Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One More For The Road Ahead

Vying for the last blooper of the year - the other contender being the Downtown Line - the spanking new Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) won hands-down.

The breakdown of the new Downtown Line (DTL) on Friday 27 Dec was the second time DTL services have been disrupted since its official opening on 21 December 2013 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Purchased at a cost of $570 million the 73 DTL train sets were manufactured in Changchun, Jilin province, China. Operator SBS Transit is blaming a little girl for activating the detrainment door device and grinding the multimillion dollar system to a halt. They refused to release the incriminating CCTV footage, guarding it like a national security secret. They did admit that "the internal laminate of the metal cover which holds the detrainment door switch had debonded." Shoddy workmanship or quality assurance aside, the chap who signed off the acceptance inspection deserves the sack.

Thousands of motor vehicles were stuck in a 2-hour traffic snarl along the $4.3 billion MCE on the second day of operation yesterday. Reputedly the worst congestion was at the exit to Central Boulevard where the 10-lane superhighway turns into a 2-lane slip road.  LTA says it will "immediately" convert that stretch from 2- to 4-lanes, something that obviously did not cross their minds during the many months of road traffic planning. In this instance, LTA lays blame on the motorists for not being familiar with the new road configuration. Worse is to come. "If the traffic condition today was already so bad when half the working population in the Marina area is away on holiday, I think there will be chaos on Jan 2," dreaded one affected citizen. You don't even want to contemplate the horrors ahead when the population hits 6.9 million.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Fragile Peace

The ideliable image of overturned police cars at Little India has been etched into the annals of history. The rosy picture of peace as painted by politicians has been rudely rescinded. Noticeably, the target of the violence was the inanimate vehicles, not the human occupiers.

Violence need not be directly interpersonal, as in a clear case of one person hitting another person. Author Jack Eller has plenty of examples of the latter. From religious Crusaders proselytizing with a sword, to warring factions fixated on ethnic cleansing, humans always had an excuse to eradicate other humans. Even godly men were not spared by Communist fanatics in Russia, China and other Marxist systems in the early/mid-twentieth century. Stalin forbade any religious activities or instruction beyond basic religious services in sanctioned church buildings, and a 1931 five-year plan stipulated that the very notion of God will be expunged as a survival of the Middle Ages and an instrument of "holding down the masses". Marx fully expected religions would disappear; with humanity's material needs fufilled, people would no longer need a "pie in the sky" a.k.a. the "opium of the people".

Structural violence refers to less direct, more pervasive, and sometimes even intentional or at least"invisible" harm caused by the very arrangements and institutions of society. Paul Farmer takes the concept of structural violence to be:
"sinful social structures characterized by poverty and steep grades of social inequality, including racism and gender inequality. Structural violence is violence exerted systematically - that is, indirectly - by everyone who belongs to a certain social order: hence the discomfort these ideas provoke in a moral economy still geared to pinning praise or blame on individual actors. In short, the concept of structural violence is intended to inform the study of the social machinery of oppression."
(Paul Farmer,"An Anthropology of Structural Violence," Current Anthropology 45, no.3 (2004): 307)

Victims of structural violence can be patient for only so long. Even Gandhi's nonviolent movement saw some cracked heads. Kenneth Boulding (" Stable Peace", Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978), an expert of violence and nonviolence, explains that nonviolence has both positive and negative sides. Negative nonviolence is merely the cessation of violence: I am hitting you and I stop hitting you, we are now in a state of nonviolence, although you will still be in pain, neither of us may be happy, and no problems may have been resolved. Positive nonviolence is much more; he describes it as "a condition of good management, orderly resolution of conflict, harmony associated with mature relations, gentleness and love." Let's see what prevails in the coming year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Biting The Bullet

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan confirmed the existence of the housing bubble when he wrote on 22 Dec:
"Housing bubble and its inevitable bust bring huge misery to many... We cannot eliminate property cycle but we can try to keep bubbles less bubbly. This means taking away the punch bowl when the party is getting hot, much to the unhappiness of sellers and developers. But this is the right thing to do." The question that remains: is it too little, too late?

S'pore fell from
3rd to 7th place
Fund managers Shroeders and Baring Asset Management are advising clients to avoid Singapore like the plague. Real estate and financial companies account for 47 percent of the Straits Times Index (STI), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. STI was the worst performing developed market this year, dropping 9.5 percent since May. Heading the plunge were property firms like City Developments (down 25 percent) and Capitaland (down 18 percent). Even rentals for Orchard Road prime retail space told the same story, nosing downwards by 2.1 percent.

Dividends from real-estate investment trusts lose their shine when 10-year US bonds climbed to a two-year high in September. Many of the property buyers come from neighbours like Indonesia, but IMF has lowered the growth target for South-east Asia's biggest economy to 5 - 5.5 percent this year and the next, down from 6.2 in 2012. "There's no driver to spur investment interest in Singapore," said Baring Asset Management's head of Asian multi-asset strategy, "The recent penny stock crash isn't really helping." He was referring to the $8.6 billion wiped out by three commodity firms in October, which happened under the noses of watchdogs Monetary Authorty of Singapore (MAS) and Singapore Exchange. As usual, the investigation is taking place after the horses have bolted.

On the brighter side of things, Samsung has launched a new TV that responses to hand gestures. Just imagine, when your pet hate politician comes on screen, you can raise a middle finger, and he goes off in a poof. No need to wait for another by-election.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Taking The Easy Way Out

The first statement he issued on Dec 9 said it was an isolated incident arising from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident. Only once in 44 years, no big deal. Nevertheless Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong  directed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to convene a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to: (1) look into the factors that led to the incident, (2) check how the incident was handled on the ground, and (3) review the current measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate. On Dec 14, he explained why he left out (4), one of the possible causes of the riot being the eruption of pent-up tensions among foreign workers in Singapore.

