Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Now For The Real News

Thanks to an app from RecordTV , anyone with internet access can follow the live coverage of the AirAsia developments direct from Indonesian television stations such as Kompas TV. Instead of being misled by the crap from our own mainstream media. Channel NewsAsia (CNA) actually had a Facebook post stating that Flight QZ8501 landed safely at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Lee Hsien Loong may jabber on about the need to be a "smart nation", using the latest technology to benefit the country and keep abreast of leading cities such as Shanghai, San Francisco and Sydney. Look no further than Malaysia, where the humblest of dwellings, the attap hut built on stilts, has an ubiquitous satellite dish from Astro.

When Singtel had its fire at the Bukit Panjang Exchange on 9 October 2013, damaged optical fibre cables severed telecommunication services in the northern and western parts of Singapore. The residential users, government agencies, businesses and financial institutions cut off from internet access could have had a fallback option from the satellite option, if satellite dishes for private use are not banned.

The jackass who made that dumb decision was probably trying to make sure Singaporeans hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. And stay daft and shielded from the truth out there. Looks like Rip van Winkle is still sleeping, not realizing that blocking news access is no longer viable. The talking heads going on about the "clash of views" attribute growing dissident voices to the "maturing of society"; the reality is that opposing views were always there, it's the floodgate of communication lines that have been opened. And the strident voices will be louder in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Finger Pointing

While our hearts go out to those whose loved ones were onboard the ill fated AirAsia QZ8501, those capitalising on the media frenzy to promote themselves deserve utter scorn. Keechiu, if you concur.

In Indonesia, someone is holding the country's Transport Ministry accountable for the disaster. Perhaps it has to do with the refusal for the plane to ascend to a higher altitude - pilot had asked permission to climb to 38,000ft (11,000m) to avoid thick storm clouds. Whatever, opposition politician Syafullah Tamliha put the blame squarely on Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan, "The Ministry of Transport is responsible." If President Joko Widodo weren't still in his honeymoon phase, he'd probably get a tight slap from the co-driver too.

Here at home, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is not held responsible for the rat infestation at Bukit Batok. Not a squeak from him, the loquacious debater with a propensity for pointing fingers at the ceiling.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew is not held responsible for the latest incident at the Circle Line. Affected commuter fumed : "We were distressed, trapped in a smoke-filled train and had no knowledge of what had happened or what to do."

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan is not held responsible for maintaining inflated public housing prices, writing in his blog, "The shift is not yet complete and 2015 should see greater stability."

Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean is not held responsible for the PR gaffe of policemen cuffing a subdued child. Not a single individual was handcuffed during the night of the Little India riot.

That's the difference between Indonesia and Singapore.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dangerous Criminals In Singapore

What a pic to round the year off.

Ms Ang, a volunteer for children's development needs, commented on her photo of 3 boys, aged 9 to 12 years old, being arrested for theft on a Saturday morning (Dec 27): “Pains my heart that the police (would) handcuff young kids.”

Amolat Singh, a criminal lawyer, had this to add: “We don't see such things happening very often in Singapore, so when I heard and saw this photo, naturally it was quite shocking.”

What really takes the cake is this dumb statement from the highly esteemed Singapore Police Force (SPF): “The subjects were handcuffed for the safety of them and others as they had attempted to escape before police’s arrival.”

By safety, they must mean the danger of being shot by a trigger happy cop, or pinned to the ground with a positional asphyxiation inducing choke hold like Dinesh Raman was. Any CCTV camera within range would naturally be under maintenance or conveniently out of order, as in the Mas Selamat episode.

This is surely a fitting going away present from departing Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee, 48, who will be replaced by current Deputy Commissioner of Investigations and Intelligence, Hoong Wee Teck, 51, on January 6 next year. Ng, if you recall, said he signed on as a police officer 29 years ago mainly to get a freebie scholarship to study at Oxford University. Who gives a damn if a 9 year old kid will be traumatised for the rest of his life by the cold steel of a SPF handcuff?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Public Health Concerns Unaddressed

South West District problem migrated to Bukit Batok
Call it the Christmas Eve discount. Yesterday, the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was fined $800 for allegedly holding a festive trade fair without a permit, instead of the maximum $1,000.

District Judge Victor Yeo ruled that Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act created a strict liability offence, and therefore Section 18 of the Town Councils Act did not obviate the need for the town council to obtain a permit. Sounds remarkably like cherry picking the laws of the land to suit the flow of the tide. Second guessing the sentiments of the dominant political party in force, he speculated that it could not have been Parliament's intention for town councils to be exempted from the licensing laws of the land. Why not put the question to Parliament?

Gloating on the Pyrrhic victory the National Environment Agency (NEA) quickly made the statement: "NEA requires temporary fair operators to have a licence to ensure that public health concerns and disamenities arising from temporary fairs such as food hygiene, waste management and noise nuisance are addressed."

The same NEA seems to be oblivious to the "public health concerns" and "food hygiene, waste management and noise nuisance" at Bukit Batok, where rats squeak and stray dogs bark. And they ain't exactly singing "Silent Night, Holy Night". Apparently Channel NewsAsia did telephone them for a comment, and was told the area concerned was state land under the jurisdiction of the Housing and Development Board (HDB). HDB said to wait for their statement on the ratfinks.

Recall how Lee Hsien Loong narrated the story of the fishball stick problem faced by Mayor of South West District Low Yen Ying. Ms Low found that a slope on the left of the walkway is overseen by the National Environment Agency (NEA). In the middle, is a park connector under supervision of NParks, while the pavement close to the road is the responsibility of LTA. In his infinite wisdom, Lee assigned Grace Fu the pao-ka-liao role of intermediary for the various government agencies practising tai-chi. After announcing her new Municipal Services Office (MSO) was open for business on 1 October, the disgraceful Minister in the Prime Minister's Office has gone the way of Desmond Lee, quiet as a mouse.

