Friday, February 29, 2008

Economics and Sex

My favourite Tyler Cowen quote so far, on what he thinks of new popular economics books.

Popular economics books reveal their true colors most clearly when they talk about sex. In Freakonomics sex is not holy but rather sex and reproduction lead to the birth of criminals...For Harford sex is a slightly naughty pleasure, and a pleasure to be mocked, but at least it is a real pleasure; this American reviewer again cannot help seeing the British tinge of his work.

PS3's back - Devil May Cry's fun!

They gave me a new (refurbished?) set instead. Anyway, Devil May Cry 4 is worth the wait. Lots of fun and button mashing in bite-sized pieces. A mission takes about an hour of stylishly killing enemies, which is just about how much time I have to play at a time. I'm at Mission 5 now, whereas Zeal has already finished the game and is starting at the harder difficulty levels. Lol... Games last me a long time!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

House hunting again: I hate the HDB

Third time isn't lucky. My queue numbers are seeing inflation. For 278 flats in mature estates, my queue number is 09549. Out of 10000 applicants
What gives? They rolled twice and my two numbers were both terrible apparently.

HDB - go and **** yourself.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Bad start to the year :<

My PS3 is spoilt. Blue Ray drive seems to have conked out. damn it.

Signs you've been working too long...

1. You answer your handphone with "Good morning, this is ***, Tze Min speaking."

2. You pick up your housephone and dial "9" before you even think about the number to call.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Michael Yon

I recently started reading Michael Yon's blog. He's an independent journalist covering the Iraq campaign, embedded with the units and blogging back about his encounters.

His writing style is very engaging, and brings a very personal take to the situation there. Definitely an interesting read, though the pictures and descriptions can be very graphic. Like this post, where he talks about how "al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking." Be warned, the description is not pretty.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Being middle class

Just before the Lunar New Year I attended a PA-organised Public Forum (on rising costs of living) with Lim Hwee Hua (MOS Finance and Transport) and Dr Tan Ern Ser as the panelists.

Dr Tan rather inevitably steered the discussion towards his pet topic and spoke about how the the government was not doing enough to help the middle class. As a result, MOS asked the participants for views on what being middle-class meant, and who considered themselves middle-class.

On the spur of the moment, my answer was that most everyone considers themselves middle-class. If you're not poor (ie you're facing monetary problems on a day-to-basis), and you're not wealthy (ie you never have to worry about money), you'd probably think of yourself as middle class, regardless of any other definition.

(Some preliminary research does seem to indicate that there is no clear definition for the term. Ample ground for arts majors to go arguing here. Both Prof Tan's research as well as reports from the UK suggest that people who are "middle class" may "mistakenly" believe they are working class - probably following my definition, or some similar form).

I elaborated that the problem with being middle-class in Singapore, is that the future is so uncertain. As with people in other industrailizing countries, our parents knew that hard work would lead to better lives - bigger houses, nicer furnishings, car, TV, fridge, etc. And for my generation, for those of us contemplating marriage, family, 60 more years on this planet, the realistic among us don't see hope. We see an iceberg of housing debt under the tip of our seemingly-high income. We see a lifetime of struggle, and not much prospect of having a life that is markedly better than our present. Or to put it starkly, there's no hope.

NYTimes had an article that put it quite well:
The definition of being middle class has changed, as many have noticed. It used to be a destination. Now it’s an uncertain place. It’s a struggle just to stay there.
MOS's answer: We should be realistic in our expectations. Consider that our living situations (eg home size, cars, nice hospital wards) are so much better than our predecessors. She said - from her generation, people did not expect to afford a house immediately after marriage. They worked first, and saved, and eventually they could afford a house. And for the current generation, the implication is that we expect too much - we expect to own a house straightaway, expect to drive, when all these things are not necessary. And from our current comfort, further improvement is difficult.

So, basically she's admitting that yes, we don't have much hope to look forward to continued improvements in our lifestyles like our parents had. But, don't expect it and you won't be disappointed! Hope for simpler things, and hope need not die. Live life according to what you can afford, and things will be fine.

On the one hand, I agree with her. What she's saying is basically, financial prudence. And on my income now, realistically, I should be looking at a three or four room flat, no car, a holiday maybe every two years or less, and trying to keep my individual food budget to less than $10 per day.

But part of me rebels - that part of me that says, irrationally, that I want more. That part that dreams, that desires, that dies a little more every day. The part that rationally I recognize, has been shaped by my society, my culture, the media, that there is a certain kind of lifestyle we aspire to - shallow, consumerist, but oh-so-attractive.

Being middle-class is a war between hope and reality. Maybe that's why so many people buy Toto and 4-D, or as they say, 买一个希望. Because subconsciously, we're aware that it will take a miracle to catapult us out of humdrum existence into the realm of our dreams. Maybe that's why so many people want to be entrepreneurs, want to gamble in the stock market. Because they see a lifetime of toil that doesn't go anywhere.

Still, it's not the government's job to give me happiness - merely provide an environment for me to pursue it. I do wish though, that they could give me at least the illusion that is hope...