Friday, July 31, 2015

The Truth About The Leak

Desperate for an answer, SMRT's Desmond Kuek was obviously clutching at straws when he blamed a heavy downpour the night before July 7 for tripping the sophisticated train system. So obvious that he covered his own lie with a "could have, but then it is not something conclusive". Don't know, say don't know, lah!

The army general jetted in expensive experts from Sweden's Parsons Brinkerhoff and Japan's Meidensha Corporation - bill footed by Lui Tuck Yew's LTA - to check on the train power circuitry only to find that water ingress between the Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place stations had short circuited the electrical system. Of course the explanation is mired in gobbledygook:
"However, the weak resistance of an insulator can allow electricity to flow through the insulator to the ground, resulting in a higher than normal voltage difference between the running rail and the ground."

Engineers identify and resolve potential problems by use of diagrams. The one on the left illustrates the third-rail conductor system of the Ginza line of the Tokyo Rapid Transit Authority (TRTA). Their voltage is 600 or 700 V. The insulators - usually made of fast-drying non-conducting material such as glass, porcelain, or composite materials - support the current-carrying third rail at every 2.5 to 5 m. How such passive components can be easily "contaminated" as SMRT claims staggers the mind. Since we don't know, we can't quiz the engineering challenged CEO why all the 30,662 insulators of the North-South East-West lines have to be changed out, and ultimately charged to the long suffering commuters via fare hikes. Maybe they are all fakes sourced from a dubious vendor in China.

Can you spot the SMRT leak?
What we can ask is why a patrol officer had spotted the leak (Kuek uses "viewed" and "observed" to blur the distinction further) and could classified it as "non-urgent". Was the operator waiting for the ponding to rise to knee high level? Worse, the same leak spot had been "repaired" 2 to 3 times over the past 8 months. If their engineers can use cable ties to secure the claw for the third rail, why didn't they use chewing gum to plug the leak? Oops, almost forgot, gum is still banned.
Kuek's lame "gimme another chance" excuse is pathetic:
"So in this particular case and with all instances, as we categorise, we make it an effort to try and repair all leaks even though we might have longer time frame to repair those leaks, we try to repair them as quickly as possible."

Notice how Kuek and his army buddies always obfuscate the issues with pseudo-technical jargon. Occam's razor (or Ockham's razor) says that the more wild assumptions you tend to make, the more unlikely the explanation is. Credibility at our public transportation system is in dire need of a serious reboot.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hiccups At The Starting Line

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen thought he could simply call the shots for how the imminent general election would be run when he boasted on Sunday (Jul 26), "No Mr Lee Kuan Yew to tell us what's a better choice, no Mr Lee Kuan Yew to tell us, give comments on the choice that we make." He declared that new candidates will be formally introduced after National Day weekend, and the plan was for retiring members of parliament (MPs) to help introduce their successors.

Well, it would appear not everything is going according to plan. Indranee Rajah of Tanjong Pagar GRC introduced her "sister" according to her own schedule, officially unveiling the new face of Joan Pereira during a walkabout at Bukit Merah View Market on the very same Sunday Ng spoke. And Inderjit Singh had to post his farewell on Facebook way ahead of everybody else. Ng didn't take that initiative too kindly,
"We want to handle the retirement of our MPs more smoothly and I would prefer a more deliberate and a dignified manner.
You can post your retirement on Facebook, but I think as an MP who has served 15, 20, even 30 years - that's not the best way to do it."
The upcoming general election will be "watershed election" indeed, but not necessarily the way Ng intends it to be. The horrible person had already expounded his premonitions at the Singapore Global Dialogue (skip to 18:40) in October 2011, shortly after the electoral setback of the same year. Maybe Ng should listen carefully to the voice from the urn once more.
video

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Drawn And Quartered

Robert-François Damiens, who attempted assassination of King Louis XV in 1757, was the last person to be executed in France by drawing and quartering, the traditional and gruesome form of death penalty reserved for regicides (deliberate killing of a monarch):
"He was condemned to be tortured with red-hot pincers on four limbs and on each breast. His wounds were to be sprinkled with molten lead and boiling oil and his body was then to be torn in pieces by four horses, the remains being subsequently burnt."

If you saw the teary-eyed Lui Tuck Yew on television, you would have thought that's how he imagined the horrible fate of Moulmein-Kallang GRC, drawn and quartered to be scattered to the  four constituencies: Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Tanjong Pagar GRC and the newly-created Jalan Besar GRC.
“For me of course there is a sense of disappointment because I have been with the residents for so many years already and I’ve really come to become very fond of them and I will miss them dearly.”

About to be derailed
Of course it's all play-acting. Following the cue of Lim Boon Heng, who cried like a baby after being told he was being laid off, and next rewarded with a plum assignment at Temasek Holdings, the bawling is just audition for higher office. Outdo Lim's histrionic theatrics, and Lui could be the next elected president. Just as many have forgotten about SR Nathan's service record with the Japanese police during World War II, nobody will remember the mess Lui made of the public transportation system.

