Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our Very Own Zapruder Clip

November 22 is just round the corner, boon time for "Who Killed JKF" fans to rehash conspiracy theories. Vincent Bugliosi's 1,632 page "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F Kennedy" is the definitive volume to consult. Especially the details about the 26.6 second Zapruder film sequence shot by private citizen Abraham Zapruder with a home-movie camera. We have a grassy knoll too, ours is at the Hong Lim Green.

The Zapruder clip was an important part of the Warren Commission hearings and all subsequent investigations of the assassination, and is one of the most studied pieces of film in history. The 68 seconds captured on Saturday 27 may earn its place in our own history, it also deserves close scrutiny.

0:00/1:08: There's no time stamp, so we don't know when the march actually started but the EXIF metadata should still be available, embedded in the original video file. The gem of an idea for the walkabout must be traceable to one man's boast from the past, "People support CPF cuts because there are no protest (sic) outside parliament."

0:09/1:08: The marchers stop in front of an empty stage. Only one female is sighted, and she does not look, or move, like a Special Needs Child (SNC). A break in the event program begging to be filled.

0:20/1.08: This is the crucial start of the "heckle" video. The patriotic flag waving and the boisterous chant of "Return our CPF" dominate, and builds to a crescendo.

0:28/1.08: Watch the yellow T-shirt guy hustling the SNCs on stage, and exposing the vulnerable kids to the gathered crowd. He could have done better, choose instead to keep them off stage until the marchers have moved on, and save the SNCs from the NAR-rated spectacle. But E.Q. was never their strong point. Then again, he could have been performing to script. Nope, the cute baby can't be the traumatised kid Teo Ser Luck told the Straits Times about.

0:41/1:08: The SNCs get into the swing of their dance routine. Note the John Travolta wannabe waving his arms like it was Saturday Night Fever. His dance partner is jiving away happily, trying to keep pace with his vigorous lead. Still no sign of the traumatised kid. MP Teo really lucked out this time, he should be made to take a polygraph test. Maybe he was the kid who needed to be consoled, after one white haired senior citizen sat down next to him on the lawn, and gave him some fatherly advice, "limpeh kah loo kong, hor....."

0:57/1:08: This is it, this must be the epiphany. Suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Why the YMCA event was rescheduled to start later (from 10am to 4pm). Why the NParks director insisted the protest be limited to an obscure corner (the "grassy knoll"). Why the nameless mata-mata made a veiled threat about maintaining the peace. Why the YMCA Master of Ceremonies urged his supporters to taunt, "We love our CPF" - Yang Yin's "Come on, money, I love you" (来吧,钱,我爱你!) would not be out of place here. Why the SNCs are fronted on stage as Human Shields. That's when the marchers wisely moved on, before the rubber bullets are let fly and tear gas canisters lobbed.

Do we really care who shot JFK? Not really, all we are looking forward to is just desserts for Yang Yin and his foreign talent kind. And a good explanation why the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) is now turning on an 87 year old Singaporean and acting in favour of the tour guide from China. Why question Madam Chung's mental capacity to revoke the Lasting Power of Attorney? But that's another conspiracy theory in the making.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Suffer The Little Children

Don't mix up Hong Lim with Hong Kong
Right on cue, the mute button was toggled off. Politicians who stood idly by and played dumb for weeks while a 87 year old pioneer generation member was in grave danger of being robbed and pillaged by a foreign intruder were suddenly jostling to leap into a feeding frenzy. Note the common thread in the cacophony of protestations:

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin:
"I am appalled. We now heckle special needs children? Vile. Total and absolute disgrace."
Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing:
"To cause alarm and distress to special needs children, and disrupting their routine cannot be right no matter how righteous you think your own cause may be. "
MP Janil Puthucheary:
"No excuse for bad behaviour, but especially not directed at kids."
MP Zaqy Mohamad: 
"A pity that special needs children were heckled by protesters at event by YMCA at Hong Lim Park."
MP Ang Wei Neng:
"There was no good reason for the bloggers to heckle children with special needs and hurl vulgarities."
MP Denise Phua:
"I heard while the kids were not physically harmed, many were alarmed, confused and disturbed by the unexpected unruly turn of events."
MP Tin Pei Ling:
“What have these special needs children done to deserve being heckled down?”

You know brains have left the building when "Return our CPF" is construed as a phrase to "heckle" special needs children - unless the folks withholding our CPF are certified retards in the medical sense. Why did MP Teo Ser Luck, supposedly a "fixture" at the YMCA event (or NParks director Chia Seng Jiang who set the stage for a potent mix), insert the vulnerable kids into a crossfire of political ploy? A bit of history is enlightening:
"At about 10.35 pm that first evening (circa 1955), a mob had attacked a police patrol car with a British police lieutenant in charge, hurling bottles and stones as they closed in for the kill...
He was not aiming at the crowd, he said, but one shot appeared to have hit a Chinese student of about 17. Instead of taking him straight to hospital, however, the other students put him on a lorry and paraded him around the town for three hours, so that by the time he was brought there he was dead from a wound in the lung. Had he been taken to hospital directly, he might have been saved. But what was one life if another martyr could stoke up the fire of revolution?" ("The Singapore Story", page 203)

It is doubtful that any grassroots leader, however rabid his card-carrying convictions, is prepared to be martyred and paraded around Hong Lim Green. The collateral damage will have to be borne by somebody else. History will revisit this episode and determine if the YMCA is just another gullible partisan NGO.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Who Do You Trust?

