Friday, November 29, 2013

Getting Creative With Words

Gerald De Cruz was a real firebrand communist, and he blamed his allegiance to the comrades as the "solution to all the psychological problems arising from my rebellion against my father." He did not share his pa's colonial mentality, but a trip to Moscow brought about a dramatic ideological U-turn. From commie lover, he became a commie hater, and signed on to spread the propaganda for his new political master by visiting schools.

At the original Raffles Institution site in Bras Basah Road, De Cruz was regaling the kids with war stories of British follies during WWII. When the Japanese were marching relentlessly down the Malayan Peninsula, the Brits had constructed wooden airplanes. Seen from the air, the Japs just might be fooled into thinking twice about a quick invasion. The valiant defenders were desperately buying time for reinforcements to arrive. De Cruz was beside himself with rollicking laughter, though it wasn't clear if he was taking a jibe at the British Army or his own father. A secondary four student submitted his question slip, "But Sir, isn't national service our equivalent of wooden airplanes?"

Up to the 1980s, Singapore's initial defence posture was predicated on the "poisonous shrimp" analogy, where the armed forces sought to defend the island at the water's edge first, to be followed by a "Stalingrad style of close combat" in urban areas. The deterrent value lay in the promise of great pain for the aggressor, but defeat was virtually guaranteed. (Chew and Kwa, "Goh Keng Swee: A Legacy of Public Service", page137)

Without any parliamentary opposition until 1981, the government was free to sustain a high level of military expenditure year after year. The hand-me-down Hawker Hunters left behind by the British have been replaced by F-15SGs, complete with Tom Cruise aviator glasses. Singapore increased its military expenditure 114 percent over the period 1969-78. The armed forces had morphed into a "porcupine". The evolution continues, from "poisonous shrimp" to "porcupine" to today's "dolphin", with the last prompting you to wonder what the fish is it all about.

Whatever you call it, able bodied males conscripted year after year continue to ask what the two years in uniform are for. Especially when one in three on the island is already a foreigner. But names do matter, that's how they justify splurging on the more expensive F35. And when they used up all the words - think "routine maintenance", "technical glitch", "compromise", "intrusion" - they come up with the more creative "unauthorised modification of computer material". The enemies of the people have to be from within.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Supreme Sacrifice

The copywriter obviously went overboard with the last line. There must be many others who regretted moving to, or staying on, this little red dot.

On Sep 11, 95-year-old Mdm Loke (陆带好) ended it all by leaping from her HDB flat in Bukit Merah. Her loving caregiver said she had a fall in July and was hospitalized for three weeks. It is speculated that she decided not to burden her children any further. As a Samsui woman, she had worked from dawn to dusk for 50 cents a day, hauling bricks and construction equipment. Imagine what the "subsidised" hospital bills might look like to her. She had sacrificed her youth for better days, but the migrant from Guandong who came ashore at age 18 only found that "life was harder when I got here."

The Christmas season is a difficult time for those with burdened minds. While those with extra bonuses live it up at fancy joints that charge $10 for chye tow kuay, many are still struggling to cope with the mortgages, utility bills, service & conservancy charges, public transportation fare hikes and countless inventive tariffs. We have a cousin who always makes sure her kids give grandma a good hug each time they meet. They may not be able to communicate verbally because of the loss in use of dialects, but the physical touch is priceless to a senior citizen. Forget the lights at Orchard Road, the sparkle in her eyes is much more to be treasured.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spot The Bully

The word is used so loosely one wonders who is the hurting party, and who is being hurt. A Swedish graduate student named Dan Olweus had just finished his PhD in psychology 1969 when he decided to study aggression and victimization among boys. Until the 1990s, the Americans in his field largely ignored bullying as a research topic. "We didn't get in in the U.S.," said a school psychologist from the University of Nebarasa-Lincoln, "until Columbine."

Olweus' key contribution was a definition of bullying that went beyond the general emphasis on large anonymous groups acting in a mob fashion. Bullying, he said, had to satisfy three criteria:
it had to be verbal or physical abuse;
it had to be repeated over time;
and it had to involve an imbalance of power.

A one time episode of meanness or violence by one stronger party against a weaker one, or repeated clashing between equals, can cause problems, but it certainly isn't bullying. The examples in "Sticks and Stones" by Emily Bazelon are mostly about behavior among children which could lead to potentially devastating consequences in the school zone. Problems get carried over to adulthood only when some kids just refuse to, or lack the EQ, to grow up.

When politicians make innuendos about bullying, they should give concrete examples. David may have fell Goliath with a sling shot, but he can hardly be termed a big bully. Sometimes the little people have to fight back, after tiring of being shoved around and taken for a ride. Better the battle be waged in cyberspace than on the physical landscape. Just see how ugly the mess Thailand is in now.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Famous Experiment

The remarkable case of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) being sentenced to 5 months’ jail  for having commercial sex with an under aged online hooker is not about the $500 he paid for the 17-year-old's short-time engagement. SAF officers are well paid, very well paid. Instead of bearing arms under the hot sun so that the citizenry can sleep in peace at night, he was lolling in the pleasurable embrace of a teenager. Someone else must have been relegated the less pleasant task of defending the nation.