And if the intel in the sidebar is accurate, Lui will still be around for awhile. In case you're are fantasizing about hooking him to four trains running in opposite directions of the North-South and East-West tracks, don't bother. His armed forces buddies will simply arrange for another simultaneous system breakdown, and the submariner will resurface to make our lives miserable again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bad Behaviour

When TIME's Zoher Adoolcarim and Hannah Beech interviewed Lee Hsien Loong for the "Singapore's Next Story" article (3 August 2015 issue), they did not shy off from asking about the conviction of a 16-year old and the litigation against a blogger. While the Straits Times write-up produced edited extracts, and quoted from the online transcript and hard copy, one important line was missed out:
"In this case, he's a 16-year old, so you have to deal with it appropriately because of a young age."

It would appear to all and sundry that the hue and cry from local and foreign human rights activists, in particular the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-east Asia (OHCHR), have come to nought. Specifically, OHCHR had expressed concern that the criminal sanctions considered in this case "seem disproportionate and inappropriate in terms of the international protections for freedom of expression and opinion". And it matters not to the prime minister that Singapore had signed off on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

To understand the kind of horrible person that approves of the traumatic detention of a child and cruel treatment in a mental institute, one has to appreciate his ideas of bad behavior. When asked if he were ever a rebellious teenager, he gave this notion of unpardonable sin: "I never had long hair or wore bell-bottoms."

One veteran human rights activist was dripping with sarcasm when she put the status quo in context: "We are overly respectful of our politicians. Our laws demand that of us." Read and weep.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Battle Enjoined

"I think the playing field is level, if you do your work on the ground consistently," says the Deputy Prime Minister with the extensible Pinnochio nose. Explain that to Workers' Party's Yee Jenn Jong who literally walked the ground tirelessly for 4 years since the last General Election to recover from a narrow loss by 388 votes. If the dissolution of Joo Chiat is not a clear case of gerrymandering, what is?

The interesting aside to this is that Joo Chiat had always been a stronghold of Chan Soo Sen (GE2001: 83.5%, GE2006: 65%). Unfortunately his predilection for booze and karaoke was frowned upon by higher ups. They replaced him with Charles Chong for GE2011, the elitist who defended the $46,000 Le Cordon Bleu frolic of Permanent Secretary Tan Yong Soon with this:
“Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought maybe he was a little bit boastful. Would people have taken offence if his wife (a senior investment counsellor at a bank) had paid for everything?”

For mocking the peasants, Chong barely scraped through with 51% of the votes. Meanwhile Chan, always a popular fixture (still is) at clan gatherings in the district, would bitterly complain to anyone within hearing range about how "they" had to bring in three civil servants to do his job.

Decades ago, E.W Barker was well known for sneaking off to the bar at the snooty Singapore Cricket Club to wet his whistle. But that didn't stop him from an illustrious career of 25 years in politics, serving as Minister for National Development (1965–75), Minister for Home Affairs (1972), Minister for the Environment (1975–79), Minister for Science and Technology (1977–81) and Minister for Labour (1983). Barker was a happy camper at law firms Braddell Brothers and Lee & Lee until the horrible person dragged him into parliament. Fortunately for him then, there was no sniffer dog with a sensitive nose for alcohol.

It remains to be seen how the 22,760 voters of Joo Chiat who were wiped off the electoral map  to be absorbed ignominiously into the folds of Marine Parade will react. If they are bitter about being thwarted in their balloting intentions, the outcome can only be ugly. Gerrymandering can cut both ways.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Use Your Hands Campaign

You know election fever is on when even the hearing impaired is roped into the political proselytising. The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) has produced a series of general election-related sign language videos to help decipher the gobbledygook that will be spewed forth by politicians of various parties. The limited vocabulary include uniquely Singapore etymological gems like "Group Representation Constituencies", but not "gerrymandering" or "foreign talent". And the horrible person is signed off as a guy with tunnel-vision and a humongous ego. Surely the only key words in the American Sign Language (ASL) we need at the rallies are:

VOTE
Your vote is secret, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
REMEMBER
Those promises to do better? You haven't forgotten, have you?
RETURN
As in return-our-cpf, not let those clowns come back to parliament again.
BREAKDOWN
Not restricted just to trains. Mobile network, internet access, floods, you name it, we've got it.
FOOD
We all have to eat, but please don't trade your vote for a packet of chicken rice.

RAISE HAND
All in favour of VTO, kee-chiu!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Law On Tape

During the debate on Singapore Budget 2013, Member of Parliament (Aljunied GRC) and ex-police inspector Sylvia Lim proposed that law enforcement agencies should video record sessions whenever police statements are being taken. Apparently disputes over such statements raised by defence lawyers had to be resolved in trials-within-a-trial, and investigation officers - who quite often  authored those statements - are usually called in to testify to veracity of same.

