Monday, March 16, 2009

My Ironic Life Story

Just to start the ball rolling with a hypothetical question: what if there were no hypothetical questions?
A blog's a diary, right? So...the meaning of life...mine as a case in point.
At 25 years of age, a well meaning medical undergraduate (now a well-connected doctor) persuaded me that I should donate sperms to a fertility clinic because:
(a) I would help childless couples;
(b) I would get paid ( a pittance - $180.00 per six shots over 2 months).
At 25, I thought no more beyond an assurance that I would never get to know the recipients' identities and the chances of consanguinity are infinitesimally small. (Just to be safe, note the year you donated, and the year your own child is born. Don't encourge my child to date anyone with that age difference).
For the record, the clinic contacted me to convey news that the recipient of my sperms was successful, and they were passing the receiver to let me hear the thank you from the couple - but no more than that. Absolutely.
Oh, and my first test revealed a low sperm count (possibly because I masturbated the night before - or an ominous sign. See the later part of this post.)
I wasn't a very thinking person back then.
Then came the octo-mum, who had been artificially inseminated , had 6 babies; and now wanted more and ended up with 14 babies she cannot afford to raise on her own.
Then came a book, Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland, about a baby boy, given up by his mother, who tracked her down 20 years later, for her to find out he had multiple sclerosis (lke Stephen Hawking). Like the octo-babies, the boy had foster parents who just couldn't heck child rearing responsibilities.
Also, like her, he had a natural talent to sing any song backwards (like when you play the recording backwards on a record player/open reel casette tape player). He then dies on her, but thereafter reunited her with the biological father - whom she could not remember earlier (because she was stoned drunk when it happened).
Well, what if my "baby" had been donated to a couple who are either naturally incapable of parenting , or met with some accident? Shouldn't he/she be told how to find me? As it happens, I'm financially better off- compared to 20 years ago, but am disgnosed as suffering from an extremely low testosterone level for a 45 year old (it's worse than a 60-year old's, I'm told). Or what if, like me, he/she is extremely timid and shy and does not know that some undefined lifechanging moment is just waiting round the corner for him/her. How can I let him/her understand that each of us, like the humans in the Matrix, has something unique, even if we are not in the headline news? We could still be the vote that brings the next Roosevelt or Hitler to power? The soldier or official who disobeyed a tyrant, or fired into Tiananmen protesters, in any event sparking a historical riot or revolution. Each of us carries the DNA to be the One. It just needs an awakening. By the right one.
In the case of my offspring, I'm quite sure there's an innate ability to remember the long forgotten tune and lyrics of a song sang in the kindergartens in 1969. and freeze in our memory events which happened more than 35 years ago. Believe me, this might be pretty useful if you have classmates who are likely to make the news headlines. Or simply recalling at will an old episode of Rockford Files. Or Petrocelli. Or the Rookie - with Kate Jackson before she was Sabrina in Charlie's Angels. Scary , huh?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Much We'd Spend To Get A Better Picture

This morning, a professional photographer shared some information about the latest in digital photography with a friend of mine. In essence, a very good camera is about S$7,000.00. But it'll soon cost you another $7k to get the latest upgrade. By which time the 1st $7grand camera you got was worth only $3,500.00. But production houses, a camera man's customers, would insist you have the latest equipment, however little improvement there may be in the latest gizmo.
On another vein, my customers yesterday paid more than $200.00 to get a fengshui master to confirm that their intended business venture can expect to see a good return on the investments very soon, by next year at the latest.
Come to think of it, isn't this what most governments are doing? Telling their citizens they must approve of multi-billion dollar "stimulus packages" to improve the prospective picture of their economies?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Light Fix - Just For Me

Just had my weekly fix of "Boston Legal Season 4". The star billings this week is definitely NOT awarded to Denny Crane or Alan Shore. It's to England-born-and-bred Tara Summers - see picture - playing newbie Katy Lloyd. Her accent (dipthongs, actually) is marvellous, especially employed in (gently) telling a US Judge not to be a cultural snob by taking away custody rights of a Mexican father who discovered his 10-year old son is a bullfighting genius. Brilliant.
Also gaining kudos is a gay 4 star general who successfully sued the US Army for sacking him for coming out (admitting his sexuality). The Judge hated Shirley Schmitt (Candice Bergen)- her arguments didn't work- but he just loved this heroic man.
Btw, there are blogs and forums on each episode out there!!! Alright, I'll own up to forcing my not-very-inclined-towards-English staff to brush up on passion about work by watching BL on Wed , 12 midnite. Watch it, it's free to air.
As I blog, the US stock markets are holding on to modest gains. Is the worst over? No, just signs that everything's extremely exaggerated, as always. Many called it "dead cat bouncing back to life".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Netponsibility, Not NetPornography