This video is a fascinating documentation of how our vaunted Home Team members earn their pay. Firstly, they seem to like to go about their task incognito. They are obviously not proud of their smart tailored uniforms - recall the officer at Little India who was dressed down for showing up on duty without proper police attire. More revealing, their "warrant card" is just a mugshot, with no embossed name or identification number. Yang Yin will have a field day posing as a bogus officer. Even his name card provides more details, director of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (fake), graduate of University of Financial and Trade Beijing China (fake), director of Young Music & Dance Studio Pte Ltd (2 employee company?), etc.

And then there's this ominous drone of a threat by NParks director Chia Seng Jiang to "take down your particulars", repeated ad finitum in the close encounter with the boys in mufti. Obedient Singaporeans usually produce their NRIC or driver's licence upon polite request; not some cheap printed name card like the one flashed by Yang Yin.

The article in TIME magazine ("Who Do You Trust", 6 Oct 2014) says police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, now wear a body camera after the unfortunate shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. The intention was to increase transparency of encounters with the public, and with it, earn trust in the police reaction. A study in the Los Angeles suburb of Rialto found that the camera significantly reduced  the incidence of  police  violence and the number of brutality complaints. Singapore Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee also asked for body cameras in the wake of the Little India riot, but whether he shares the same aim of transparency is hard to fathom.

Interestingly, police are not the only ones suitably geared. Some Ferguson residents are now wearing a camera provided by We Copwatch, a group that raised US$6,000 on the Internet to provide them with cameras of their own. "If Ferguson police are going to video tape us, we're going to video tape them right back," said citizen Whitt, who posted his first contribution to YouTube.

Your smartphone has a built-in digital camera. Don't leave home without it, when you set out for a nice stroll in Hong Lim Park. Or any street in Singapore for that matter.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Plot Thickens

One can appreciate the number of foreign construction workers needed in the country, and we are grateful to each and everyone of them for scaling the dizzying heights of tower cranes and scaffoldings to build our new landscape. Why the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority of Singapore (ICA) allowed so  many non-construction sector foreigners to come in is the question begging to be answered.

The resident total fertility rate (TFR) fell to 1.19 in 2013 from 1.29 in 2012. The number of foreigners taking up employment here is still growing at nearly 3 times the total population growth rate, which expanded 1.3 per cent to 5.47 million as of June. That total population figure includes 20,000 new citizenships and 30,000 new permanent residencies (PRs) which the government continues to grant each year, despite the token measures and empty promises to reduce the foreign intake. All the numbers point toward the demise of the Singapore born and bred, destined to go the way of the dodo bird.

It was worst in 2011-12, when foreign employment growth was as high as 8.1 per cent. Those were the wild and woolly days when a tour guide with dubious credentials could easily sneak past the lax ICA.

Don't shoot me, I'm just a
$16,000/month letter writer
Member of Parliament Intan Azura Mokhtar has now ponied up and admitted that, yes, she did write a letter of appeal on behalf of Yang Yin to the ICA. She downplayed her contribution to the perfidy that is alleged to have robbed an old woman of as much as $10 million in missing treasures. She must have written so many such letters for people she scarcely knows. Or so she claims.

Intan emphasised that she wrote the letter of support regarding Yang Yin's application for permanent residency (PR) at the behest of Madam Chung Khin Chun: "She first came to see me and sought my help in May 2011... for her grandson."

The ICA also emphasised that: "Individuals who provide false information in their applications for immigration facilities will be dealt with firmly under the law. In addition, they will have their immigration facilities cancelled or revoked.” What the ICA did not say is how members of parliament who provide false information in their petition letters will be dealt with.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Bum Deal

The blue noses in Singapore are awfully protective when it comes to what we are allowed to read - no penguins please, we're Singaporeans - and see, to the extent of invoking national security issues even when it's only a tear jerker of a movie about oldies pining for home in their sunset years.

But where was the Minister for Media Development Authority when J-Lo stuck out her big fat butt at an open air crowd of 60,000? Jen posted, following her performance: "Thank you for coming out #Singapore!!! 60K strong!!! Amazing night. @F1 Congrats @LewisHamilton. #SingaporeGP"

Maybe some topics are just not up for discussion at the national conversation, such as the report card for the finances of the F-1 night race, already 7 years in the running. Accountability apparently is not expected of Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran, when millions of dollars are burnt each year in September, the way the formula one cars incinerate rubber on the tracks. The race is co-funded by the Government of Singapore, dumb enough to foot 60% of the total bill, or $90 million, out of a total tab of $150 million, year after year.

Most of the money is pocketed by Bernie Ecclestone, the man who paid a £60m (US$100 million) settlement to a Munich court to stave off a 10 year jail term for a bribery charge. The man Ecclestone was accused of bribing, a public official on the board of a state-owned bank, was jailed for 8 1/2 years. Think about it, your taxes are helping to finance his get-out-of-jail-free card.  What a bummer! In a Times interview published on 4 July 2009, Ecclestone actually said "terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was – in the way that he could command a lot of people – able to get things done."

The supportive politicians may have their own sound reasoning for not finding the particular view of J-Lo (or Ecclestone) offensive. From their perspective, it's a familiar sight. After all, most of them made it into parliament via the rear entrance. Whether they capable of commanding a lot of people and able to get things done is highly debatable.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Slow Mail Costs More

SingPost announced yesterday that ten million stamps will be given out to 1.4 million households here ahead of a planned increase in postage rates. Each household will receive a free stamp booklet worth - wait for it - all of S$1.80. Even if it's food stamps - which they aren't - that's not enough for a single meal.