The politically correct justification then was that the practice, already prevalent in First World countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, could also save the court precious time and money. What was left unsaid is that unscrupulous law officers can write any damn thing to fix the vulnerable. (At the trial of former Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) chief Ng Boon Gay, when Deputy Director of Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) Teng Khee Fatt was challenged in court about a conflicting entry, he simply dismissed the incongruence with: "I left out the 'not'.") Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah was quick to snuff out further discussion by simply declaring from on high that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had no plans to introduce video recording for the taking of statements. Full stop.

Yesterday, MHA released a press statement announcing that the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) will pilot video recording of interviews (VRI) during investigations from the first quarter of next year. It added that together with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), it has been studying the feasibility of introducing video recording of interviews. Somebody was either not informed, or simply told a bald-faced lie in parliament.

The inter-agency workgroup said that while Singapore’s existing criminal investigation processes are robust, the implementation of VRI in Singapore will further strengthen confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system. What the workgroup did not say is that the fundamental rights of any individual being questioned by law enforcement officers - the right against self-incrimination and the right of access to a lawyer - are still not addressed after 50 long years. So much for the robustness of criminal investigation processes in Singapore.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Slap That Was Heard Around The World

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin - still trying hard after all these years of OJT - had to comment on the video of a senior citizen being hit by a younger one:
"While there can be altercations within families, there are some lines that should not be crossed."

Whatever his motivation - this being election year and all - one wonders if the Minister would have kept mum if he was at another scene of a senior being smacked?
"In 1990, an incident occurred in a pre-cabinet meeting which was the beginning of entrenching further among the many in the core executive, resistance to Lee Hsien Loong's long term ambitions for prime ministership. Prior to this meeting Lee Hsien Loong had gone to the office of Richard Hu, the Minister of Finance, and removed a number of files without Hu's permission. At that time Lee's office was on the 48th floor of what is now Temasek Tower and Hu's was on the 50th floor.
At the pre-cabinet meeting Hu took Lee to task for doing this and was supported by Tony Tan. Lee's response was aggressive and insulting, he directly insulted Tan and Hu, a man of his father's age. This was a double insult to Hu, who was Lee's superior in cabinet and a person of an age who should of itself deserve respect in Chinese society. Suppiah Dhanabalan intervened and chastised Lee for his behaviour, demanding that he apologise to Hu, withdraw his remarks and not interfere in other minister's portfolios. A heated exchange occurred into which a number of other issues intruded and eventually Lee lost his temper, and reportedly reached across the table and slapped Dhanabalan across the face." 

All parties involved in the altercation sealed their lips, continuing to subscribe to the tenet of all secrets staying within the PAP family. But during the 2005 National Day Rally speech broadcast, a rogue Goh Chok Tong decided to craft a different narrative:
"You may also have heard this old story about Loong. In case you have not, I'll tell you now. Back in 1990, Loong had a quarrel with Richard Hu. S. Dhanabalan sided with Richard. Loong lost his temper. He reached across the table and gave Dhanabalan a tight slap. The whole Cabinet was thrown into commotion. I then forced Loong to apologise. I must be suffering from amnesia. I just cannot remember this incident. Now you know how creative Singaporeans are." 

Actually if Goh had bothered to visit the National Library, he could have read up the account in Ross Worthington's "Governance in Singapore". No need to check into the Institute of Mental Health, where creative Singaporeans are routinely locked up for assessment.

As for Dhanabalan's protection, the Vulnerable Adults Act - meant to help protect vulnerable adults suffering from third-party abuse and neglect - that will be introduced at the end of the year should come in useful. The Good Book says to turn the other cheek, but no one likes to be whacked a second time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Awareness Does Not Reasonate

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) recently concluded a survey of more than 1,500 Singaporeans carried out between August and October 2014 to explore which are the influential Singapore stories and why, and who, do these stories resonate with. One of the summary findings claims that "Awareness of events does not equate to importance to respondents e.g. opening of two casinos."

Recall that the fractious decision of turning Singapore into Sin City - complete with two architectural monoliths symbolising Sodom and Gemmorah - was a divisive one that even pitted members of parliament against each other. How did that end up being of lesser importance to them and to future generations of Singaporeans? Adding insult to history, two epochal events are barely registered or rendered significant - the so-called "Marxist conspiracy" and Operation Cold Store.

Third on the awareness tableau was the major rail service breakdown in 2011, a minor hiccup compared to the recent North-South and East-West train disruption. That 2011 debacle brought down the high flying Saw Phaik Hwa who profited from sales of retail space at the cost of train and track maintenance. Since awareness does not translate to importance, so we are told, the equally clueless lieutenant general now put in charge is in no danger of receiving a pink slip. Despite the simultaneous breakdown of two lines inconveniencing 250,000 commuters. Inured to multifarious failings in the system governance and infrastructure, the people no longer seem to care.