Then there's the part that makes you wonder if the neurons in his cerebral cortex are misfiring: “The people who were involved in the riot were not from one company, or one dorm; (they were from) several dorms, many different companies, and it is unlikely that all the companies will have the same problem.” You don't need a degree from Cambridge or Oxford to deduce that since there were representatives from several dormitories and different companies that the problem is not isolated, but has to be island wide. Lee also blamed alcohol, also available island wide, provided in abundance at Clarke Quay watering holes and similar. Just count the number of liquor licences issued at Ang Moh havens.

After telling the COI what to write in their report, on 25 Dec, he specifically spells out what to leave out: the broader issues of whether social or population policies need to be re-thought. The sacred cow of Population White Paper will not be slayed.

“I do not accept that we must straight away ask whether fundamental approaches or the whole way our society is organised needs to be re-thought immediately,” he stubbornly insisted. His father said the same thing more or less when reminded of George Yeo's irritating suggestion of change, "And every defeat must be accompanied by a thorough rethink. But it does not mean a change in your basic values and policies." So much for "we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time". The apple does not fall far from the tree.

In a perverse way, it makes glorious sense. Why change when one has benefited immensely from the system? The COI has been a very effective rubber stamp, LTA spent $10 million on the COI hearing, and trains still break down. Even the brand new Circle Line had a disruption involving 23 out of 30 stations on Wednesday. And they can always shell out big bucks for a consultant to add a layer of authenticity. Hopefully not a $2 set up headed by an ex-member of parliament like what Chandra Das did to supply software for Teo Ho Pin's town councils.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Year In Images

Responding to questions on the by-election outcome of Saturday January 26, Ng Eng Hen haughtily dismissed the notion that the result is a report card of the ruling party's performance. Their candidate did perform to script: "Before (my wife and I) moved into our house, in our combined bank accounts... we had $11.50".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once said "People support CPF cuts because there are no protest (sic) outside the Parliament." From his perspective, the guys at Hong Lim green were just having a picnic.

Episode 7 of the Series 2 Idhayam Pesugirathu talk show demonstrated what a no holds barred National Conversation is really about.

The sex-for-grades trial was not just about a horny law professor. It was an invaluable insight how CPIB Deputy Director Teng Khee Fatt operates: "I stab you once, you die beautifully, legs straight up. But if you insist, I can stab you tens of times, and you die most horrendously."
Caught with records of wrong timings in his interrogation diary, he cavalierly dismissed the discrepancy with, "But this was the timing that was taken down by me during the time."

Man of the year Yaacob Ibrahim dismissed the backlash against the proposed news website licensing requirements in monetary terms as "just a banker's guarantee", arguing that no upfront payment is involved.

Forget about the alleged profiteering on face masks, what is really important is that one man's view was spoilt. Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook photo of the haze taken at the Istana, commenting: "The city in the distance is barely visible. We are all affected by the haze."

There's no CCTV footage or phone camera capture, so we can only speculate how the young life of Dinesh Raman was snuffed out.

The Attorney-General's Chambers decided not to proceed  with the contempt of court charges against cartoonist Chew in light of his apology and undertaking, "which he initiated".

It was supposed to be his show, so he didn't expect Aung San Suu Kyi to be quoted, "You can't expect everyone to agree with you, that is simply not possible... if you believe that what you are doing is good for the country, then you must be prepared to lose the next elections."

Father and son were allegedly barred from entering Sydney's Botanic Gardens because they were not Singaporeans. Irate people phoned 2GB radio talkback host Ben Fordham to complain that "white people" had been "turned away in droves" from the Singapore Day event. But they are welcomed with open arms in Singapore, leh.

Within the computing community, the primary meaning of hacker is a complimentary, not pejorative, label for a particularly brilliant programmer or technical expert, like Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux.

Enough said.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What We Need For Christmas

Tradition has it tonight is a good time to check the Christmas stocking. For those who have been good all year, they can expect it bulging with gifts galore. Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam had his present delivered early, to the back door of his Yew Tee branch office, a plastic bag of fecal matter. Instead of taking the message in good heart, he lashed out in righteous anger, "We have you in our sight." Santa will be taking notes.

When Dorothy was on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, she met the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion who each planned to ask the Wizard for a brain, heart, and courage respectively. I think we can write off heart and courage, for those who couldn't care less for the downtrodden and sneak into parliament regularly on the cowardly GRC ticket. They could be wishing for more brains, given the mess they made of deporting the Indian foreign workers so hastily.

Amazingly, Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah still maintains that due process had been given to the 57 foreign workers who were sent packing. Due process being "extensive interviews and investigation", none of which has been aired for third party inspection. The Minister says so, was sufficient input to put her brains in park mode. These guys may make sure they have their Amex cards with them when they leave home, but the gray matter can be probably left behind.

She's not alone, of course, even the Law Minister has stopped thinking and ignored the important fact that the Government has played judge, jury and executioner in deciding who should be (1) charged, (2) repatriated or (3) given advisories. Note those repatriated are not charged or issued advisories, suggesting they may not have committed any criminal wrong doing. If these legal eagles, and one beaver, had paused to think it through, they could have charged them for illegal assembly in groups exceeding five in number, and taken the sting off the human rights protestations. When you have seen the human queue in a typical day lining up to face the court for traffic offences, you will know it doesn't take too long to pronounce judgement on 57 hapless individuals.

Maybe the dirty secret is that they did not include brainpower in the request list for Santa. Thinking is hard work, better to just go with the flow like one ousted minister confessed. Anyway, they are too engaged laughing all the way to the bank to worry about the intricacies of law. And the option to repatriate without rhyme or reason may come in useful one day when the opposition gets too pesky.

Monday, December 23, 2013

No Need For Santa

Stung by the torrent of criticism for the incongruous self-portrait taken during the state funeral of Nelson Mandela - world statesmen are not supposed to behave like giggly teenagers, taking "selfies" on their mobile phones - Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt learnt her lesson and mercifully did not post the sacrilegious picture online. Meanwhile member of parliament (Tampines GRC) Baey Yam Keng is still picking his scab of the fifty cent rose syrup drink. The local rag also failed to recognise the social media gaffe and came up with a two page spread to add insult to injury.

