lee movies were a relief from the hum drum message that you were part of a small and vulnerable minority that should be grateful to embrace the Western world. Here was a small Chinaman who could kick the crap out of bigger (often stronger) and more numerous opponents because he had the secret of “Chinese” Kung Fu.
As well as being a great fighter, Bruce Lee was a genius at selling himself as the hero of the downtrodden Chinaman. He evoked a sense of racial pride in us. The small Chinaman could win because he had an ancient Chinese secret. 

The truth was rather different. While Bruce Lee sold his “Chinese” heritage, he was in actual fact an open-minded thief who would happily adapt techniques and skills from other cultures that suited him and worked best for him. He summed things up – a punch is a punch and a kick is a kick no matter what style of fighting you practice. He was willing to experiment until he got things right. If a boxing punch worked better than a Wing Chun punch at range, he’d use a boxing punch.

The man intrigued people. American fighters like Joe Lewis (the White Karate Champion not the black boxer) and Chuck Norris who had mastered ancient Japanese martial arts like karate and Tang So-Do rushed to be his students. Why would the reigning tournament fighters of their day even bother trying to be students of a street punk who had never fought in the ring.

I think part of the reason was because Bruce Lee had a philosophy of being adaptable and of using whatever he could to kick the crap out of people who were intent on killing him. This Wing Chung man learnt Filipino Martial Arts (Eskrima) and made the nuchuks his own (nunchuks are not Chinese). While known for his one-inch punch and kicking ability, there is a video where he happily instructed his students to bite the opponent.

The man understood that fighting was like life. You need to play the cards you have rather than wish you had others. The man was short sighted and one leg was shorter than another. His build was skinny (word has it that he used to watch Mohammad Ali matches and get frustrated that he was trapped in a weak Chinese body.) Yet, he devoted himself to the study of close quarter combat (starting in Wing Chun and later on borrowing from Karate, Eskrima and Boxing). He worked with what he had – short sighted so you learn to fight close quarters; one leg shorter than the other so you get your side kick working for you. You’re skinny so you focus on speed rather than on brute force (Chuck Norris is recorded to have commented that the man never stopped moving).

Bruce Lee was also a proponent of the best technique being what worked best for you. As mentioned earlier, he started in Wing Chung, which is about close quarter combat. It suited him because it played to his strengths and not to his weaknesses. His short sight would have precluded him from being any good at Tae Kwon Do.

Human beings often take pride in being at the top of their game. The world is filled with masters of this and that. The truth is that while we do admire masters of an art, life is often broad based and constantly changing. Those who fail to change or try to hark back to a golden age often get the stuffing kicked out of them. We become as a former president of Bennet & Coleman said, “Prisoners of our own business model.”

One of my favourite examples of the need not to be trapped by your own style or your mastery of your style can be seen in the Hong Kong movie Ip Man, the Legend is Born. The most prominent scene for me is when the young Ip Man meets Leong Bik, his fellow Foushan resident in Hong Kong. The young Ip Man takes pride in the fact that he knowns “Authentic” Wing Chun. He gets the stuffing kicked out of him by Leong Bik (played by Ip Chun, son of Ip Man), who practices something that looks like Wing Chun but isn’t because it’s not in the traditional definition of what “Authentic” Wing Chun should be. The young Ip Man complains “That’s not Wing Chun” as he ends up sprawled on the floor. The old man tells him “What comes from my fist is Wing Chun” and he points out that the rules can be changed.

Have a look at the following clip:


Moral of the story – know your craft but innovate and experiment. Don’t be afraid of change. The fighters that became stuck to their craft have inevitably lost out to those who were willing to change and use what worked best for them.



Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Controlling the Genie

The American Presidential Election is over and everyone is stunned with the victory of Mr. Donald Trump. Everyone I know, with the exception of the boss in the liquidations job (he predicts Mr. Trump will be very good for business) and friends and family from what I call the ‘crazy right’ (I won’t equate their views with Christianity), was stunned and nauseated.