No wonder the district judge didn't bother to take it all the way to Parliament House. Nobody seems to listen to the prime minister these days.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Rat Race Situational Report

Thanks to an online video posted by a resident , the rat infestation at Bukit Batok has been unearthed. And the ineptitude of the highly paid town mayor in charge thoroughly exposed. Expert opinions are now solicited.

Q: How worried should the general public be about this rat infestation?
Assoc Prof Richard J Sugrue, Head of the Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, NTU:
"Being near a MRT station may increase the risk of the spread of infectious agents, since there is a risk that rats can enter the MRT system. This could potentially allow the flow of infected material (e.g. aerosols from infected rat urine) through the MRT underground tunnels, which could have consequences for people living outside the immediate area."
What he should have said: "After shooting the mayor, you guys should shoot the CEO of SMRT. The health and safety of thousands of commuters are at stake! Some more want to increase fares!""

Q: The pest controllers identify the Bukit Batok rats as roof rats, not sewer rats. Is there a difference in terms of the damage these rats can inflict?
Senior Research Fellow Dr Ian Mendenhall and Research Assistant Erica Sena Neves, Laboratory of Virus Evolution, Emerging Infectious Diseases Program,Duke-NUS Medical School: 
"Both species are highly adaptable and intelligent, and their propensity to dig and gnaw can cause direct and indirect structural damage to buildings and houses."
What they should have said: "Worried about falling windows even before the 99 year lease is up? The whole bloody flat can collapse before you know it!"

Q: Is it fair to blame the feeders of stray dogs for the proliferation of the rats?
Dr Mendenhall and Ms Neves: 
"In highly urbanised cities like Singapore, there are endless sources of food for the rats. "
What they should have said: "The poor, however, may still be struggling for 3 full meals a day, be it at a hawker center, food court or fancy restaurant."

Q: What should authorities and residents do to prevent this sort of rat infestation from happening again? 
Dr Mendenhall and Ms Neves:
"It is frequently said that there are as many rats in cities as people, and undoubtedly we will never be able to completely eliminate these animals from urban environments."
What they should have said: "Just imagine the scenario. If Liu Thai Ker has his way, there will be 10 million rats scurrying around. And we don't just mean just foreign talents like the enterprising Yang Yin."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Santa's Naughty List

Santa has a new helper in the form of The website provides personalized rewards to students in some 10,000 schools. Those who receive reward stickers from the company get online access where they can redeem their "good behavior stickers" and gift items. The company then uses that information to track the names of children who have been naughty and nice throughout the year.

We don't have a ‘Santa’s Naughty and Nice list’ in Singapore, but we do have quite a few names who deserve to be blacklisted by Saint Nicholas:
  • Liu Tuck Yew, for trying to fob off a fare hike by dangling  free Wi-Fi access selected MRT stations by the end of next year.
  • Tan Chuan-Jin, for ignoring the protestions about withholding our CPF beyond age 55, and fiddling with different Minimum Sums for different groups.
  • Chan Chun Sing for declaring war on the citizenry, "We must not concede the space - physical or cyber... We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary".
  • Yaacob Ibrahim for lampooning Tan Pin Pin's award winning "To Singapore, With Love" as "one-sided portrayals" designed to "evoke feelings of sympathy and support for individuals".
  • Lim Swee Say for palming off half a box of Din Tai Fung toothpicks in broad daylight at each visit because "this one is so fine that whatever is inside sure can come out." Assume oral cavity, not anal one.
  • Khaw Boon Wan, for addressing the shortage of university places instead of affordable housing, with "You own a degree, but so what? That you can't eat it." Message being, public housing will soon be beyond reach of graudates' pay.
  • Vivian Balakrishnan, for pointing skywards at the ceiling while the rats are busy colonising the burrows below at Bukit Batok MRt station.

One could easily add Intan Azura Mokhtar for endorsing Yang Yin application for residentship, Teo Ser Luck for inventing a special needs child traumatised by heckling, or Alvin Yeo for not practising what he preached in court. But the list will be too long, and our Christmas will truly be ruined. Instead, we could follow Liu Thai Ker's suggestion ("Can you use your imagination to picture a nicer scenario?") and dream of a white christmas without the rats in parliament.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Truth Will Tell

Burhan Gafoor, Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia, is the latest to join the league of revisionist historians. But apparently somebody else is guiding his penmanship. "We have put together an account using evidence from the British archives as well as CPM sources, which confirm that Mr Lee Kuan Yew told the truth," admitted prime minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Facebook post on Saturday (Dec 20).

Gafoor/Lee wrote:
"Chin Peng has confirmed that the Barisan was under the CPM’s influence. He cagily disagreed that the CPM “controlled” the Barisan, but admitted: “We certainly influenced them”. He did not elaborate on how the CPM “influenced” the Barisan or who were the CPM’s proxies in its Central Executive Committee, but he confirmed that communists were among those who joined the party."

You can have a heyday with the semantics over "control" and influence". But there's no uncertainty about collaboration with the enemy. The following paragraphs, in the original bold text, from pages 54 and 55 of "The Battle For Merger" book speak volumes about the duplicity of one character:
"YOU MAY ASK: If the Communists are such a danger to our society, why did we work with Lim and his Communist friends in one anti-colonial united front?"

"We came to the conclusion that we had better forget the differences between our ultimate objectives and work together for our immediate common objective, the destruction of the British. Whether you wanted a democratic Malaya or a Communist Malaya, you had first to get rid of the British."

"But we never forgot that once the British were out of the way, there would be trouble between us and the Communists as to what kind of Malaya we wanted to have in place of the old British colonial Malaya."

The man who saw no qualms about working for the Japanese invaders during the occupation of Singapore - transcribing Allied wire reports for the Japanese spying on Allied radio stations and writing down what they were reporting in the Hodobu office (報道部), a Japanese propaganda department - also had no compunction working side by side with the Communists when he saw personal benefit. Meanwhile, others had to go to jail for merely keeping company with the Reds.  It does make one wonder, in retrospect, if merger with Malaysia was really about the survival of Singapore, or just an over extended power play for Tungku Abdul Rahman's job. That could explain the crocodile tears, or warning journalists not to photograph him with a smile.