What we are led to believe is that a new paradigm shift has hit Sin City. It's okay to bribe, and be bribed. From discounts for hair styling to extra fish balls, if you are a "celebrity", the "c" word doesn't apply. Television and film personalities were rolled put to be quoted as being bowled over by enthusiastic givers. Significantly, the female IT vendor who purportedly begged a top uniformed civil servant to receive her oral offering was not mentioned.

Someone had set the precedent way back in 1996:
"It is a fact of life. There is no way for me or my wife having to join a queue to buy a house."
"Even if all the units were sold, they will find one unit for me, surely, and they will compensate that man with a special price at the next best building that they put up. Or Mr Ng Teng Fong would not be Mr Ng Teng Fong. So too Mr Ong Beng Seng."
(Hansard, May 21, 1996, cols 196,197)

The American multi-national we worked for had a policy, no gifts to be accepted unless it bears the engraved logo or name of the donor company. The sales person said he will lose his job if he had to take the gold Longines watch back to his boss, eager to cement the "guanxi" for a potential multi-million dollar contract. Okay, we'll take it, we told him, but we will put it under the Christmas tree for the year end party lucky draw. We don't know what a certain minister does with the giant durian log cake delivered by Goodwood Hotel this time of the year; at Chinese New Year, the usual is a pineapple tart with the diameter of a personal pizza.

Not everyone has the EQ of popular actress Michelle Chong, "When hawkers want to treat me to free food or drinks, I will insist on paying because I think they don't earn much." It's the hypocrite politicians in white you have to be careful about.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Temperatures Rising

The Times of India has this report about family members of three men arrested in Singapore for alleged rioting accusing officials of external affairs ministry and Indian embassy in Singapore of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of their kin. Apparently officials refused to answer their calls or reply to petitions after informing them of their wards' arrest on December 12. Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi said he has yet to get a full report from the Indian high commissioner in Singapore about the situation.

One concerned father in particular, Chinnappa from Mallaiyur near Pudukkottai, said he tried calling the Indian embassy several times but no one attended to his calls. A number of Indian nationals were coralled after the conflagration on Sunday, of which 53 persons have been hastily deported. However, there is confusion since no official communication about the names of those arrested or to be deported has been released. The stone walling is in place.

Meanwhile, in a more civilised part of the world, US Secretary of State John Kerry  has expressed his regret over the way an Indian diplomat was treated when she was arrested in New York. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the transfer of diplomat Devyani Khobragade to India's Permanent Mission at the United Nations should grant her full-diplomatic immunity temporarily and protect her from any arrest in the US. The visa fraud complaint filed by the diplomatic security wing of the state department is still a legal case, but at least Khobragade will have her day in court. Kerry is planning to call on external affairs minister Salman Khurshid soon to discuss a way forward to the sudden eruption of tension between the two countries.

We may need the storm in a teacup, a.k.a. once in 40 years' occurrence in official parlance, to boil over before the protestations of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are given the light of day. An application to the High Court in relation to the deportation of Rajendran Ranjan may have been filed, one of 4 charged in court but subsequently had their charges withdrawn (wrongful arrest?), but one man is determined to draw blood. Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee spells it out: ".. because the persons who received the warnings, in this case, are foreigners... So they are then deemed as undesirable immigrants in our country. And then there are powers that the state has, to proclaim someone a prohibited immigrant and to remove him from the country.” Same guy who said "(ex-CNB chief) Boon Gay has been found not guilty… but certainly his acts are reprehensible.” His self righteous moralising is still ringing in our ears. Maybe when the Singapore embassy in India is picketed, he should be sent to the frontlines.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rude Reminder About Accountability

Award winning film "Fruitvale Station" (Grand Jury Prize at 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Best First Film at 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and others) is about the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident young man killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.

Oscar had just resolved to turn over a new leaf, throwing away a bag of marijuana instead of making a last sale even though he had just lost his job. On advice from his mother, he took the train instead of driving to the city to welcome the new year. He ran into bad company, resulted in a punch-up, and rounded up by over enthusiastic police officers. Producer Ryan Coogler expressed his motivation to make a film about Grant's last day, "I wanted the audience to get to know this guy, to get attached, so that when the situation that happens to him happens, it’s not just like you read it in the paper, you know what I mean? When you know somebody as a human being, you know that life means something." He succeeded.

The riot that followed the "accidental death" brought about the firing of the officers involved, the general manager and chief of BART police were sacked. Officer Mehserle claimed he mistook his revolver for his Taser, but the jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and sentenced him to 2 years in a state penitentiary.

Several witnesses had recorded documentary evidence of the incident at the train station with their cameras and cell phones. There was no such footage to record the last minutes of another young man's life. To date, nobody knows exactly how Dinesh Raman was pummeled into unconsciousness by eight Changi prison guards. Or whether they knew him as a human being, not just another punching bag.

The shirking of accountability is system wide. The damaged cable that disrupted Circle Line operation on Wednesday night is blamed on a contractor when the power-cable replacement is an ongoing exercise initiated by Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) in January this year. The same SMRT that is applying for a hike in train fare when it can't even keep it running on schedule. It looks like a Lt Col Lieutenant-General is doing no better than a DFS salesgirl. SMRT is not running into red ink, the net profit for three months ending September was $14.3 million on revenue of $296 million, not exactly small potatoes. Here's an idea for trimming operating costs: ship the expensive army gang out together with the 53 foreign workers being deported.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Enemy Within The Gates

The bearded Iranian we met on the campus of the University of Western Australia was telling us how they faced off the Shah of Iran's personal body guards. And he wasn't talking about planting a flower in their rifle barrel. He was lobbing molotov cocktails. There's a joke about the boring city, that in event of World War III breaking out, Perth would be the last peaceful city on earth. Reflecting on his macho talk, we wondered how he ended up a student in Australia. And whether he later became one of Ayatollah Khomeini's hostage takers featured in "Argo" the movie. As far as we can recollect, terrorism 101 was not an elective.