I see people. Depressed people.(Come on, someone must have remembered this line from "6th sense" the movie) People turning to the heavens, asking "why me?" So, in 2 previous postings, I tried to say that the Gods (if they are what we think) maybe decided that this financial mess which men have created would be a good chance to clear the climate mess which was also caused by humans' wasteful actions.
Just after I suggested that recovery may just be around the corner, the US stock markets surged by hundreds of points.
So now I'm psychic. But just to be safe, remember: the Net takes no responsibility for well-being, financial, sexual or otherwise. Don't ever take it seriously.

A Bit Of Stock Taking

Want to know my definition of a philosopher? Someone who simply can't help taking himself too seriously. How do I know? I'm a "philosopher".
Exhibit A(to P) for the prosecution - my previous postings. How long before they descended into gratuitous (read "no-one-asked-you-for-an-insight-did-they") commentary on the current crisis? Every 2 blogs, I believe. Hey, this is the Internet. Not to be taken as guide, philosopher (there!) and friend, is it? As a parent, I'm definitely not letting my kids believe all that "be an all night sex machine" cr*p. Hell, even if I were not a parent, I won't want my lover to think that. (groan, the inadequacy).
Here's the thing. I happen to think we're going to recover much faster than expected; maybe it's connected to the whineging going on. Once we move past the "what shall I do, where will I go, how will I live", the corner is waiting to be turned.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fantasy Galore

Advanced Norse-Grecian Extraterrestrial Lifeforms (ANGELs) gathered on the head of a pin to decide on the fate of humans on planet Earth. 2 pressing issues were on the agenda: Global warming and financial mismanagement.
The meeting began with Odin, aka Zeus (depending on the preferred jurisdiction), giving a brief account of the problem.
Human beans consume more than they need. Then they shit. This produces greenhouse gas which overheats the planet. They also need to make more money to support their overindulgent lifestyles. So they generate financial bullshit, which overheats - and overhypes - their borrowings which they cannot repay.
End result? No more natural resources, no more money. Left to their own devices, they turn to age-old remedies. They pray for our divine intervention (see Arthur C Clarke, who suggested that a technologically advanced race would seem like gods to the primitive culture) in the temples which we, in moments of vanity, inspired them to build in the first place.
What, asked Odin, can we do? What should we do?
Athena, Odin's twin in wisdom, proposed that ANGELs not intervene with free markets and monism (the worship of money), which are men's own invention. In due time, lack of money would prevent humans from consuming the natural resources. Consequently, the eco-balance will be restored, global warming will be checked. Voila!
There being no better alternative, the ANGELs, treated like gods, unanimously resolved to stand by and do nothing at all.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Dilemma of Singapore Sam

Sam Seng of a.k.a. jiang-zua-ji is really stuck. Like all patriotic Singaporeans looking out for himself and, where possible, his neighbours, he wants to be part of the solution. Only this time round, the leaders cannot seem to pick the right people to spend on the stimulus package. Just weeks earlier, world class banks like Citibank and UBS wiped billions off the investment portfolios of the government linked companies.
If Seng lacked anything, it is self-confidence. "So many scholars, so much PHd's, such strong reserves, they also got it wrong. Me? Forget it, I'm even worse!"
Informed common sense says, spend a bit more. You might save company A from closing down, help save the shopowner from bankruptcy, or the job of the shop assistant. However, self-preservation says, what can my spending do if no one else gives the shop business. Furthermore, I might go bankrupt myself. Can I afford it? Let someone else be the hero.
If ever a society lacked the belief that an individual can make all the difference, it's the utilitarian society that largely encourages the sacrifice of the one person for the greater good of many.
One last thought for risk managers: the rating agencies who got it so wrong in rating securities corrupted by the sub-prime mortgages mixed with the good stuff as AAA grade, they mismanaged big time at the worst possible time. It's time to take a risk. Anything is better than inaction. But who can be trusted with the spending solution?
Addendum: What would I do? I'd follow the classic words to being a Man:
"If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss" - That's what it takes, that's what we must do.

