Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Horrible News

Vivian Balakrishnan once "revealed" that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had asked him if he would have bid for the YOG if he had known it would cost more than S$300 million. To this, Balakrishnan said that he would still do it, and had no regrets. Well, if his intent was to just put Singapore in the international spotlight, there's a cheaper way.

Only You

Only you
Can make this world seem right
Only you
Can make the darkness bright
Only you and you alone
Can thrill me like you do
And fill my heart with love for only you

She must have had the Johnny Mathis record on the turntable when our founding lady of Singapore literature was inspired to pen her eulogy. Too bad it wasn't set to verse, maybe some rap artiste of Eminem calibre will update the crooner's classic into an iTunes hit download.
  • If only you had done so without so much human cost.
  • If only this single-mindedness had not blinded you to the need for change in the evolving political landscape of Singapore.
  • If only you had shown one more attribute of great leadership—the ability to acknowledge mistakes made and the humility to say sorry for policies that had caused pain and hardship to others.
  • If only this deep sense of family closeness and love had been paralleled by a sense of compassion for the families of those political dissidents who were jailed for decades or had to flee into permanent exile.

And to the touchy feely part about devoted bedside duty for his ailing wife, we may add:
  • If only you understood the Sonnets you read to her, the Bard's words refer to a human heart of love and compassion, not a mechanical pacemaker contrived by scientists without soul.

Three days have not yet passed, and already a 17 year old has been arrested. No wonder they always say,  it ain't over till the fat lady sings. Writers don't count.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Je Suis Amos

Contrary to popular misconception, the word liberally peppered in his powerful diatribe is not of Anglo-Saxon origin. The f-word is of Germanic origin, related to Dutch, German, and Swedish words for "to strike" and "to move back and forth." If you were embarrassed, you will definitely flush red in the face at the explicit reference to procreative activity in this historic uttering in the staid house of parliament:
"Repression, Sir, is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love - it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. "

And there was this reference to a religious figure that could be discomfiting. Francis Seow must have been similarly disturbed by the dubious boast of one former politician, one decidedly no longer with us today, when he was speaking at an election rally in Cheng San. Something to the effect that, in the course of human history, only one person can claim to be able to rise from the dead.

More than one person was upset when same said expired politician used the word "Repent" with identical bold audacity at Aljunied.

There will be others with differing reactions to the young man's unpleasant truths, notably the grassroots leader honoured by Lim Swee Say with a Long Service Award. One who seems to have a fetish for the things he can get away with, in a particular the genital mutilation intents he had in mind for a little boy's pee-pee.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Shades Of Stockholm Syndrome

It was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who castigated Singaporeans by pointing out the trash that was left behind at the Laneway music festival (mostly Ang Moh fans) and contrasted it with how Myanmar football supporters (dressed suspiciously like hired help) picked up after themselves after a match at the National Stadium. Singapore's unique rubbish headache stems from its small size and high population density (Reuters, 21 May 2008).

But all is forgiven when garbage piled up along various parts of the meandering queue to Parliament House - where  Lee Kuan Yew’s body was lying in airconditioned comfort - despite an army of cleaners being deployed on the ground. A 57-year-old cleaner (Singaporean, not Burmese) who should have collected his CPF and be at home playing with his grandchildren told TODAY, “We have to constantly walk around to clear the rubbish... If there are more people we may have to work overtime depending on instructions.” The irony of the situation was not lost on one commentator, “Remember to keep the place clean and green. Don’t forget (Mr Lee’s) legacy.” Wait till the old man gets up and scold you, then you know.

Imagine the horror if the keechiu general had ordered packet rice to add to the hordes drawn in by freebies like bottled water, umbrellas, and snacks. Dismissing the freeloader mentality, there is another plausible reason for the horrendous queues snaking towards the casket for a 3 second viewing.

