25 December 2006

Christmas telethon

Christmas is pretty much the only major Western (Judeo-Christian) holiday that Chinese people can identify with. No kidding - you'll have to travel miles to meet with your extended kin, spend an entire weekend consuming too much food, and as luck will have it, at your grandparents', there won't be much in the way of entertainment - unless your gramps are hardcore gamers .If you live in the kinless big city, it's an entire weekend of hosting or attending parties, hopefully with company you can live with.

Oh, who are we kidding... That's the reason why people end up sitting in front of the telly or secretly watching it from the corner of their eye as they make an effort to talk to someone else. Obviously in this corrupt and degenerate age we live in, there's nothing festive on telly. No. We have dreg like The Mask of Zorro, Jumanji, and the Powerpuff Girls Christmas special. And then you realise you took a few days of annual leave to rest at home as well.

It's time to stand up for your own Christmas entertainment. At parties, gatherings, or at home, insist on your own festive selection! It helps to bring along a few DVDs, of course. Here's my perfect Christmas selection, tastefully chosen to suit all stripes of Christmas celebrants.

For a Heartwarming Christmas

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Because you know that this is the most mushy, sentimental flick about how an angel makes one ordinary, do-gooding Joe's life better on Christmas, when he's at his lowest point. When I get slightly depressed, watching this helps.

Going My Way (1944)

Bing Crosby is a singing priest newly transferred to a depressed parish. Not only does he win over their hearts, he saves the impoverished church from closing down/getting sold, and makes everyone's life better. By singing, of course.

Christmas Carols

Scrooge (1951)

The best film version of A Christmas Carol, IMO. Also manages to humanise the miser by giving him a touching backstory. Born poor, mother died in childbirth, was an honorable and hungry (in the sense of ambitious/hardworking) guy until he got mentored by a crooked capitalist who helped hone his business sense. Makes his interactions with Tiny Tim and the Cratchitts, and his transformation all the more touching later on.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Very faithful adaptation of the Dickens story, even more faithful to Dickens than the previous film. It just has Muppets instead of human characters in the rest of the cast, and Michael Caine as Scrooge. That's TWO reasons to watch this.

Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)

You don't expect me of all people to wallow in feel-good holiday movies, right? By the end of the 15th Christmas movie, you'd want to see something that skewers A Christmas Carol, just for the heck of it. Scrooge is a very nice man, an honest and philanthropic businessman whose company is just about to fall apart and die. Until a visit from some Ghosts of Christmas...

Because it's about the birth of Jesus

Hail Mary (1985)

Jean-Luc Goddard made a very reverential transposition of the Nativity Story to a modern day setting. Most of the "controversy" raised by ignorant Christians are due to their own inability to realise how scandalous a virgin birth would have been viewed in 6 A.D., and how well Goddard evokes that sense of scandal in his movie.

The Gospel according to St Matthew (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini may have been a socialist, but this film - all dialogue from the Gospel, with nothing added or fabricated - was endorsed by the Vatican. Made with non-actors and real-life peasants, this looks like a very artistic documentary at times. Pasolini knows his Jesus well: he's the guy in old and dirty clothes siding with the poor, the trodden, the weak, and the criminals that are routinely condemned, ignored, or exploited by the rich, the morally superior, the hyper-religious leaders in church. Pastor Kong should watch this movie the next time he makes a stupid speech about God wanting people to be rich, hallelujah!

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Brian's not a messiah, he's just a very naughty boy! Who, for the entirety of his life, is mistaken for The Messiah...


A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

It's like the animated version of It's a Wonderful Life. Everything seems to be going wrong for Charlie Brown as he helps put up the school Christmas play. Charlie Brown's almost existential search for the meaning of Christmas is embarked while the entire Peanuts gang seem to be occupied with other stuff and ignoring him. But all goes well when Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas in a speech that gets you all warm and mushy inside.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Personally, my favourite Christmas cartoon ever. And now, in 3D!

Just Christmas Movies

Perhaps the best part about doing your own Christmas programming is the offbeat choices you can make that will throw people off, yet impress them when they realise that these films ARE really set during Christmas, and perhaps do say something about how we celebrate it nowadays.

Brazil (1985)

Yes, it's a dystopian scifi comedy/satire. But it's also about Christmas. In fact, if you pay attention, there are lots of Christmas jokes in Brazil - every day seems to be Christmas in the movie, everyone seems to be giving the same gifts, and for the win, we have Capitalists for Christ marching on the streets...

Jingle all the Way (1996)

What Christmas without last minute shopping? Mugging people in stores? Fighting over the last item in the store? Jingle All the Way is a culturally important film that depicts all these. Watching Arnold as a wimp of a dad who endures all and then blows his top makes you realise that he paved the way for the Adam Sandler brand of comedy.