As a hands-on Minister of Defence, Goh Keng Swee was always concerned that the defence establishment from headquarters should always avoid institutional complacency and maintain operational readiness - to leap into battle, not the welcoming arms of an obliging female. Goh conducted an experiment, to test his hypothesis that "anyone could slip chunks of statistics from the National Estimates into an army document and, and no one would notice", by issuing a general circular which was in essence a lengthy quote about the Great Flood from the book of Genesis. The response from the rank and file of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the armed forces is telling:
Most recipients were perplexed, to say the least - but in a comical bid to conceal their ignorance, they either forwarded the circular to their subordinates, with the words, 'For your necessary action', or 'Noted and filed'. Since the passage had mentioned floods, the Army officers sent it to the Navy officers 'for action'. The more imaginative officers interpreted the extract as instructions to send two representatives from each company to assemble forty days later, as the document mentioned the following lines, 'You shall bring two of every sort into the ark' and 'The rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights'. Only one officer... had the common sense to ask in exasperation, 'What on earth is this circular all about, and who sent it?'
(Tan Siok Sun, "Goh Keng Swee: A Portrait", page 147)

Lim Siong Guan recalled how none of the commanders raised questions on the General Staff Orders containing the story of Noah's Ark. Goh replied that the commanders either were not reading the orders or did not care for them.

The unfolding tragedy is that the lone officer who did ask a question probably did not make it higher up the ranks. It's the other lot that are parachuted into comfortable appointments with government linked companies. The guys likely to be running the transportation companies, shipping lines, government investment houses and holding office in the cabinet. It must be tough to focus on soldiering when the "retirement package" is more lucrative. Goh was prescient about the creep of complacency, but unfortunately for us, nothing can be done about it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not A Good Omen

The quip is definitely more surreal than the mee-siam-mai-hum gaffe. While lecturing citizens about what not to say online, Lee Hsien Loong had to finish off with: "My recent post about a barn owl which flew into the Istana garnered 500,000 views within a day!" You would think that with the battalions of minions at his beck and call, someone would bother to inform the boss man that a daylight visitation from the nocturnal owl is an ominous harbinger of bad tidings and doom.

The hooting sound of an owl sounds like “digging” in the Chinese language (搰: hu). It is considered major bad luck if an owl visits a house wherein lives a gravely ill or wounded person. When it makes the hu sounds, it's as good as telling the family to dig a grave-hole as preparation for a burial.

Thousands with access to an uncompromised Google search bar went to town researching the myths & culture of the barn owl from around the world, and the results were mostly dark and dismal. In the Middle East, folks actually believe that the owl represents the souls of people who have died un-avenged. Some compiled a compendium of owlish humour. Some will doubtless construe it as instance of cyber bullying. Like an Auschwitz survivor picking on Adolf Hitler. You get the drift. But even the most bitter of betrayed baby-boomers will be mollified when the subject of derision writes like this:
"With every passing day I am physically less energetic and less active. If you ask me to go out in the heat of the sun at two o'clock to meet people, shake hands and kiss babies, I will not be able to do it. I could do it 20, 30 years ago, but not anymore. You take life as it comes, with your physical capabilities declining over the years.
Sometimes my secretary would see me resting in my office and would ask me whether they should cancel the next meeting. Sometimes, I would say: "No, let's get on with it." I need 15 minutes for a shut-eye, so that my mind can concentrate after that. But if I cannot, I would say: "Yes, put it off. Let me have a nap."
You cannot predict what your physical condition will be like. However rigorous and disciplined I am, it will still be a downhill slide."
("One Man's View of the World", page 300)

Before you reach for the box of Kleenex - cue the string instruments here - he still shares the sentiments commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette when she was told the peasants had no bread, "Let them eat cake". In the Q & A format of the book, he is asked about the reality of cashing out on property:
Q: But you can only unload if you already own property. The local new homeowners have no such option.
A: For Singaporeans who do not yet own property, they can buy HDB flats at subsidised prices, if they meet HDB's eligibility criteria.

Your blood pressure starts to go up when he says that, being out of office and not attending Cabinet meetings, he seldom expresses a contrary opinion, except when the government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air-channels. He had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off, and he was not about to repent.
Q: So you have no unfinished business that you wanted to ...
A: No, I have done what I had wanted to do. I gave up my duties as prime minister to Goh Chok Tong. I helped him. He passed them on to Lee Hsien Loong. It is a different generation now. So my contributions are less meaningful - except when they want to go back on dialects.