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon which explains why hostages express sympathy and develop positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. Popularised in the 1988 movie, Patty Hearst, an American heiress from the Hearst publishing family kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), was a dramatic demonstration of the transition from victim to supporter.

The shift in Hearst's inexplicable behavior with the SLA has been widely attributed to the psychological phenomenon, an effect thought to occur when victims' initially frightening experiences are later countered with acts of compassion or comradery by those same perpetrators. The horror of the Central Provident Fund nest egg being held hostage are quickly forgotten, in exchange for GST vouchers, Pioneer Generation cards and other "acts of compassion". Either that or the surfeit of celebratory champagne is kicking in.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cry Babies

Kwa Geok Choo was once caught on a hot mike, wondering aloud why her husband who was so widely admired, was also widely hated. Some of the victims of Operation Cold Store may venture their theories, but their voices are not aired this week. Even Ngiam Tong Dow, always a treasure trove of personal anecdotes, is effectively silenced. Thankfully, the hate is also muted.

Hitler didn't want his remains to be desecrated by the Russian enemy at the gates, and gave specific instructions for his body to be drenched in petrol and burnt beyond recognition. He didn't fancy the fate of Mussolini, whose body was hung upside down from a metal girder in a suburban square, the Piazzale Loreto, for a large angry crowd to insult and physically abuse. Cremation has its advantages. A burial plot could be dive-bombed by marauding pigeons, or end up a collection point for Newater. Singaporeans are more forgiving.

In light of the 24/7 bombardment by the state media, one wonders if they are planning to beatify him. Beatification (from Latin beatus, "blessed" and facere, "to make") is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Imagine, our very own Saint Harry.

Before you choose to condemn or bless his memory, consider the childhood he may have had.

Most of us living a humdrum life have pretty happy childhood memories. Lee Kuan Yew's earliest recollection was about being held by his ears and dangled over a deep freshwater well, punishment for messing around with his father's 4711 Brilliantine hair cream. Fifty years later, "I read in the Scientific American an article explaining how pain and shock released neuropeptides in the brain, stamping the new experience into the brain cells and thus ensuring that the experience would be remembered for a long time afterwards." ("The Singapore Story", page 25). Fortunately for us, it's only spurs stuck into the behind for our lot. Perhaps he was imagining JBJ as a father figure when he called him a mangy dog.

If Khaw Boon Wan really wants something to bawl about in parliament, it should be about a tormented  childhood, instead of stupid trees whose fallen branches block the road after a heavy thunder storm. Singapore would be a nicer place if the adults are all well adjusted.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Come To Praise Caesar, Not Bury Him

Henry Kissinger hailed him as a great man. And he was a close personal friend, a fact that Kissinger considers one of the great blessings of his life. A world needing to distill order from incipient chaos will miss his leadership. That's from the same Kissinger who also said "Power is the great aphrodisiac.” (New York Times, January 19, 1971)

Exactly why Kissinger is a darling embraced by legions of elite media, government, corporate and high society admirers is best attributed to the quote released by Wikileaks,"the illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer".

Kissinger's most significant historical act was executing Richard Nixon's orders to conduct the worst massive bombing campaign of civilian targets in world history, covertly and illegally devastating thousands of non-combatant villages throughout areas of Cambodia. There is a word for the aerial mass murder that Henry Kissinger committed in Indochina, and that word is “evil”.

Kissinger the man will likely be remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the fellow best described by the novelist Joseph Heller in "Good As Gold":
 “It was disgraceful and so discouraging … that this base figure charged with infamies too horrendous to measure and too numerous for listing should be gadding about gaily in chauffeured cars, instead of walking at Spandau with Rudolf Hess ... Asked about his role in the Cambodian war, in which an estimated five hundred thousand people died, he'd said: ‘I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved.’"

Closer to home, U.S. President Gerald R. Ford and Kissinger pre-approved Suharto’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, telling the dictator that "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly." By the time the Indonesian occupation finally ended in 1999, 200,000 Timorese – 30 percent of the population – had been wiped out.