Colonel Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men") may bellow "You Can't Handle The Truth”, but that was an old movie. In the internet age, only the deceitful fear the glare of the unvarnished facts.

Friday, December 19, 2014

More On Torture

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rats In Charge

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Quest For Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Victim Remembers

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Govindan Had To Suffer

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dual Faced Citizenship

See, our passport also red one.
It was something denied to Singaporeans despite years of clamour for dual citizenship. Even Americans who have taken up citizenship here have been reminded by the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) to surrender their USA passport. Current regulations reflect the longstanding policy of the U.S. Department of State that no person should be in possession of more than one valid, or potentially valid, passport at any one time.

Yet prime minister Lee Hsien Loong as good as collected a Korean passport when Seoul city's mayor Park Won-soon awarded him an honorary citizenship on Thursday morning (Dec 11). And it's not the first time either. Earlier this year, apparently he received another foreign passport in London on the quiet.

When Lee Kuan Yew was presented with the Order of Honour in January by Leonid Moiseev, Russia's Ambassador to Singapore, it wasn't clear if citizenship was part of the package. But there was definitely a red passport in the press photo, next to the bluish medal first conferred on Lee by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 10 last year in conjunction with the old geezer's 90th birthday.

Only a few days ago, PM Lee said that the next General Election will be a “deadly serious fight”. It's starting to look more serious than we can imagine. Can a Korean citizen be elected prime minister of Singapore?

Mahathir was really miffed when he learnt that Putrajaya had appointed German national Christoph Mueller as CEO-designate of Malaysia Airlines under its restructuring plan.  Dripping with sarcasm, he told Malaysiakini, "I am worried, if we do not believe in ourselves, one day when we need a prime minister, we can get a white man because he is 'smarter' than us."

That's the difference between Malaysia and Singapore.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Love Affair With Communism

Goya's Que viene el coco
"Here Comes the Bogey-Man"
Associate professor K Ramakrishna of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies is embarking on a rewrite of his version of Operation Coldstore and resurrecting the spectre of the communist bogeyman ("If Singapore was ruled by Barisan Socialis", TODAY, Wednesday 10 Dec). He claims that the Communist United Front (CUF) was "flushed into the open" in the institutional form of the Barisan Socialis.
Wonder what he will say about Toh Chin Chye's unabashed answer to one intriguing question about his party's affiliation.

Why did you have the reputation for being Communist?

"Well, we were Left-Wing, and the only type of Left-wing politics anyone had heard of was Communism. They had never heard of Fabian Socialism. That was one reason.
The other reason was the problem of recruiting members. Now, while we were recruiting members for the PAP, we made no headway with the English-educated, middle class types. No headway at all. No way! I tried! I started the University Association in the University of Singapore. It was like the Malayan Forum; I was the Secretary. Doing all the donkey work, just getting things moving. I compiled a register, tried to rope in people.
That had nothing even to do with politics! It was just getting together the graduates of Raffles College. There was an Indian lecturer in the Anatomy Department who tried to get his peers in. I knew Minnie Knight, the mother of Glen Knight, she was a Raffles College graduate. So between her and me, I tried to repeat what I had done in London. We concocted a bulletin called a Chee Chak. You know, the house lizard? It sounded like “Chit Chat.” Nothing serious. I made her the Editor. We never got off the ground. Nobody read it! It died a natural death.
So that was why we drifted towards the Chinese educated. That is why we stumbled into existence as a largely Chinese-based party. That was when dialects became important. Mandarin became important. You understand now the role of Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and company? They were Chinese educated. They could make speeches in dialect and Mandarin. They had a big following from the Chinese speaking unions, and the unions were the only organized mass force in Singapore.
So we became a Chinese-based party! We also became a Left Wing party. We were Socialist to begin with, and the unions were very Left Wing if not Communist. We worked out a Manifesto, which was quite revolutionary."

The affair with the Commies continues. Singapore's NTU has ‘groomed’ more than 12,000 high-ranking government officials from almost all provinces in China under its current executive and postgraduate programmes, PLA army officers are feted openly here, and PRC kids are still courted at a tender age to study here on generous scholarships and then guaranteed jobs for 6 years after graduation. Anything goes, so long as they satisfy the party agenda. Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat said "Singaporeans and local academics can also learn a great deal from their interactions with the participants in the Mayors’ Class". From a Chinese general handing out Mercedes cars packed with gold bars maybe?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Going Nuts Over Nuts

Cho Hyun-Ah, the daughter of Korean Air’s CEO, resigned over a flap about macadamia nuts.

The New York-Seoul flight had just left its gate at New York’s JFK airport when Cho, sitting in first class, took exception to being served macadamia nuts she had not asked for, in a packet instead of a bowl. The chief purser was challenged over his crew’s knowledge of in-flight service procedures, after which he was asked to leave the plane, causing an 11-minute delay in arrival of the flight as a result of the unscheduled disembarkation.

Korean Air — South Korea’s flag carrier — initially apologized for causing “inconvenience” for passengers but defended Cho’s action as a “reasonable” move to improve in-flight service. The Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo said Cho’s action had exposed the “sense of entitlement and supercilious attitude” prevalent among the rich.

In 2003, the passengers of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 were inconvenienced when it was commandeered and outfitted  into a private hospital ship, complete with two neurosurgeons, two intensive care nurses, oxygen equipment and a drip, to fly someone's wife back from London. The news team of tabloid ‘TODAY’ was trashed for the report they made of a speech about the event, which was based on factual material quoted from an official press release.  Apparently the offending point had to do with a phone call made by Singapore High Commissioner Michael Teo to No. 10 Downing Street, hoping for some intervention to jump the NHS queue for a brain scan, and inconveniencing the British prime minister.