The jury is still out on whether tears or jeers will dominate the day when the final moment of reckoning arrives. The big question on everybody's lips is, should we give a hoot?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Celebrate First, Worry Later

Which came first, the bonus issue for civil servants or the latest forecast for GDP growth? Hint: the GDP figures are generated by civil servants. Something else to ponder. These guys are overheads, they don't produce any saleable goods or services. Even the Population White Paper was a pathetic attempt at hard sell.

The official spiel is that the third quarter saw a 5.8% spurt during the months of July through September. As a result, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) now expects the economy to grow 3.5 to 4%, up from previous 2.5 to 3.5%. Even before the full year is over, 2.5 months bonuses have been announced for the civil servants (mid year bonus of 0.4 month plus 1.1 month variable bonus plus 13th month). The 1.1 month bonus rides on the forecast of 3.5 to 4.0% this year, "buoyed by a slight pickup in the global economy and domestically oriented sectors".

The real world tells a slightly different story. Economists warn of the uncertainty of United States Federal Reserve's tapering of its monetary stimulus program and potential flare ups in the euro zone. Others expect sluggishness in Indonesia and China might hit growth. Closer to home, restructuring and stricter foreign worker policies may constraint the extent Singapore can ride a recovering global economy. International Enterprise Singapore went further to downgrade its 2013 forecast for non-oil domestic exports, expecting it to fall 4 to 5%, instead of previous 0 to 1 percent growth. Amidst the gathering dark clouds, even MTI said next year's growth will be 2 to 4 percent, down from the 3.5 to 4% used this year to justify the generous bonus payouts.

What is paid out will never be returned. Bookings to learn classic French techniques of Patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu London will not be cancelled. Santa Claus, a private sector employee, may be retrenched in December, but the other guys are recession proof.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Real Hack

Personal data of some 4,000 individuals who participated in Singapore Art Museum (SAM) events were heisted from their outsourced website and posted on a New Zealand based storage website on November 5. The news about the data file was disclosed only yesterday, 20 November.

SAM claims it was alerted of the theft by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) on the same day, Nov 5. Earlier on Nov 4, IDA had stumbled across a tweet by a "CtrlSalad", boasting of the possession of "3.6k email, numbers, names and IP addresses including the Government's", and sat on it for one full day. SAM's official excuse for its own tardiness in reporting the cybercrime was that they were "estabilishing the extent of the incident". In most probability they were in panic mode, trying to classify it as "technical glitch", "compromise", or "intrusion". Hack was the last word on their minds, and for good reason. A media lawyer at Pinsent Masons said affected individuals may be able to sue on grounds of negligence, with the liability falling on the party controlling access to the data.

In the black week of Nov 5, the mainstream media were in a feeding frenzy, harping on police investigations of three incidents wherein websites were defaced by “The Messiah”, including those of City Harvest Church co-founder Sun Ho, the PAP Community Foundation and the Ang Mo Kio Town Council. IDA blamed outage of Singapore government websites on technical issues, denied hackers were involved. And culminating in the screen capture of the jiak-liao-bee image at the intrusion of the Istana website.

The one time that a spade was called a spade was when the Ministry of Education (MOE) admitted 13 school websites were hacked yesterday. A "Jack Riderr" was fingered as the hacker, as his name was listed in a hackers' database, being associated with a "Johore Hacking Crew". Screenshots of the hacked sites featured a man brandishing a sword, with accompanying words "Muslim Hackers". Some school principals were not even aware their schools' websites were hacked. MOE said they are referring the matter to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), who already have their hands full investigating individuals who responded to the call for "fellow Singaporean brothers and sisters" to dress in black and red on November 5, when Anonymous had planned to make a "virtual protest" on Guy Fawkes day. The foreign hacker will have to wait.
What the Ministry is teaching at our schools

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Top Scorers

The big news of the day is that, for the first time in three decades, Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) result slips to be released this coming Friday will no longer indicate the highest and lowest aggregate scores attained in the particular year's cohort. The "kueh lapis" approach is taken one step further, no top and no bottom lines will be officially disclosed.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) thinks that this move will de-emphasise the unhealthy competition for the top slots, which translates to top schools, top scholarships and top salary packages in the civil service grades. They will be sorely disappointed. Thanks to the advent of selfies - just named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries - expect a surge of internet traffic this Friday when lots of pics of the individual PSLE scores will be posted online with accompanied mugshot of grinning kids and/or their proud parent. Like the two jackass politicians cavorting in front of the camera at a serious Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Within hours, the top scorer will be identified.

What MOE should have done is to have gone ahead with the original suggestion for providing the grade band instead of aggregate scores. Even if the teachers are too busy giving private tuition on the side, the banding could be easily computed with a simple Excel macro. Not exactly rocket science.