For a huge variety of well justified reasons, Henry Kissinger is believed by millions to be one of the single most evil individuals still living, or to have ever lived. So, if you want your praises to be sung, choose carefully.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Last Lap

Nice digs, staff of 90, $4 million to upkeep

Aha, the gun carriage denied to Ong Teng Cheong

Glass panels for climate control?

No ordinary land rover, must be a Mercedes

Looks like it's downhill all the way now

He ain't so heavy, he's just your grandpa

Goh has his last laugh, not so wooden after all

Seriously, bagpipes? Ummi drums cannot meh?

Someone please lock up after he leaves the building

Not exactly North Korea standard, but good enough

Back to place of work, after long absence

Last chance to note number plate for TOTO bet

Remember, chaps, you drop it, you pay for it

Phew! That wasn't too difficult, was it? 

Back to work, fellas, show's over.

The Soft Portrait

Whoever was responsible for the funeral arrangements, he deserves to be shot. The photograph chosen for the once in a life time event lacks gravitas, hardly the best portrait of a strong man who fought colonial masters, Communists and political opponents alike, with one hand tied behind his back. It looks more like one of those effete models pimped by Calvin Cheng for a living.

Alex Josey told author James Minchin ("No Man Is An Island") that when Lee Kuan Yew first saw himself on television, he was momentarily shocked into silence. He was appalled at the fierce and unsmiling figure on the screen, clearly spoiling for a fight. This was not the figure the political Lee wanted to present to the electorate, according to Josey:
"He set out to soften the image. The result is not an unqualified success: when he is not tensed up to rebuke or attack, he tends to appear bored or chemically over-relaxed and his official smile is not unlike that of a crocodile tenderly anticipating his prey."

If you are planning to capture your own enduring image for posterity at the Parliament House lie-in-state - the elites had their meet and greet with the stiff at the Istana, hoi polloi will have to make do with some place less exclusive - here's a couple of handy funeral photography tips:
  • Beware family members may object to your presence, don't take it personally –– it's about grief and loss, and respecting sensitivities trumps all. Put aside politics for the day.
  • Eschew the wide angle lens for a telephoto to help you to take long shots and keep your distance. What you don't want is a slug to the chin by an over enthusiastic cop in plain clothes.
  • Have plenty of tissues with you; it will be hard to stay unmoved, especially when so many grassroots worshippers will be on the prowl for a $2 company opportunity. Whatever you do, don't sell three packets for a dollar.
  • The indoor lighting may not be optimal. Choose a high ISO setting and a camera with optical image stabilisation like the iPhone 6 Plus. Low light situations can be improved with the use of a monopod or tripod, but it is unlikely Baey Yam Keng will get to use his selfie gear.
When all else fails, there is always Adobe Photoshop.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tales From The Crypt

Toh was founder Chairman of the People's Action Party in 1954
For those who are better informed, this is going to be one helluva gruelling week. Already the state television channels are playing the clip over and over ad nauseam, the one where the guy sheds crocodile tears after being tufted out of Malaysia.

Toh Chin Chye tells it different. Lee Kuan Yew, in his frustration with Malay rights, was becoming more and more anti-Malay in his speeches, particularly when he was abroad. All this was duly reported by Reuters and Cablenews and reached the ears of the Malaysian Government. Of course Kuala Lumpur reacted badly, some of the things he said were really insulting. He called them "Mad Mullahs" and all that.

It was Toh's turn to be frustrated. He told Melanie Chew, ("Leaders of Singapore", Resource Press (1996), page 97):
"He was crying,I don't understand him at all. On one hand, he worked so hard for merger. Having gotten the cupful, he shattered it. And then cried over it."