That's the difference between Korea and Singapore.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Message Is Clear

Without access to the exif data embedded in the original files, it is impossible to determine which of the two images were captured on camera first. What is absolutely clear is that one picture says "no selfies please", and another clearly shows a bunch of clowns doing exactly that. And the faces of two members of parliament are clearly identifiable.

One message we can come away with is that those characters can't read to save their lives. The other is something more familiar: "Do as we say, not as we do". Either way, it makes one wonder how serious Lee Hsien Loong was when he said the next election would be about choosing a “clear vision” and “capable leadership” for the nation.

Take the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore announcement on Monday that owners residing in Housing Board flats will enjoy a reduction in their property tax by about 3 percent in 2015. Their official explanation is that the annual values of three-, four-, five-room, and executive flats are lowered to reflect the dip in market rentals. If their vision weren't so blurry, they would have observed that rentals for private housing are also heading south. Myopia can be corrected by prescriptive lenses, but capable leadership require more drastic measures. Especially leadership tainted by pork barrel politics.

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Vision, Same Bull

We should thank Lee Hsien Loong for succinctly summarising all that is wrong with the current regime:
"When we face problems, we acknowledge them publicly, and deal with them. We don't pretend there's no problem, no comments, studying the matter, thinking about it, will clarify one day. We settle now! You lie low hoping the public will forget the issue, and the issue will go away, the public will forget you, and might as well go away."

Lee, who is also the Secretary General of the People's Action Party, was addressing about 2,000 cadres at the party's 60th anniversary rally held at the Singapore Expo on Sunday, 7 December 2014.

Taking potshots at that paragraph alone is like the dilemma of a mosquito at a nudist beach - you just don't know where to start.

By his standards, the obfuscation of the Action Information Management (AIM) debacle was no problem. Wasting huge sums of taxpayers money on a $2 company with no technical staff or competence was no problem. That Chandra Das, a former member of parliament and longstanding steward of the party, was the principal  middleman in the transaction was no problem. None of the salient points was acknowledged as thorny issue by the mainstream media. No wonder Yang Yin was emboldened to embark on his grand scheme of deceit. He punched all the right buttons, right connections and the right politicised machinery to sweep shortcomings under the carpet.

One positive way to look at the mee-siam-mai-hum talk of disconnect is that he was talking to boys and girls sitting at his feet, reminding them to be good or Santa won't be distributing presents. And what presents - $16,000 MP allowances, $1,000,000 ministerial pay, and lots of directorships for consolation prizes. Never mind if the people don't want them - as the "Son of Punggol" doctor's wife told him before the disastrous by-election - the gerrymandering and GRC system are time proven guarantees.

Party chairman Khaw Boon Wan said of their new vision,"As our society becomes more diverse, our economy more mature and our political landscape more contested, it is timely to fundamentally review our overall approach." If only leopards can change their spots.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Intersex Wars

In 2009, law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann  cancelled a planned teaching stint at New York University's School of Law, after the school's students, alumni and faculty members protested her suitability to teach a course on human rights law in Asia. Something about her fearing for her own safety.

On Wednesday a group of 78 civil society members protested against the European Union (EU) for inviting Thio to speak at the closed-door seminar on "The Role of the Judiciary in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights" to mark Human Rights Day. Thio Li-Ann showed up as planned. After all this is her home ground, and her mummy is Thio Su Mien, self proclaimed "Feminist Mentor" listed on page 73 of a women's movement publication as former Dean of the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Thio's own provocative pronouncements include the memorable line, "Anal-penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and a misuse of organs, like shoving a straw up your nose to drink." That was her speaking in 2007, arguing in favour of the continued criminalization of adult consensual same sex relations in Singapore. For males, that is. That's nothing in 377A about females shoving stuff up their body cavities. What Cyndi Lauper probably meant when she sang "girls just wanna have fun".

The miracle about what happened at the event at Conrad Hotel on Thursday is that the gay rights activists were holding placards and a rainbow flag smack in front of the stage where Thio was speaking, and nobody was arrested for heckling. Somebody must be trying hard to figure out whether special needs children were involved in the rare demonstration in a Singapore where a single person standing is defined by law as an illegal assembly. The spokeswoman for the EU delegation was definitely not complaining, "The EU delegation has made it clear to participants that it will continue its established dialogue with civil society, including with members of the LGBTI community."

The "I" in LGBTI refers to "Intersex", a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Interesting, like a boy with girl parts, or a girl with boy parts. 377A is so in need of a rewrite. The other interesting observation is how combative conservative religious folks can turn out to be. So much for peace on earth and goodwill to all men.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another Unnecessary Death

Was Dinesh taken down like this?
“We have allowed our criminal justice system to get off balance,” presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton told reporters, “And I personally hope that these tragedies give us an opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again.”

The waves of protest sweeping across America are about the videotaped death of Eric Garner of Staten Island in July.  The  amateur digital record of New York cop Daniel Pantaleo applying a lethal chokehold to take down an unarmed man is fuelling calls for a march on the scale of the historic marches that led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The New York medical examiner had ruled that Garner's death was a homicide, concluding that compression of the neck and chest, combined with his positioning on the ground while being restrained by police, caused his death. He also noted that the 25-stone man had serious health problems and that his acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease were contributing factors.

Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah had no known health problems. He was a young man who died of positional asphyxia when overpowered by Chief Warden (CW) Daljit, Sgt Yen, Sgt Jonathan, Cpl Robby, Cpl Anand and/or CW Rozairudin in the secure facility of the Changi Prison Complex. Garner was heard pleading "I can't breathe" in the video footage that went viral, Dinesh could not even utter a single word. His eyes turned bloody red and mucus flowed copiously from his nose. The ubiquitous CCTV camera, a common sight in every corner of Singapore, was mysteriously absent.

After the initial official response claiming the inmate was restrained "according to protocol" cut no ice with the public, the senior prison officer charged with causing Dinesh's death through negligence was slapped with a mere $10,000 fine. There was no protest at Hong Lim Park.