Die Hard (1988)

Your Christmas action movie! It's Bruce Willis foiling a plot involving a plane, lots of explosives, and Alan Rickman as a master terrorist!

Gremlins (1984)

Now I bet you didn't realise Gremlins was set during Christmas. Go shock the hell out of everyone with this factoid =D

13 December 2006

Playstation3 economics explained

Being on leave today, I went down to Sim Lim to take a look at the PS3s. And yes, they do cost about $1,600. Normally this post would be the domain of a singapore economist, but since he's on hiatus and I thought I'd do the honours. While the Straits Times article was more interested in playing the "parallel imports are almost illegal, unsafe, and overpriced" angle, there's a perfectly logical reason why they'd cost that much, and we don't even have to invoke price speculation in the explanation.

We need to understand the economics of importing items into Singapore.

1. Take into account the US exchange rate fluctuates between 1 USD to 1.6 to 1.8 SGD (currently 1 USD = 1.55 SGD).

2. Take into account the price of freight.

These factors give us

3. Rule of thumb for sole importers is to set the pricing at double the US price in Singapore dollars. If an item costs X USD, its selling price in Singapore would be 2X SGD, in other words.

(This, by the way, explains why Borders tends to price certain books over the sky. Of course, with competition, the "double the USD price" method of calculation doesn't work anymore, leading people to just walk over to Kinokuniya to get the same book for cheaper prices.)

But you'd say "Look, the PS3 retails at about 510USD in Japan and 600USD in America. S$1,600 is far more than double those amounts!" But we're looking at the wrong figures - what the Singaporean PS3 importers are looking at is the Australian retail price: about 800USD. If we assume that Sony's suggested retail prices are essentially base price + freight/shipping, then Singapore's retail price might end up around there as well, being approximately the same distance as Australia from Japan or the US (or whereever they manufacture and assemble the PS3).

And what do you know, 1600 = 2(800).

I do foresee the price to drop, but only on a few conditions:

1. Sony announces a launch date and retail price for the PS3 in Singapore. Imported sets will fall to double the USD value of this announced retail price.

2. Sony clarifies the DVD region of the PS3 sets sold in Singapore. Yes, all PS3 games are region-free, and for once, Singapore is in the same Bluray region as the US and Europe, but one wouldn't want to be stuck with a PS3 that plays all new games, but refuses to load any US-region PS2 games, would we?

05 December 2006

Seah Chiang Nee: Blogosphere moves from infantile to shrill

Dear Readers, feeling somewhat discouraged about the state of the blogosphere and bearing the disappointments of a blog project gone wrong, I had decided to take a break. In the 3 months that followed, I realised that perhaps Singabloodypore has now been superceded by more credible groupblogs and aggregators (kudos to singaporeangle and the intelligent Singaporean!), but also that the streak of invective commentary I detested in SBP had in fact spread far and wide - witness the tenor of the rhetoric and sophistication of the criticism of the Wee father-daughter duo.

So you'd expect me to be somewhat sympathetic and in agreement with Seah Chiang Nee's recent proclamation that not only is the local blogosphere infantile, but shrill and out of touch with reality and not credible at all. I beg to differ, really - with almost every assertion he writes.

IN the real world, the economy is humming strongly, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the last 10 years

In the real world, Singapore has just had an entire decade's worth of recessions and meltdowns. Understandably, more jobs will obviously be created this year than anytime in the last rotten 10 years.

the stock market is near record high

Stock markets historically double every 7 years, a factoid quoted by Brad Delong, economic advisor to the Clinton administration - but that doesn't mean that the economy doubles every 7 years at all. In fact, there is no one-to-one correlation between the heights of the stock market and the health of the economy.

and so are high-end properties.

High-end properties are at record highs, but Seah neglects to say that public housing and even mid-end private property prices are still languishing at historic lows. Perhaps it has something to do with a record creation of millionaires here last year?

The Singapore dollar has strengthened to around S$1.55 to the US dollar on speculation that economic growth would quicken, thus encouraging investors to put more funds in the city-state.

The US dollar has fallen against every major currency - including the SGD - because of the record trade deficits, massive government and private debt, and the embarrassing conduct of GW Bush in Iraq. In the unreal world, the SGD has actually depreciated very slightly against the basket of currencies that it is pegged to, not counting the US dollar.

The sanguine mood is reflected on the streets. With the school holidays on, the crowds are out in force. At night, it is virtually impossible to get a cab in the city centre without prior booking.

Ah, yes. And all the time in these past decade, everyone in Singapore was wondering why the cabs suddenly disappeared an hour before the midnight surcharge. And in the past 2 years, everyone in Singapore was complaining about the single red line along all of Orchard Rd, making it illegal for cabs to pick up passengers on the street. Hurray for Seah, who finally solves the mystery with his impeccable logic!