A Most Unlikely Story

As the financial and job markets continue to seek inspiration, I'll try a little free association with people whose every spare moment (including moments they cannot afford to spare) are devoted to building miniature houses. Let's see how long it takes to liken them to this current financial situation.
First, it begins with some odds and ends left over from some handiwork around the house. The hobbyist is fascinated with the idea of a dollhouse. Soon, she becomes a property developer. Why not recreate, say, Buckingham Palace? Soon, she asks around for toy soldiers and, maybe some princes and princesses. "They're so lovely; let's make them some gold-encrusted jewelry and buttons. Out come the credit cards.
Before you know it, the mini-developer is importing miniature bricks for the tower extension.
"Er, am I paying up on my credit card purchases on time?" Next, come the complicated derivative swaps. Let's go online and sell or exchange items. Maybe I can time-share the dollhouses. (Forget that the dollhouse was never really completed before all the focus was on the palace). Some online fool sends miniature items for the dollhouse, but it went towards the Buckingham Palace building fund - plus some profit for the expenses incurred by the "dollhouse builder", plus bonuses (justified as "expenses" and "pre-contracted payments"! More online enthusiasts are sucked into a big Ponzi scheme.
In the end, the Buckingham Palace becomes too big a project to fail! Hah.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


When dour and dull Gordon Brown comes up with a speech (to US House of Congress) which matches Obama's for cadence and alliteration, I see the beginning of a glimmer suggesting the light at the tunnel's end is round the corner. Take a look:
"And let us be honest – tonight too many parents, after they put their children to bed, will speak of their worries about losing their jobs or the need to sell the house.

Too many will share stories of friends or neighbours already packing up their homes, and too many will talk of a local store or business that has already gone to the wall.

For me, this global recession is not to be measured just in statistics, or in graphs or in figures on a balance sheet. Instead I see one individual with their own aspirations and increasingly their own apprehensions, and then another, and then another.

Each with their own stars to reach for, each part of a family, each at the heart of a community now in need of help and hope. And when banks have failed and markets have faltered, we the representatives of the people have to be the people's last line of defence.

And that's why there is no financial orthodoxy so entrenched, no conventional thinking so ingrained, no special interest so strong that it should ever stand in the way of the change that hardworking families need.

We have learned through this world downturn that markets should be free but never value-free, that the risks people take should never be separated from the responsibilities they meet.

And if perhaps some once thought it beyond our power to shape global markets to meet the needs of people, we know now that is our duty; we cannot and must not stand aside.

In our families and workplaces and places of worship, we celebrate men and women of integrity who work hard, treat people fairly, take responsibility and look out for others. If these are the principles we live by in our families and neighbourhoods, they should also be the principles that guide and govern our economic life too.

In these days the world has learned that what makes for the good economy makes for the good society.

My father was a minister of the church and I have learned again what I was taught by him: that wealth must help more than the wealthy, good fortune must serve more than the fortunate and riches must enrich not just some of us but all.
And these enduring values are the values we need for these new times.

We tend to think of the sweep of destiny as stretching across many months and years before culminating in decisive moments we call history. But sometimes the reality is that defining moments of history come suddenly and without warning. And the task of leadership then is to define them, shape them and move forward into the new world they demand.

An economic hurricane has swept the world, creating a crisis of credit and of confidence. History has brought us now to a point where change is essential. We are summoned not just to manage our times but to transform them.

Our task is to rebuild prosperity and security in a wholly different economic world, where competition is no longer local but global and banks are no longer just national but international.

And we need to understand what went wrong in this crisis, that the very financial instruments that were designed to diversify risk across the banking system instead spread contagion across the globe. And today's financial institutions are so interwoven that a bad bank anywhere is a threat to good banks everywhere.
Hear, hear Mr Prime Minister. May I also add that a bad case of injustice is a threat to justice everywhere.
Plenty more to that speech - oddly published in full only by's website.

