Friday, December 19, 2014

More On Torture

In his opinion piece to the Straits Times on 17 December 2014 ("Lessons on the use of torture") Simon Chesterman, dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law, wrote:
"... if I were genuinely convinced that the threat was real, that the perpetrator was guilty, and that the method was the only one that would work, then I might well resort to torture.
And then - regardless of whether I was correct in my assumptions - I should go to prison."

A purely hypothetical scenario, but of course. In our real world, the son-in-law of a president who is uncle to the reigning prime minister will never get to see the four walls of a Changi lock-up. Maybe in North Korea, where a blood relative was reported to be fed to the dogs, literally. No prizes for guessing which country boasts about First World Governance.

But there's one important point not to be missed. Men (or women) under torture will confess to anything. Tragically, as the CIA-Inspector General admitted, false information gained from the torture of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam Hussein, contributed to the war in Iraq. And consequent loss of many young lives.

Professor Jerome A Cohen, who visited Singapore on behalf of Asia Watch, the American human rights organisation, was quoted in the New York Times:
"Given the ISD techniques, any statements from anyone detained used to substantiate the government's charges would be suspect. You can make your witnesses to order if you give them four or five days. They figure with soft people, the intellectuals, it's quicker."

Francis Seow held out as long as he could ("To Catch A Tartar, A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison", Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 94-060647), but after crafting the self-incriminating statement to script as ordained, had this to add:
"Given the above circumstances, what, then, is the probative value of such a testament, albeit purportedly sanctified by an oath? None. It offends the fundamental canons of the law of every civilised country against the receipt in evidence of statements by any one, let alone detainees, made or given under any inducement, threat, or promise having reference to the charge against him."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rats In Charge

Rats in parliament at Bukit Batok MRT Station
You can't help but smile when you hear a kid singing all he wants for Christmas is two front teeth. But smile turns into a snarl when you learn that Lui Tuck Yew is hell bent on slapping commuters with a fare hike of up to 2.8 percent.

Who cares about the "rollover system" decision - a fare increase of 6.6 per cent to be adjusted in two steps - made by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee in November 2013? This is December 2014, the price of oil has dived from a high of US$115 a barrel which Bank of America predicts could hit US$50 in 2015. Fuel cost is just one aspect of the economic effects about to be felt. According to the Financial Times, sliding oil is "exacerbating concerns about global disinflation", and has already triggered heavy selling across commodities. There are more at stake than the pissy formula that Lui uses to compute his "fare adjustment quantum".

What kind of signals is the Transport Minister sending when he rewards the train operator - with an ex-army officer in charge - who can't even secure his premises from intrusion by marauding graffiti artists? And now we hear the vicinity of Bukit Batok MRT station is invaded by a colony of marauding rodents. They can't even maintain a clean backyard. There's nothing wrong with their balance sheet though, and they are not about to trim some of the profits to improve the system. Maybe they are waiting for the rats to board the trains. The rats in parliament will do anything to improve ridership figures. And that has to be the reason why chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) Liu Thai Ker is saying the little red dot can accommodate 10 million people.

Pressed to name the challenges that Singapore will face with a 10-million population,  Liu shoot back: "Don’t try to immediately picture the worst scenario. Can you use your imagination to picture a nicer scenario?" That picture of the rat nest has to be the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Quest For Transparency

The blurb says scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have invented a smart window that requires no external power to tint the glass.

Reading further, we are told the magic window comprises two glass panels, one coated with a transparent conductive material, and one coated with an additional layer of a common blue pigment known as Prussian Blue. When fully charged, the window maintains a blue tint, which supposedly reduces light transmission by up to 50%. Short circuiting the two panels causes the pigment to gain electrons and turn colourless through a electrochromic process.

The window has to be charged again to work. A process that can take 2 to 12 hours for the pigment to be oxidised and become blue again. 2 to 12 hours of direct sunlight before the 50% heat shield comes into effect, by which time dusk has fallen, and it's nice and cool again.