Restaurants and shopping malls are full, and people are spending ahead of a hike in Goods and Services Tax from 5% to 7% next April.

A little premature. Not even the Straits Times has reported or even hinted at a really-existing spending spree. Obviously the ST is out of touch with Seah's reality.

Year-end festivals are a month away but a fairyland of lights already covers the kilometres stretching from Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road to Marina Bay.

Dude, every year in Singapore the Christmas and Chinese New Year lightings go up by November. Where do you live, in Malaysia?

While the mood is upbeat, the Internet world, however, is painting a very different picture. Here, the talk is of continued weakness, rising unemployment and people committing suicide.

Hasn't Seah heard of jobless recoveries? Hasn't he even read the reports from the Economic Policy Institute, or seen this graphic?

Seah is a former editor in various news agencies. Clearly he hasn't picked up any shred of economics 101 despite his years in the job.

Forums are still full of tales of retrenched managers driving taxis, and 70-year-old “uncles” cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years.

They also feature pictures of homeless families sleeping in housing estate lobbies.

In the mind of Seah Chiang Ngee, it is impossible to have an economic recovery and continued unemployment occur at the same time. It is also impossible - in his world - for companies to be enriched and ordinary workers left behind in an economic recovery. It would blow his mind even to contemplate that even in an economic recovery, the poor could get poorer while the rich get richer.

Hence, OUB bank is shrill and out of touch with reality when it prints posters like this:

The brochure explains: On the 4th of april 2006, the Straits Times reported that "among all active CPF members, the median amoiunt saved is s$66,400." Assuming that you retire at 54 and live up to the age of 85, this means you would spend 30 years in retirement.

Note: this is probably why there really are 70-year-old uncles cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years.

But wow... this means that not only is the UOB shrill and unbalanced, unduly pessimistic and out of touch with reality... so is the Straits Times! And obviously the Department of Statistics in the Singapore government! The web of shrillness and unbalanced, gibbering entities widens!

Ironically, this is happening as the city is flourishing with growth expected to reach 7.5% to 8% this year and new jobs created – 132,000 in the first nine months – being at a 10-year high.

You know, if you start with a very low base (i.e. 10 sucky years), a half-baked recovery would register a similarly high percentage growth. Again, the new jobs created aren't quite enough to cover the new graduates coming out of NUS and NTU in about a month's time. And not to mention, the millions of unemployed new PRC grads who will flock to Singapore because our government gives them a 1 year Social visit pass, no strings attached, specifically to find a job here...

So who is right? Are we in a time of boom or doldrums? Why is there such a large disparity between the real world and the blogosphere?

Yes, Grasshopper, it is possible to have what is known as a jobless recovery. Also, refer again to the graphic from the EPI.

A Citigroup analysis recently asked if it is sustainable or heading for a bust like that in the 1990s when the economy fell into a recession. By keeping labour plentiful and wages low, it said Singapore should continue to perform strongly. Other reports predicted a 6% annual growth for the next 10 years. There is a caveat, though: the wage gap between rich and poor will continue to widen. The Internet community, which considers itself an alternative information source, carried few, if any, of the good news.

1. Citibank's analyst says Singapore can continue to grow, only if it artificially depresses wages.
2. Other analysts - as well as our political leaders - admit that the growth will continue, but at the expense of a growing income gap. Which coincidentally, should explain why it's possible for bloggers to report on the plight of the poor even in this sparkling year.

I shudder to think what Seah Chiang Ngee would consider as bad news.

So why is there a credibility gap? There are several reasons. Firstly, the growing influence of a liberal-minded Internet, which often paints the sufferings of a minority as a city-wide phenomenon.

High-end property prices at record highs, stock market at record highs. Yup. That's the bounties that a majority of the people have experienced and benefitted from, a real city-wide phenomenon.

Which brings me to a serious point: if the youths are so active and the Net is anti-government (a government backbencher said she was shocked to find they made up 80% of postings) it is a worrying trend.

A rising number of youngsters have stopped reading the traditional media, or what the government says, and have cocooned themselves into a sub-culture group that just talks to each other.

No. Seriously. How on earth can the liberal blogosphere criticise and make fun of ministerial policies and speeches, if they stop reading the traditional media and stop listening to the government? Where does the liberal blogosphere get its talking points of penniless uncles and MRT suicides - if not from the Straits Times itself?

Hurray for Seah Chiang Nee, keyboard kommando, social commentor and economic theorist par excellence! May he smite the ever-increasing hordes of shrill, unbalanced, out of touch and non-credible bloggers, who have managed to take over the Dept of Statistics, the Straits Times, and even the UOB!