Research analysts Varian Lim and Elaine Ho at the IPS Social Lab are saying that, beyond being a means of transportation, the MRT system represents Singapore’s journey from Third World to First. That being the case, the country must be grinding down to a halt.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Independence Day Blues

The question from Melanie Chew was: "Can you explain to me why independence for Singapore was declared in the 31st August 1963, before the formation of Malaysia on September 16th, 1963."
Dr Toh Chin Chye's reply:
That was Lee Kuan Yew forcing it through. Because the proposal for Maphilindo was still up in the air: that was the confederation of Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia that Sukarno wanted. The United Nations had to consult Sabah and Sarawak on Malaysia. And they were not ready.
So to appease them, the Tengku had to postpone Malaysia Day. But Lee Kuan Yew told the Tengku to make it August 31st, 1963. To push the whole thing through, to preempt any unforeseen obstacles cropping up." ("Leaders of Singapore", page 93)

That's not the only weird part of our history. Singapore, unlike most other states and nations, achieved independence twice: Once in 1959 when it was decolonised by the British; then again after it was booted out of the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, into which Singapore had integrated in 1963. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopaedia (2011), 6th Edition, 11/1/2011)

Some have written that Singapore achieved independence in 1959 due to a lack of British colonial retaliation to the Japanese occupation during World War II. In 1954, pressure for independence from Commonwealth countries started to grow, and in 1955 the British handed Singapore its own administration, while retaining foreign policy and defence. Even so, Singapore was considered a heavy financial burden on the British, leading to the final decolonisation.

If independence meant that "Her Majesty’s sovereignty and jurisdiction in respect of the new states shall be relinquished so as to vest in the manner agreed", we should really be celebrating the year 1959 or 1963, not the year we were turfed out. The propaganda movie starring Lim Kay Tong will have to be renamed. All those SG50 paraphernalia will have to be reprinted. More seniors will qualify for the Pioneer Generation Package goodies. Dr Toh said the whole independence day thingy was "pushed through", to preempt any unforeseen obstacles cropping up. Was the schedule for the next general elections similarly adjusted to preempt any of those unforeseen obstacles?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Too Clever By Half

The easiest way out is to claim that he was misquoted by some rookie reporter. Then again, even when a journalist quoted directly from the official handout, she can end up with a sh*t load of trouble when horrible people are involved. But that's another story.

Our regional general manager was relieved to be posted to Singapore, after an unpleasant 3 years in Manila. A man with a short fuse - his face actually glows crimson when angry - his favourite peeve is about the time he received a letter from his bank in downtown Makati, informing him the check book he requested was ready for collection.

After braving the nightmarish traffic, he made his way to the bank counter, and presented the notification letter. The clerk took one quick look, made a cursory enquiry, and told him his new check book was not ready. Near fuming, he kept his cool, and jabbed his trembling finger at the printed copy clearly stating otherwise. Equally cool, the Filipina re-read the text: "Yes, Mr Hancock, the letter says the check book is ready for collection, but it does not say when."

We don't know much about the bank clerk, whether she had a qualification from a degree mill, or was a Senior Wrangler at Cambridge and graduated with first class honours in mathematics. But as Forrest Gump's mom so eloquently put it, stupid is as stupid does.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rat Infestation Galore

The Auditor-General's Office (AGO) 2014/2015 Report is definitely not good bed-time reading material. Instead of lulling you to sleep, there are so many eyepoppers that will make you sit up the whole night, unable to take in the audacity of the miscreants who masquerade as civil servants.

Who would, in his wildest imagination or nightmare, think an educational institute like the Temasek Polytechnic (TP) has $62.50 million of free cash to dabble in the bond market? Instead of prepping its students to survive in the job market, they were bleeding them bone dry with exorbitant fees and charges. That plus the fact that the 5 bonds, averaging $10+ million a piece, were committed without requisite approval from the sleeping Investment Committee (page 42).

Remember the errant fishball stick that triggered a multi-agency, mayor-led fact-finding mission to figure how it could possibly remain on the ground for two whole days? Lee Hsien Loong set up the Municipal Services Office (MSO) to end the quibble about who, National Environment Agency (grassy slope), National Parks (park connector) or Land Transport Authority (pavement), should clean up after the juvenile pick-up-sticks game. It turns out the efforts of the prime minister, and his disgraceful minister charged with the heavily funded initiative, have been largely ignored.

The AGO found that the National Environment Agency (NEA)'s $4.19 million rodent infestation eradication contract covers only burrows found in areas under its purview. NEA told AGO that, although not worded such, its intent was, for burrows found in other areas, it would inform other agencies "to take care of the problem themselves". This has to be NIMBY at its worst. As a result, AGO said that 115 burrows were found but not destroyed. For that kind of money, our aunties collecting cardboard for exercise would have a more lucrative alternative catching rats. Tan Chuan-Jin, please take note.