Wednesday In Snoopy's Work Week

Remember the famous cartoon beagle's description of Wednesday, smack in the middle of the working week? I believe the sentiment goes "Please God, Let Me Die!!!!!" (Friday is "Shopping Day!!!!")
Well, Wednesday's now, I look forward to CSI (Las Vegas, the first of Jerry B's serialised crime scene drama) and Boston Legal.
There's something very comforting about the scene where 2 utterly cynical guys sit on the rooftop and contemplate their wins and losses. More often, there's a philosophical sense of loss (of ideals, physical ability) or passing of an age of innocence and simplicity.
Having nearly lost everything myself, I share the sense of looking around this financial storm and , like Danny Crane and Alan Shore,find contentment (philosophical or otherwise sheer schadenfreude or glee at the foibles of others)in knowing that when all is lost, or won, the victim or the victor is much the same person. (In their case, they remain silly old men given to dressing up as pink flamingos - I kid you not).So, if my recent posts are kind of sombre, get a bird's eye view of things. Rudyard Kipling considers winning or losing but mere faces of some "great impostor".
Of course, sometimes the naming guys get it right. The picture is like the parliament or townhall of Hamburg. Its called Rathaus, pronounced "rat house". How about that?
Addendum: If anyone's interested, the actual lines in Kipling's "If" reads as follows:"If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Turbulence Ahead - Cabin Crews, Doors To Manual

It's not possible to hold this one back. Warren Buffett, the czar of stock investing, just admitted that he made some dumb investments in 2008!
For someone who created a mantra of not investing in any business he did not understand, that's earth-shattering. Until you consider the next announcement.
AIG just announced US$62b of losses in the 4th quarter of 2008, after the US government provided a US$150b bailout! Another US$30b bailout plan was announced by the US government yesterday, just before the US$62b loss was revealed to a stunned US stock market.
Now, I'm not really sure if Warren Buffett has much invested in AIG, but there was definitely news that he was into insurance in 2008. Hmmmmm.....Anybody out there with information?
Honestly, such amounts of money are beyond my comprehension. But, does anybody really understand the mechanics of restoring confidence in any marketplace at all? Or even understand what is really going on? Insurance companies' premiums, from what little I know, are based on carefully compiled statistics as to the risk of any insurable event happening. I also happen to know that the mathematicians making the computations are highly trained brainiacs. I don't think they got the numbers wrong. Which leaves the possibility of fraud. Given the massive scale of fraud being uncovered once the markets crashed, the insurance companies must have paid off tonnes of money for claims against the ratings agencies, bankrupt banks and other financial institutions once thought "too big to fall". If that is right, bailouts might simply not be possible. You bail out ratings agencies and banks, you bankrupt the insurers. You help out the insurers, more victims just keep coming out. Remember funds which guarantee some sort of capital protection or other? Probably insurance-linked.
If you think this is getting too sophisticated, you're probably right. The head hurts. Maybe, just maybe, let's go back to simpler stuff. Mattress savers, upgrade to banks. Bank savers (guys into fixed deposits only), upgrade to government bonds. Stop there. Don't just give it to guys who have shown that they are going to buy corporate jets, throw lavish parties etc. Give or lend directly to your businessmen. Better still, earmark it for salary payments or CPF. Then the entrepreneur has to make sure he turns a profit.
Somewhere, somehow, I think the true positive out of this crisis may well be that until people believe that big money is being paid to ethical (or make that financially responsible) people, the much needed market confidence will not happen.
Ok, photo-op.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Checking The Weather?

While I believe (somewhat) in the fundamental inter-connectedness of all things (so sue me, dear departed Douglas Adams), the responses of my fellow Singaporeans never fail to astound. Last week, some STOMP blogger posted a picture of a double rainbow as a sign of better times coming. On that same vein, some chap from US of A claimed that economic recovery in America could come as early as late 2009.
Then, dramatically, during the weekend, the Merlion was struck by lightning, and the Net was abuzz with talks of the demise of Singapore. In a separate news conference, our PM said the recession could yet last many more years.
So, in the same week, 2 diametrically opposed viewpoints. Who is right?
Well, one sensible middle path is to disregard both prognoses, and focus on what each of us can do to get through this. Re-finance loans and mortgages, take up another job, hold jumble sales of items you hardly use, rent out spare rooms, whatever. Every bit helps. I particularly like the news that people are exercising more, losing some excess weight and spending more time at home with their families. Can't have enough of that.
The cutest suggestion came from an old schoolmate I met along the five-foot way near our respective workplaces. I was saying, the time has come from those who kept their money in mattresses or beneath their pillows to bail us out. He says, even better - government servants who managed to squirrel savings because most of their expenses are paid for (like transport and meals - think army guys, diplomatic corp etc). They should spend and save us all. Hmmm, on a separate note, the Merlion was struck in the head, wasn't it? (Head = Ministers and their civil servants, get it?)