Despite having a history of managerial incompetence, disdain for the working man, Donald Trump’s campaign based on racism and sexism proved to be shockingly effective. People came out to vote for him and despite a few high-profile cases, very few people actually came out to vote for him.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is merely the most successful of a brand of politicians who have played up to the worst in people. One just has to think of Marine Le Penn in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or Viktor Orban in Hungry who have campaigned against immigration and the bashing of people of another colour. While these politicians were frightening, non-of them will wield anything like the influence that Mr. Trump will now have.

The optimists amongst my associates have told me that Mr. Trump was merely playing up to his electorate and once in the Presidency, the American system of checks and balances Unfortunately, not only does Mr. Trump have the White House, the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress (admittedly, he doesn’t get along with most of Congress). They’ve also pointed out that Mr. Trump will probably be constrained by advisors who will tell him what’s what.

There are some signs of optimism. Mr. Trump’s speech was somewhat magnanimous when he promised to be a President for “all Americans.” A PR Chinese Official who was interviewed the night before on Singapore TV said of Mr. Trump, “He is a second rate, lousy businessman – but businessman all the same, so he should be pragmatic.” Well, let’s hope Mr. Trump does try and be pragmatic.

Unfortunately, the personality displayed by Mr. Trump on the campaign have shown that his ability to be pragmatic often take second place to insults to his ego and more importantly, Mr. Trump may have unleashed an emotion in the public that he will find hard to control – Anger.

Mr. Trump was very successful at appealing to an emotion that a certain group of people felt. Older, less educated White people, who felt alienated by the forces of globalization, immigration and technological change. Look at where Mr. Trump won, it was in the States that were predominantly older and depressed. Mrs. Clinton took the entire West and East Coast as well as Illinois, the home of Chicago, a large trading city.

The so called “silent” majority who voted for Mr. Trump will now expect him to deliver. While they will forgive certain promises being broken, they will expect him to provide some semblance of what he promised – namely an ideal world where simple jobs are available and you don’t have to deal with too many people who look different from you.

This is a promise that Mr. Trump will not be able to keep. America has been the centre of the forces that have made the world on the whole, a better place.

Globalisation and open borders have brought problems but on the whole, they’ve helped spur prosperity and innovation. So, the question is, how much of the door will Mr. Trump’s followers expect him to shut and when the consequences of shutting the doors come in, will they not turn on Mr. Trump.


It’s an issue Mr. Trump will now have to deal with and the rest of us will have to find a way of living with it as he struggles to balance the forces he’s unleashed. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

The White America I Know.

I had a quick coffee with a friend of mine who said that he noticed that all my Facebook posts showed that I hate the current Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. He’s right. I can’t stand Mr. Trump’s candidacy and I can’t fathom how anyone with a brain and a heart could even consider what he says seriously. The idea that he could actually be the president of what is the most benign superpower in the history of the world is not just frightening, it’s repulsive.

I’ve had people tell me that Mr. Trump would be good for America because he speaks his mind and he’s doesn’t care about political correctness. I’ve had people tell me that he’s the outsider we need to shake up the rotten system that has made America a very unequal place. More importantly, I’ve heard people tell me that he’s expressing what White America wants to hear – he is the champion for White America.

To be fair to Mr. Trump, he’s made this election entertaining. The comedians have had a field day with him. I’ve become particularly fond of watching him get lampooned by Trevor Noah and John Oliver. I also give him credit for dragging out Melania, who has all the physical attributes I am attracted to in a woman.

While, all this is very nice and very entertaining, I do believe that the Presidential election should be about something more than what my sister calls my dirty little pleasures. At the very least, a President, particularly one as venerated as the US President, should try and embody the best of a nation. To a large extent, many of the previous presidents have tried to do this. Whatever, you may think of them and the actual results of their policies, both Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton tried to be about opportunity. The Bushes sold a message of America as a force of freeing up the world from tyranny. Obama got people excited because America had looked beyond colour and elected a dark-skinned man who happens to be very intelligent.

