Category Archives: society

Pot calling the kettle black

This is possibly the worst kind of social reformer — the one who adopts the very tactics she condemns in the pursuit of some “greater good”.

(from The Thought Kitchen)


What happened to our National Day Songs?

This year’s National Day Song, like its recent predecessors, is forgettable. (What’s it called? Uhh… “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”). As if admitting its own absence of originality, the lyrics and arrangement both sound like a bowdlerised “Home“.The only thing that makes this year’s song a little more memorable is that two YES 93.3 DJs have parodied it:

Their version is more likely to resonate with the public.


What happened to our National Day Songs?

Older songs like “Stand Up For Singapore”, “Five Stars Arising” and “We Are Singapore” are jingoistic, but they gave the distinct impression that they were written to be sung by a mass of people. They were meant to be jubilant and defiant at the same time, with simple language and frequently repeated choruses set to rousing arrangements.

This was expected, if you consider that National Day Songs were meant as rallying symbols for Singaporeans — avenues to celebrate our unity.

In recent years however National Day Songs have lost all flavour, sounding like the bland tinsel songs-of-the-hour that thrive on our pop radio stations.

Is this the unintended outcome of some initially well-intentioned move to make the songs more contemporary? 1998’s “Home” could probably be considered the first of this new wave of gentler, more sentimental National Day Songs. “Home” is a memorable work, but its successors have all failed to capture the imagination and memories of Singaporeans in comparison.

I’m particularly concerned with the content of the songs. Lyrics always suggest a singer in a particular context. Where previous National Day Song lyrics implied a community in Singapore celebrating its unity and togetherness, now they are sung as if by isolated individuals comparing Singapore with other countries.

It seems to me that the target audience for the older songs was broader, encompassing all Singaporeans. The new songs however, with their emphasis on individual belonging and staying in Singapore despite having experienced life abroad, appear to be geared towards a certain class of Singaporeans which constitute a minority here. Growing, perhaps, but still a minority. The majority of Singaporeans would probably not be able to identify with the globe-trotting personae of these songs.

I wonder if this isn’t detrimental to Singapore in the long run.

The unpredictability of “cumulative advantage”

I suppose this article from the NYT will be locked away behind a subscription soon, but Duncan J. Watts describes his team’s experiment and suggests that it’s never possible to predict swings in aggregate behaviour (e.g. how popular something is) beforehand simply because “cumulative advantage” is inherently unpredictable.

The reason is that when people tend to like what other people like, differences in popularity are subject to what is called “cumulative advantage,” or the “rich get richer” effect. This means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors — a phenomenon that is similar in some ways to the famous “butterfly effect” from chaos theory. Thus, if history were to be somehow rerun many times, seemingly identical universes with the same set of competitors and the same overall market tastes would quickly generate different winners: Madonna would have been popular in this world, but in some other version of history, she would be a nobody, and someone we have never heard of would be in her place.


Because the long-run success of a song depends so sensitively on the decisions of a few early-arriving individuals, whose choices are subsequently amplified and eventually locked in by the cumulative-advantage process, and because the particular individuals who play this important role are chosen randomly and may make different decisions from one moment to the next, the resulting unpredictability is inherent to the nature of the market. It cannot be eliminated either by accumulating more information — about people or songs — or by developing fancier prediction algorithms, any more than you can repeatedly roll sixes no matter how carefully you try to throw the die.

Some will claim that there are underlying causes responsible for swings in consumption, but it’s always easy to come up with an explanation for something after it has happened (c.f. Snowden’s “retrospective coherence”)

So the writer asserts that at best, expert analyses are only relevant at that particular point in time, and should be treated with skepticism.

Read full article: NYT – Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage?

(From Overcoming Bias)

TED – videos of ideas and lectures online

TED (Technology.Entertainment.Design), a well-known ideas conference, has made videos of its 2007 talks available online and downloadable into your media device of choice. Sponsored by BMW, high profile and polished, which somehow makes me wonder how much of the content is hollow posturing and how much is actually worth listening to. Wish I had time to find out.


More information, less informed

I tend to err on the side of pessimism, and I’m as concerned as The Luddite on

This is one of the aspects of news delivery in the digital age that really bothers me. Most news services, including this one, allow you to configure your RSS feeds and e-mail alerts to receive only the news that interests you. If you’re an investor, for example, you can set up your feeds to deliver only financial news. If you swill Budweiser for a living, you may get no further than your digital sports section.

So, while you might be aware that the market took another dive, costing you a few bob, or that the Red Sox are pinning their hopes on a $160 million pitcher from Japan, you are, in effect, capable of shutting out the rest of the world. And why? Because you’re too busy, or too uninterested, or too “annoyed” to deal with it.

Assuming you no longer read newspapers — and studies suggest that more and more of you have dropped the habit — you can actually go through life without having any idea at all what’s going on in the wider world. (Watching TV news doesn’t count, by the way. That’s always been a joke, at least since Uncle Walter hung ’em up.)

Oh, the irony. All that information as close as your computer screen and there you sit, pondering the deeper meaning of Anna Nicole Smith’s death because that’s what your RSS feed has been told to deliver. The Chinese may be pouring across the Yalu River again, if that works as an economic metaphor, and the icecaps might be melting, but you’d never know. Or care.

Wired News: The World? Your Oyster? Why Not?