That's the difference between Singapore and America.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lessons From Hong Kong

"Singapore is at a crossroads. How the country moves forward will depend on the choices that the people and their leaders make today. The incentives that those in power build into the system will determine whether the country progresses or stagnates. To that end, the ability of Singaporeans to question authority and to build a capacity for collective reasoning and debate is essential."

Singapore's Consul-General Jacky Foo Hong Kong did not object to that paragraph in the Wall Street Journal commentary of 27 November 2014 ("A New Vision for Singapore").

He was rankled by some other observations, and had to put in his 2 cents' worth. But you have to wonder about his mental state when he regurgitates stuff like these:
  • "in Singapore, the low-income have access to high-quality education, health care and public housing, like other citizens"
  • "Families earning just 1,000 Singapore dollars ($800) a month can afford to own a two-room apartment"
  • "Their wages have also grown by 10% (in real terms) in the past decade"
  • "The reality is that elections in Singapore are free and fair"

You know the guy is obviously oblivious that many have sold their public housing flats to finance an overseas education because places in local universities were given up to "scholars" from PRC, that $1,000 a month can service flat ownership is a myth that has been debunked ad infinitum, his real wage growth statistic is off by at least a factor of 10 and, to quote his political master's voice, "there is no such thing as fair play in politics". Foo's mindless ramble reminds one of Michael Palmer's first utterances when he was helicoptered into parliament at too tender an age: "Before I joined the grassroots organisation, I never knew there were poor people in developed countries". If Foo is just as wet behind the years, we hope he stays away from ardent worshippers bearing tempting mangoes.

To be fair to Foo, he is just protecting his paycheck. All said and done, "he is out to make a political case and trim his sails to the wind." What ex-minister George Yeo, also based in Hong Kong, eloquently penned as "going with the flow".

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stand Your Ground

The shameful cul-de-sac encounter
Ken Kwek will always have a place in our hearts for refusing to divulge the names and standing his ground as a journalist to protect his sources. Lee Kuan Yew (then Minister Mentor) had insisted in the Why-My-Vote-Matters dialogue session of 12 April 2006 that Ken had to disclose, on live national tv, the names of literally hundreds of people he interviewed on the street, to justify his claim that people are afraid to vote against the ruling regime. Which led to the nauseating repartee from the brass knuckles specialist bully, "I allow my grandchildren to speak back to me, but from time to time, when they are out of bounds, I put them down."

Well, you can't really put a good man down so easily.

His "Unlucky Plaza" was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival premiere in September which played to sold out screenings. And will be the first local film to open the Singapore Film Festival in 25 years. True to form, Ken continues to tell the unblemished truth - that Singapore society is becoming more open and yet more intolerant, richer and yet, in many ways, poorer. Wonder what the old coot who can't even stand on his own two feet unassisted will say to that.

Ken says that a lot of (local) film-makers have grown up with the idea that only Jack Neo can thrive at the box office. Forget about that, focus on the mission of changing the mindset of those who are still seduced by empty promises and a Chesire Cat type grin. He's always grinning because he's getting rich at our expense.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Another Bites The Dust

Fresh from exacting its pound of flesh from the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), the National Environment Agency (NEA) homed in on Colorzon Events and Design for organizing an unlicensed trade fair at Kovan City. Those looking forward to pick up a handphone, accessories or children's clothing at bargain prices will have to head back to Sim Lim Square to be fleeced by the merciless merchants there.

Faced with the new maximum fine of $10,000 - before April 1 it was only $1,000 ("What's wrong with collecting more money?") - Colorzon had no alternative but to buckle under the flexing muscles of NEA. Forget about the altruistic element in providing cheaper goods for the residents at Kovan. It is also convenient that the Heartland Mall of Kovan falls neatly into the jurisdiction of Aljunied GRC. We await with unabated breathe as the insidious minds plot to snare AHPETC into the web of the latest transgression of the law.

To dismiss the notion of picking on opposition wards only, the mainstream media took pains to highlight that since 2011, the NEA has taken action against the operators of 16 unlicensed fairs located at Tampines, Toa Payoh, Simei, Clementi, Kovan City, Bukit Merah, Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Serangoon North, Rivervale Walk and Tanglin Halt. Quietly, of course, without the fanfare of nasty publicity to drag anyone through the mud.

If only the NEA was more focused on fighting dengue. From 1 January 2014 to 8 March 2014, a total of 3,122 dengue cases were reported, representing a 25% increase over last year's figure of 2,503 for the same period. Last year was the annus horribilis with a record high of 22,170 diagnosed cases. Then again, it must be more fun harassing vendors escaping exorbitant rentals - and passing the cost savings to the consumer - than dealing with the pesky female Aedes mosquito. If the platelet count of Baey Yam Keng continue to fall below the recommended threshold for dengue patients, perhaps the NEA may just sit up and resight its cross-hairs on the right target. No way will they want to be blamed for the horrible prospect of another by-election. Meanwhile Baey is assuring his adulating grassroots supporters that "I am sure with a strong will, I can make it." That guy will do anything to post another selfie.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Scholar System Is Broke

On 24 January 2009 at about 11pm, a scholar gained notoriety by strolling down Lorong Mambong in Holland Village on a crowded Saturday evening with nothing on but her birthday suit.

An alumni of the University of Cambridge at which she studied in 2003, she was sent on an A*STAR National Science Scholarship (NSS) to study infection biology in Sweden's Karolinska Institutet  in 2007. A MENSA member with an IQ of over 148, she was also a champion skater who had represented Singapore at Skate Asia, the largest ice-skating competition outside the US.

Together with Jan Philip, 21, a Swedish student on an exchange programme, the attention getter was charged in court for appearing nude in public. Philip was offered bail of $5,000 and his passport was impounded. But the Singaporean did not have to post bail and her passport was not confiscated. Being a scholar has its privileges.