Sure, America’s not perfect and has screwed things up for many parts of the world. However, when you look at the overall picture, America and Americans have been a force for good. When people tell me that Trump is speaking for White America, I am very offended because the America and the White America that I know is nothing like the one he’s supposedly speaking for.

I guess you could say that I hit a major jack pot when I ran into White America. The first strike was when my mother married, Lee, my first stepfather. Lee took me into his life and loved me without ever thinking whether I was his flesh and blood. Whenever we transferred, he’d make it a point that I was able to receive the same good things that my sister, his flesh and blood received. The love and affection that he provided me didn’t just end with him. He made it a point that I became part of a family – which included his parents, Grandpa Hart and Grandma Milly. I remember, Old Hart telling me, “I’m so used to thinking of you as my grandson that I forget that my son isn’t your dad.” Then, there’s my stepsister, Carol and her family. Although there’s not been a legal relationship between us for 20 odd years, she and her family continue to welcome me as part of the family.

My second strike with White America, comes in the shape of my step-grandmother, Joan, mother of my stepmother, Nora (Dad’s second wife and Max’s mom). Joan, bless her soul was one of the kindest people you could find. She didn’t just take me in as her grandson but also welcomed my friend, Joe, who would drive up 5-hours from Indiana to spend the Sumer with her in Chicago. Of all the Christmas presents that I treasure the most, is the fact that she compiled a list of every email I wrote to her while I was at university.

Yes, I’ve had my run ins with what you’d call arrogant American expatriates here but thanks to my experiences of family in “White America” I know that on the average, White American’s are decent people.

Yes, it’s sometimes funny to see how untraveled many White Americans are. To many, a long-distance holiday is going to the mall in the next town. However, while they may not travel out of their home state, Americans are probably the most welcoming people on the planet, a view also echoed by veteran Saudi Journalist, Khaleed Al-Maeena (A view he echoed in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, which many Arabs were against). Lilly white American families has created plenty of programs for kids from the brown, black and yellow parts of the world to taste life in the good parts of America.

My family in “White America” has become diverse and nobody seems to bat an eyelid. There’s me from Singapore. There’s a step-nephew who married a Jewish girl and a step-niece who married a Muslim convert. A step-brother of mine, married a Chinese girl. My “White American” family isn’t a wealthy Beverly Hills living one either. They feel the pain and issues brought about by America’s economic climate. Yet, never have I heard any one of them begrudge the people from elsewhere. If anything, they respect the Mexican guys for working hard.

This is the White America that I know. So, when I look at people getting excited by Mr. Trump and his rhetoric against Mexicans, Muslims and so on, I’m stunned. I don’t understand how people outside America can cheerfully tell me that he’s speaking for “White America.”

Donald Trump isn’t speaking for White America because I know White America and he’s saying the things that I know the real White America would be offended by.

Friday, November 04, 2016

It Could Be Worse

As the American Presidential heads into the final few days, I’ve noticed a few people in cyberspace questioning the state of affairs of the world. How did the world’s “greatest” democracy come to a stage where the people are left with a choice of a dubious, power-hungry who may have compromised national security by using her private email server and an incompetent demagogue who has a history of turning business deals to shit and is currently making being a racist rapist (man goes to trial for child rape later this month) into an activity of trendy frat boys (not that he actually did any sport)?

Americans must be wondering how their system, which has been touted as the “greatest” model of government and an example of how everyone else should create a society, has been reduced to this awful choice – a case of daily scenes of the awful doing the awful. Is this, as they say, the prime example of how democracy doesn’t work?

While this year’s election has been a case of the nasty doing the nasty, the pessimists have missed the point of what makes democracy tick. The purpose of a democracy is not to produce the best leadership but to provide the most efficient and bloodless way of removing bad leadership.
When you live in a democratic system, you can get frustrated with the way things work. Good leaders with good ideas end up disappointing and only achieving a fraction of what they promise because along way during their time in office, they were either blocked or had to compromise with different parties. FDR, one of America’s greatest champions was consistently thwarted by the Supreme Court. More recently Barak Obama spent more time dealing with a Republican dominated Congress that was openly determined to screw him up because he happens to be a shade darker than them.