Now it makes sense why netizens were distracted by efforts to hunt down the identity of the errant Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) chairman who signed off personal expense claims to the tune of $114,767. There are more gems in the AGO report to be glossed over.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

(More) Lapses In Governance

The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) stumbled across a red herring. The chairman of Admiralty Citizen's Consultative Committee was caught with his grubby little hands in the cookie jar:
  • - the chairman approved awards of two contracts (totalling $32,000) to a company of which he was a member of the senior management;
  • - the chairman approved his own claims (totalling $114,767) in 7 instances.
The rogue chairman is not identified, no reasons are given. It's not like he's a minor, even 16 year olds in Singapore are routinely cuffed and shackled, strapped to an iron bed even. Like Lee Suan Yew, the horrible person's younger brother, who was a non-executive director of Hotel Property Ltd (HPL), which gave a discount to relatives without seeking shareholders' approval, the anonymous chairman was allowed to resign quietly and get off scot-free.

After all the hue and cry about related party transactions associated with a certain town council, Minister Khaw Boon Wah is saying that no dishonesty is involved, so let it rest, people. ("I am glad the investigation panel found no evidence of dishonesty. Nonetheless, it was a related-party transaction that was not declared.")

This was expected, coming from one who was equally honest about his $8 open heart operation. The jaundiced People's Association (PA) came up with a sneakier defence - that there was no irregularity in the payments as the amounts paid tallied with the quotations and the work rendered. Payment for what, payment to who, payment approved by whom, it all don't matter. So  will it come down to this: votes can be bought so long as the amount disbursed tallies with the amount received.

The lapse in governance is not an isolated instance in PA, the rot has spread to the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and Singapore Polytechnic (SP). The observation on ITE's short comings sound all too familiar: "ITE could also be perceived as favouring certain operators."

Interestingly, only the National Library Board (NLB) will be investigated by the police for "possible wrongdoings" involving $7.3 million spent for e-resources "based on weak justifications." Perhaps it has something to do with the particular minister involved.  So what else is new in corruption and cronyism free Singapore?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Have You Had To Speak To A Cardboard MP?

Sorry, auntie, this cannot use for medishield life premium
"Before I joined the grassroots organisation, I never knew there were poor people in developed countries." — MP Michael Palmer (2006)

That one quip summed it up nicely for the quality of the slate of candidates born after 1965, specially the batch cherry picked for GE 2006. The 'post-65' group of first-term MPs went on to make fools of themselves by launching a group blog and dancing hip-hop at the Chingay Parade. But none (thus far) fell from grace so dramatically as Michael Palmer did, all the way down from the giddy heights of Speaker Of The House. Some theologians are saying an apple did not bring about the fall of Adam, it was a fig. For Mike the fruit, his weakness was the succulent flesh of mango.

For Tan Chuan-Jin, his choice of poison is not even edible. It is doubtful cardboard will bring down an ex-brigadier general, it's just another demonstration of their utter disconnect with the ground. The tactless post that is riling netizens at an inopportune time - election fever is on - goes like this:
"The normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is not really true.... Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home."

One of the milder feedback - sans colourful expletives that a horrible person deserves - about the inane social observation reads like this:
"TCJ, we have got to say, you are living in denial with ostrich mindset. No one would do this for exercise. If you have nothing important to say, suggest you just shut up and collect your salary. TYVM."

Tan responded to the constructive criticism by stubbornly insisting on his ways, “That’s what we should do, right? Find out about people? Hey, I’m trying!” Hey, how about trying at your own expense? A million dollars is a hell of a lot of money to pay for on-the-job-training!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nothing Happens By Chance

Tharman told the CNN host that the anomaly of 80 out of 87 seats going to one political party was an outcome, not by design. The guy who equates a safety net with a trampoline - an exercise equipment which paralyzed pole-vaulting champion Brian Sternberg from the neck down after a bad landing - will probably also tell you gerrymandering is a natural event.

The graphic from The Washington Post is easily the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever come across. In addition to its use to accomplish desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group. One useful class group would be new citizens fresh off the boat, although Yang Ying may not be counted on to cast the right vote. Then again, he was neither cuffed nor shackled, or sent to the Institute of Mental Health for a check up. He should be so grateful, this Integration and Naturalisation Champion (INC) lauded in MP Intan Azura’s ward of Jalan Kayu.

Not leaving anything to chance, it was revealed in parliament yesterday that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) was formed surreptitiously two months ago. Thanks to NCMP Yee Jenn Jong's questioning, we also know that the Committee comprises entirely of civil servants - "it is unlikely to have different political parties working on the boundary recommendations". Nothing is left to chance. The thirty pieces of silver which was the price for Judas Iscariot's extracurricular activity is now worth $500. The poor sap should have had the precious metals independently assessed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

New Look, Same Crap

Their own annual reports confirmed the decline — from 390,363 printed copies of Straits Times (ST) circulated daily at the turn of the millennium to 365,800 in 2010. In 2012, circulation for printed versions of ST shrunk further to 355,700. The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) statistics has it that average net circulation dropped to 322,056 in 2013. So what makes editor Warren Fernandez think a cosmetic revamp ("New look, new ideas, same Singapore soul") will reverse the inevitable ?