Lee held two successive conferences, and in both of which he cried. When he learnt from the press secretary, Lee Wei Ching (no relation), another was being scheduled, Toh had had enough. "You ought to tell the Prime Minister to go to Changi and take a rest. Call the press conference off! Another crying bout, and the people of Singapore will think the government is on its knees."

When asked if Lee was in a very emotional state because he felt he had made a blunder, Toh would only say, "You have to interview him on that. I cannot answer for him."

Chew's bulky volume is a good read, and contains interviews with every Singapore personality who had a hand in our nation building. Devan Nair, Goh Keng Swee, Lim Kim San, Rajaratnam, Ong Pang Boon, Lim Chin Siong, Lee Siew Choh, they are all included. With the significant exception of one Lee Kuan Yew. As they say, dead men tell no tales. Just don't expect the hard truth from the state controlled media.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Legacy Of Great Leaders

When Indonesia's former dictator Suharto finally gave up the ghost on 27 January 2008, it was 3 long weeks after being admitted to Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta. Despite the gallant efforts of dozens of Indonesia's best doctors, he was done in by anemia and low blood pressure due to heart, lung and kidney problems.

And as he lay in hospital, kept alive by the scientific marvel of a life support machine, victims of his repressive regime fumed at the failure to prosecute him for mass murder of at least half a million killed during his 32 years in power. During the mid-1960s, Suharto supervised a purge of suspected Communists that saw between 500,000 and a million lives snuffed out in cold blood. Until the world learnt of the Khmer Rouge's atrocities in Cambodia a decade later, it was the bloodiest event in the region since the Second World War.

However, his children and business cronies waxed lyrical about his qualities, having reaped the bountiful fruits of his inglorious reign. Transparency International, the anti-corruption pressure group, estimated that Suharto amassed a personal fortune of between $15bn and $35bn, much of it through bribes and kickbacks. His wife was nicknamed "Ibu Ten Percent" for obvious reasons. Suharto also learnt to make effective use of lawyers, he won a $106m lawsuit against Time magazine after it suggested his family stashed away $15bn of state funds.

Quite naturally, not too many world leaders made a beeline to his bedside. The notable few who did: Malaysia's ex-president Mahathir Mohamad, Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, and the then Philippine President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They lauded Suharto for promoting regional unity. Lee's cogent contribution spoke volumes about their shared values:
“Yes, there was corruption. Yes, he gave favors to his family and his friends. But there was real growth, real progress… What is a few billion dollars lost in bad excesses? He built hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets. I think the people of Indonesia are lucky. They had a general in charge, had a team of competent administrators including a very good team of economists.”

Lee Kuan Yew died at 3.18am today at the Singapore General Hospital. He was 91.
Digital art created with AndreaMosaic

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poor Putin

Ouch! That is so NOT the kind of epitaph to die for. The Business Insider write up of 19 Mar 2015 is proof that we are not alone in begrudging an installed princeling for helping himself to the nation's cookie jar.

Maybe Putin was putting on a show of personal sacrifice when he took a 10% pay cut in the face of mounting economic sanctions and low oil prices, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was sincere when his pay was shaved 30% to help fund reconstruction in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastation. But unlike the cape crusader wannabe Lim Swee Say who effused endlessly about his CPF statement, Putin told reporters that "Frankly, I don't even know my own salary, they just give it to me, and I put it away in my account."

Over the last 15 years under Putin’s reign, Russia has raked in over US$3 trillion “petrodollars.” Although detractors claim that Putin’s brand of crony capitalism has turned many loyalists into billionaires, he did not peg his salary to the top earners.

The rot started in November 1994, when Lee Kuan Yew made a mockery of the Old Guards' sacrifice, "My generation of political leaders have become dinosaurs, an extinct breed of men when went into politics because of the passion of their convictions." One journalist was brave enough to tell him that higher salaries would change, and Lee quoted him, "the name of the game and attract a different type of person with different motivations."