Abolition of the printed aggregate scores will have its side effects. The lucrative tuition centers, for one, can no longer boast of their students' astronomically high scores. Doting parents can no longer justify spending thousands for that extra aggregate point, and associated bragging rights. So was it all about alleviating stress levels for the kids? Even if they are spared the horrors of the PSLE gladiatorial wipe out, there's always the entrance requirements for the local universities to contend with. And there will always be the ubiquitous foreign students brought in at taxpayers expense to exacerbate the competitive element and dig spurs into the locals' hides. The only people who don't have to worry about competition are the public transport operators, thanks to the cozy collaboration with the Transport Minister.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Laws Cometh

Mr Ravi has filed an application to argue that Singapore citizens are protected by the constitution to have access to counsel within 48 hours of their arrest at the latest. You may disagree with Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kanan's snide retort, but he was technically correct when he asked, "Where in the article is the word immediate?" We went through this fruitless exercise at Punggol when a by-election had to be called after some fellow was seduced by the taste of mangoes.

A former boss was once caught by such warped logic when he received a letter from his bank in Manila, informing him his check book was ready for collection. After braving the nightmarish traffic of Makati, he was shocked when the clerk told him it was not ready. He showed the Filipina the letter. She read it back, adding, "Yes, Mr Hancock, it does say here the check book is ready for collection. It doesn't say when."

The Law Minister has announced Government plans to put up new laws to better protect people, not against bad laws, but for "victims of harassment, both in the real world and online." These will be implemented either in the form of new legislation or amendments to existing law. Article 9(3) of the Constitution of Singapore will probably not be amended:
“Where a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.”

What you can bet on is that the wording will be similarly crafted. For instance, they are already contemplating that courts should be given the power to order that online comments be taken down if they "cause distress or alarm to others." This is obviously adding clout to Yaacob Ibrahim's proposed internet licensing rules. It also means halting further queries about the unsettling and unsettled transaction between A.I.M. and PAP town councils, a subject that must surely cause distress or alarm to Teo Ho Pin and associates.

Earlier this year, Shanmugam had said,"...if you say I am a stupid fool who doesn't know what I'm talking about, and the Government comprises ministers who don't know what they're talking about and you criticise every policy of the Government, no one can sue you." Maybe he did not know what he was talkng about then, since the new laws make it possible to be sued for "spreading malicious comments or lies about someone, in person or online." Maybe what they are ultimately aiming for is lèse-majesté legislation.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Looking Out For Themselves

Politicians should stop using food analogies to explain policy making. There was the mee-siam-mai-hum debacle, and there was the $10 chye tow kway gaffe. Even Lee Kuan Yew tripped over the extra egg that goes with his hawker meal portion because, well, he thinks he deserves it.

Using "kueh lapis" to dismiss an official poverty line with their "multi-layer help" approach is flawed at the start. Anybody who has seen a sample of the sweet dessert will recognise the many rainbow colored lines, the result of compositing thin layers of butter, eggs and sugar, each laid down alternately and then grilled separately. None are so blind as those who do not see.

Lee Hsien Loong says a poverty line like the World Bank's measure of $1.50 a day is irrelevant since there are no "dead poor" in Singapore, which he defines as those who are starving and unsheltered. By his Cambridge Senior Wrangler (students who gain first-class degrees in mathematics) logic, those living in public housing but can afford only one meal a day are not poor. That must be why Lily Neo had a hard time asking for more money for the poor from Vivian Balakrishnan, and was rebuffed with the wicked hawker center, food court or restaurant line.

Lee said that each group needs a different sort and scale of help. Hmm, those who own a Porsche may need some help in upgrading to a Lamborghini. Those living in the penthouse suite of a condo in Orchard Road could use a helping hand from the Government to move to Sentosa Cove. That could explain doing away with estate duty and removal of tariffs for trading in gold.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong could be thinking along similar lines when he told Joo Chiat residents that "Govt will look out for asset-rich, cash-poor". He was responding to a point made by a landed property owner who had  to pay a hefty property tax for his home which he bought when it cost "less than the cost of buying a car today". Since no line is drawn in the sand to qualify poverty, help may be coming to those who maxed out their credit lines to own two properties, one to rent out and one to stay in.

There could be a simpler reason for not wanting a poverty line. That would make a blatant liar out of Kishore Mahbuban, Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and the one who boasted to the whole wide world, "There are no homeless, destitute or starving people (in Singapore). Poverty has been eradicated."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Intrusion Is The Word

First it was "routine maintenance", then "compromise", and now the latest turn of phrase is "intrusion". Love, it would appear, means never having to say "hack". The adulation that sycophants have for their glorious leader knows no bounds.

Mr Moo has now disclosed how the picture of the old hag with the pomade hairdo and raised middle finger came about. For the record, "Jiak Liao Bee" by no means can be construed as a string of offensive words as claimed by the mainstream media. It's just an apt description for shameless free-loaders in the Hokkien dialect.