Traditional media is going the way of the dodo. Digital versions may recoup some of the lost sales, but the message is still more important than the platform. No point reinventing the wheel when same crap is being peddled.

It's worse when writers like Rachel Chang display open bias in flagellating the opposition political parties. She may be targetting the wrong group when she lashed out with words like "cronyisms and opportunism are not illegal". Look who has a wife, an uncle and relatives ensconced in privileged and financially lucrative appointments. She opined that it would be foolhardy for the electorate to vote in another opposition group to run a town council, whilst indirectly providing justification for them to do so. People in glass houses really shouldn't throw stones.

When Zakaria reminded the prime minister of Singapore's dismal standing in freedom houses rankings, Lee dismissed the shameful status quo with "They don’t like us, fair enough, doesn’t mean we are in the wrong". It looks like Chang is not the only one in need of another wise saying, this time from Jonathan Swift in his ‘Polite Conversation’ and first attested in the United States in the 1713 "Works of Thomas Chalkley":
‘There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.’  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

All Under Heaven

video
In the climatic scene of the 2002 wuxia movie ("Hero") by Zhang Yimou, the nameless protagonist (Jet Li) aborted his assassination attempt on the King of Qin at the very last moment. As the story telling goes, two words changed his mind, Tiān Xià (天下), which literally means "all (everything and everyone) under heaven". The hero understood this to mean that peace and unity can only be achieved under absolute control by one indisputable ruler. For this epiphany, he gets executed by the king with a spectacular rain of arrows, and a grand funeral rivalling what we saw in March this year. Fareed Zakaria's posit of a culture of disrespect would be anathema to the imperial throne.

Critics who felt the film had advocated autocracy reacted with discomfort. One reviewer condemned it as a "cartoon ideology" and justification for ruthless leadership comparable to "Triumph of the Will", the 1935 propaganda movie chronicling the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. In the face of backlash, Zhang Yimou maintained that he had absolutely no political points to make.

The unanswered question remains: who should be the one person that determines the fate of millions? Adolf Hitler had his go at it, and six million ended up in the gas chambers. The horrible person initially denied it ("I don't remember any such thing. I cannot understand this, that Ong Pang Boon and Toh Chin Chye would say so. If one said so, I can dismiss it, but two said so..."), but Ong Eng Guan could have been prime minister if Toh Chin Chye had not exercised his prerogative as chairman to cast the determining vote. One of the cartoons in the best selling "The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye" features Lim Chin Siong as prime minister, reflecting on how history would be different if the horrible guy had not quit parliament and skipped overseas - good enough reason for the National Arts Council (NAC) grant to be withdrawn. Pure fantasy of course, but people should be careful of the choices they make. If, and when, they are actually allowed to choose.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Musical Chairs, The Sequel

Tharman acted coy when CNN host Fareed Zakaria probed him if Singapore was ready for an Indian prime minister. Although Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tharman professed that he's not keen on the job ("Unless I am forced to be"), he segued into a very prime-ministerial discourse on the nasty politics of succession. All he needed for more credibility was a goofy looking balloon crown. And a selfie with a Malaysian politician who had US$700 million credited into his personal bank account.

Shanmugaratnam dipped his toes into different waters when he declared the China stock market meltdown will impact Singapore more than the Greek tragedy playing out in Eurozone. Makes sense, since the former DPM who let a terrorist out through a toilet window is leading the charge for investments into China. What also makes sense is the Law Minister keeping arm's length distance away from matters of the law, now that the justice system is attracting high profiled protestors on the world stage like United Nations Special Rapporteurs ("Singapore / Freedom of expression: UN expert alarmed by sentencing of teenager blogger").

With Tharman moving into center forward, and Shanmugaratnam donning Finance Minister headgear, are we in for another round of musical chairs? But where would the descendant of a horrible person head to? Lead the army junta that is running the public transport system? After all, Mussolini was famously credited with making the trains run on time. And there's nothing like doing it yourself when the lackies can't seem to get it right.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Paid To Fail

You talking to me? You talking to ME?
The world saw how the Samsung heir apparent bowed humbly to apologise for an associated hospital’s failures in dealing with the country’s outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). In contrast, the arrogant army officers were hardly contrite in their body language, their eyes ready to stare daggers at anybody who dared to question their competency.

There's good reason the ex-army officers are confident their jobs are not at risk. In the 16th Annual General Meeting convened earlier in the afternoon, they had just rubber stamped the sum of $908,296 as payment for Directors’ fees, up from $805,896 in FY 2014  (Desmond Kuek, 52, earned more than $2.25 million last year, up from dismal Saw Phaik Hwa's last drawn derisory $1.85 million). Shareholders were also amply taken care of, $40 million were distributed as dividends in 2014, up from $30 million in 2013. Why should they leave all that lovely money on the table for maintenance, just because 250,000 commuters stranded at the evening rush hours of July 7 were inconvenienced?

