A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 12

16th November 2020

I am valiantly trying to stay awake. For the past week I’ve been sleeping only in fits for about 5hrs, then 4 and now 2. With sleep patterns disrupted it usally ends in a lumping migraine, which at about 3am I take painkillers for, loaded with caffeine. There is an obvious self-defeating cycle here.

So what to keep me up?

Wrote some more of The Book, sent off an extract to some agent, realising only afer some tense mistakes and typos AAARGH. Typical, nothing’s ever really final.

Doing the rounds on the usual news fora helps. Some understated reportage on what is actually a milestone -the formation of the world’s largest free trade zone and economic block -RCEP (the snazzily dubbed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), which takes in China, Japan, S Korea, ASEAN, Australia and NZ, or 30% of world population and GDP. Riveting news I know. India walked out in November over pesky border skirmishes, but is currently an ‘observer’ member, pissed at the party and refusing the canapés, for the time being.

All in all it may well lift the world out of the current recessional doldrums, and the rather bad case of sniffles stalking the land. They all did a really big Zoom sesh in their bedrooms, with blue curtains yesterday, marking a fat line drawn under a period of economic uncertainty that’s played out behind our screens the past few years, and behind the pandemic. The global elite I mean, we are all set to get richer, and probably more exploitative too.

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This is due to the contrast with the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) that the Obama administration originally set up to pivot trade around the Pacific and away from China -straight into the US -but that Trump canceled in his first week to ‘protect American jobs’. It resoundingly appears he missed the memo that global trade isn’t a zero sum game. Missing quite the trick too in signing it to the economic dustbin without getting any major concessions from China to do so – a schoolkid or a dolphin could have foreseen that as a mistake. Well that must’ve been quite the knees-up in Beijing, after years of dread, global repositioning and sweaty nightmares clutching a teddy bear.

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Trump’s supporters declare he has an IQ of 145, a scientific gauging based on er, their online votes, albeit anyone who’s ever known him spurts out their drink and laughs for a good 5 minutes, occasionally howling and slapping a thigh. Before buying everyone a round of bleach.

Stable genius my arse.

His whole trade war’s also been an utter failure, with the trade deficit higher than it’s ever been in history, and the extra costs and tariffs stumped by the US consumer and corporations. This is why China so wants the reign of Trump to continue despite the battling and immediate threats -he’s utterly undermined in so short a span so much US influence in the long term, that took decades to build -the UN, NATO, NAFTA, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, the Paris Accord, plus trade wars with besties Canada, Mexico and EU. Perhaps also why they’ve put off congratulating Biden and sending chocolates until yesterday, when it got too painfully awkward.

And the orange buffoon proves quite easy to outplay as he doesn’t see long term, then miscalibrates his own competence or performance (textbook Dunning-Kruger effect). Even North Korea easily sidesteps him with a few phonecalls about basketball. -He cripplingly panders to his own self aggrandisement and public perception, then replaces team experts every few months with sycophants and extremists, who have increasingly less of a clue and were never trained.

It’s quite the damning indictment of one’s ineptitude when your sworn enemy wants to keep you at the helm.

The unsaid thing is the Great Decoupling is a loss for America too. Even with China becoming no 1 (a scenario worse than death it seems in the ‘Murican mindset) it would have been a win-win still for the US. 1.4 billion more consumers to sell to more than doubles the entire Western or OECD market. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite the face. From Coke to Disney to tourism to coffee to cars to planes to wine to clothing to perfume to music to pizza to pills, American brands were deemed an automatic stamp of quality regardless of it (USA translates as Mei Guo in Mandarin, meaning ‘Beautiful Country’).

The fall from grace in the eyes of the Chinese consumer, that Apple or Walmart or Hollywood have recently seen, who once dominated the market no matter what, has been a notable casualty already. In short, the US that so excels at soft power will no longer be able to wield it. And the whole point that China was persuaded into the global economic system in the first place (Nixon, Carter and Europe instigating the detente and investing billions in Deng’s economic liberalisations) was they foresaw the huge potential of the world’s largest population one day buying their products, even from the ’70s.