Despite being fined $2000 for breaking the law, A*Star in its infinite wisdom, chose to give her a warning only, and allowed her to keep the full scholarship. Now in 2014, the streaker makes it plain she is not interested in her bonded employment at all, but is merely marking time to serve out her bond instead of having to face paying, as of 30 September 2014, around $741,657 in order to quit.

Instead of working hard towards a cure for an infectious disease, say Ebola, she decided to go into song and dance and fund art projects "in all genres, including (but) not limited to fine art, visual art, dance, music, circus, theatre, film and literature” with a $1,000 a month grant. Money deducted from a salary that is paid by honest taxpayers, meant to finance a professional obligation she has no intention to fulfil.

The people who vetted and selected her for the umpteen years of expensive overseas education - we assume it must be the Public Service Commission or similar - are caught between a rock and a very hard place. In the private sector, such a maverick will be shown the door in a jiffy - with penalties to match. But to kick her out means admitting they made a bad mistake and committed serious error of judgment. The same judgment with which they have appointed other scholars to high office in various statutory boards and government linked companies, or even into parliament. Come hell or high water, they will never admit the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Power Wheel

Last Wednesday Singapore banned US-based “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc from entering the country to conduct seminars. For a guy reputed to be the "rock-star" of the dating game, he's should have been more discreet. What he should have done was to hit on a little old lady quietly as a bogus tour guide, and the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) would grant him entry permit faster than you can say "Pikachu!" And throw him residential papers for good measure, duly endorsed by a gullible female member of parliament.

There's nothing original about Blanc. The stuff he "teaches" are all old hat, trashy lines from juvenile tabloids. Samples of his "course material":
  • How To Pick Up Girls From Open To Close;
  • How To Convey The Supercharged Self;
  • How To Make Yourself 1000% More Interesting;
  • How To Never Get Paralysed & Get Better With Girls Faster, etc 

Even his Power and Control Wheel is a rip off from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. This chart shows you the kinds of behavior abusers use to get and keep control over their partners. If you change the last word to "citizens", you can appreciate the allusion is too close for comfort. It is no coincidence that Chan Chun Sing, who is Minister of Social and Family Development, chimed in in defence: "Violence against innocent people is unlawful and totally unacceptable. We cannot allow people to perpetuate such unlawful activities in our country."

How about these types of violence we have grown accustomed to?
  • Using Intimidation - letters of demand when Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) are in arrears
  • Using Emotional Abuse - remarks like "daft", "ignorant" and "the spurs are not stuck on your hinds"
  • Using Isolation - denial of access to lawyer when "helping in police investigations"
  • Minimizing, Denying And Blaming - shifting responsibility, as in "not my fishball stick" syndrome
  • Using Children - exploiting Special Needs Children as human shields from heckling;
  • Using Male Privilege - Singapore not ready for a Indian female prime minister;
  • Using Economic Abuse - withholding our CPF to invest in bum deals;
  • Using Coercion and Threats - send in the army in event of a "freak" election

Speaking to host Chris Cuomo on CNN about a photo that looks like he is choking a woman, Blanc said it was a "horrible horrible attempt at humour". And that it was taken out of context. The last excuse has been used once too often. And not just by Blanc.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Good Company

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was honoured at a dinner held by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) on Tuesday night. Among the 105 attendees present at its Senior Police Officers' Mess, it must be inevitable some of those jostling to have a picture taken with him captured in the frame will have ulterior motives mind. Yang Yin was not the only one who knows how to capitalise on a close photographic association.

Former sergeant with the SPF, Ananthan Thillagan, is alleged to have conned another ex-police officer and his wife out of $50,000 via an investment option involving gold mines in Papua New Guinea. Recovery company JMS Rogers said Ananthan had claimed to be a special aide to former President S R Nathan, and a former bodyguard to ex-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Hey, if the three multi-millionaires trusted him with their lives, surely you can trust him with your life savings. His accuser said when he was swindled in January this year, Ananthan was employed by the Ministry of Home Affairs as the special aide to  S R Nathan. Which raises an interesting question: Why are public funds still expended on the ex-president, and does he require to be propped up too?

"Because he was working for people in power, he often threw names of powerful people to reinforce his influence and connections," read the police report. Ananthan had apparently used his high level connections in the civil service and his wife’s position as an Assistant Director in the Attorney General’s Chambers as part of his confidence-building scheme to win trust. Ananthan also claimed the Minister of Trade and Industry had signed up for the deal. Needless to say, no comment was registered from the referenced Minister.

The SPF said Ananthan resigned from the Police Force in July 2011, and that's that. Implying present company are all spicky clean and above reproach. It's like the tour guide from China being nailed for false invoices - over invoicing is less heinous a crime, if that's the lesson to be learned from the Law Society - while the web of deceit to cheat a little old lady is deemed too much dirty linen to be aired. What clout Intan Azura bte Moktar had in endorsing his residence application may never be revealed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Paper Qualifications

The Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Ranking® is reputed to be the most widely read university comparison of their kind. In addition to exploring the world's top 800 universities overall, you can also compare the ranking of universities in a specific region, by subject area, or based on factors such as reputation or research citations. National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have moved up 2 places in the 2014 World University Rankings – NUS is now ranked 22nd and remains the top Asian university, while NTU is ranked 39th.

NUS came in 39th place in a new ranking by international publishing company Nature Publishing Group this month (Nov 2014), making it the highest-ranked Singapore institution on the index. Highest in that NTU was ranked 42nd, while the Agency for Science, Technology and Research was ranked 133rd. Worldwide, China's Chinese Academy of Sciences was ranked as the top institution. The Nature Index takes into account articles chosen from 68 nature science journals.

Differing from the Nature Index, the Nature Publishing Index (NPI) is calculated from research articles published in 18 journals by Nature Publishing Group. The NPI places NUS at the 46th position among its Global Top 100 list of research institutions, up 28 places from 74th in 2012.