Welcome to the world of the new aristocracy. They are not expected to bow and scrape; they demand respect just because they command multi-million dollar salaries. Meritocracy is for the minions, who have to compete with foreign imports with degree mill qualifications, for a decent paying job.

After an overnight sweep of the doomed North-South and East-West lines, damaged power cables, faulty voltage relays and water leakage issues were discovered - Kuek had the gall to admit that routine maintenance is carried out only once in 6 months. But why should the maintenance staff care? They were recently paid $500 bonuses - whether for a job well done or keeping mum about top down incompetence we will never know. Get used to the new normal, people, even the ex-brigadier general prime minister is saying, "we are still very worried that the problem may recur”.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bad Publicity

The Singapore connection highlighted in red
Singapore is being flagged in international headlines for all the wrong reasons. The money trail for US$700 million that went missing traces a treacherous route from the Singapore branch of Zurich-based Falcon Private Bank to Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s AmIslamic Bank account. Acquired by Abu Dhabi's state-owned investment firm Aabar in April 2009, Falcon's boast is that security and discretion are their highest priorities in the best of Swiss private banking tradition. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.

Another shady operation with a branch office in Singapore is the Italian Company “Hacking Team”. Their backdoor intrusion weapon of choice "Remote Control System" (other names are  “Crisis” and “DaVinci”) is described in a company promotional literature as:
“A stealth, spyware-based system for attacking, infecting and monitoring computers and smartphones. Full intelligence on target users even for encrypted communications (Skype, PGP, secure web mail, etc.)"

Marketed as a restricted client base tool for law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies, Bloomberg first flagged it in 2012 as another example of commercial network intrusion tools being used against dissidents in countries with poor human rights records. Pro-democracy activist in Dubai Ahmed Mansoor's laptop was penetrated by spyware so powerful it can turn on webcams and microphones and grab documents off hard drives. He also suffered two physical beatings by thugs during his campaign for citizens’ civil rights in the Persian Gulf federation of the United Arab Emirates.

Guess what? Screen shots of leaked documents posted by CSO Online shows that Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has an active maintenance contract with Hacking Team. The good news is that the notorious security firm has been hacked. It isn't known who embarassed Hacking Team, but the attackers have published a Torrent file with 400GB of internal documents, source code, and email communications to the public at large, including the note that demonstrates IDA is capable of nefarious designs against Singaporeans. Yaacob Ibrahim would be so proud.
Even Russia has had enough of dirty tricks

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Going Up In Smoke

During the Hungry Ghost Month (鬼月) and Qingming Festival (the annual ritual of tomb sweeping), the burning of paper construction offerings is a symbolic act of respect and filial piety to one’s ancestors. The superstitious believe that by burning them, it teleports the items from the material world to the spiritual realm of the afterlife. If mama is feeling lonely, you can dispatch papa and boy-boy facsimiles over to keep her company.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works. Also, the 50 people who were protesting outside the Singapore Consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday were expressing wishes of another kind. The South China Morning Post reported that the protesters were burning effigies of a horrible pair. When a similar incendiary exercise was once attempted at Hong Lim Green, the mata-mata said it's illegal in Singapore. Later a lawyer would point out it is not so. The discussion stopped there, since our cops are apparently licensed to shoot first, debate later, and damned be the safety lock built into the weapon by the Taurus manufacturer.

Thanks to the fiery message sent by the 50 strong, plus the Hong Kong University (HKU) Students' Union, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and many others who saw through the perfidy of a flawed justice system, Monday 6 July 2015 will be a day to be remembered.

Like the Greeks who refused to be cowed by the ‘Troika’, consisting of the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, one should not be deterred by the challenges ahead. Gallagher wrote that the Greek debt swindle is similar to the TARP scam foisted on the American people, “Its political perpetrators are the same huge banks, and the European Central Bank working with the Federal Reserve.” Our nemesis is the MAS, the GIC, the Temasek Holdings and our swindle involves the CPF.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Lessons About Humility

Snipped off from the report on Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's comments at the Friday (Jul 3) SG50+ conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies was this significant bit:
"You must have that culture starting from very young, pre school, primary school, where kids speak up. You don't need to always make sense, you don't need to speak logically, but you've got to have a mind of your own. There’s something to it. I believe in that. What it implies for political culture and systems - you need some humility on this."

Tharman had to eat humble pie during younger days as an Administrative Services officer with MAS, when he was fingered by the ISD as the originating source for leaking the 4.6% flash estimate of economic growth for second quarter 1992 to Business Times journalists. Theories abound about his motive, including one - supported by other civil service figures - that suggested it was part of a strategy to force greater openness in economics statistics and media reporting in Singapore. At a National Day dinner, the horrible person criticised Goh Chok Tong, commenting sarcastically that if he were still prime minister, "he doubted if Business Times would have used illegally obtained or leaked officially figures", an indication that even he thought Tharman had leaked the flash estimates. Twenty-two months passed before the breach of Official Secrets Act (OSA) was prosecuted, and Tharman was let off with a paltry $1,500 fine, an amount that would allow him to contest elections in future as a PAP candidate. Read all about the powerful backers and backroom maneuvering that saved his hide in Ross Worthington's "Governance In Singapore", pages 155 through 164.