It just seems to some they’d rather be far less rich than not be no 1, at all costs. And in the long run it will still benefit China, now becoming more self sufficient, ratcheting up its R&D and trade links to do so, making friends with its enemies and pivoting to its own vast domestic market to power it. -Whereby the scales have fallen from their consumers eyes that now realise that US products no longer have the cachet or quality, and instead fund their own even more. Overall making sure it can weather a global system without the US, rather than being intrinsically bilateral, and mutually influenced.


The same thing that happened to the ecosystem of the Chinese internet, social media and AI companies when the Great Firewall went up (a flowering of creativity, R&D and market share without the multinational domination), will be played out on every sector. It’s telling that the date they predicted China to overtake has in the past few years gone from 2040 to 2032 now to 2030 and getting earlier each time. By PPP (when currency fluctuations are taken into account) China already overtook in 2014 and is a quarter larger as the world’s biggest economy.

So now China wants to decouple. Biden and Xi have no choice but to stay the path, as who’s to say, four years down the line another American Hawk comes into power? China’s now in for the long run. Maybe that’s a good thing, or maybe we’ll just become one and the same despite anyhoo:

The final point to make that all this trade with the US is only worth 2.4% of China’s GDP anyhoo. Don’t get me wrong China will be pissed losing points off its growth, but it’s a misconception to still think the West (particularly the US) is somehow bankrolling the country via cheap factory labour. China is now a majority services economy, its manufacturing is mainly domestic, dominated by hi-tech and robotised, and foreign trade is worth only 17% of GDP. -Of which the Japan-S Korea bloc is traditionally the largest partner, now followed by the EU.

Just don’t mention the war, or the Senkaku islands. Another bunch of oil exploration rights lonely outcrops China is intent on claiming thanks to ancient maps and the fact a Chinese penguin once lived there in 1495, or at least rested its flipper. And don’t, just don’t mention Tibet, Xinjiang, the Spratly’s, Doklam or Taiwan (aka Yiunouhu). Or modern ‘reeducation’ camps.

It appears increasingly state/ civilisation posturing is the order of the day; we are entering another age of empires, and this year marks the start. Where in the future a multipolar world between the US, China, EU, India, the Islamic Union, Africa, the Russosphere, ASEAN and LatAm look increasingly tetchy and islanded in one big dick measuring contest. Though trading through a globalised economy and a polite smile, like a Ryanair stewardess with dead eyes beseeching you to buy a sandwich. The underhand GOT style politicking will be legion.

Oops, okay bit of a diatribe. I need to stop talking about the glorious fucking motherland. Bradford’s burning down (it’s city centre comprised of a tire factory, an aquatics store, a curry house and a chippy), Cumming’s has left the building, finally, and BoJo has the lergy again. A new vaccine by Moderna has a 95% success rate (UK’s ordered 5 million), though Trump’s still too busy denying he lost the election to roll out a plan to use it. The US death toll is nearing a quarter of a million, the equivalent to 625 plane crashes this year, with 10 million infected.

Oh and Will Smith’s just cancelled the Fresh Prince of Bel Air reunion. Priorities, priorities.

Meanwhile there’s also a new war gearing up in Ethiopia, with a breakaway Tigray province -highly worrying in a country of 102 million and several major ethnic groups, united under an ancient empire. The main groups -Tigrayans, Amhara and Oromo are now jostling in increasing restlessness, with several Ethiopian airports bombed by separatists and government forces alike, and massacres reported in Tigray itself.

PM Abay Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for making lasting peace with Eritrea, another former breakaway. Now he’s bombing the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. Hundreds have already died in the conflict and 25,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan, with thousands more to follow. Eritrea is also sending troops to help Ethiopia, and the conflict is in danger of spilling over and destabilising the entire Horn of Africa region: Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia (each already in their own civil wars), and Djibouti, possibly even Kenya.

