Monday, January 14, 2019

Jerran Young: Passing the Ball all the Way to the NBA?

There are two kinds of passers in basketball: the flashy "Pistol" Pete Maravich, Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, Earvin "Magic" Johnson variety, and the true PG type: John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson, and Deron Williams. Unsurprisingly, true PGs rack up more assists over time. 

When I travel, I try to attend minor league sports games because it's a fun, inexpensive way to get to know a country. Basketball in particular is growing steadily in popularity, and American-born players, usually African-American, are responsible for its growth worldwide. I had the privilege of seeing Bobby Knight-coached Mike Singletary in both Indonesia and Singapore, and I now believe the Singapore Slingers' Jerran Young deserves a spot on an NBA roster. 
Young's passing is a work of art. No movement is wasted, no angle left inefficient. Despite plenty of action on the floor, I found myself just wanting to watch Young pass the ball to his teammates. 

Additionally, Young takes high-IQ shots, plays hard on defense (he had a come-from-behind block reminiscent of Tayshaun Prince on Reggie Miller), and is generally known as level-headed. If he has a weakness, it is his inability to hit the three-point shot consistently and his difficulty against stronger players in the post. Nevertheless, if America cannot find a place for him on an NBA G-League team soon, an entire generation of future players may never see a true PG or a pass the way it was meant to be. 

Michelle de Kretser, Australia's Most Interesting Living Writer

I'm about 1/4 of the way through my first Michelle de Kretser book, and I don't understand why I've not heard her name until now. I've already learned several new words ("loggia" being my favorite so far), and I've never seen such ease with the cultures of multiple countries. Kretser moves hilariously and fluidly from Sri Lanka, Singapore, Sindhi, to Sydney like no other author in human history
An example: "'Tamils do very well for themselves,' said Ash. 'They're hard-working, intelligent people. Terrifically good at maths.' He knew no Tamils but was repeating the same kind of thing his father said." 

Here's another one that made me chortle in glee: "Ash--as Ashoka preferred to be known--mentioned the dhal [daal] because he had noticed that women were moved by references to that aspect of his past. When they learned that he had lived in Sri Lanka as a child, they pictured him in a tropical garden where fruit fell to the hand, too innocent to divine the vicious historical turn that would soon cast him on the grudging benevolence of the West." 

Shame, shame on Australia for not doing a better job marketing its most interesting living writer. (January 2019) 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Walls, Walls, Walls

Arguments against illegal immigration in America reflect the same nativist sentiments in mid-1900s Germany and other declining nations where existing political players blamed outsiders. Nuance and context--necessary components of a functioning, sane civilization--are always lost when outliers are used as the basis for broad-ranging policies.

The best argument against overzealous immigration hawks was made by none other than Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country." As an outsider, MLK reflexively sought to include others. His approach is wrongly considered naive or idealistic until one realizes the ability to remove every single stranger or potential risk of violent crime requires ongoing 24/7 surveillance and a police state--the opposite of a prosperous society. Voters should be reminded the safest place in the world is often a jail, or, for maximum security, solitary confinement. On this issue, American poet Robert Frost also has a poignant line: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out." 
NBA's John Wall, #2
The thinking class must not hesitate to make connections between an unthinking, violent police state and categorical sentiments against outsiders, including illegal immigrants. In matters of security, a healthy balance is always necessary, lest one lose the most precious of human riches: liberty, human dignity, opportunity and equal rights and justice. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ideals of the 1960s Have Been Extinguished Worldwide

My country feels that money spent on weapons of war and armies is money wasted... security must be secured through the collective and effective strength of the UN... We seek a welfare state and not a warfare state... 

If independence and freedom are not to be empty slogans then we must continue to spend as much of our resources as we can on fighting the only war that matters to the people--the war against poverty, ignorance, disease, bad housing, unemployment, and against anything and everything which deny dignity and freedom to our fellow man. 

-- S. Rajaratnam's September 21, 1965 speech to the United Nations after Singapore's recognition as an independent country 
Chua Beng Huat on weakening of social welfare ideals since 1970s
What happens when trade agreements and the ability to transport your country's products to another country are linked to security agreements and weapons purchases? Today, Singapore's largest budget item is defense spending, and men are required to serve in the military. 
Chua Beng Huat
According to the pacifist Jehovah's Witnessesan established religion, as of December 2018, Singapore has imprisoned nine of their members over their refusal to serve in Singapore's military. 

In other news, Singapore's foremost living intellectual, Kishore Mahbubani has written, "Happy societies are also more resilient societies. We have had a happiness deficit for some time." (Opinion, The Straits Times, 12 July 2014, from Can Singapore Survive? (2015), pp. 108) 

Singapore will certainly survive, but will Singaporeans be as proud as they were in 1965? Will they be as happy or as honorable as LKY's generation? 

Bonus I: from Kishore Mahbubani's Can Singapore Survive? (2015)
Bonus II

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Presentation by Mikhail Melvin Goh of Have Halal, Will Travel

National Library, Singapore,
January 9, 2019 

Mikhail Melvin Goh, founder of Have Halal, Will Travel (#HHWT), spoke on behalf of Eye on Asia, a collaborative National Library project designed to increase interest in ASEAN. 
A summary of his presentation and ensuing Q&A session is below:

Melvin was his name before he converted to Islam, and he now goes by  the Muslim name Mikhail (a variation of Michael, the Archangel).

Goh's background in digital marketing has proven highly useful in his current endeavor. His travel publications reach around 9.4 million viewers.