Democracy at times can seem like the opposite of a system that promotes meritocracy and action but are the alternatives any better? Surely, a better form of government would be a “Divine” or “Benevolent” dictatorship – a case of the ruling elite being selflessly devoted to the well-being of the people.

Dictatorships or places that are ruled by one unchallenged party can produce miracles – governments that actually function for the benefit of the people. I live in Singapore, which has all the things you’d expect in a functioning democracy (elections, courts etc) but for the most part was run by one unchallenged man – our former Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Lee and his team literally grabbed the nation by the scruff of its neck and made it into a clean, rich and green paradise.
While Singaporeans may complain about the government and the lack of any form of opposition, the efficiency of the government has performed such a good job that everyone from outside ends up looking at us and saying, “What are you complaining about?” An Austrian fellow even told me, “In Singapore, at election time should be about saying “Thank You PAP.”

The likes of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton would never exist in Singapore. The slight whiff of scandal surrounding Mrs. Clinton would never have been allowed let along Mr. Trumps “inflammatory” rhetoric. Our politicians may lack entertainment value but they all have rather clean cut records – in Singapore “boring” is a virtue.

However, as Bhutan’s former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk argued – how guarantee that your successors are as benevolent as you. King Jigme was true to his word – he abdicated in favour of his son and moved the monarch from an absolute one into a constitutional one. People cried when the king told them to choose their government rather than have him tell them what to do. Bhutan has to be the only case in the world where the King imposed democracy on the people rather than got himself overthrown or had his powers curtailed by the people.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck clearly understood that ruling and leadership are more than just about your own performance. It’s about ensuring the place gets better after you leave the scene.
Let’s look at the example of another monarchy – Thailand. Everybody acknowledges that King Bhumibol was a benevolent king. While, in theory, only a constitutional monarch with no actual power, the late King Bhumibol had so much moral authority that no politician or coup leader would even consider taking power without his blessing.

While, Thailand has draconian “les majeste” laws that make insulting the king or the royal family a criminal offence, nobody doubts that the admiration and affection for the late king was genuine. Yes, he had a good PR machine, the Thai people felt his affection for them and in return gave it to him. The King was to all practical purposes the one thing that stabilized the Thai national psyche, which has been torn by conflicts, military coups, corrupt politicians and so on.

Unfortunately, the saintly King Bhumibol is dead. The next king is the current crown prince, Prince Vajiralongkorn. Prince Vajiralongkorn has a reputation for being the total opposite of his father. While King Bhumibol was a king who used his fortune to improve the lives of his people, Prince Vajiralongkorn is known for indulging in every vice known to man and likes to grant high military ranks to his poodle. While King Bhumibol was the living example of monarchical dignity, Prince Vijaralongkorn is known for showing up at the airport sporting fake tattoos and dressed in a singlet.
Unfortunately, this is a monarchy we’re talking about. The rules of succession are clear – the throne stays in the family no matter how competent or incompetent they may be for the job. Yes, life was good when Bhumibol was king but now he’s gone and we’ve got a nut on the throne.

In more extreme circumstances, removing bad dictators can be bloody. Africa is awash with examples of rulers who should not have been around to rule. Zimbabwe is stuck with Mugabe who is living and still on the hot seat well past his sell by date. Let’s not forget that Mugabe was a hero, on the scale of Mandela, when he came into power. Then, he realized that he liked being in power and couldn’t live without it and he’s stayed on regardless of what happened to everyone else. Further north of the continent, you had Mobutu in Zaire who had to be removed by a war and the war has been going on and on and on since then.

The choice of Trump or Clinton can seem depressing. However, the fuck ups can be voted out in 4-years and the country is not going to be plunged into a civil war. The alternative of a system where a fuck up needs to be removed by force of arms is worse.