Ethiopia, an ancient kingdom (and empire in its own right) is Africa’s second most populous nation after Nigeria, and was until recently an economic success story, the capital Addis Abeba chosen as home to the Africa Forum, or the UN of the continent if you like. It was due to hold the Africa summit this year, for its stability, newfound peaceability and rocketing growth. How quickly that facade has fallen.

It is the last thing the world needs right now. 2020, what a year. It is as if everything is culminating, we’ve had one ginormous shitshow, we might as well set off a few pipebombs and pipelines since the fire’s burning. The geopolitical sabre rattling is growing deafening, and defining, perhaps given credence by the stress on our economies, resources and plain competition.

Oh and dominating the tabloids right now? Clinton Cards, currently shuttered up by lockdown, is complaining that supermarkets like Asda are still allowed to sell greeting cards, plugging the gap in their market.

Cmawn fuckers, can’t we just all geddalong? We kinda need a big fuck off Kum By Yah session, perhaps an Olympics where everyone gets a medal, painfully overdue and canceled for another year. Maybe this is just what happens when we don’t get all rosy and nationalistic together every four years, uniting against a common foe -we just take chunks out of each other instead.

Right now, for me, I’m here to keep the eyes open.

This below, on a slightly jarring note, has been a very welcome respite. You know, if you want a break from disaster. It embodies a lot of the year so far, and what we’ve been sleepwalking into for a few years now:

Enjoy.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

The perfect society

Welcome to Singapore.

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Dizzying mix of old and new…

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…whose populace enjoys harmonious multiculturalism (and at 85% non-indigenous)

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…the world’s best education system

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…the world’s most efficient healthcare system and longest life expectancy

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(yes, that’s a hospital below)

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…the world’s highest wages, at  $90,570 average a year

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…where one fifth of floor area in the country is certified in green buildings:

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…straddling itself as the centre of investment for three major economic regions – the Sinosphere, Indosphere and SE Asia, home to 3 billion. Ranked in superlatives for innovation, start-ups and technology

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…and considered the world’s most futuristic city

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…all set in a wonderland of architectural and historical mix

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…oh and the food, OMG the food. A national obsession

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…and the er, airport. The world’s best, complete with spas, luxury malls, bespoke hotels, themed gardens, hiking trails, aquariums, free cinemas and foodie hotspots, that is now attracting millions of tourists, both with and without flights.

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Yes, that’s an airport – and a spectacular spot for a James Bond/ Ethan Hawke opener:

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And contrary to assumption-spread stereotype, it’s libertine (witness the legions of smokers around every No Smoking $1000 fine sign) and infinitely mined with interest, opinions, brashness and bohemianism, extant in its mix of culture, history and arts at every turn. You might even get excited:

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In short Singapore is pretty much what you get with high education and low crime despite not having any resources, perfecting a society by striking the balance – getting the populace to behave from its anti-social tendencies while liberating it. You may be fined for littering or smuggling in chewing gum, but you also get to stagger home pissed, skimpily undressed in the poorest district with utter safety every night. Driving a car may be effectively barred from you ($50,000 start-up in taxes), but you get cheap, reliable and inordinately accessible public transport instead, plus clean air and the best health in the world. It’s that kind of trade-off.

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This is the ‘positive freedom’ camp (‘forced to be free’ as opposed to ‘free to be free’) – but not overtly engineered into Marxism. This is due to it being balanced out by grass roots capitalism (rather than the feudalist, billionaire-generating capitalism culminating everywhere else). Here much more people get to be part of the pie, rather than the 1% – one can compare the results in no-holds-barred city states like Hong Kong and NYC with their legions of proletariat and precariat. By contrast Singapore now has 1/5 of its population as millionaires and rising, and it shows in the way it’s building its environment and lifestyles with ever higher standards.