Pulitzer Prize winner Sydney Schanberg, he of "Killing Fields" fame, was in Dacca to report on the violent birth of Bangladesh - Bengali for Bengal Nation - when he wrote in one of his dispatches:
"Bengali youths, who just over three months ago were exultantly marching through the streets and shouting their slogans of defiance at the military regime, now talk in whispers, slipping up to foreign newsmen for a few seconds to murmur some information about a massacre, the murder of a family member or the destruction of a village."

Some of those youngsters could be in our midst right now. Desperate men who, armed only with sticks, spears and home-made rifles, have battled the West Pakistani military equipped with planes, bombs, tanks and heavy artillery. Compared to their war scars, Little India was a walk in the park.

We are also housing Cambodians who survived the "agrarian revolution" of the Khmer Rouge and experienced the brutal dictatorship of Hun Sen and his murderous security police. Burmese who may have confronted the military junta who locked up prominent human rights activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, fortunate to survive an assassination attempt. Pinoys who may have marched on the long stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, more commonly known by its acronym EDSA, in support of the People Power Revolution that unseated Ferdinand Marcos. Thais who could be rooting for their home team in the streets of Bangkok.

That's quite a toxic mix in our melting pot, sanctioned by the Population White Paper. No wonder our firemen turned tail and reversed their vehicle in a hurry, ramming a police car long abandoned by equally terrified cops.

A fifth column is a group of people who undermine a larger group, such as a nation or a besieged city, from within. In the United States at the end of the 1930s, as involvement in the European war loomed, those who feared the possibility of betrayal from within used the newly coined term "fifth column" as shorthand for sedition and disloyalty. If Yaacob Ibrahim is paranoid about cyber warriors, he and the trigger happy "keechiu" general may wish to expand their horizon to scan for real trouble from within our shores.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Special Deals Rehashed

Baey Yam Keng's muddled "explanation" of how he was charged $2.50 for nasi padang - which was magically repriced to $3.70 at a subsequent visit - is proof the man is a walking PR disaster. The stink he stirred up must smell worse than the bunched-up diaper he came across near the block where he conducts his weekly Meet-the-People sessions. Armed with the used diaper, he reportedly climbed 12 storeys and knocked on doors of 11 units in Block 444 Tampines Street 42, hell bent on nabbing the culprit who dared toss crap in his way. He was not successful. "I think we managed to identify which unit was the culprit. Without concrete evidence, I could only warn the maid not to do so. Hope that will born home the message," wrote the former managing director of Hill & Knowlton. Writing skill, you may note, is not exactly his forte.

But he did succeed in reminding folks about the extra egg Lee Kuan Yew once claimed he deserves in his hawker fare, and how tailors would fall head over heels trying to clothe him. Lee was standing before parliament, defending his bruised public image.

On April 23 1995, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had released a statement confirming they had received "unsolicited" discounts of between 5% and 12% for unlaunched units at Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 condominiums both had purchased. Shortly after, the duo announced they would treat the discounts as unsolicited gifts and "give them to the government".

The Lees' first statement came a day after the condominium developer, Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL), was whacked with a stinging rebuke from the Stock Exchange of Singapore. The watchdog SES said HPL had withheld details of discounts granted to a board director, Lee Suan Yew, younger brother of the Senior Minister, and to the wife of another director. The stock authority said that while HPL had not apparently broken any laws, it "was not forthcoming in responding to the Exchange's requests for information." Rules under the SES Manual Listing stated that approval had to be sought for transactions involving "connected persons" of the company involved and those persons' associates. HPL did not seek the permission of its shareholders.

Here's how defiant the elder Lee can be when he demands his due: "There is no way - and I say this with some sympathy for the young aspiring professional or young executives - for them to have the same value to a seller of a product as a well-known public figure or a sports star or a TV star... Let me illustrate in my own small way.  My being me helped me get, if you like, the inside track and special treatment. ..." (Hansard, May 21, 1996, cols 190-91, 196).

Baey's version of "my being me helped" is rephrased "out of respect for my work and service in the community". It is difficult to imagine the respect he garnered while banging on doors with an odoriferous diaper in hand and challenging baby sitters to own up to killer litter. Undeterred by his major fail in social media, he is now moving on to uttering crap in print media. Speaking at the launch of Safe Clubbing Campaign, Baey said there were 13 cases of rioting this year, an increase of 3 from previous.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Having Fun With English

No board member was harmed in the production of the Singtel fire
Singapore has its own flavour of the English Language, best understood by locals as Singlish. Then again, even the unretouched words sometimes bear little semblance to the original meaning in the Queen's English.

The three independent members of Singtel's board comprising the committee of inquiry looking into the October fire at an Internet-exchange room concluded that the cause was human error, and not systemic failure. Maybe board member Bobby Chin could explain why the present system allows for hot-work in a enclosed space with no provision for automatic fire suppression. Blame the small fry, not the board, that has to be the system. The lead seal had to be melted to change out the cables at Bukit Panjang cable chamber, a company wide standard practice probably still being carried out at other Singtel Internet-exchanges across the island. The telco will switch its blameless error-free system only by the end of next year.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) is playing similar games when it is demanding to know who exactly will own and run the different iterations of a socio-political website. The Breakfast thingy had already pulled down its shutters, rather than submit to ridiculously onerous registration undertakings "meant to guard against foreign funding". You can almost anticipate MDA's arguments against operating on Facebook or Twitter. In the case of former, Mark Zuckerberg could be construed as funding the alternate iteration of the website. Unless, of course, Facebook starts to charge users for operating their accounts. The madness won't end here.