And what will Singpost cream off for their largess? From the month of October onwards postage rates will be increased between 4c and 30c per mail item. International rates will be hiked higher with 5c to 25c increases while local mail will be between 4c to 20c more expensive than current rates. International Registered items will see a 30c increase in charges. They are giving you a drumstick while taking away the whole chicken.

The pathetic excuse is well used, this is the first time that SingPost has raised its rates in 8 years. Every government associated enterprise employs the same tagline: this is the first time that XXX has raised its rates in YY years. There's no need to explain why productivity has not caught up advances in technology.

Only recently Teo Chee Hean said life is getting better in Singapore because families are buying big screen LED TVs. He omitted to add that tiny detail that a 55 inch screen is now available for as low as $1000, compared to the $3000 - $4000 price tags they commanded a few years ago. Xiaomi's price buster Redmi costs a fraction of what more expensive models are retailing for. It has the same size 4.7 inch screen as an iPhone 6.

If one needs to examine why cost of living, and cost of doing business, is always on an upward trajectory in Singapore, look no further than the government imposed charges and tariffs. Will the various government bodies ever implement a much needed cost reduction program? Maybe when hell freezes over.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Foreigner Bashing

At a dialogue during “The Singapore Summit” conference on 20 Sep 2014 Lee Hsien Loong was reported as saying, “If we just open our doors and say everybody can come, free movement of labour, tomorrow, there will be one million people on their way here, maybe more. Some will fly, maybe more will come by boat, and I think it will be a very different Singapore. So, you can’t do that.”

That's a taiji move right there. Somebody else let in the barbarians, not him. Never mind if Yang Yin, MP Intan's grassroots Integration Champion, is feeling the heat right now. The new headache is how to handle the aliens who have settled within the city gates.

We were unfortunate to be seated at the same table as one of those new citizens at a clan dinner, partially funded by the $10 million budget for making foreigners feel welcomed. Husband and wife have been in country for more than 5 years, but they still weren't prepared to converse in English or Singlish, each attempt at polite discourse was responded to in Mandarin. We had to speak their mother tongue. On learning that the guy was a music teacher at a local primary school, the obvious thought that came to mind was whether that was a rare talent not found among Singaporeans. When a quartet of senior ladies took to the stage, he volunteered to lead the impromptu choir, but proceeded to drown out all the female voices with his show-off baritone. Yang Yin is not the only one warming up to the support of fans like Intan and the like.

Fortunately, Singaporeans are not about to start a bash a foreigner a day campaign. Unlike the extremist call by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group to kill all citizens of Western countries taking part in the US-led anti-extremist coalition by any means - with or without military equipment, using rocks or knives, or by running people over. “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European - especially the spiteful and filthy French - or an Australian, or a Canadian or any other disbeliever... including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him,” declared Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group’s spokesman. (AFP, 23 Sep 2014)

Singaporeans are not that xenophobic. Still, it would be nice if the authorities hurry up and deal with the tour guide cum con artiste before it all turns ugly.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Talking Big

During the stopover in Hong Kong, Lee Hsien Loong said that while he is glad the Americans have taken a stand against the Islamic State militant group, Singapore has yet to decide whether or how it will support the United States-led coalition campaign. His first direct comment on the global effort to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) militants in the Middle East reminds one of the ant who climbed up the backside of an elephant, with the intention of rape.

Note it was the Malaysian police once again, not Teo Chee Hean's highly decorated Home Team, who provided the details about the Penang-born PR and his Singaporean wife who brought their two teenage children to fight alongside the militants in Syria. The family was only briefly mentioned in Parliament by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo as being "among a handful of Singapore citizens" who had gone to participate in the conflict. Maybe it's too inconvenient to reveal more about what they don't know, just like they are being awfully quiet about how the scumbag Yang Yin was granted his residential papers in double quick time.

It's one thing to patrol the waters off Somalia for anti-piracy duties, it's another to send our boys smack into real harm's way. The hand held surface-to-air-missile (SAM) launchers that brought a Black Hawk down in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu can easily swipe our pretty F-16s or F-15s off the skies like any pesky mosquito. The fate of a downed pilot is not a pretty prospect, not something they usually prim for at another national day parade flyby. Of course they can fly higher, but who's to say the militants don't have the Buk SAMs of the pro-Russian separatists at Donetsk?

A more important question: who decides when a nation goes to war? Even Obama had to seek the approval of Congress, one step closer to authorizing the third significant U.S. military operation in Iraq. And to think Obama is only paid peanuts to maintain world peace.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Best Left Unseen, Unheard, Unread

peering into the darknesss....
... with photoshop magic
The first photographic image accompanies Heng Swee Kiat's Facebook post:
"Grateful to Mr Lee for making the time for his former PPSs and some staff to celebrate his 91st birthday with him tonight. Not many people see this side of Mr Lee, but I have always found him to be caring to his staff."

It must be a very dark night indeed, either that or nobody is allowed to see who/what has been cropped out of the picture. Grassroots devotees fallen out of favour? Former comrades uninvited from the occasion?  Maybe the Minister for Education has a lesson plan in mind.

According to textbook author Thanom Anarmwat, the Thai Ministry of Education had ordered that the name of Thaksin Shinawatra be expunged from new history books. The Education Ministry’s instruction is seen as part of a broader effort to instill patriotism in Thai youth, along with a new school curriculum that underlines the unifying themes of the monarchy and the glories of the ancient kingdoms of Siam, as Thailand was formerly known. Inglorious basterds have no place in such history.