His speech during the debate on the White Paper on ministerial salaries concluded with these lines: "In five to ten years, when it works and Singapore has got a good government, this formula will be accepted as convention wisdom." Now that we have rat infested housing estates, trains breaking down with alarming frequency, rising healthcare cost showing no signs of abating, it is questionable what a working government is really like. Ten years after 1994, we had a new prime minister, whose next ten years' turn at the helm was coined a "roller coaster decade" by Straits Times journalist Chua Mui Hoong, the nadir of which has to be the Population White Paper in 2013.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Rumors Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

CNN quickly corrected its initial report after Farah Rahim, senior director for the Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information, dismissed it as a hoax. Nobody likes to be wrong, so the dagger was twisted after the stab, "The elder Lee has been credited with Singapore's remarkable transformation from a colonial trading post to a prosperous financial center. However, he has also been a divisive figure, attracting criticism for stifling media freedom and for the harsh treatment of political opponents."

To quote Mark Twain, "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated". The expression derives from the popular form of a longer statement by the American writer which appeared in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’. The correction was occasioned by newspaper accounts of Twain’s being ill or dead. At the time, Twain’s cousin James Ross Clemens was seriously ill in London, and appears that some reports confused him with Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain).

A good death needs not carry a sting. Lee personally witnessed how Hon Sui Sen, close friend and old guard minister, drew strength from his Catholic faith as he lay dying in 1983: "He was fearless. I was at his bedside. The priest gave him the last sacrament. His profound belief was from childhood. Because he had that belief, he had an equanimity of mind and spirit." (Hard Truths, page 218)

A verse oft quoted at Christian wakes and funerals goes like this:
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
Providing plenty of grist for the rumour mill

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hidden Meanings

In his swan song address to some 500 social workers at the annual Social Workers’ Day Symposium convened at the fancy Concorde Hotel, Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing didn't exactly check off his solid accomplishments after 4 years at the helm.

Instead, he threw up some nebulous recommendations like "piloting 'self-organising' models that are somewhere in between relying on domestic helpers and on institutionalised homes". Even Daiso has better suggestions when it comes to DIY solutions, most of which are priced at $2. This million dollar minister had nothing, zilch, nada, no concrete plan to offer.

Chan also said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has tried to “bootstrap” standards and protocols so that people beyond the sector will listen to the views of social workers. Suffice it to say, those standards and protocols must be written in Greek, since none of us, MSF members included, can possibly decipher his highfalutin terminology. For all we know, distributing flyers surreptitiously in the middle of the night is included in the methodologies.

SR Nathan has this story to tell about Goh Keng Swee being upset by jargon - accountancy jargon, engineering jargon, whatever. Goh had instructed him to call a chap up: "Look, tell the bloody fool to write so that another fool will understand him." Knowing that Goh wanted very simple language, Nathan tried to express same to said officer, and was rebutted with: "Oh, I've got a PhD." As Nathan tells it, Goh called the officer direct and gave him a shelling he probably never forgot all his life. ("SR Nathan in Conversation", Timothy Auger, page 116). Too bad Goh is no longer around to effect any shellacking.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Laws Of The Jungle

The headline of a 21 October 2014 online post in the People's Daily, China's Communist Party mouth piece, captured Xi Jinping's place in history after only 2 years in office: "Mao Zedong made Chinese people stand up; Deng Xiaoping made Chinese people rich; Xi Jinping will make Chinese people strong." Our own version of an epitaph after 50 years pales by comparison: "Lee Kuan Yew got us kicked out of Malaysia; Goh Chok Tong merely kept the seat warm; Lee Hsien Loong dropped the ball." To be fair, the latter had his surgically removed.

Perhaps if the prime minister had studied law instead of mathematics, he would have recognised the shame of a nation when the law enforcement agency of the land refers you to to a third party for a legal position. If he's any good as his supporters claim, he should be able to make a million bucks in the lucrative business of providing private tuition in math.