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But neither is it completely free in law, with its authoritative government and interfering nanny state -the kind of house mistress that pokes her nose into other people’s lives and fines them. Occasionally getting a cane out to bollock you 6 times too if, say, one day you decided to buy a hatchet for a 6 month hobby of vandalising over 50 cars (let me remind you of the starting costs of owning such a transportational rarity). As poster boy Michael Fay did in 1994, to global tea-light burning vigils for his lily little arse.

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She will also, try as she might, throw some ideas into the can, bless her -say discouraging hippy culture and their long haired layaboutism by making the criminally hirsute wait longer in queues. Or offering free sterilisation programmes to the poorest percentiles, before the people get all upsy screaming about eugenics and Hitler and all that. After that attempt she’ll wait maybe 20 years and set up the SDU Social Development Unit instead, to couple up the right kind of singletons to boost the birth rates, but then the populace goes and dubs it speed dating for the Stupid, Desperate and Ugly and noone shows up.

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Anyhoo fast forward to today, and she’s gotten a little savvier with social media, softer, rounder and learnt her lessons. Generally under her you’re free from crime or arguably more damaging, the threat of crime. You may wilt under her gaze but noone else’s -none of that pesky racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice, class war or subconscious bias people left to their own devices tend to enforce upon each other. She still keeps a few odd things close to her chest for various uses, but rarely gets em out.

For example the 2 year sentence for gay sex still stands from the colonial era, handy these days for closing down noisy or STD-prone businesses but is overall unenforced with openly LGBTQ establishments common -from award-winning sex saunas, clubs and go-go bars, to legal prostitution and govt funded Pride carnivals, such as Pink Dot.

Good clean fun:

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In short she may be draconian, especially in the past when you pushed back a bit and she learnt a few things too but that mix of S&M bizarrely gives you keys to a free society today.

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Pub Quiz fact: Singaporeans were measured as the world’s fastest average walkers, and despite the tropical climate.

Pub quiz fact: speed of walking reflects speed of thinking.

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Both sides benefit each other -its social protection and socialist policies (notably investment in education and poverty eradication) generate every higher incomes.

Perfect society? Maybe. But a gentle reminder: to get to this stage you have to endure generations of poverty, entire careers of hard labour etc, but without the temptations/ alleviation that crime can bring to otherwise fruitless lives. To instate this, it helps if you have ingrained millennia of a Confucian society. Something that’s self-disciplined to social harmony, and that puts others before the self (which of course results in a whole new raft of social problems too, such as a prevalence to suicide).

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The final fly on the pie is the fact Singapore is not like other nations. It’s not enough that you have a hardworking, law abiding populace and invest in the people -you will still end up poor -as many Developing countries, who support some of the world’s largest state investments in education, have found.

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Screenshot_2019-08-09 Financing Education

Singapore just happens to be lucky enough to be placed slap bang centre of the world’s most strategic and largest trade route -commanding the turnpoint into the Straits of Malacca -effectively the narrowest milestone between Asia and Europe. Oh and it’s a tax haven. All that money and investment that’s built this gloryland is sucked from the surrounding region that would otherwise have benefited hundreds of millions of its poor – a giant parasite to 660 million SE Asians, similar to how Switzerland has functioned with Europe, and now the world.

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In short, visit the place, enjoy that society, the freedom and the wonders it’s built. But don’t admire it. The world is a vast pyramid scheme, as we discovered in 2008, SG just very luckily, very cannily, happens to be on top right now.

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In terms of the future, SG may well be it, but we need a vast ocean of the underclass to draw from to build this summit (it just happens to be abroad). It may well come to pass that technology and robots will provide this graft and that we’ll likely tax them instead. Or it could just be the usual: the ubiquitous billions of working lives provided by the vast and historically-indentured Global South. Forever beneath the grate, as reliant on the West as we are upon them.

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