Humility comes from the Latin word humilis, which literally means low. If you feel humility in front of someone, you feel small in the grand scheme of things, cognizant that things could have been done better. Sometimes a dose of humiliation (which makes you feel low in a bad way) is necessary for humility to come about. Question is, who's overdue for a lesson in humility?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Priceless Quotes

It's always fun when the prime minister has to face foreign journalists like CNN host and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria. Instead of the scripted and redacted "dialogue" with local media, there's always the expectant mee-siam-mai-hum moment that provides priceless peeks into the guy's psyche.

"And if we take the view that if you voted against me, I shall help you first, because that shows my largeness of spirit, then I think we will go extinct as a Government."  That should explain why his grassroots supporters were given free rein to scheme to get first bite of the steaks provided by the Australian High Commission. And ruin the Aussies' fine gesture of real hospitality.

Headgear fit for royalty
"But if you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system, people who are respected because they have earned that and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think society will lose out .." His horrible papa wanted to be feared, he wants to be worshipped. Maybe even Queen for a day.

"We worry all the time. People say we're paranoid, which I suppose we are.." Perpetual justification for fixing the opposition and what medical professor Paul Tambyah refers to as “minor players, such as a rude and insensitive teenager ... (and) the son of a chai tow kway seller who wrote 400 blog articles”. Obviously he's not getting the extra egg with his hawker fare serving that papa was accustomed to.

"It is not possible for us to codify in a set of statutes exactly what is permissible (and) what is not permissible conduct.” Confirmation that the shifting Out-of-Bound (OB) markers are now going down the slippery path to a lawless cowboy town. Rule by law is bad enough, but "flexible laws"?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sleep Deprivation Kills

It was close to midnight when we decided to hit the sack as a full day schedule was ahead. But the chairman with us at the Shanghai Sheraton bar said he will stay on  a bit longer, as sleep at his age is more difficult to come by. Either that, or the lithesome beauties in high slit cheongsams were better company than any found in dreamland.

A recently released report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that sleep deprivation was among the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used in CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Psychology Today is saying sleep deprivation is torture.

Although less overtly violent than slicing off someone’s anatomical part, sleep deprivation can cause problems with reading and speaking clearly, poor judgment, lower body temperature, and a considerable increase in appetite. If deprivation continues, the effects escalate to disorientation, visual misperceptions, apathy, severe lethargy, and social withdrawal. Researchers have used animals for ethical reasons to study the extreme limits of sleep deprivation, and the end result is always widespread physiological breakdown leading to death.

During sleep the immune system performs a host of vital regenerative functions, good reason why doctors always advise their patients to rest in bed. When a person is deprived of sleep, the immune system is unable to effect the healing process, necessary for recovery from sickness, injury, or trauma. Forcibly depriving a person of sleep is a direct assault on the entire biological system at the foundation of that person’s mind and body.

The instrument of choice at Whitley Road Detention was air-conditioning set at freezing temperatures, as survivors of the Marxist conspiracy trumped-up charges of 1987 will attest to. Maybe the tormentors are starting to feel guilty about contributing to the carbon footprint, and resorting to more energy conservation measures. As of 30-6-2015, Singapore is not listed among the states which have Ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

According to Amnesty International, Singapore also did not sign the following international agreements relating to human rights:
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951)
  • Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967)
  • Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1954)
  • Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961)
  • Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fair Dinkum, My Foot!

While Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong were photographed flipping steaks at one of the '50 BBQs' hosted by Singapore's Australian High Commission, netizens were flipping their lids over the hijacking of the Australian generosity. Not that there was not enough meat to go around, about 10,000 beef and lamb steaks were provided free-of-charge at 23 sites across the island.

Recognizing something not exactly fair dinkum was going on, the Aussies tried to sound a warning on their Facebook page:
"Many locations are ticketed by the People's Association to ensure there's enough food for all. But we've been told some spare coupons are set aside for those who just show up."

The reality on the ground was uglier than anticipated.
  • "We don't even know where to get the tickets because it wasn't stated we need to get the tickets. And now, like you said, tickets are all taken."
  • "Why wasn't this announced earlier that those ticketless residents from neighbouring estates were only entitled to leftovers from 8.30pm onwards? Disappointing."
  • "The idea was good but shame it ended up as an ugly spat between the haves and the haves-not."
  • "A fantastic initiative undermined by the ruthlessly mechanical PA machine rejecting all non invitees."
All the heated accusations against the People's Association of hogging tickets to divert them to their own supporters and denying access to non-members were not published in the local media. You can read about such horrible truths only in foreign media like the Sydney Morning Herald. This is how Australians see it in print: a fiery spat between Singapore locals and the ruling party's grassroots supporter base.