Monday, October 24, 2016

How is he my Enemy?

You have to hand it to the Americans but nobody else does showmanship the way they can. As an example of the American ability to put on a good show, one need look further than the current presidential election, where the two most reviled presidential candidates of all time have managed to make this the most watched election of all time. It’s an election where a wooden and uninspiring candidate in the shape of former first lady, Hillary Clinton has managed to have every one of her reported sins ignored by the media because her opponent is far more effective at getting free publicity.

Donald Trump, the property developer, reality TV host and now Republican Party presidential candidate has a magical ability to compel journalist to write down everything he says. His magic comes from his ability to make being downright unpleasant into something that’s almost trendy. He’s done so by stoking the fears of a group that once took being at the top of the social tree for granted (white men) by attacking everyone else, namely women, the educated and migrants.

Mr. Trump has been very good at stirring up the worst in a decent people. He’s used lies and made up facts and turned it into a jingoistic call of the average working man. The Economist described Mr. Trump as having made fact and fact checking him a form of snobbery. Mr. Trump has unfortunately been particularly successful at winding up people against one particular group – Migrants, whether they be Mexican (bunch of rapist) and Muslims (ban the lot from entering the USA).

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is merely a very successful jingoistic charlatan who has plays of the fears of the unknown. Europe (the half of the West) as seeing a rise of Far-Right Nationalist like the National Front in France. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and arguably the most powerful woman in the world has recently taken a beating in the polls because she decided to open the country up to migrants from Syria. The Japanese in the mean-time struggle with an aging population and stagnation because it seems better than opening up the country to migrants.

The arguments against migrants is simple – we’ve heard the lot before. You have things like, migrants come over here and steal jobs from hard working local people and sponge of us the hard-working tax payers. Migrants are accused of committing crimes; they’ll robe and rape you the moment you give them a chance. If a migrant works in the shit, our natives will inevitably turn up their noses and tell you that its inevitably better than what they came from. If the migrants happen to be Muslim, they’ll tell you that letting them in is like welcoming Al-Qaeda through the back door.

I hear these arguments and I shudder. I worry when friends of mine give these arguments credence. In a funny way, I should be a champion for people like Mr. Trump and his global brethren. Statistically, I match Mr. Trump’s audience. I am the Singaporean version of a white male displaced by globalization in America and Europe. I am the only Singaporean Chinese man with a graduate degree waiting tables in my 40s when people my age from elsewhere are taking up “plum” and glamorous jobs. I should be angry at the Indians and Pinoys who have marched in here to take the jobs that were supposed to be mine.

Yet, I don’t feel angry. I can’t bring myself to feel anger against the Filipino customer service officer at the bank or the Indian IT programmer. I can’t bring myself to feel angry at them – if anything, I get angry with the natives to speak with righteous anger against them.

I look at my blue-collar persona and the people who have made up my world in that sphere. I’ve had the usual human interactions with my Pinoy waiters and Indian cooks. I know these guys. We go through a restaurant seating together and we then have a good laugh after work is done. In some cases, I get to know their families as well.

I ask myself, how is it that people like Mr. Trump have figured out that the people like my work colleagues in my night job are the enemy? They put in their sweat and toil to ensure that people like Mr. Trump and his followers have a good meal when they come into the restaurant. They mind their own business after the service is over. I want to understand how my colleagues and friends are “my enemy.”

It extends beyond my collar persona too. I think of the days when I was a free-lancer. My clients, namely the people who were willing to take a chance on me, where inevitably from elsewhere. I ask myself, how is the Indian National Banker my enemy? If anything, the presence of the Indian National banker provided me with a business opportunity that might never have existed. The message of people like Mr. Trump fails to resonate with me because I keep looking at the people I know in my daily life and I keep asking myself, “What is it about these people that makes them my enemy?”
Let’s look on the national scale. How are Mexican immigrants picking fruit in California the enemy of local Americans? While I don’t deny Mexicans in America or Algerians in France or Turks in Germany or PRC Chinese in Singapore and Hong Kong commit crimes, anyone will tell you that on the whole, the migrants are law abiding and hard working. They perform a necessary role in comfortable society by doing the uncomfortable. 