Notice the lady being hounded has a personal blog with a name resembling a local newspaper. Even when MDA finishes with the sledge hammer - or borrow the blow torch from the Singtel fire-starter veteran of 30 years - on the Facebook or Twitter presence, you can bet lawyers' letters of demand will be flying through slow mail to allege copyright infringement of the Berita Harian banner.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Urban Legends

Myth #1: Aiming at Wrong Direction
The author, Colin Smith, debunks the myth that Singapore was lost because the guns were pointing the wrong way. Three 15-inch guns of the Johore battery at Changi - so named because Sultan Ibrahim of Johore paid for their upkeep - swiveled 180 degrees to fire at Yamashita's troops moving down the main road to Bukit Timah area, well within their 21-mile range. The armour piercing projectiles were meant to disembowel warships, but they could make holes bigger than suburban swimming pools, and much deeper.

Myth #2: Foreign Workers are Dumb
Han Fook Kwang - de facto ghostwriter of all those Lee Kuan Yew books - disabused all and sundry holding common misconception that foreign workers are illiterate and poorly educated. He tells of a student conducting a survey who was surprised when the construction worker interviewed read out the form in good English and filled up the questionnaire on his own. It's not lack of intelligence that compels a welder to accept $400 a month, it's the exploitation of labour by merciless agents, unscrupulous employers, and bureaucrats who turn a blind eye to rampant wrong doings for the "greater good" of economic growth.

Myth #3: Happiness Causes Riots
At an Asean summit meeting in Tokyo, Lee Hsien Loong said unhappiness among foreign workers did not trigger the Little India riot, "There is no tension, there is no sense of grievance or hardship or injustice". The riot was spontaneous and localised, with signs that alcohol was a factor, he insisted, making you wonder why he called for a Committee of Inquiry (COI) when he already had all the answers. Or why he chose to announce that “a substantial number of dormitories will be built over the next two to three years” to better house foreign workers. Or "We have to make sure they are well treated, they are paid properly on time, their safety is taken care of, their living conditions are up to standard, and they are given full protection of the law.” Seems an awful lot of work needed to be done for a group that's perfectly happy and contented. Maybe he's simply recycling his "we’re sorry we didn’t get it exactly right, but I hope you’ll understand and bear with us" speech.

According to government statistics, about a quarter of the country’s 5.4 million people are transient workers, compared to a tenth in 1990. The unhappy people on the Internet are expressing the contrarian view that sentiments of discontent have been simmering among both Singaporeans and workers in Singapore for some time now, and the lid might finally blow off, setting up what Shanmugan imagined as "(there is a) possibility of copycat acts."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Done Deal

The script accompanying the Reuters video ran like this:
"Lockheed Martin released video of the F-35 joint striker fighter jet successfully performing a weapons test with a guided bomb. The video shows the aircraft releasing Guided Bomb Unit-32, or GBU-32, from its internal weapons bay at 25,000 feet above a military range in California's Mojave Desert on December 6. The GBU-2 hit its intended target of eight stacked cargo containers."

Maybe the wrong video was used, because after the smoke had cleared, the eight 40-footers are still intact. Then again, the pilot could have been aiming at something else. It happens.
"There, at an army firing range (in the sultanate of Brunei), the much-touted Singapore-made weapons were being demonstrated for accuracy, reliability and versatility, at some stage of which both the father(LKY) and son(LHL) participated. Peter Lim reported the prime minister had scored direct hits with the weapons whereas his soldier-son had "wash-outs." The embarrassed general disputed the report claiming that he had tried for a more difficult target behind the target in question."
("The Media Enthralled, Singapore Revisited", Francis Seow, page 117)

So we have a brigadier general who can't shoot straight. We also have a guy who professed a "more open-minded interpretation of the Koran" as Minister for Muslim Affairs. But why is a medical doctor - once a surgical oncologist in private practice at Mount Elizabeth Hospital from 1997 to 2001 - making the decision to buy a US$161 fighter jet? Winslow Wheeler, from the Project on Government Oversight and a longtime U.S. Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) official, is saying, “The true cost of the airplane — when you cast aside all the bullshit — is US$219 million or more a copy, and that number is likely to go up.”

Sure, Ng had with him the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) chief Major-General Hoo Cher Mou at the show and tell in Arizona. Hoo also happens to be the first non-pilot to be appointed as Chief of Air Force. Maybe both Ng and Hoo had extensive experience assembling Airfix plastic kits of model aeroplanes.

Like a kid unboxing presents on Christmas Day, Ng tried on the F-35B's pilot helmet, with the heads up displays and iPad type controls, and mounted a ladder to smell the new leather in the cockpit. Ng concluded, "The F-15s will serve us but we are evaluating the F-35s seriously." Seriously, that has to be the Brompton bike sickness all over again: why be satisfied with a US$31 million F-15 (flyaway cost, 1998) when you can splurge US$161 million on a F-35 with no government oversight committee to bother with?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Don't Drink To That

A minister's conjecture that it is "plausible that alcohol consumption was a contributory factor" to a bloody Sunday is no excuse for a dry Christmas. Try that discriminatory weekend ban on alcohol at Clarke Quay, and be prepared for another close encounter of an angry kind.

Alcohol don't cause riots, people cause riots. Specifically, unhappy people who take it out on the establishment, especially those representatives in uniform with a history of selective bullying and abuse. And guys who blog about it aren't always unhappy, they are just waiting to uncork the champagne bottle when the day of reckoning dawns.

What did the Bard say in Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3?
"Drink sir, is a great provoker of three things... nose painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire but takes away the performance."
Just ask the ladies, women and alcohol don't mix. Our top cops from the SCDF and CNB probably were stone cold sober when they rose to the occasion to receive female gratification in parked vehicles. No wonder there was no alibi offered for being "under the influence".

Excess consumption of alcohol does have its effects. One time we were guests of the brewery at Tuas, where they have free beer on tap. As in a direct line to the manufacturing process. After 4 (or was it 5) glasses of their finest product, the face turned greenish. The helpful host suggested a good lager should reverse the chemical reaction. The result was a mad dash to "drive the porcelain bus". People can be cruel.