Melvin calls Muslims--all 1.8 billion of them--the biggest invisible market segment worldwide. Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia have 240 million Muslims. Indonesia in particular is seeing a boom in its middle class, creating new demands for services and products. Yet, despite these numbers, as recently as three to four years ago, no major companies were consistently targeting this group.

Melvin was drinking ocha/tea at a Mongolian restaurant in Tokyo when a terrorist attack occurred in Paris. Someone asked him, why are Muslims killing non-Muslims, and what is halal? Japan’s exposure to Muslims is mostly through its 100,000 domestic Muslim residents. At that moment, he thought to himself, "What if I use this platform I’ve created to facilitate meaningful exchanges?"

Islam simply means submission (to God). The five pillars of Islam are: shahada (belief in one God, with Muhammad (PBUH) as his final messenger); salah (prayer); zakat (charity); Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca); and fasting (during Ramadan).

Halalmeans permissible. It impacts multiple industries, including food, cosmetics, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals (alcohol, which is haram aka impermissible, is a key ingredient in many drugs). In terms of lifestyle, key halal areas include food, travel, fashion, and Islamic banking (sharia-compliant finance). 

What's the biggest trend in travel? Muslims are looking for authentic travel experiences. 74% “wish to immerse themselves in culture.” Japan is an oft-cited destination. Sight-seeing and local food are top desires.

About 20% of Muslims [geographic area not specified] are highly educated--doctors, engineers, and scientists who travel frequently.

Muslim travelers want autonomy, authenticity (to live like locals), and a sense of belonging.

Recommendations for businesses: take stock what you already have—many workers in larger companies are already Muslim, so ask them any questions you have; get the basics right; promote your products through the right channels; and focus on experiences.

Q&A session

Q: The halal designation seems to be overused. Do you ever wonder if your industry is diluting the concept of halal by using it across so many different areas? 

A: Halal is a set of principles but it varies widely; for example, in SE Asia, prawns are halal, but in many places in the Middle East, they’re not. Certification is not the only way to go; over-labeling is occurring because of market demand.

Q: What were your experiences and challenges in working with governments?

A: “China is using tourism as a weapon” in terms of directing travel agencies not to send tourists to certain countries when political disputes arise. For example, the number of Chinese tourists in Korea dramatically dropped for a time because of the Chinese government’s actions and recommendations. In short, China mixes tourism and politics. Overall, governments must first realize Islamic travelers are a lucrative market. Some governments think Muslims are a national security issue and prefer to “wait and see.” In Australia, some people don’t like Muslims, and windows displaying halal signs were smashed after terrorist attacks in other countries.

Q: How do you find halal shops overseas? Some shops aren’t listed even though they are halal.

A: It’s you. Most countries are not like Singapore, top-down, consistent—a lot of things occur at a grassroots level. We have several ways of getting information. One, as I mentioned, is user input; second is official government agencies; third is writers. 

Q: How do you scale?

A: Scaling is like piloting a rocketship into space. If you don’t know where you’re flying to, there’s no point. How much fuel 
(capital, user engagement) do you put into the rocket? In which direction do you point the rocket? 

Q: What are your sources of income?

A: Consulting for airlines and delivery services, especially in the area of customization for Muslim customers. 

Q: How do you reach out to your 9.4 million viewers and build trust?

A: We found people who were interested in the same things as us, and who were willing to give information because they believed in us. We gain trust by having standards and having a vision. We are not separatists—we do not say, “We are halal, you are not.” We believe in integration. Be human, stand for something.

Q: How do you see Singapore's role in halal issues? 

A: We are a multi-ethnic population. We have been living side by side for a very long time. We are very blessed because of our history. One of the things Singapore faces as a challenge is the articulation of the next step. Why would I travel if I'm going to eat the same thing [in Singapore as in Indonesia]? It becomes a question of story-telling and differentiation. The key is to improve services across the board, not just food. Thankfully, governments are willing to listen. 

Q: What is the future for halal travel in Thailand?

A: Thailand, like Singapore, is very blessed [in terms of diversity]. Bangkok has whole streets with Muslim businesses. Thailand is also blessed in terms of geography—its time zone means short flight times for ASEAN residents. People are nice. The challenge for the Thai government is to get tourists out of Bangkok and into places like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, etc. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Book Review: Melody Warnick's This is Where You Belong

Melody Warnick's attempt at evaluating what makes some cities "stickier" than others is earnest, but too wordy. 
Though Warnick is probably a lovely person, such qualities don't mean her ideas are interesting enough to warrant an entire book. I'm not sure if she was paid by the word, but I started skimming pages after the following factoid: "liberals want to drive Honda Civic Hybrids. Conservatives want to drive Ford Mustang convertibles." (What do libertarians or socialists prefer, I asked myself in an immediate moment of snark, imagining various possibilities.) 

Warnick's fatal--and unforgivable--mistake is failing to recognize a key detail: college towns (like Blacksburg, VA) are lovely places to live for intellectuals/readers. Instead of placing this unique feature of her eventual hometown front and center, Warnick spends excessive time discussing how cities can attract and keep committed residents, especially younger ones. (Actual quote: "Do What Your Town is Good At.") 

Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida are the mavens in the "city analytics" genre, and I suggest you start with them if interested in this subject matter. 

Bonus: I enjoyed the following blurb about Canada/USA social capital. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Someone Tell Eagle Creek It's Colombia, not Columbia

Why do I get the feeling travel lists and guides are mostly written by people who don't actually travel?