Moo came across the code-string which could be inserted into the ubiquitous search bar of most websites. An IT professional in his own right, he tested it on his personal websites to check for vulnerability issues. They passed with flying colours. Then he tried it on the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Istana websites. Major fail. You don't want to know how much they spent on computer hardware and software at those places. Suffice to say, they give cause to invoke the Hokkien phrase again.

This is where Moo admits his "itchy fingers" drew the attention of the boys in blue. He took a screen capture of the Istana webpage and posted it on his own Facebook account, accompanied by the funny descriptive "Istana also kena". "Kena" is another of those quaint local colloquialisms implying someone got stiffed. Not exactly an offensive expression, unless you happen to be one of those with extremely thin epidermis.

Moo declares, "We have to understand one thing. I did not exploit the vulnerability (of the sites), I tested the vulnerability." In the worst scenario, what he did can be explained away as a "spoof". Now try to impress that on the guy who's idea of humour is to tell black tie diners at a formal Washington function that pork chop soup is available on tap in China. Or open the windows for a free smoke. Let's just say that he will never hack it as a stand-up comedian after he retires from office.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Leave Politics Out of It

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah said that two opposition parties -- the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and the Workers' Party (WP) -- have presented the (hijab) issue as a simple, straightforward matter with no trade-offs or downsides. Further, she said that the WP "straddles both sides of the fence and merely calls for public dialogue", which does little to help resolve the "delicate and difficult national issue".

What the NSP said: "NSP supports the wearing of hijab in all places of work and study."
What the WP said: "As a principle, WP recognises the genuine desire and aspirations of Muslim Singaporeans who seek a change in government policy to allow the wearing of the hijab in the public sector’s uniformed professions."

Enough of the he said, she said. Indranee may choose to ignore it, but the albatross around her neck has to do with the unwelcome advice from one nonagenarian to "be less strict" about one's religion. There's no doubt about it, though some may choose not to wear the hijab for personal reasons, there are those who maintain it remains obligatory and non compliance is considered a sinful act. In like manner, Christians are not supposed to imbibe alcoholic beverages, and Buddhists have their dietary abstinences. Each religious follower has his/her own cross to  carry, and has their own deity to account to. How did Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) phrase it? "WP is of the view that the current hijab discussions should not be politicised."

We had a colleague who confided to us (non-Malays) the trepidations she faced when deciding on donning the veil. Her own husband emphasised the seriousness of the issue - once undertaken, the commitment cannot be easily reversed. It was her personal choice, and our esteem of her performance in the work place was not affected whether her head was covered or uncovered. It's difficult to explain such visceral matters to people who don't believe in a supernatural entity. People who believe only in material things in this world, and forget that hell has a different currency.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Final Say

If there is ever any doubt that rule by law, instead of law, prevails on this little red dot, Attorney-General (AG) Steven Chong made it all abundantly clear when he addressed over 100 criminal lawyers at the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore Annual Lecture on Tuesday. If anyone still bothers to ask, AG Chong is not about to reveal, or publish guidelines, on prosecutorial decisions.

He offered three reasons (near verbatim quotes):
1) would-be offenders would be able to game the decision making process;
2) public clamour for even more refinements would be entirely unhelpful for prosecutors;
3) would-be criminals would be less concerned with the law

For the layman, these sound like cop-outs for not being able to argue a legal case competently.
1) If a would-be offender has a "sufficient body of reasons", does that not imply he or she may not be guilty as assumed by the system? All reasons need to be considered if the decision making is to be above reproach. Whatever happened to "seen to be fair"?
2) Poor things, prosecutors will have to work harder if the public is not happy with the outcome. Reminds one of what Yeo Cheow Tong once whispered to then prime minister Goh Chok Tong, but unfortunately caught on an open mike, "If more opposition members get into parliament, our job will be more difficult".
3) Anyone, not just criminals, are concerned with the law. It is the law that determines whether one is a criminal or not. It is not the person, lawyer or prosecutor, that is judge, juror and hangman.

Apparently the question about transparent guidelines stems from the case of Woffles Wu, who was charged under the Road Traffic Act instead of the Penal Code over making his employee take the rap for speeding offences. K Shanmugam had hinted then the reason for the judicial decision would be forthcoming, but it never did materialise. This is not to be confused with the case of the puppy Woffles, which got it's owners into a legal mess for going on holiday without permission of the authorities. The puppy was never brought in to help with the investigations. Dogs appear have a better deal than humans. Just listen to the AG: "It is their right, but I don't think I should assist them in discharging their burden".

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More On Affordability

It boils down to this: will you buy a used car from this guy? Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew pledged before the House that the discounts given will more than offset any fare increase in the next fare review exercise. Maintaining the same poker face, he segued on to the part about fares not being less affordable for the average commuter, and more affordable for the low income and disadvantaged groups. Everbody else pays more. The perverted Pareto principle states that 80% of the effects (increases) come from 20% of the causes (rebates). Not in this Singapore version of Tricky Dick's vocabulary is the option of reducing fares by maximising cost efficiencies and higher productivity.