Not all drinking buddies are out to do you in. Mates in Australia recommend a good chunder as essential preparation for the next beer challenge. Bonds are built that way.

It's not the same with those characters drunk with power. People who talk about repression and making love in the same paragraph,
"... it is easier the second time. The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked in this course, with  constant repetition, you get more and brazen in the attack and in the scope of the attack."
If the guy in charge can treat the act of procreation as a violent initiative, it figures why there is a chronic shortage of babies. What he really needed was a stiff drink, check with Willy Shakespeare.

And then there's the mini-George Patton waging all out war on the "lunatic fringe". When he goes berserk with his blood and guts mimic of a Bavarian corporal, you can bet he's referring to our blood and not his guts.  Don't look at North Korea for a psychopathic type leader who "prances around stadiums seeking adulation", they have anointed one right here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remembering December 8

Bad things do happen on December 8, not just in Little India, and some events of historical note include:

1941 - Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941 (December 8 in Japan) led to the United States' entry into World War II.

1949 - Chiang Kai-shek and his remaining Chinese Nationalist Party (known as the Kuomintang or KMT) forces fled the Chinese mainland and moved to the island of Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted people critical of his rule in a period known as the "White Terror".

1962 - Sheik A.M. Azahari of nationalist Partai Rakyat Brunei (PRB) mounted a failed coup in Brunei, after the Sultan of Brunei ignored the election results of August 1962 to press forward with his own pro-federation policy .

1963 - 3 fuel tanks exploded when Pan Am Flight 214, a Boeing 707-121 registered as N709PA, was en route from Baltimore to Philadelphia, when it crashed near Elkton, Maryland after being hit by lightning, killing all 81 on board.

1980 - John Lennon was shot in the back four times by Mark David Chapman at the entrance of his New York apartment in the Dakota. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman.

1987 - Occupied Palestinians start First Palestinian Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation which lasted from December 1987 to 1993.

1994 - China's deadliest fire in 15 years at the Friendship Hall cinema in Karamay killed more than 310, most of them children performing and watching a cultural show, unable to escape because all but one of the doors were padlocked and the iron bars blocked the windows.

2012 - Philippine President Benigno Aquino, announced a state of national calamity after Typhoon Bopha claimed over 450 lives, the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit Mindanao, making landfall as a Category 5 super typhoon with winds of 175 mph (280 km/h).

Depending on whether you find housing really affordable in Singapore, you may wish to add one more:

1952 - Minister Khaw Boon Wan was born in Penang, Malaysia. Best remembered as the guy who paid just $8 for a bypass surgery, all because he had signed up for the MediShield scheme. Also suggested that Singaporeans can consider sending their elderly parents to nursing homes in Johor Bahru in Malaysia, which are more affordable to lower-income Singaporeans. And defended National Parks Board's (NParks) purchase of Brompton foldable bikes for its officers because "the decision on the foldable bikes could be justified."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reading The Riot Act

Our Norwegian chairman landed in Shanghai ahead of schedule because of a change in flight plans. We telephoned the Sheraton for the hotel limousine to be dispatched earlier than requested. While explaining our request at the airport information counter, several taxi drivers waiting for fares offered their services. They could not understand why we would want to wait for a more expensive ride, and voiced their questions aloud in their characteristic high mainland Chinese volume. The Norwegian was a seasoned sea going captain and had called on Chinese ports many times in his shipping career, but it was his first time ashore, amidst a boisterous group of noisy Chinamen. His fair complexion turned a whiter shade, wondering when they will turn on us for being stubborn. Such is the experience when one is outnumbered by foreigners.

You don't have to be in Little India to feel like a minority. Go to Lucky Plaza, and be magically transported to Makati, Manila, where you can have your halo-halo dessert instead of chendol. Wander into Peninsula Plaza, and find yourself surrounded by shops with signage in quaint Burmese script, offering exotic products and services. Vietnamese comprise 27 per cent of the population in postcode 2166, Sydney's southwestern suburb of Cabramatta, and Beach Road, Singapore, seems destined to bear semblance of such a build up. Geylang is no longer just a Red-light Designated Area (RDA), it is also a place where PRCs are fast dominating the eating houses.

At what point in a suburb's development does the presence of a demographic group stop being cultural diversity and start being an enclave? In "Hard Truths", the question was asked: Singapore has allowed so many foreigners in, in a fairly short time, for economic and demographic reason. How do we balance that with the social costs that are becoming quite obvious? The callous answer provided:
"Well, there's a sense of discomfort. Suddenly you hear a different twang when they speak in Mandarin or you hear Indians speaking not Tamil but Hindi and they look somewhat different, and sometimes very different. It's unavoidable."

We can also surmise that the conflagration at Little India was unavoidable. All we need is a little spark for the melting pot to transform into a cauldron boiling over. Accidents are a common feature in our congested city, even little old ladies get run over by reversing public vehicles at bus interchanges. There's more to the eye in the Sunday night flare up.
"People destroy out of frustration (the frustration-aggression hypothesis). When people find they cannot achieve their goals as something is blocking them, they become frustrated. Among young men this frustration is expressed through anger and violence and in extreme cases, rioting. When people feel that the world is screwing them over, they lash out at the world. Years of built up humiliations and failures form into resentment and alienation. This last point is crucial; alienation means people no longer feel attached society. They feel that society has done nothing for them so they no longer feel any responsibility towards other members of society."
("What Causes Riots", Thanks, anon at 12/10/2013 12:16 AM)

What we don't need in a high tension environment is loose talk by bigoted individuals reading the riot act indiscriminately. Chiam See Tong spoke for all of us when he challenged Chan's war cry, “do battle everywhere as necessary” and not concede physical and cyber space to get their message across. Chiam calmly asked, "Will the Minister similarly apologise for stating his intention to do battle against the voices of the people?"