In Asia, government deletions of undesirable facts and faces from official archives are not uncommon practice. In China, history textbooks do not mention the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square. One lass recruited from PRC simply excused herself from awareness of that nasty bit, because she was not born yet. She will be well taken care of in Singapore for 11 years, 1 year to learn English, 4 years in university, and 6 years to serve out the bond. She sure knows which side of her bread is buttered.

The grand daddy of guided education and censorship has to be Joseph Stalin. Russian books were rewritten, censored and introduced to teach everyone the ideas of Stalin in schools. He also had all the history of the old communists/exiles erased from education books and reprinted to sanitised versions that gave him more of an elevated role than he deserved. This ultimately gave Stalin control over the young generation of the Soviet Union, as they were led to believe in what was taught to them.

There are skeptics who believe the age of the internet is going to be different. “This is very much the usual practice of Thai elite,” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, former rector of the prestigious Thammasat University. “But it will be difficult because of social media and because it is not that easy to control the thinking of the masses, especially educated youth.”
... it's always hard to stem the enquiring minds

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thrown Out To Dry

It's no fun being an inventor in Singapore when big brother is out to grab your ideas. Yiap was too trusting in February 2001 when he presented his design for a clothes drying rack system to the officers at the Housing & Development Board (HDB).

HDB lawyers Darrell Low and May Tan told the court that the board had been "reviewing available racks"  since year 2000 - see 5 designs considered in the Facebook page "Development of HDB Clothes Drying Systems". Meaning, Yiap's invention could have been included in the survey. HDB dissed his creative effort as unsuitable, and proceeded to implement their own system in August 2001. Maybe the HDB had cherry picked the best of the features in rack systems they had come across, Yiap's ideas included.

But that was not the crux of the legal arguments presented in court. HDB said Yap only applied for the patent in February 2003. The technicality of timing was repeated by the lawyers in highlighting that potential patent infringement was suggested only in 2006, and the statutory time limit for filing a legal challenge, being only 6 years, had run out. Timing plays a crucial role in Singapore events because a walkover in Tanjong Pagar during GE2011 was decided by the tardy bureaucratic processing of another challenger's nomination papers. The losers have their own story to tell.

It was Justice Chan Seng Oon who mooted a more palatable justification for junking the intellectual property claim: that Yiap had calculated the load bearing capacity of his system to accommodate the weight of a human body, in case someone should fall while hanging out the heavy clothes to dry. HDB chose to save on the cost of engineering materials, and not incorporate the safety factor for the protection feature. Rather, they preferred to let their customers hang out to dry. The profit motive for a less robust design variant is consistent with the philosophy of the day, "what's wrong with collecting more money" ?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The English translation of the subtitle does not quite do it justice ("Because I have not yet seen anyone who puts principles before licentiousness", Chinese: 微臣從沒見過 如斯好德如好色的人), but you get the drift.

The gravitas of the moment comes off best in the narration by Meher McArthur in his little book about the sage, "Confucius".

Confucius (a.k.a. 孔子 Kǒng Zǐ, literally "Master Kong") had received an invite from the wife of the Duke of Wei, a woman of questionable character. Nanzi was notorious for her sexual intrigues and immoral behaviour. A foreign talent from the neighbouring state of Song, she had been having an incestuous relationship with her brother before marrying the Duke. Confucius could not refuse for fear of offending his powerful host; he was looking forward to finding satisfactory employment in the Wei government.
"Shortly after his first visit, Duke Ling invited him to join him and his wife in some sort of procession that may actually have been held in Confucius' honour. Apparently , the Duke and his wife rode in the first carriage, with Confucius and Nanzi's eunuch escort in the carriage behind them. The people of Wei saw the incongruity of this display and shouted out, "Lust in the front; virtue behind!" (pages 128,129)

Confucius was deeply embarrassed, and made the very cynical observation, "I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty." Following, Confucius gathered his followers and left Wei in disgust.

Such is the state of affairs in the current governance. There's no beauty in a birthday bash for 50 or 91 years, when the needy senior citizens are robbed of access to their own life savings when they reach age 55.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Forgive Is Not An Option

First Came The Insult

Then The Abject Apology

This is getting tiresome.

The law makers want to jail Singaporean motorists - one whole year behind bars - for using their handset while at the wheel. As if that's not harsh enough, the Traffic Police fined 564 for changing lanes without signalling in advance - a simple warning was never in the cards. That's just for the first 6 months of this year. At $70 a pop for light vehicles or $100 for heavy ones, that should pay for the announced salary increases of the "Home Team".

No wonder the foreigners have the impression that we are pushovers.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rotten Apples And Rotting Fruit

It was West Virginia University (WVU) who outed the fraudster, Anoop Shankar, former academic at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Shankar did not have a doctorate degree, and he did not graduate from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi as claimed in his resume. NUS confirmed that Shankar was employed as assistant professor with the Department of Community, Occupational and Family Medicine at NUS' Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine from 2005 to 2008.

All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel, and that’s because the one apple that’s gone bad gives off ethylene, speeding the ripening of all the other apples in the same confine. But Shankar was not the only rotten fruit.

Thanks to an anonymous tip, in March 2011, the National University of Singapore (NUS) launched an investigation on one of its former scientists, the immunologist Alirio Melendez, for alleged research misconduct in two papers.