Whenever someone looks at me and tells me that migrants are the enemy, I am tempted to grab hold of them and to get them to point to random bloke in the street who happens to look foreign and ask them how that person is my enemy.

Mr. Trump and his brethren around the world can make good speeches by talking about how certain communities are the enemy. I have yet to hear one of them point at people like my work colleagues and explain to me how they are the enemy in a compelling and sane way. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Defense of the D****

One of my favourite comic characters of all time is "Wicked Willie," a talking penis who happens to have a very close and friendly relationship with the man that he happens to be attached too. Like all good sibling relationships, Willie and Man argue, commiserate and enjoy life together.

I think of this comic strip when I'm with my guy friends because there's much truth expressed about the relationship between man and his penis. Men have a strange bond with their penises that women simply don't have with their vagina's. If you observe popular culture, you will notice that men give their pricks pet names, talk about the things that their pricks can do and generally worry about it. Most of all, we are always obsessed with the size of our prick. By contrast, women don't seem to care much for their vagina's. While boys spend their days talking about the size of their pricks, women seem to have utterly no interest in their vagina's unless they have a yeast infection, its the time of the month or when they concede to have sex.

Man as a species has been screwed by his prick on plenty of occasions. We are, as I suspect and many women might be inclined to agree," tied to our pricks to the point that we are obsessed with the size and functionality of the "wrong head." I challenge any man reading this to deny that he's never allowed the head between the legs to overrule the head on the shoulders.

I have to admit that I am guilty of letting my small head think for me. I only have to think of the countless occasions when I've agreed to do something (usually spending money I know I don't really have) because I've wanted to impress a girl that I was hoping to go to bed with.

My only defense when it comes to thinking with the small head instead of the big one, is that I am not alone. Singapore is populated by highly educated (we're talking about top 10 global university league), highly successful (head of department in MNC level) executives who have discovered a compulsive instinct to give away half their monthly salary to village girls from third world countries all because of the need for sex (The expat will proudly proclaim that the girl adores him and his p*** and then you'll realise that the only word of his language that she speaks is "you give me money now.")

One only needs to think of that wonderful retort by Judi Dench playing M in the movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." She's told by an admiral, "You don't have the balls for this." She replies, "I don't think with them."

 Men are proud of their pricks. At one stage in life, having a prick meant that you'd be king of the world. As a friend of mine says, "Sticking it into someone never sounds as bad as having someone stick it into you." We always assume that the prick gives the man to the dominant one during the sexual or that most primal of acts.

Unfortunately, technology has become such that brute power is being reduced to rubble. Men, who have the advantage in terms of brute power are being increasingly sidelined, while women who don't have an additional head to interfere with the decision process have prospered in the modern world.

Feminist are getting increasingly smug about this. They'll remind you that because they don't have dicks, women are not inclined to go for brutal combat activities like war. They don't need to show off their toys and they just get on with the business of whatever they were supposed to be getting on with.

So, you'd think that the dick is now going to go the way of the dinosaur. Whereas having a dick was once considered something to be proud of, it's now become and handicap and we, the male of the species are destined to spend the rest of our lives doing nothing much except waiting for the day when some random woman decides to have a bit of fun (apparently gladiators in Ancient Rome were occasionally used for the purpose of pleasuring Roman women of high standing.)

I don't like to believe that the dick is destined to go the way of the dinosaur. I believe that there are moments in life where dicks can do things for society and using your dick to make decisions from time to time isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This point was brought to me by a White American Jew a few weeks back when we were having drinks. We found that we had a sweet spot - we were both eyeing up the same type of women regardless of race, language or religion. At some point during the conversation, he declared that,"My dicks isn't racist."