Suddenly, it makes sense why the Thaipusam procession supporters were harassed by men in plain clothes, why the Hong Lim Park protestors were accosted by men in mufti. They themselves were uncertain if their thuggish tactics were legal in the first place; to put on a uniform would be justifying a farce. They were merely following orders blindly.

One former nominated member of parliament claims that the impartiality of the police force and the judiciary in Singapore are being questioned. We have to agree with Calvin Cheng that faith in our legal system and our police force underpins our hard-won social harmony and stability. The difficulty here is that the Singapore Police Force is seen to be washing their hands off the issue at hand. An issue which had a legal precedent in December 2010. Pontius Pilate could wash his hands off a bloody affair because he was not a Jew, but can a policeman really walk away from the law?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Money And Marriage

In classical Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. Pandora was also the one who opened a jar containing death and many other evils which were released into the world. She hastened to close the container, but the whole contents had escaped except for one item that lay at the bottom - hope (elpis). The implications of Elpis remaining in the jar were the subject of intense debate even in antiquity.

Latest to join the cacophony of female voices demonstrating a distinct disconnect between mouth and brain is MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har, who proposed that joint consent of both spouses be required when a member’s CPF withdrawal is linked to a CPF charge on the couple’s jointly owned property. She may not intend it, but a pre-nuptial agreement style arrangement will drive a wedge into any fragile marriage.

A classmate married late, so he was earning twice as much as his bride of 10 years younger when they bought their first house. His Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution to the joint purchase was close to 80 percent of the total financing. When they upgraded and sold the first house, some clerk credited the bulk of the CPF sum withdrawn for the first purchase to his wife's account without so much as informing him. Pressed for a reason, he was told his "wife's CPF balance was so low". He left it at that, believing that married couples should not quibble over money. Thanks to the ups and downs of the private sector, his salary is now close to his wife's, who is a civil servant with an iron rice bowl and compounding annual salary adjustments of 5 percent on the average. All this talk of who actually owns his CPF monies is now driving him nuts. Why, oh why, did he not sign a pre-nuptial agreement before tying the knot, he laments.

Friends provide consolation by assuring him his better half is not the gold digger type, so there may be hope in this world after all. Then these female politicians afflicted with verbal diarrhea had to send him back into deep depression by suggesting CPF top ups for spouses and joint consents.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Going Wild In Singapore

The provision for active election campaigning as permitted by law question is covered by the Parliamentary Elections Act (‘PEA’).

The term election advertising is defined in section 2(1) of the PEA as: “any poster, banner, notice, circular, handbill, illustration, article, advertisement or other material that can reasonably be regarded as intended —
(a) to promote or procure the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates; or
(b) to otherwise enhance the standing of any such political parties, candidates or groups of candidates with the electorate in connection with any election, and such material shall be election advertising even though it can reasonably be regarded as intended to achieve any other purpose as well and even though it does not expressly mention the name of any political party or candidate…”

So has an election been called? Or did somebody finally kicked the bucket, precipitating an inconvenient by-election?

In a Facebook post, Victor Lye, PAP branch chairman for Bedok Reservoir-Punggol ward, proudly admitted that he was one of the PAP activists who busied themselves distributing anti-Workers Party flyers in Aljunied GRC, stuffing uninvited printed material indiscriminately into unsuspecting households.

PAP Paya Lebar branch chairman K Muralidaran Pillai has told reporters the aim is to target all 55,000 HDB units under the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC). Maybe he thinks that since the flyers do not carry the PAP logo, or say who printed them, he can be absolved of accountability or, when the shit hits the fan, he can simply claim he was misquoted.

