Friday, August 29, 2008

When is a Team Not a Team

Assume you have a group of people. Let us call it a team.

Now, remove one member from the team. It is still a team !

Repeat til you have a one-member team.

I find it most amusing to see an instance of the Sorites paradox in Parliament. I do think that everyone should have a better definition of what a team is.

I recommend the use of fuzzy sets in order to resolve this otherwise ambiguous problem.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No, I Don't Care About Sports

Just last week, Singapore won a silver medal for the women's team table tennis event. As this was only Singapore's second Olympic medal (in its history), this victory was much celebrated.

Now, consider another fact. So far in this Olympics, Jamaica has won 2 golds and 3 silvers. One of the gold medals, and quite possibly the most spectacular one, was for the men's 100m won by Usain Bolt, who broke the world record while running with no tail wind and slowing down during the last 15m to celebrate. Another amazing feat from this nation was that Jamaica won all the medals for the women's 100m. Simply remarkable.

Jamaica has a population of 2.8 million people.

One could attribute this disparity to various factors, such as genetics or geographical suitability. However, I am inclined to believe that social factors are by far more influential. To put it simply, Singaporeans do not care for sport.

Now, let me clarify that there is nothing wrong with not caring for sport. As a bookish academic, my personal opinion is that sport is an absolute waste of time and effort. What I feel is wrong, however, is for a nation which assigns so low an importance to sport to win an Olympic medal.

If, as a nation, you don't care about sports, then by the same logic, you should not be concerned with the medal tally. A token example is India. By measures of medals per capita, their performance is abysmal. My Indian friend says he doesn't care, as Indians aren't really concerned with physical perfection.

In my consideration, the Olympic medal was not deserved. Some might venture that it was bought, won by an imported team. I am almost inclined to agree. While it is indeed true that much of their success can be attributed to the training and resources given by Singapore, it is worth asking whether the same success can be achieved if the same training and resources were given to the most capable (native) Singaporeans.

Of course, the most evident answer is that the most (athletically) capable Singaporeans are off studying for some stable and well paying career. If our priorities are as such, it is perfectly acceptable. However, we should then also acknowledge that our priorities are economic and not athletic in nature. We shouldn't be bothered with 0 medals, or even with not sending a sporting delegation. Our source of pride should then lie in the economic domain.

To put things into words simply, we can't both have our cake and eat it. It is schizophrenic to collectively not be concerned with sport and yet, to be concerned enough to seek means to win medals.

PS: To clarify, I have no issues with "Foreign Talent". I do indeed support the idea that people are mobile, and that imported labor and brains is ultimately beneficial for the economy. This is consistent with my ideas as a classical liberal.

What I do say in this article is that if you are a nation with absolutely no interest in sport, it is consistent to not care about medal tallies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why They Hate Singapore

Last Saturday, I read with some distaste an commentary titled "Why they hate Singapore". After I finished reading the article, I was distinctly reminded of many statements made by a "senior parliamentary figure", who often reminded Singaporeans of the many threats facing Singapore. The same view was echoed by the Government, which always gave the idea of an all pervasive threat looming around the corner, ready to strike at any moment.

I've always felt these threats to be artificial constructs aimed at invoking a siege mentality in the minds of Singaporeans.

There are, of course, many motives for doing so. By making a people believe that they are threatened by some force, this would generally motivate them to work harder. For example, in sports, some managers/coaches may make the team believe that the "system" is against them, hence causing the team to work harder to stave off the unfair system.

Another possibly positive effect of the siege mentality is that the "persecuted" parties would be bonded together by this common persecution. This fosters feelings of common persecution and hence a sense of commonality against the "threat". Applied to the context of national entities, an external threat tends to galvanize a nation's people. The latter effect is most notable in the event of war, where feelings of patriotism are unusually high.

I consider the last point to be most important. Governments can, by the construction of an imagined external foe, effectively manipulate the dispositions of the people. A siege mentality, by creating a hostile "them", also creates a friendly "us". Undoubtedly, the "us" also contains the Government, the effect of which is that a siege mentality leads the people to empathize with the ruling Government. This is a considerably effective strategy to win the emotions of people, and hence the tactic of invoking an enemy, preferably unseen and dangerous, can be commonly seen in many nations in the world.

With these points in mind, perhaps we can see why the pervasive threat is often invoked in Singapore media. In fact, I might even argue that the siege mentality is even more important in Singapore, a nation with little national identity. With little history to construct a viable and universal national consciousness, the fastest way to meld the hearts and minds of Singaporeans might just be to raise a banner against some unknown and external threat.

Although, once you realize that there are no monsters under the bed, the magic stops working.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Monday, August 04, 2008

Spot the Mistakes

Spot the mistakes in the following map.

In spite of the mistakes, I still find the entire piece of mapping work amazing, since apparently they mapped the whole of Singapore within a short period of time.