Speaking on behalf of his mainland Chinese looking colleagues, Prof Sun said: “Our technology is very attractive as a zero-consumption smart window." Something has to be lost in the translation. The window had to be charged for it to turn blue and block out the sun, the electricity has to come from somewhere. We are surrounded by free electrons, the trick is in directing them where to go.

Maybe their research paper published in the scientific journal Nature Communications can enlighten us further on the science of the magic. A quick browse of the website yielded something called "electromagnetically induced transparency". Close, but no cigar. As in politics, it looks like transparency is an illusive quest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Victim Remembers

Former US vice president Dick Cheney blasted the 500-page senate summary of interrogation techniques used against inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba as "terrible" and "full of crap." The "torture report" said the CIA's interrogation of Al-Qaeda suspects, including beatings, "rectal rehydration" and sleep deprivation, was far more brutal than acknowledged and did not produce useful intelligence. None of those interrogated was female. The hired goons at the Whitley Road Detention Center had no such scruples.

Tang Fong Har was one of the six arrested on 20 June 1987 by the government of Singapore during Operation Spectrum under the nefarious Internal Security Act. She was physically abused, kept incommunicado and forced to admit guilt of subversion of state. The following is an extract from her accounting of the atrocity.
"....The male interrogator throughout made snide remarks about lawyers and the legal profession and belittled my work in the Law Society. In the midst of the accusations being hurled at me, I retorted “Now, look here…” or words to that effect. I never completed my sentence: one of the interrogators slapped me across my left cheek, not with a flick of his wrist but with the full force of his body. I fell to the ground and my glasses landed on my chest. I was completely shocked by the assault and wished that I could faint as I felt that I could not take any more. I had never felt more humiliated in my life.

The female Chinese then made a show of helping me to stand and said something like “It’s ok. Take it easy. Why don’t you co-operate?” I can’t remember whether the interrogator who slapped me remained in the room after that. However, I remember his face and subsequently I came to know his name: S. K. Tan."
(A detainee remembers – Part 2)

The full report of the horrors was published in the August 1989 issue of Index on Censorship, an international organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Govindan Had To Suffer

Govindan had his throat operated on for cancer of the voice box at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in 2006. In 2010 the specialist there (now in private practice) told him he chose not to close the hole ("fistula") which caused Govindan years of misery. TTSH said the "graduated treatment plan" - keeping the hole open for 5 long years - allowed for flexibility if treatment should there be any relapse. Dr Song of Singapore General Hospital (SGH) begged to differ, "Since there are other means to detect cancer recurrence, performing fistula closure only after a 5-year cancer-free period is a relative contraindication." Thanks to Dr Song, Govindan can finally eat, drink and speak again.

This is not a note about medical science, or difference of professional approach. This is a note to self about the evil men can do.

Govindan taped the consultation session because he could not speak, and the doctor in question would not allow his wife or sons to be in attendance. Even allowing for transcription errors, this should ruin anyone's appetite:
"But it looks very good. You look perfect. Four months, four years. Perfect, perfect, but with a hole lah. Perfect with a hole."
"I can ask the plastic surgeon to see you. But the plastic surgeon here is not very good lah."
"Private, very expensive. Very expensive, OK. If you do in private, it would cost you, I would think, $50,000."
"Are you sure you got insurance? Your insurance will pay for private meh? For this? Are you sure will pay completely?"
"OK, you go and check with them. Because the one in TTSH, the private plastic surgeon I think is quite junior, he can't make it work.
"If you want to do it in private, er, it can be done. But you had better check that it's going to work. If you do it in Mount E, I tell you it will cost you at least $50,000."
"No, lah, if there was any other way, I would have closed, I would have told you already lah. It's just plastic surgery.
"OK, you're very good. You go and check your insurance and you come back to me. OK? You give me a call lah, OK?"