That thought was being basic at its best. I guess you could say that this is the revenge of the average guy on a society that insist that you need to be ultra brainy and ultra good at thinking with the big head on the shoulders. There are times when the little head has a point.

Let's look at it this way, everybody has the same physical anatomy. Men have their penises and women have breast and a vagina. Sex basically involves a penis entering a vagina. The pleasure that both parties are supposed to feel during this most basic of acts comes from a host of other psychological factors.

When the big head is involved in the process of sex, people find themselves getting into all sorts of factors. For men it's usually things like; is she pretty? Does she scream loudly in bed. Women get a bit more complicated; is rich, does have a career, will he like kids etc etc.

Some of the big head's concerns are valid. For example, if a man likes kids, a woman's maternal instincts. If he's successful, it's going to be turn on because it means he can provide.

However, the big head is often prone to overthinking, which can be bad in that it stops any action. I go back to the original Wicked Willie series when man asks a half naked girl, "Do you love me or do you love me because I am a millionaire." Willie's advice is,"Who cares"

Stopping an act through overthinking is a very mild sin of the big head. The big head often has a habit of developing ideas of its own, which aren't necessarily correct or beneficial to anyone except the big head.

Let's look at the various ism's like racism, sexism, ageism and so on. These are inventions of the big head that has decided that it needs to classify people by all sorts of categories to make itself feel superior. The big head also has a habit of trying to get uppity about its own creations. Think of the Donald Trump voters who are being told that Mexicans are rapist and crooks who are stealing their jobs. This isn't true, the Mexicans in America are merely doing the jobs at the Trump supporters wouldn't do for love or money but this is not something that the big head on the shoulders of Trump supporters want to believe in so the big head keeps stroking up all sorts of funny thoughts which are ultimately not very funny when they are put into practice (it;'s funny to make racist jokes, it's less funny to be beaten up because some twat doesn't think you're good enough to be in his neighborhood because of your colour.)

The small head doesn't get complicated. It just ask if you find the woman hot and if you want to go to bed with her. At that point you act. The small head cannot not be bothered with the imaginary benefits of having an ism. It merely ask if you want something and then gets you to work towards it. Things are reduced to their most basic and life sometimes becomes much easier when things are at their most basic.

So, there are times when the small head should be allowed to dominate the decision making process. Would Brexit have taken place if the English used their small head. Hard to think of any right swinging Englishman voting to keep out good looking chicks from the rest of Europe. Hillbillies might be less inclined to vote for Trump and his wall if they understood that this was going to keep away the good looking Latina babes.

You shouldn't use the small head to do the majority of the thinking. However, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen to it. There are times when following the small head can lead to interesting things.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Should the Government Do?

The Singapore Government is generally regarded as an exceedingly efficient and effective organisation. If you ask anyone who has lived in Singapore for any length of time, they'll testify to how well thought out everything in Singapore seems to be and they will undoubtedly give credit to the one organisation that is everywhere - the government. To it's fans, the Singapore government can achieve just about everything possible.

There is, however, an exception. That failure lies in its ability to produce "world-class" people. While we may be the perpetual "Asia-Pac" and "Global" hub for huge corporations, we have yet to produce a Nobel Prize winner, a readable author, a noteworthy film director, actors who can be watched outside MediaCorp's direction and an Olympic Athlete. At best, we only seem able to brag about the people from elsewhere who want to live here. Much as I might get "flamed" by the online crowd, the truth of the matter is that we need the so called expats to come here and run the show.

This issue has been bugging the heck out of the Singapore Government. In its usual fashion, the government has convened the usual gathering of experts and set up an array of programs to throw various sums of money at any aspiring artiste or athlete. The closest we came to getting "world class" winners was when we hired a few young ladies from China, who promptly won a few bronze medals and a silver (against their fellow Chinese who stayed with the motherland) and once they collected the money, they went home to China. The government got to bask in some glory and the public had a field day bitching about how we, the tax paying public, were being screwed by our government that was being screwed by ungrateful bitches from China (for the record, in Singapore it's acceptable to be screwed by White People but totally unacceptable to be screwed by anyone darker than a shade of pink.)