Melendez had joined NUS in 2001, and was awarded a prestigious "young researcher" accolade in 2007. In same year he moved to the University of Liverpool and the University of Glasgow in the UK, whilst maintaining his lab at Singapore until 2009. When the NUS investigation was still ongoing, Melendez resigned his position at Liverpool University in November 2011 (he was suspended from his role since April 2011, without prejudice, pending the outcome of the investigation). Glasgow University said it had concluded its own investigation in October 2011, but it was the university’s policy "not to comment on individual cases".

A blog called the Gigamole Diaries pointed out that the NUS deputy president connected to the investigation had co-authored two papers with Melendez:
"…the authorship list for Melendez papers reads almost like a Who’s Who in the medical school, and includes heads of departments, Vice Deans and prominent individuals in the office of the NUS Vice President. Interestingly Prof Barry Halliwell, who is NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology), and who has been cited as fronting the investigation into the Melendez publications is himself associated with at least 2 Melendez publications."

After 19 long months, the NUS in December 2012 finally reported that it had determined one of its former scientists, the immunologist Alirio Melendez, had committed “serious scientific misconduct”. The university found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers. It added that no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct. But the university would not identify the papers retracted, nor release the report of the committee that investigated them. The list of retracted papers, a correction and an expression of concern, are available at Retraction Watch.

It's the same old story, what to do, done already. Please move on, nothing to see here. It’s “standard operating procedure” to sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet, so we’ll just keep doing things our way, thank you very much.

Just as Dr Intan Azura Binte Mokhtar spoke up in support of the carpetbagger Yang Yin, Associate Professor Koh Woon Puay of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School maintains she has not found any reason to question Shankar's credentials, "Personally, I did not have any reason to suspect at that time that he was not trained in epidemiology or statistics to carry out his research." Koh is co-author of three papers they had worked on. One blogger explains the method for the madness:
"In the NUS, I am told, there is a scheme of apportioning glory and credit for scientific publications. This is for the purpose of chalking up points for promotions and other 'rewards'. The lead and the corresponding authors get 50% of the credit each. All the other co-authors stuck in between get 10% each. On this model, one published paper with a mass grave of 10 co-authors can chalk up a total of 180% credit."

Friday, September 12, 2014

ICA's Hot Potato

Some pictures are really worth a thousand words. The body language of each player could have such a rich story to tell: the immigrant made good (trying hard anyway), the sneering driver going about his job (having lost the last better paying one to a foreign talent), the lawyer pondering if justice is really blind (after blowing his parents' savings for an overseas degree). There's enough material on the canvas for Tan Pin Pin to craft another award winner, albeit one that will not undermine the security of the nation. If the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) says okay, it must be okay.

The hot potato has landed on ICA's lap. The story of yin and yang (yīn 陰 or 阴 "shady side" and yáng 陽 or 阳 "sunny side"), hard steel of greed preying on the soft heart of an old woman. What's on the lips of everyone is how a tour guide from China was granted an employment pass. The ICA website says any foreigner interested to work and has a job offer in Singapore may apply for an Employment Pass. The applicant will need to earn at least $3,300 and possess acceptable qualifications.

The guy first came in on a 4-week holiday in 2009. He was employed by a company set up in his own name and that of the retired physiotherapist. As a director of Young Music and Dance Studio, he may have been free to set his own compensation package, an unfettered practice indulged in by some politicians. Although the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) has challenged the claim of directorship, ICA may have considered other acceptable qualifications. Photographic images of Kodak moments with key political figures may have carried the weight of an imprimatur. A letter of support from a standing member of parliament may have sealed the deal. Which could add up to explain the accelerated award of Permanent Residence status by 2011.

Recall in 2009, ICA was having a whale of a time, issuing entry papers like it was going out of style. The auntie hawking alcoholic beverages at kopi-tiams island wide lost their jobs to more lithe versions from the Middle Kingdom. The PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians) will have their own taste of the bitter concoction a few years later. Not content with their place in our land of opportunity, some imported talents stalked senior citizens, targeting a soft spot with their sob stories of hardship back home.

While clearing the personal effects of a relative who passed away recently, we came across an entry in his notebook. He was a thrifty person who always saved for a rainy day, and actually had some money to leave behind for siblings. But not before some China crow got to him first. "Damn China girl," he wrote, "cheated me of $8,000."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Telling It Like It Is

Just like the National Library prefers to pulp books instead of burning them, the Media Development Authority (MDA) chose to slap a NAR rating (Not Allowed for All Ratings) instead of an outright ban on the award winning film "To Singapore, With Love". Producer Tan Pin Pin won international accolades for her effort, including Best Director at the Muhr AsiaAfrica Documentary Awards at the Dubai Film Festival 2013, and put our budding film industry in the limelight. In 2007, "Zahari's 17 Years" was actually banned by the government, but that caused such a stink that MDA must have learnt its bitter lesson about showcasing draconian methodologies.

When MDA declared that its contents "undermined national security", there was a glimpse of hope we may finally get to see how Mas Selamat climbed out a toilet window, giving future detainees a sneak preview of how to exit a supposedly secure detention facility with the greatest of ease. Nope, they objected to "untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore". They meaning exiles who had to flee for their personal safety, like Tan Wah Piow who was let out of the prison gates only to be thrown straight into the clutches of the armoured division. The Singapore armed forces that we know doesn't exactly have a pristine safety record. Young lives are crushed under "parked" military vehicles, limbs severed in naval exercises, asthmatics snuffed out by smoke grenades, etc, etc.