Meanwhile the super efficient Singapore Police Force (SPF) has classified a case of anonymous anti-PAP flyers being distributed in Sengkang under the Sedition Act, by which an offender could be fined up to $5,000 and/or given a jail term of up to 3 years. David Attenborough has also just completed narrating the first Wild Life in Singapore episode for ChannelNewsAsia at 9 pm tonight. Looks like the wild life in the city just got wilder.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spectre Of Zero Car Growth

With some children, they are best seen and not heard. Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo is one over grown kid who just does not know when to zip her lips. Even before we have a chance to recover from her disastrous “national service cannot be measured in dollars and cents” sound bite, she has to come up with a more monstrous "zero car growth likely in the future" quip.

Our parents once looked forward to the 5 Cs - Cash, Car, Credit Card, Condominium and Country Club. Although short changed by Goh Chok Tong's promise of a Swiss standard of living, through hard work and prudent financial planning, many have managed to achieved the 5 C status. Now Teo is threatening to set us back by one C. Whatever happened to "progress for our nation"?

She could have checked with her boss first - Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew - who promised in 2011 that the car growth rate would not be reduced to zero, knowing that such an outcome would go against the aspirations of those looking forward to owning a personal set of wheels. Perhaps she is making the bet that Lui, cursed and bogged down by the recent failures of the train system - poor guy is reportedly vowing to "claw back confidence in the rail system" - would never survive another election. Perhaps she wants a situation whereby only the elite can drive around in private vehicles on publicly funded roads, relegating the rest of us mere mortals to - how did Anton Casey put it? - the "stench of public transport."

The Singapore Vehicle Traders Association secretary raised a pertinent point, "If it's zero growth, is it still necessary to leave a COE system?" Let's see how Teo responds to her ultimate pay master about the loss of revenue from the lucrative COE scam.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Artful Dodger Is Asking For More

Member of parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Edwin Tong’s question was whether it was timely to review the framework by which political salaries are determined. It was just a subtle reminder that U.S. President Barack Obama is (still) paid only about US$400,000 annually while Japanese Prime Minister is paid US$359,000 a year. Point of fact, the Japanese PM’s pay was cut 30% in Nov 2011 as part of plan to reduce Japanese public servants’ pay and help fund reconstruction for the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastation. Not to appease voters seething with anger for years of pillage from public coffers.

True to form, Teo Chee Hean dodged the bullet and went off tangent to highlight that political salaries have not gone up in the past 3 years even as the benchmark they are linked to has risen by around 3% per year over the period. He itemised the "3 Principles" which guided their iron-clad rice bowl connection:
  • Salaries must be competitive;
  • Ethos of political service entails sacrifice, reflected as "discount" in wages;
  • Salaries paid without hidden bonuses

Even the most daft of Singaporeans can spot Pinnochio's nose lengthening as he spoke. Compared to Eduardo Saverin, Obama and Shinzō Abe must feel like living the subsistence of a Mother Teresa. Teo can't be making too much of a personal sacrifice when his residential home, funded by public service pay, consists of two houses sited side by side in a Good Class Bungalow estate. As for the "hidden bonuses", what they are getting from the newly introduced National bonus component - wherein ministers can receive up to 3 months bonus if the targets set by the Cabinet (meaning themselves) are met - are not exactly public knowledge.

The most infuriating part of Teo's retort is his not-too-subtle suggestion that political salaries should go up after 3 years. He may actually be swallowing Lui Tuck Yew's line that "train reliability has actually improved" when we are witnessing a transportation disruption every week, if not every other day. Teo should take a closer look at the top 1,000 earners whose pay they are benchmarking against - these guys actually get marching orders if they are not up to scratch. Just ask Magnus Bocker, ex-chief executive of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) who chose not to seek to extension of his appointment beyond his current contract, which ends on June 30 this year. Not for him the option of saying, "If we didn't get it right, I'm sorry. But we will try better the next time."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cool Smart Vests

Plenty of pockets galore
This has to be another Brompton Bike saga in the making. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) put up a tender on last Friday (Mar 6) for a prototype of a “smart vest system”. MHA said a typical frontline police officer’s waist belt is now chock-full of gadgets galore — revolver, Taser, bullet pouch, radio set, baton and handcuffs. The bulk gets in the way sometimes, they admit, which “greatly restricts (their) ability to execute their duties”, such as when they need to chase or restrain a suspect. Like the time they had to handcuff a 6 year old at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and East Coast Road.