This happy scenario has changed recently thanks to Mr. Joseph Schooling, who won our first-ever gold medal at the recently concluded Rio Olympic Games. Not only did Mr. Schooling win the gold, he did it in style by beating the greatest swimmer ever (Michael Phelps) and breaking the Olympic Record. The government was quick to jump on Mr. Schooling's success and the gold was celebrated by a full house of parliament.

As usual, the online media had a field day bitching about how the government had nothing to do with Mr. Schooling's success and that somehow it was a shame for the rest of us to get involved with celebrating this new champion. The government, in its efforts to do the right thing by the people is now scrambling to do what it can do to make more champions.

Let's take a step back and ask ourselves if this is actually necessary. Why is the government on a mission to produce Olympic champions or artiste or even Nobel prize winners? Is this even the business of the government.

I don't believe it is the business of any government to get into the business of trying to help produce Olympic Champions or any form of artiste or Nobel Prize winners. If you study the track record of governments trying to select "winners," you'll find that they are very bad at doing so. Sure, the Soviet Union and it's Satellite states produced plenty of Olympic Champions but the human costs were high - one only has to look at the cancer and sex change statistics of the old East Germany which came from athletes who had been pumped up with steroids beyond any healthy level. The Soviet Union did produce plenty of artiste, but all of them made it a point to defect the moment they had the chance and all of them took the first chance they could to hit back at the state that screwed them.

If you take Joseph Schooling as an example, you will realise that he's the product of success despite the state. His story echoes plenty of the success stories of other professional athletes in the West and of artiste who made it big - his parents had faith that he had a particular talent and took the socio-economic risk of downgrading their home to be able to send him to the USA so that he could get the training he needed (think of Leopold Mozart who gave up everything to ensure Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could become the Mozart or how Mike Agasi who drilled tennis into young Andre).

The Schoolings took the risk that young Joseph would succeed and thankfully they're faith has been repaid. The state has given Joseph enough prize money to make up for the money his parents spent and nobody should deny Joseph a penny of the endorsement deal that he's just signed with Nike.

However, the key point here is that the Schooling family took a risk. There was nothing to guarantee that young Joseph would ever achieve the success that he's just achieved. The nature of professional sports or art or science is that only the very few succeed. Most of the people in these fields struggle just to have a glimpse of the "Middle Time." We all look at the massive million dollar salaries that movie stars make but nobody looks at the fact that every waiter in LA is an "actor" waiting tables while waiting for his or her big break.

The truth of the matter is that you got to be something of a risk taker if you want to be in sport or an artiste. You got to have hunger to succeed in fields where the odds of basic survival are non existent. 
Entrepreneurship is about believing and creating things that are unlikely to come to pass.

Governments, including the Singapore government are by their very nature designed to work for the masses. Governments measure success by the "overall" statistic and not by any particular record or instance of brilliance. Governments will always talk about GDP figures rather than individual fortunes. The success of an education system is based on literacy rates and not on individual prizes.  
The Singapore Government has done a brilliant job at this and to deviate from this approach would be damaging to society. It's like asking a lion to adapt a vegetarian diet. 

Alternatively, Singaporeans should ask themselves if they are prepared to pay the costs of less equality. In the USA, you have the best universities in the world. You have more Nobel Prize winners and you have more great contemporary artiste than anywhere else. Yet, you have a school system (especially in the inner cities) where kids can't read after nine years of formal education. We have less brilliance than the USA but all but our most mentally impaired can communicate in more than one language and even the most dense can count. 

To a certain extent, the government can play a part by building infrastructure (more labs, more swimming pools etc etc). New Zealand does a brilliant job in ensuring that the All Blacks will never be lacking in basic facilities. However, beyond that, its not the job of government to "nurture" winners in sport, art or science. At the most, governments can help create a culture where risk taking is less frowned upon but other than that, governments should stick to do what they do best.