The except from Berlinale (Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin) starts like this:
"Some places are better observed from a distance if you want to grasp their inner essence. For this portrait of her hometown, the tropical economic powerhouse of Singapore, Tan Pin Pin decided on a strictly external perspective. She meets with political exiles in London, Thailand, and Malaysia who had to leave the city thirty-five or fifty years ago – and who are to this day not permitted to return unless they die and their relatives bring back their ashes. The protagonists of the film fought for increased democracy and for Singapore to be freed from colonialism."

There must be more truth in that paragraph than the storyline that required 62 script revisions for the upcoming "1965" propaganda movie that will cost taxpayers $2.8 million. They must have had lots of problems with the part about collaborating with the Japanese occupiers when Singapore was Syonanto.

MDA is insisting the movie is wrong, that former CPM members "can return if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases". Even if they were never card carrying members of the Communist Party of Malaysia? Chia Thye Poh was never a member of the CPM. He lost the best years of his life just because one man said so. And that's the hard truth.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not Exactly A Role Model

The author of the virulent diatribe against Singaporeans has degrees from Oxford University (Hertford College) in the United Kingdom, a Master of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and a Master of Science in Management. ASPIRE (Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review) couldn't have done a better job to dissuade one from pursuing a university education.

Then again, his day job is exhibiting human mannequins on the stage (also called a manikin, dummy, lay figure or dress form). Think cattle trade, fresh meat paraded on a catwalk.

When Cheng was President of Singapore's modelling association, his aim was to increase the pay and welfare of models in Singapore. Not protect the human dignity of a profession which is unregulated and relies on a compliant labor force of children. To this day, in an industry dominated by minors, there is no policy of informed consent for jobs involving full or partial nudity.

To be clear, we are not talking about scientific modelling, the aim of which is to make a particular part or feature of the anatomy, as in medical studies, easier to understand, define, quantify, visualize, or simulate. It requires selecting and identifying relevant aspects of a situation in the real world and then using different types of models to better understand, quantify, and visualize the subject. Modelling is an essential and inseparable part of scientific activity, and many scientific disciplines have their own ideas about specific types of modelling.

Cheng deals with the kind of model (from Middle French modelle), which is a person in a role either to promote, display, or advertise commercial products (notably fashion clothing). Acuity in mental faculties is not a prerequisite for the calling. Male, female or transgender models are valued for their clear skin, healthy hair, and attractive facial features. Sexual abuse in the industry is a pervasive problem. Consider just the last few years: in 2008, fashion designer Anand Jon was found guilty of rape and multiple counts assault on aspiring models, who ranged from 14 to 21 years old. Terry Richardson, one of the industry's most powerful photographers, has been accused of pressuring models to disrobe at castings and conducting shoots that involve what he claims are consensual sex acts performed on him by models.(Among Richardson's regular clients are H&M, Vogue, and GQ.)

Now you can appreciate why they are saying you don't need a university degree to succeed in life. All you need is a bit of guanxi, the right political connection, and maybe an amoral preparedness to go with the flow. Brains are definitely optional.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Weapons of Asset Destruction

Howe Yoon Chong (Chinese: 侯永昌;pinyin: Hóu Yǒngchāng) had a very brief sojourn as a minister in the cabinet (1979 to 1984) after an illustrious career history as CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), Chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), and Head of the Singapore Civil Service. Some attribute his abbreviated appointment to his controversial proposal in 1984 to raise the age for the withdrawal of Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings from 55 to 60 years. Under pressure from public ire, that part of the 54-page report of the Committee on the Problems of the Aged which he chaired was eventually dropped. Some blamed him for the controversial report, the loss of 12% of the overall votes in the 1984 election, and Chiam See Tong's vindication at Potong Pasir (Howe had dismissed the opposition candidates, including independent Chiam See Tong, as "court jesters" who had come out "to provide comic relief").

Urban legend has it that his acid tongue did not spare his political supporters. Looking at the grassroots leaders across the table in their eyes, he is rumoured to have castigated them, "I know why you are here", or words to that effect. Quite obviously, Action Information Management (A.I.M.) was not the first $2 company.

Demonstrating a kinder approach to her own cheer team, Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC MP) said yesterday, "The grassroots leaders... a lot of them are doing very good work but they don’t get time in the media." She was making reference to one who did make the headlines, Chinese national and Singapore permanent resident Yang Yin, who is accused of taking advantage of a retired physiotherapist diagnosed with dementia earlier this year. The niece of the elderly victim is applying to the court to suspend the Lasting Power of Attorney which has given Yang, self-styled professional music and dance teacher, control over her 87-year-old aunt’s assets.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Singapore quoted the South China Morning Post (SCMP) print edition in reporting that the court room drama unfolding will be reminiscent of the tussle between the estate of the late Nina Wang and self-styled fung shui practitioner Tony (now Peter) Chan Chun-chuen. Chan, who had claimed to be the sole beneficiary of her HK$100 billion fortune, was finally convicted of forging a will and sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Yang's instrument of choice was the Mental Capacity Act (“MCA”) which came into operation on 1 March 2010. This superseded the Mental Disorders and Treatment Act (“MDTA”), which had requirement that only a Committee of the Persons or Estate appointed by the Court may manage the personal welfare and finances of an individual of “unsound mind”. MCA supposedly sets out safeguards to protect vulnerable members of our society, such as the abuse of the new statutory document known as the Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”). It's perfectly legal, and the weapons are provided by the sitting parliament currently debating the use of handphones in moving vehicles.
Intan: He came to help out during grassroots events…

Monday, September 8, 2014

Time Out For Religion

According to an article in TIME magazine (August 18, 2014), there are 6% of Americans who identify with atheism (lack of belief in God) or agnosticism  (knowledge of God is unknowable).  The curiosity is that some of these are setting up "atheist churches", even in the Bible Belt, a concept that embraces the religious practice sans the theology.