NTU president Bertil Andersson has an explanation for all these placings, "By continuing to attract the best professors and students from Singapore and around the world, I expect NTU will break into Times Higher's top 50 universities in a few year's time." Times Higher Education World University Rankings is yet another index, which places NUS 25th and NTU 61st.

Unfortunately the Singaporean post-graduate scholar who was impregnated by Associate Professor Yu Wanli of the prestigious Peking University is a sad reminder that not all in possession of paper qualifications have their heads screwed on right. Apparently she was fully aware Prof Yu was into bondage, swingers' parties and one-night stands. Our very own sex-for-grades law professor from the NUS pales by comparison. No wonder the ministers have been dissing the importance of chasing a university degree. Especially when university dons - who supposedly have to publish or perish - still have time to chase skirts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Going To War

When Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali showed up at the induction at the Old Post Office building in Houston, one pace forward would have meant acceptance of the call-up to serve in Vietnam.
"Why should me and other so-called negroes go 10,000 miles, away from home here in America to drop bombs and bullets on other innocent, brown people who's never bothered us?"

Muhammad Ali refused the draft to go into Vietnam in 1967 and it cost him his World Heavyweight Champion  title, 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He said that if the Vietnamese came over and attacked this country, he would be the first one to defend it.

So why is the journalist going on about sending National Servicemen to fight the war in the Middle East ("Get national servicemen to volunteer for overseas missions", TODAY, Tuesday 25 Nov)? Just because Tony Blair was a willing poodle for George Bush Jr, should our young men risk their lives for some politician's ego trip? The irony is that the United States had fought to introduce democracy to countries like Iraq - and some say they have failed miserably - when our own elected officials are adamant that "Western democracy" is not meant for us. Why then go to war?

Sure the generals would like some war stories to tell their grand children, and grassroots leaders - is that why the ex-general is now in Acheh? Patton loved to be called "old blood and guts", but the grunt slogging in the mud was right to point out: "Oh yeah, our blood, his guts". The writer must have missed his medication when he penned that "Singapore can be confident that national servicemen will step forward and volunteer to serve on the SAF's fourth journey to the Middle East."

The real battle worth fighting for is within our homeland. It's not just defending our jobs and livelihood from the foreigners brought onshore by the pro-alien party. It's also about taking back what rightfully belongs to us in the first place, starting with the balance in our Central Provident Fund.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Running Out Of Smart Ideas

The Prime Minister's Office has appointed Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan to oversee the "Smart Nation Programme Office". Not exactly the smartest of moves, given the propensity of the gutter politician to throw good money after bad, and yet to account for the overblown budget of the Youth Olympic Games. In particular, what exactly was buried under the miscellaneous charge ("Other Costs") of $78.9 million.

The haze was not as horrific as last year, no thanks to any contribution of his. Someone must have figured out he should stop sitting in the corner and twiddling his thumbs and do something useful to justify the million dollar paycheck. Something nebulous as a 3D project that defies imagination. Who needs a new 3D map for animal sightings, potential hazards for cyclists, or even the best mee pok, nasi lemak or mee siam mai hum? Google maps aside, there are apps plentiful to hunt down the discreet carpark for a surreptitious rendezvous between a senior civil servant and a compliant IT vendor. BTW, anyone with half a brain would think IT is under the auspices of the Ministry for Communications and Information. Has Yaacob gone off to fight for the ISIS?

The Executive Deputy Chairman of Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and Co-Chair of National Infocomm Awards (NIA) 2014 trumpeted, "Singapore is committed to become the world's first Smart, and using technology and data in new ways that can improve the lives of people of all ages is the foundation of what it means to be a Smart Nation." Ouch, that must be a painful reminder that 60.1 percent of the electorate is still dumb enough to vote in the same political party.

It was the older Lee who once told the Future China Global Forum audience, "The Taiwanese are ruthless, Hong Kongers are shameless and Singaporeans are ignorant." Maybe that's why the younger Lee thinks it's about time for Singaporeans to appear intelligent.

But not too smart. As in demanding the return of their life savings at age 55 as originally promised. Or go online to highlight how one Singaporean can be outnumbered 7 to 1 by foreigners, here at home, not in downtown Manila. Tan Chuan-Jin thinks that "Unfortunately, these actions backfire as potential employers will be reluctant to take on these individuals." So the smart thing to do when threatened by an overwhelming force is to back down and keep quiet? Not exactly the advice you would expect from an ex-general. It appears that Singaporeans will need permission first to get smart.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Difference Of Art

Like Ford's Model T, available only in black

Definitely a more colourful alternative
The first piece of "art" won her $32,500 in the UOB Painting of the Year 2014 Competition. Ms Om explained that the 100 cm by 100 cm oil on canvas is supposed to be a reflection of a starry night sky, probably marred by the haze from Indonesia. You could never guess that by the "N-PIN56L" title given to the piece, obviously bearing no clue to the 57 layers of colour applied. Don't bother to ask what camel brushes were instrumental for the creative labour of love: ""I used 6 mm tape to create the grid. Each layer is a compilation of a grid, the paint layer and the tape removed and applied again, and then add on another layer."

The second creative effort is more recognizable, spray paint being the medium of choice preferred by graffiti artists world wide. But two German nationals, Andreas Von Knorre and Elton Hinz, both 21, are likely of be rewarded with $2,000 fines, 3 years’ jail and 8 strokes of the cane each for their exuberant expressions of colour and shape.

The main difference being a sticky issue of trespassing on SMRT territory.

When a northbound train was found vandalised with graffiti and the fencing at Bishan Depot tampered with in 2011, SMRT swore that "We want to have a system that is truly comprehensive and will hold up to tests." And was willing to back it up with  security enhancements that SMRT said cost them $6 million, with maintenance alone amounting to $300,000 annually. Manpower costs for its current security team then (in 2011) were already eating up $5 million a year. Money is no object when commuters end up paying for their incompetence.

Not that it did SMRT any good. And Andreas and Elton did made them look pretty silly. Just for that, there will be hell to pay. Don't worry about the chief executive being sacked, after all, it's only the fourth instance of security breach recorded. Unless the stars fall from the sky, his handsome salary takings will never be docked.