Monday, December 9, 2013

What A Riot Looks Like

When the People's Action Party gathered the troops last weekend to "forge the way forward", few would imagine they had intended to reflect on their party Secretary General's last minute promise at General Election 2011, the part that said "we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time". Not when the real guy in charge still thinks like this:
Q: There was talk during and after the general election about how the PAP has to transform itself.
A: No, who's talk was it?
Q: George Yeo was one of those making the comment.
A: No, no. George Yeo lost. And every defeat must be accompanied by a thorough rethink. But it does not mean a change in your basic values and policies.
("One Man's View of the World", page 214, 215)

Instead of reflection and repentance, Major General "keechiu" Chan Chun Sing tuned up his rabble rousing rhetoric. Making mockery of Winston Churchill's famous war cry, Chan inveighed against the unconverted and unconvinced, "We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers - to fight to get our message across at every corner - every street corner, every cyberspace corner, be it in the mass media or in the social media".

The key difference is that, as a young army officer, Churchill saw action in British India, The Sudan, and the Second Boer War. So his words had bite when he spoke at the darkest hour of the Battle of Britain, "... we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

And where were the rhetoric masters when Little India burst into flames? The carnage that started at 9.30 pm on Sunday night involved a mob of 400, damage to several private vehicles, 5 police cars and one ambulance set afire. The other general, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin, rushed to man his keyboard, probably contemplating choice of words: is this a real riot (first in Singapore in decades), or an illegal gathering exceeding 5 persons? Oh, they sent the Gurkha Contingent out to handle the unruly, our boys in blue are more acquainted with manhandling docile Singaporeans.

"They may throw stones at you, they may attack you, they may work against you but we stand firm." The speaker was obviously nowhere near the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road where the projectiles were more deadly than alleged cyber attacks. If he was, he would have been crapping his lily white pants. Trust the Secretary General to cap it all with irony, "Don't worry, the PAP will  take care of everything, quite safe."
Clearing vehicle blocking access of ambulance

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 Jul 1918 – 5 Dec 2013)

Nelson Mandela, champion of the fight against white domination who faced up to the repressive apartheid government of South Africa, died yesterady at the age of 95. Well remembered for his passionate belief in humanity, he is equally renowned for his ability to motivate millions with his words. On subject of civil society, he was quoted saying:

“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.” —International Press Institute Congress, 1994

Try explaining to the guys mangling the constitution for their own ends. Their interpretation of the constitutional right of free speech and expression is that it is limited by the necessity of protecting reputations of both private and public individuals. You know they are clutching at straws when they lump the judiciary with plastic surgeon Woffles Wu, who so obviously eluded a more severe penalty for breaking the law. Whatever happened to the laws of defamation and libel available for the protection of the private, or public, individual wrongly maligned? Lee Kuan Yew used them quite effectively, some will even say profitably, whenever he felt his reputation was in danger of being tarnished. And the judiciary was, rightly so, always maintained at arm's length.

Interviewed on Larry King Live, May 16, 2000, Mandela said, “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists."

Mandela spent 27 years behind bars,  first on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. His record is broken by Chia Thye Poh, imprisoned for 23 years without charge or trial and subsequently placed under conditions of house arrest for another 9 years, during which he was first confined to the island of Sentosa and then subject to restrictions on his place of abode, employment, travel, and exercise of political rights. All because he disagreed with their definition of a "communist". Mandela had a better deal with P.W. Botha, the "Great Crocodile", the snarling embodiment of death and destruction in the apartheid era of white minority rule.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Navy's New Toys

RSS Challenger
In 1995 the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) bought its first Challenger class submarine (RSS Challenger) from the Swedish Navy, which was quickly followed by another three (RSS Conqueror, Centurion and Chieftain) in 1997. As all the submarines were designed by the Swedish for operations in the Baltic Sea, extensive modifications were required make them serviceable for   tropical waters.
Challenger class specifications:
Length: 51 meters
Beam: 6.1 meters
Crew: 28
Max Speed: 16 knots
Displacement: 1,130 tonnes

RSS Archer
In 2005, two Archer class submarines were acquired. RSS Archer was launched in Sweden in 2009, RSS Swordsman 2010. RSS Archer was declared operational in 2011, RSS Swordsman was declared "battle-ready" on April 2013. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, officiating at latter's "coming out" ceremony,  said it marked the end of RSN's 8 year journey to replace some of the Challenger-class submarines.
Archer class specifications:
Length: 60.5 meters
Beam: 6.1 meters
Crew: 28
Max Speed: 15 knots
Displacement: 1,400 tonnes

With AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) and state-of-the-art sensors, the Archers are more capable than Indonesia's HDW 209s and Malaysia's non-AIP Scorpenes. They are also superior to Australia's non-AIP Collins SSKs. On March 2013, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen basically said the same thing about the ageing Challenger-class coming to the end of their operational lifespan and due for replacement by the two Archers.

Israeli Navy's ISN Dolphin
Then the 3 Dec 2013 press release from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems confirmed the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) purchase of two brand new HDW 218SGs from the German submarine maker, a contract estimated at 1 billion euros (S$1.7 billion). ST Electronics,  part of the ST Engineering group, will co-develop the Combat System with Atlas Elektronik GmbH, one of the companies under investigation for paying bribes totaling $24 million to Greek government officials to acquire U-boat contracts.

AIP Dolphin 2 class specifications:
Length: 68 meters
Beam: 7.0 meters
Crew: 35
Max Speed: 20 knots
Displacement: 2,300 tonnes

The 218SG will probably be a modified version of the Dolphin 2 Class submarines developed and constructed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW) for the Israeli Navy. Rumor has it that that Israel has tested a nuclear-capable version of its medium-range “Popeye Turbo” external link cruise missile design for deployability from the 650mm torpedo tubes in its Dolphin Class submarines. Is this how the little red dot intends to join the nuclear arms race?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

But Risks Remain

Now we know why they were so eager to hand out the bonuses. The members of parliament had an extra $15,000, but the jiak-liao-bee hoarding the Istana like his personal fiefdom pocketed another $250,000 - and that's a conservative estimate based on an annual stipend of $3 million. Never mind the if economy is going to tank.