Big deal, transport firms will give part of extra revenue creamed from rise of fares to enhance travel vouchers to the poor. Lest we forget, only half of 200,000 vouchers were taken up in 2011. What was not collected, was siphoned back into the stash fund of the greedy buggers.

Just as duplicitous was the keechiu general, who distributed his "rainbow-colored chart of a range of aids that gives bigger sums to the low-income". For instance, with ComCare, more than 8,500 citizens receive up to $108 a month in kindergarten subsidies. Then Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) had to prick the bubble by pointing out that a wait of two to four weeks for ComCare frustrated her residents. Her call for "front-line staff to be more flexible in giving help" confirms someone else was also speaking with a forked tongue when Foreign and Law Minister Shanmugam issued his challenge for anyone to find a government that is more "welfarist". We'll believe the guy when the poor can collect food stamps from welfare centers instead of having to grovel at a meet-the-people session.

There's good reason why the Government studiously avoids the "w" word, it also exposes the abuse of the "s" word. Explaining "a hard cash subsidy" for housing goes to 83 percent of the population, Shanmugam disabused claims of HDB profiteering by repeating the fantasy that it has to pay market rates for land, and the money goes into the reserves. We may not have typhoons blowing our way, but we batten down the hatches for the worst each time another "subsidy" is announced.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Define Hacking

The Singapore Police Force (SPF)'s explanation maintains that a photo is circulating online, showing that the SPF website has been "hacked". The photoshopped image apparently is deemed offensive, and the SPF is asking you not to circulate the photo any further. Somebody had to ask the obvious: If the SPF website was not "hacked" are we to presume that the "inappropriate image" was placed there by the SPF Web Administrator?

The confusion comes about because the Information Development Authority (IDA) is screaming blue in the face: The prime minister's office website was compromised, not hacked! The distinction is crucial to some party's career plans because, as pointed out by IDA's Assistant Chief Executive James Kang, the cross-site scripting vulnerability was not protected by a security patch which had been released earlier. The patch is now being applied across all government websites, an obvious effort to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. Let's hope some $2 company won't be paid $130 million for off-the-shelf software.

To split hairs over "compromise" and "hack" is tantamount to straining at gnats and swallowing camels. In computer security context, a hacker is someone who seeks and exploits weaknesses in a computer system or network - such as inserting script into the Google search bar. Some are even paid big bucks to hone their craft. Within the computing community, the primary meaning of hacker is a complimentary, not pejorative, label for a particularly brilliant programmer or technical expert. For instance Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, is admired by many to be a true hacker.

The situation gets worse when political animals play loose and fancy with words. Who can ever forget George Yeo's "an integrated resort is not a casino" blatant lie? Did we have a bus strike or was it absence from work without a medical chit? Did someone give away $4 billion to the IMF, or was it just a "pledge"? Then there are the guys who supposedly complete their national service obligation of bearing arms to defend our real estate by serving in a laboratory and "saving babies' lives" at a hospital. Next they will be telling you Chia Thye Poh's 32 year incarceration was an extended sabbatical to mull over the definition of "communist". A wise man once asked, if you don't say what you mean, how can you mean what you say?

Case in point, S R Nathan was conferred the Order of Temasek for "exemplary" service to the nation at last night's National Day Awards Investiture. Now, is that meant to be a model example of a "Jiak Liao Bee", collecting millions annually for doing nothing productive but "eating up all the rice"?
"Compromised" image left at the Istana website

Friday, November 8, 2013


When he was just a minister of state, Lee Hsien Loong boasted to journalists covering his Europe tour he could tame the internet. A foreign reporter tried to educate him, and was dismissed haughtily: "We have the technicians."

This guy never learns. It seems his official website was hacked yesterday, Nov 7, 2013, at 11.17 pm and presented with a rude message: "ANONYMOUS SG WAS HERE BIATCH"

It was an inevitable response to a challenge issued earlier, "PM Lee warns hackers: We will track you down -- even if you think you're 'anonymous'".  Lee had told local journalists that his government would "spare no effort" in going after Anonymous members who week threatened to wage a cyber war against the Singapore Government.

Confirming the successful forage into the sanctity of his ivory tower office - a vulnerability in a subpage was exploited to display pages from other sources - the government's red-faced Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) issued a statement today saying it was investigating the incident. Assuring the nation everything is hunky-dory, IDA declared: "The PMO (Prime Minister's Office) main website is still working, and we are working to restore the page that has been compromised." Not that we give a damn, the target was the government, not the country. You can't believe everything the Straits Times says.

There's no gainsaying this time, the police is not expected to issue a follow-up statement about technical glitches or router failures. It looks like Anonymous is still determined to wage further attacks on the ham-fistedly governed island's technological infrastructure if demands for greater Internet freedom are not met, specifically Yaacob Ibrahim's thinly disguised assault on the Internet via frivolous licensing rules.