There must be many reasons for the rejection of theism. In the introduction to his book, "The God Argument, The Case Against Religion and for Humanism", A C Grayling wrote that religions have often been cruel in their effects, and remain to this day:
"Homosexuals are hanged in Iran, adulterous women are beheaded in Afghanistan and stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, "witches" are murdered in Africa, women and children are subordinated in many fundamentalist households in the Bible Belt of the United States and in many parts of the Islamic world. Throughout history the religion-inspired suppression of women has robbed humanity of at least half its potential creativity and genius."

Nested deep in the theism-atheism debate is the nagging doubt about the source and content of our moralities: does morality come from a transcendent source or does it arise from our own intrinsic self reflection on human realities and relationships? This is a case for humanism as a powerful alternative to religious morality. Humanism requires no commitment to teaching beyond its two fundamental premises - that individuals should think for themselves about what they are and how they should live. There's no body of doctrines and prescriptions, backed by sanctions for not believing in the former (eternal damnation in hell) or rewards in obeying the latter (promise of heaven and the company of angels or virgins). Consider this fact: the institution that commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling also ran the Inquisition that burnt thousands at the stake. Religious styles of morality were premised on a religious view of the universe and mankind's place in it, not always a pretty picture.

Whether we like it or not, religions are here to stay. Organised humanism can offer variants of the theatrical aspects of religion - baptism, weddings, and funerals - that celebrate the significant moments of the passage of life and pander to the social needs of companionship. Probably the best reasons for atheists to gather and mimicking church. Instead of going off on Crusades, or answering the call of jihadist martyrdom.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Recognize The Evil

On Saturday 30 Aug, three young men in Beirut protested by torching the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) flag, a black banner emblazoned with the Muslim tenet "there is no god but God and Muhammed is his prophet (Arabic: لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ الله)." The Lebanese teens then posted a video of the flag-burning online, exhorting others to do the same to demonstrate their opposition to the evil led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The flag-burning campaign, modeled on the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge," quickly took off on social media under the hashtag #BurnISISFlagChallenge.

Surprisingly, Lebanon’s justice minister, Ashraf Rifi, called for the “sternest punishments” to be applied to the young men because the flag had the Muslim Shahada (declaration of faith), written on it, “which has nothing to do with ISIS and its terrorist approach.” In response, Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, came forward to declare that he will represent the three boys accused of burning the flags if a case against them ever makes it to court.

It is difficult not to take sides over this incident, given the recent beheadings of two journalists, James Foley, 40, and Steven J. Sotloff, 31, and now a similar threat on David Haines, 44. It is also incredible that there are those who profit from the marketing of the ISIS flag and claim they are have nothing to do with the terrorists. Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Sudiman, associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, likens it to football fans buying team jerseys to show their support and solidarity. "While the IS certainly did not invent the black flag, they have appropriated it as their brand," explained Dr Haddad of the Middle East Institute at NUS. Just as our national flag has been hijacked by a certain political party, and reason enough for many not to hang it out on national day.

It's more serious in Germany, where the display of the swastika is verboten, tantamount to the display of the Confederate flag in the United States. Both symbols represent dark periods in each country's history. In Germany, even consumer products such as t-shirts and bumper stickers can be confiscated if they contain any depiction of a swastika. The penalty for ignoring the ban is either a fine or imprisonment up to three years. No thanks to Hitler, the symbol used by ancient Celts, Indians, Greeks, and in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism,  is stigmatized as being associated with Nazism and related concepts of antisemitism, hatred, violence, death, and murder.

The Malaysian Police have done their part to make sure the ISIS wannabes are nipped in the bud. Our Home Team, however, seems to be less pro-active, burying their heads in the sand like ostriches after collecting the 5 to 12 percent salary increases. Unless you are legally blind, there's no mistaking the evil from these sample Google images:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Sell Out Option

Somebody must have peed in their pants. The national library put the books back on the shelves, the housing board apologized before animal rights groups could bite, and now the Ministry of National Development (MND) is hastily revamping the lease buyback options. Haste makes waste, as suggested by the Century 21 CEO, "I thought the scheme is trying to support asset-rich cash-poor families. Why would a family with a household income of $8,000 to $10,000 a month be considered poor?"

That question came about in the light of the changes proposed for the unpopular lease buyback scheme, to be implemented only from April 2015. Plenty of time to get it right - so much for the general's boast about one shot one kill. So what's new?

More Eligible
- extended to 4-room flats, currently stopping at 5-room and private properties
- household income ceiling raised from $3,000 to $10,000, which is dirt poor compared to those planners drawing $100,000++ per month
More hard cash upfront
- top-up requirement for CPF Retirement Account reduced to half the prevailing Minimum Sum (MS), confirming full MS is going overboard
Variable Lease Period
- standard plain vanilla 30-year lease now available in 15-, 20-, 25-, 30-, or 35-year lease options. A household must have at least 20 years of lease to sell, and only 80+ seniors can select the minimum 15-year lease option. And you thought ordering a Starbucks coffee was complicated.