The (usually) unflappable Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is rolling out the scary words: ensuring stability and sustainability. MAS warned not only about the home loans - accounting for three quarters of total household and liabilities - which could be a significant source of risk. Small and medium enterprises may be exposed to greater jeopardy given the uneven recovery in the demand for their goods and services. With the US starting to wind down its monthly bond-buying programme from next year, the low interest environment will soon go the way of the dodo bird. Interest rates in Singapore could rise, to as much as 7%.

The really scary bit is the MAS warning about "credit quality deterioration", since the banks have expanded cross-border lending. Apparently the gross flow for funds between Singapore and China has grown by 85% since 2008. China, which was previously a net lender to Singapore, is now a net borrower from Singapore. Here's how MAS paints it: "Cross-border banking activity may carry greater currency mismatch risk than intra-country lending... Sharp or prolonged depreciation of domestic currencies may weaken borrowers' capacities to repay such foreign currency denominated loans." Fortunately, we have legions of "Ah Long" operators who are experienced in collecting bad debts. We just have to fly them over with cans of red paint to send the appropriate message: O$P$.

One local bank assures us that, although overseas lending had increased by more than 20% in the past five years, domestic lending continues to account for the bulk of outstanding loans. The local scenario is more likely to produce the perfect storm, a concurrent erosion of household net wealth and double whammy of higher debt-servicing costs. Meanwhile, the party goes on.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

End Of The Dream

Three months ago, a colleague had to downgrade from his pride-of-joy condominium possession to a humbler HDB abode. After a life time of work, he was back where most Singaporeans started off with, a pigeon hole in the sky. The story is familiar, he had to finance his son's overseas education, the limited places in the local university are still being parcelled out to foreigners, some on gratis basis.

He sold at his asking price. The surprise was when he bought without having to shell out for cash over valuation (COV). The eager seller even allowed a further discount. Turns out chap had committed on a town house, and was in hurry for available cash. One man's folly is another man's fortune.

The mainstream media has confirmed the trend. Average application rate for BTO flats has declined from 5.3 in 2010 to 2.9 this year. BTO application rate for second timers was 2.4, way down from 25.9 in November 2011. Well done, Mr Khaw, who wrote, "We have cleared the backlog young families buying their first flats." Why then, is the Minister for National Development planning to slow down the supply of flats from next year?

Earlier in June, Khaw cited excuses claiming the increase of supply was "not sustainable", and it could slow down after 2015 to prevent a glut in the market. And they still maintain a 6.9 million population is "sustainable", with all the invasive glut from the foreign crowd. Plus, the Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy even suggested Singapore can fit 8 million people. Whatever Dr Parag Khanna is smoking, has to be good hash.

This has to be a re-hash of the asset enhancement Kool-Aid dispensation. This is how the old man still sees it:
"But Singaporeans have also made great gains from their properties. If they believe property is overpriced and that prices will eventually go down, the option of cashing out is available to them. You can sell your house, rent in the interim and wait for prices to fall. If you believe prices are going to stay up, then you hold on to it. It is ultimately a question of confidence in a particular country or in the political system that is is run on."
("One Man's View", circa 2013, page 271)

That's easy to say for someone with a bungalow (or two), couple of condominium units bought at special discount from friends in property development, and millions in the bank to spare. The average lesser mortal has only options to move down, and in extreme cases, to the tent city at Changi beach or the void deck. BTW, that colleague is hoping his son will graduate, get a job, secure a Green Card, and hopefully ship the whole family over. Now that's "confidence in a particular country".

Monday, December 2, 2013

Is Cyber City Burning?

It was definitely open season for online citizens last week. Anyone with an opinion stood the risk of being targeted and taken down. For the hunters, it was like a field day for mosquitoes at a nudist beach. Brings back to mind an old Cold War joke:
American: In America we have freedom of speech.
Russian: In Russia, we also have freedom of speech.
American: In America, we have freedom even after the speech.

The first foray came from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), unleashing a dastardly duo from their stable of attack dogs to cast calumny over a fair damsel's Facebook post. Adrian Tay (Editor, AsiaOne) and Chua Chim Kang (Chief Editor, Lianhe Wanbao) must be shooting for another of those SPH self-congratulating awards, “Gutter Journalism at its Finest”. Tay and Chua mastered the strategy well, destroy first, apologise later. Just you try asking if Yaacob Ibrahim's wife and two kids are currently in possession of American passports.

Then we hear the Media Development Authority (MDA) has called in suppressing fire on a fledgling website, demanding it to “register” by Dec 10. Unlike Yahoo and 9 other news sites who had to obtain a "license" and plunk down a $50,000 deposit, MDA says this requirement is "just a declaration” to confirm there will be no receipt of foreign funding. Putting on their best poker face, MDA insists the registration was an “interim measure”, the real hard act to follow will be the forthcoming review of the Broadcasting Act.

Next, heavy artillery was lobbed from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC). On Wednesday, the High Court gave AGC permission to summon a blogger to court for alleged contempt in one of his postings in October. The AGC action may just torpedo Singapore’s commitment to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, adopted on 18 November 2012. Article 23 clearly states,
“Every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice."
Watcha gonna do? Sue the AGC?

Meanwhile, the Australian writer who "took a leave of licence and liberty in mentioning Singapore in rather tenuous circumstances" was spared official sanction. Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam says the Republic does not come out "to confirm or deny" any (foreign) reports on allegations that the Republic was helping Western nations to spy on its neighbours, namely the Malaysians and Indonesians.  Mr Shanmugam said: "The point is -- the Indonesians and Malaysians know we won't do anything to harm their interests"; the big guns are always pointing at our own citizens. Still, their ambassadors had to have their pound of flesh, both hauled in the Singapore representative for a proper dressing down. Depending on the changing winds of politics, the roaring lion sure knows when to play the meek mouse.

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?