Friday, November 21, 2014

We're Number 16

The big news is that the World Talent Report 2014 from the Institute for Management Development (IMD)  has ranked Malaysia 5th position, while Singapore trails a distant 16. The IMD World Competitiveness Center which produces the annual ranking exercise says the objective serves to assess the ability of countries to develop, attract and retain talent to sustain the talent pool available for enterprises operating in the economies.

While the ranking is structured according to 1) investment and development, 2) appeal and 3) readiness, it goes without saying those foreign talents tempted by the glossy brochures will, sooner or later, discover the truth from the myth. Like Singapore is the safest place on earth, bar none. Except for the occasional stabbing in broad daylight at Raffles Place. You can trust the lawyers here too, just remember to do a back of the envelope check when it comes to invoicing.

We don't know why Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins, the husband and wife team of cancer experts who left the National Cancer Institute in the United States after 20 years there to join Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) because of "generous funding", packed their bags again after a short 5 year stint to head back to Houston, Texas. Maybe they had a nasty experience at Sim Lim Square. Or were fleeced for seafood at Newton Circus. Not everybody has the deep pockets of a Brunei princess.

And then there are the untold legions of local talents who have left for greener pastures abroad. Lee Kuan Yew used to insist on a report of the number of emigrants, maybe someone else is still keeping score.

Somewhere in page 8 of the report, a chart shows that Singapore used to do a better job in attracting and retaining talent. We were number 2 in 2008. The explanatory note is worth reading:
The fluctuation in the overall ranking experienced by some of the countries throughout the period may be the result of cyclical economic and socio-political issues that impact, for example, immigration policies and/or investment in education. In some cases, such policies could result in the diminishing ability of countries to attract overseas talent despite strong commitment to local talent development.

We know some of those socio-political issues only too well. The list is long and nauseating, starting with a 30 year mortgage for a public housing flat. It's bad enough to have to stomach the likes of Anton Casey and Yin Yang, the politicians ramming the Population White Paper down our throats make mockery of a welcome home for real talent. It's not sustaining if talents are not retaining.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Onward With The Fare Hikes

What's wrong with collecting more money?
Last year in November the Public Transport Council (PTC) proposed fare increases by 6.6 per cent in 2 phases - 3.2 per cent from April this year, and 3.4 per cent from next year. In plain English, it is a done deal that the public transport operators will be fleecing the commuters again. The only outstanding question is by how much.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, acting to script in typical good-cop-bad-cop role play, "hopes the PTC will study whether it is possible to insulate vulnerable groups such as senior citizens from a fare increase." See, the word is increase, not decrease. The writing is already on the wall. This is the Lui that doled out $1.1 billion of taxpayers' money so the operators can buy 550 buses to collect more revenues. This is not the Lui who would contemplate subsidising the commuters by same humongous sum to spare them an extra four (bus) and six (train) cents per journey from the first installment of recommended fare hike.

A PTC spokesman reiterated that the fare review mechanism and fare adjustment formula is recommended by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee, and accepted by the Government. Lest we forget, the PTC and associated incestuous committees are staffed by government appointees who know which side of their bread is buttered.

Not a word is mentioned about how much profit has been generated by the public transport operators. In October this year, SMRT reported a $25.3 million profit for Q2 of FY2015, and a 66.5 per cent increase in operating profit from higher takings of its fare and non-fare businesses. Bus operations trimmed its operating loss of $7.4 million to a lower $1.4 million, which it said was due mainly to higher revenue collection and productivity gains. Train operations increased their operating profit by $6.6 million on the back of higher revenue and lower electricity costs. The SMRT board rewarded themselves by declaring an interim dividend of 1.5 cents per ordinary share. If the 3.2 per cent hike was so lucrative, it is unlikely their grubby little hands will let go of the 3.6 per cent hike impending. You were expecting the board to recommend a fare decrease?

Oil price, the mother of all justifications for fare hikes, has slumped by almost a third this year to below US$80 a barrel. There’s a 70 percent chance of a recession in the next 12 months, according to the median estimate of 27 economists in an October 30 survey . That’s the highest since Bloomberg started tracking the figure 2 years ago, up from 60 percent last month. That's for us mere mortals so fret about, the recession proof public transport operators never lose sleep over details like these.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hot Money, Greased Palms

So last Friday's lunch time stabbing in broad daylight at Raffles Place was a occupational hazard, we are told. Apparently the victim was just another money courier, en route to the Arcade where bags of currencies are freely interchanged. Suhardi, a 26 year old Indonesian, was killed in August 2012, presumably for carrying one load too many for the money changers.

Another frequent Indonesian traveller of the Batam-Singapore-Batam route we met some years ago was ferrying hot money for a different purpose. His employer tasked him to meet politicians and businessmen at posh hotels, where palms are routinely greased. It was Lee Kuan Yew who highlighted the weekend visits of Indonesians who fly in for the shopping on a Saturday, and depart promptly on Sunday night. Maybe he wasn't briefed about the bagmen who might have also indulged in a bit of money laundering.

The important bit is that anyone hand-carrying $20,000 in or out of Singapore is supposed to declare the amounts to the vigilant officers at the customs checkpoints. Failure to do so is an offence under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes Act, punishable by fine up to $50,000 or 3 years' jail. Obviously these money mules are not deterred; the proposed fine for mistreatment of a pet dog is much harsher. Makes you also wonder if the law enforcers are serious about the illicit cash flows.

The Money Changers Association of Singapore is urging its members to hire Certis Cisco guards. Paying protection money to these guys, some of whom are ex-police officers, when the real police are turning a blind eye at the borders? Interestingly, the association's secretary thinks Cisco is asking too much at $200 an hour. Perhaps Ah Loong - the alternate security from "professionals" - offers a more competitive rate. The Yakuza is pretty good at this, we may have need of their foreign expertise.