It's great to be Singaporean today.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fare Hike Confirmed

At first glance, it would appear that Christmas is early this year. The Fare Review Mechanism Committee (FRMC) seems to have come up with sweeteners to soothe the pains of the commuters, punching the right buttons to address poly students, physically challenged, lower income, senior citizens and kids taller than 0.9 m.

The worrying part is when they start rambling on about "judicious balance" between affordability of fares and profitability of private operators. You can easily spot someone has his thumb on the scales when the FRMC freely admit that they have "tweaked the fare formula to ensure their (operators) businesses remain financially sustainable".

One significant fare "reduction" in the list of recommendations is the pricing of the new monthly "hybrid" pass for polytechnic students, $52.50 instead of previous $97.00. The bugbear that remains unresolved is that the hybrid figure is an arithmetic sum of the $27.50 bus concession and the $25 train concession. One who has taken a bus to school would have wasted the prepaid train fare to the same destination. Surely a logical computation of the fare should be somewhere in the middle, say $40. You can bet your bottom dollar they won't tweak that formula in favour of fair play for all. Once again, proof that profit considerations triumph over commuter concerns of affordability.

One opposition party stated the rather obvious: "It should not be the Government's responsibility to safeguard the profits of SMRT and SBS Transit, which are commercial entities". The cynics may add: or protect the luxurious lifestyle of "retired" army officers and favoured cronies.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some People Just Can't Handle The Truth

Pseudologia fantastica or compulsive lying  was first described in the medical literature in 1891 by Anton Delbrueck. Offenders may be aware they are lying, or may actually believe they are telling the truth. After a while, they lose track of fact from fiction.

The 2 Nov Straits Times headline (“Some Government websites down due to ‘planned maintenance’: IDA”) was used to explain away why some 19 Singapore government websites were knocked out on Saturday. It being a Deepavali holiday, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) cooked up a convenient excuse that planned maintenance is usually scheduled during weekends and public holidays due to lower expected website traffic. Legions of Indian IT staff had to go back to work during the Hindu Festival Of Lights.

On Nov 3, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) added to the lie, stating that it was not carrying out any investigation as the government websites which went down the day before were due for routine maintenance.  Which made liars of IDA, who had put out an earlier statement after the YouTube video by Anonymous hackers was first posted on Tuesday, 29 Oct: "We are aware of the video, and the police are investigating the matter."

Come Tuesday, 5 Nov, IDA is telling us the sites were down "due to a combination of a routing issue and a hardware failure". The only clue to the truth is the part that made mention of government agencies being put on "heightened vigilance" in response to "declared threats" against the Government's information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure.

Why can't they just admit that the Messiah made them crap their lily white pants with the Anonymous broadcast of Thursday 0ct 31st:
"Greetings government of Singapore, we are Anonymous and we believe we have your undivided attention."
"Now close your eyes and imagine a legion of Anonymous unleashed upon your tiny island and infrastructure."

Commenting on IDA's explanation about a technical glitch, and not a hack, security expert Shirley Wong claimed government sites are complex and can be more difficult to patch. Occam's Razor points to a simpler answer. Tech in Asia’s report suggests the damage was self inflicted. In the course of switching the primary internet link to a secondary link to carry out the "planned maintenance", they ran smack into a router problem at the upstream ISP. Reverting back to the primary connection, they experienced hardware failure at the primary Internet router. The redundancy fall back system failed to deliver when it was needed, routine maintenance failed to detect a problematic router. Makes you wonder when the last routine maintenance was effected.

The situation is not unlike SMRT waking one morning to discover that some of the rolling stock are more than 20 years old, and nobody ordered replacements. Cedric Foo, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, confessed as much,"infrastructure capacity should always be introduced just ahead of demand. Frankly, we are doing a little bit of a catch-up."

Frankly, IDA had a blotchy start up when their first CEO, daughter of ex-chief justice Yong Pung How, deflected detractors of her questionable credentials for the job with infamous words to the effect: "I may not know what CDMA is, I can always hire someone who does." Messiah need not worry about bringing down the communications infrastructure, there are plenty of guys in-house capable of doing same.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Profit Motive

When Lim Chong Yah bemoaned that something should be done for the low wage workers at the bottom of the feeding chain, he proposed a two prong attack:
1) freeze the country’s highest salaries for three years;
2) raise salaries of workers earning less than $1,500 by 50 per cent over three years

While silence has been maintained on the call for wage freeze for the fat cats, a $200 pay rise for full-time cleaners has been announced. Ignoring for a moment the politicisation of the recommended hike - applicable only to cleaners at all 15 People's Action Party run town councils - the low wage earners are finally getting a respite. Half a loaf is better than no bread, so goes the saying.

Then Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman for PAP's town councils, had to blow the whistle on their "generosity": "At some point , we need to revise service and conservancy (S&C) charges." The wage hike was not a consequence of enhanced productivity, residents have to pay first before expecting to see any improvement in the maintenance of their wards.