According to MND figures, 250,000 HDB flats are owned by seniors aged 55+, and 80 percent are fully paid. The lease buyback scheme is good only for those eligible participants who have reached the current CPF draw-down age of 63, so it's still guesswork how many of those public housing flats will be unloaded. The previous scheme had only 800 takers since its introduction in 2009. Also interesting is the fact that the original premise concerning flat ownership was about having a stake in our country to fight for. With so many aliens brought onboard, the will to defend that stake have been shakened to the core.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Batteries Not Included

The Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) was introduced in February with much fanfare at Budget 2014. Since then, we have been inundated with the spare-no-expense publicity tsunami, the most obnoxious being the mahjong game video which tarred our senior citizens as compulsive gamblers. A none too subtle excuse for why our CPF is not returned at age 55.

From June 16, letters were sent out to inform those who qualify for the PGP, supposedly to spell out clearly the lifetime benefits they will be entitled to.

In August, the first sign of the roll out of promises came in the form of Medisave top ups.

The PGP welcome pack was sent out in late August, which contains the key Pioneer Generation Card, to open the door for special subsidies at general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), polyclinics, and Specialist Outpatient Clinics.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, and Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo were on hand at the PGP Taskforce production site on July 22 to check on the progress of the promotional material. Khor was clear with her mission: "We will also work closely with the grassroots and other groups, VWOs included, besides our frontline staff, to explain the package to them. The welcome pack is the PG card but the benefits itself, we will have to explain to them probably in more detail."

Someone else who had to be familiar with the details of the package was the prime minister who personally presented the PGP to some 200 elderly Singaporeans at the Teck Ghee Community Club on Saturday evening, August 30.

Come September 1, the pioneers trooped to the participating polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics to enjoy the additional 50 per cent off subsidised services such as consultation and blood tests. Some, like 82 year old Ang, reportedly postponed treatment last week to take advantage of the subsidies, "My daughter wanted to bring me here on Friday as I was feverish, but I wanted to wait till today to get the discount."

Only to discover that the discount does not apply for prescribed drugs or medication, which comes into effect only from January 1. In non-clinical terms, batteries are not included. Hopefully, other PGP qualified senior citizens will not be rescheduling their medical appointments till January next year, or kick the bucket in the interim. As to why this little detail was not publicised, it's anybody's guess. One clue does come to mind: "What's wrong with collecting more money?"
... the devil is in the details

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Eerie Quiet

The letter writer asked for a waiver of the 3 year waiting period for a HDB flat after downgrading from private property ownership. Instead of being free to hop about happily in the garden, his rabbit will probably be confined to a hutch in the balcony. And poor doggy may have to be debarked to maintain the silence of the lambs housed in high rise pigeon holes with 99-year leases. Such is the fate of those who swallowed the sugared blue pill of asset enhancement.

Talking on the Chinese language station 95.8FM  radio call-in , even the prime minister admitted that there are retirees who are asset-rich cash-poor. "We should take a close look at this problem.... ", he said, without venturing any solution.

The Reuters report of another quiet group highlighted the eerie silence at night in Sentosa Cove, the only place in Singapore where foreigners can buy landed property. Spurred on by the 2004 Financial Investor Scheme (FIS) that allowed foreigners with a global net worth of $20 million to become permanent residents (PRs) if they parked $5 million (raised to $10 million in 2010) in country, $2 million of which could be put into property, the gold rush was on.

Fast forward to July 2014, a four-bedroom apartment in Sentosa's Turquoise condominium went under the hammer at a mortgagee sale for $1,400 per square foot. In 2012, a similar flat in the same block went for $2,450 per square foot and in 2007, it fetched $2,800. "The rental can't even cover the mortgage for these high-end investments - they want to offload but there are no takers," said the head of research at property consultancy OrangeTee.

No pity for this lot. Without a doubt, they helped pushed the COE to untenable levels. Last month United Overseas Bank (UOB) reported a doubling in its bad debt charges for the second quarter, attributing to a group of investors struggling to service high-end property loans.  Inevitably, the banks will have to hike interest rates, and even those flat buyers who opt for the Housing Board's fixed concessionary loans may not escape the bloodbath ahead. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Monday, September 1, 2014

11,800 More Votes

It was obvious the hike for the non-graduate civil servants was not meant to address the shameful Gini coefficient. The management executive officers - specifically those who work on policies and oversea operations - who are benefiting from the 5 pay cent increase this month are, by one account, in the over $10,000 a month salary bracket. The beneficiaries of this largess include 6,500 management executive officers and 5,300 management support officers.

This unexpected generosity comes after the 5 to 12 percent increases announced for Home Team officers recently, and public sector nurses have been promised 5 to 20 percent over the next two years.

The Public Service Division (PSD) cited factors like economic growth, despite the published fact that GDP growth is nowhere within smelling range of  5 percent.

Based on advance estimates in July 2014, the Singapore economy grew by 2.1 per cent on a year-on-year basis in the second quarter of 2014, slower than the 4.7 per cent growth in the previous quarter. On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally-adjusted annualised basis, the economy contracted by 0.8 per cent, a reversal from the 1.6 per cent growth in the preceding quarter.

Another line used is the keep up with the Joneses in the private-sector argument. At least one dissenting voice shot this down, "I don't think civil servants are lagging behind the private sector." The CEO of the Center for Executive Education felt the PSD should "clearly articulate and provide the information on how extensive its private-sector salary data study was and what industry level it benchmarked salaries to."

The Home Team showed its true colours at Little India. The nurses' hard work are marred by horror stories of how a woman died because her aspirator was not switched on, and a grandma with an assigned ward and bed number who had to spend the night in a hospital corridor. Nobody really knows what the non-graduate civil servants do, since we assume policy making is in the powerful hands of the superscale permanent secretaries. However, we do see lots of helpers manning the balloting centers during a general election.