The modus operandi is also obvious in the proposed overhaul of the of the bus industry, which is basically a duopoly of SMRT and SBS Transit. SMRT chief Lt Col Desmond Kuek described the new contracts model as "more sustainable" than the current structure, in which operators have to meet service stands and "face a cap on fares". If Kuek had ridden the trains or buses anywhere as long as us commuters, he would have remembered that "cap" has been raised countless times. Buried in the blurb about the workings of the new model is this line: "Public transport fares have not been adjusted in the last two years." Nowhere is it mentioned, nor do we recall, that public transport service has improved over the last two years. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hike first, work on improvement later.

The exposé on the real intention of the overhaul? SBS Transit's ringing endorsement of the proposed exercise: "As an operator, you are generally assured of a certain rate of return instead of being exposed to revenue risk." That assurance of profitability will surely come from ripping off the hapless commuters. Always have been, always will be.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Of Dogs And Men

A dog did this - scene from "The Green Mile"
Anybody wondering about what Briton Alison McElwee has to say, or bother to hear her out? The dog was alleged to have bit her four-year-old daughter. Yet she went through the trouble of procuring professional services to put the animal down humanely. Most mothers would have freaked out and done a Lady Macbeth:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out

In a scene from the Tom Hanks movie "The Green Mile", about John Coffey, a giant black man convicted of raping and killing two young white girls, there's an insight about how something gentle is capable of inexplicable violence:
We had a dog.
Just the sweet mongrel.
You know the kind.
Often, you get to love it.
It is of no particular use...
...but you keep it around because you think it loves you.
Caleb, come here for a second. (calling son over)
He still has the one good eye.
That dog attacked my boy for no reason.
My dog never bit before.
But I didn't concern myself with that.
I went out with my rifle, grabbed his collar and blew his brains out.

There are lots of animals in the Tammy horror sorry. One would assume that volunteer groups like Action for Singapore Dogs exist to spread goodwill among men, not turn ordinary folk into warring factions. Throw in a minister of law, a member of parliament and a heavy weight litigious law firm, and you have a cauldron of ill will, boiling over with virulent vindictiveness. What makes this shameful episode so despicable is that the same minister involved has not uttered a single word in support of the accounting for Dinesh Raman, an incarcerated young man who was put down more violently than the canine.

The contract used by animal welfare volunteers includes a clause preventing adopters from carrying out euthanasia "without prior consent of the rescuer". Commenting, SMU law professor Eugene Tan said future prospective adopters may not welcome the rescuer still having residual rights, resulting in fewer dogs being adopted. Maybe, just maybe, that will result in fewer foreign talents who consider setting up home in an over crowded kennel. Freeing up dog-houses in the sky will reduce demand, and reduce housing to affordable levels. There's always a silver lining in every cloud.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Quiet Revolution

Author and Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School Leila Ahmed was raised in Cairo in the 1940s, a time when veils and headscarves seemed irrelevant to both modern life and Islamic piety, a time when it was assumed the veil was backward, a restriction of female autonomy. In the late 1990s she was walking back to her hotel with a friend when they ran into a crowd on the Cambridge Common, an arresting sight of a gathering of women in hijab. Why, Ahmed asks, did this change take root so swiftly, and what does this shift mean for women, Islam, and the West?

You have to keep your emotions in check as you follow her scholarly explorations through nationalism, socialism, Islam and anti-imperialism.  Along the way, be surprised by nuggets like the 102-storey Empire State Building is lit up in green every year to honour the month of Ramadan. In a nutshell, she surmises that it is impossible to understand the underlying dynamics of the veiling movement of the last four decades without reviewing the history of the Islamic movement and the political crises and conditions that give rise to it.

In chapter 9, "Backlash: The Veil, the Burka, and the Clamor of War", she wrote:
Among the responses noted earlier were those indicating the veil's intended meanings of challenge to the sexism of the rules of dress in the dominant society and the meaning of the affirmation of the rights to equality of minorities in society. Clearly these are meanings that the hijab can come to have only in societies that declare themselves committed to gender equality and equality for minorities. They are not meanings that the hijab could possibly have in Cairo or Karachi or Riyadh or Teheran. ("A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America", page 213)

Yaacob Ibrahim served only to muddy the waters by pointing out that Muslims cannot wear the hijab while on duty because "servicemen are not allowed to wear or display religious symbols on their uniforms or faces". While Sikhs are permitted their turbans. And the speaker of the house dons a veil in parliament in full glare of national television. All men are brothers, some are big brothers.

Mufti Shaikh Syed Isa Semait should have phrased his comments more carefully when he proposed (to the guys behind the online petition) a question asking if all the Muslim women working at the front line as nurses want to wear a hijab. Better still, ask the people if we want such political appointees to represent us if they have no clue what the real issues on the ground are.