If it's a lot of junk they want to be hauling around, why not pick up any of the photographer's vests available on eBay? And yes, Batman, they do come in black. What may be missing is the portable "body cooling system". Then again, how often do you see a policeman on foot patrolling under the hot sun? Most times you find them hunkered down in the airconditioned police neighborhood post, or cruising the streets in an airconditioned limousine.

And why is there a need for a "health status monitoring system" if these guys are certified physically fit to carry out law enforcement duties? Makes you wonder if they have need of mechanical ventilation to stay alert. Hooking them up to heart rate sensors may not be a smart idea as the online readings may spike at the presence of chio-bu in the surrounds. Unless it's due to xenophobic fear of dark skinned alcohol infused potential trouble makers.

Note also the fancy Tom Cruise type aviator glasses, also geared for health status monitoring and reporting capability. That has to be coded specification for a cool pair of expensive Google Glass, available to developers and testers at US$1,500 (or £1,000 in the UK). Watch out for a reprise of Khaw Boon Wan's justification for $2,200 foldable bicycles:
"Providing staff with bikes was thought to be a simple and effective way to raise staff productivity as it enables the officer to cover more ground and do more inspections within the same time."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Gender Wars

At a "Supper Club interview" in January 2014, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Finance Josephine Teo was talking about her work as an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and personal life:
"Every year, I make it a point to travel with my family. It’s my protected time with my kids. Twice a year, I need to remind them that they do have a mother. I enjoy being a mum. I’d have had four kids if not for politics."

Earlier on in 2012, another disgraceful minister had this to say during a Parliament debate about trimming ministerial pay,
"When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were. The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office."

However, when a participant at a forum hosted by Senior Minister of State for Health and REACH Chairman Amy Khor suggested that national servicemen should be paid more, Teo had this notion of supreme sacrifice: service for the country “cannot be measured in dollars and cents”.

Meanwhile, at another hen party, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah wants the men to cough up more blood:
"Tonight you can go back, discuss with your husband and tell him that for the first $30,000 in your CPF account, you will get 6 per cent interest. Discuss that maybe it's better to put money into your CPF account". 

This coming after another female just ruled that the balance in our CPF account no longer belongs to us because of "co-payment from employers and top-ups from public funds".

How is it that, when it comes to hard earned money, Singapore men are drawing the short straws? There may be the odd few who enjoys being a cuckold so long as there's peace in the house, but no self respecting alpha male should take this lying down. What next, men stay home and make the babies? Time to re-read John Gray's "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus".

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Real Meaning of Angst

Angst is German for “neurotic fear, anxiety, guilt, remorse,” from Old High German angust, the root of anger. It is usually applied to a deep and essentially philosophical anxiety about the world in general or personal freedom. George Eliot used it (in German) in 1849, and it was popularized in English by translation of Freud's work, but as a foreign word until 1940s.

Member of parliament Lily Neo knows the word all too well when she told Parliament, "In these times of more angst than gratitude, there is a need to change our handling of residents in terms of expanding communication and improving our engagement strategies."

In 2001 Neo had called for Medisave fund to be extended to cover health screening procedures, in particular, screening for breast cancer, only to have then-Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang demurring with dripping sarcasm, "Save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening". And when she queried Vivian Balakrishnan in 2007 whether it is too much to ask for just 3 meals a day as an entitlement for the welfare recipients, the YOG profligate responded with “How much do you want? Do you want 3 meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”

Given the shoddy treatment dished out to a person of her standing, it would be another sheer waste of public funds to send odious government staff for training to gain good communication skills as she suggested. What people like Goh Chok Tong needs is a full frontal lobotomy when he sprouts nonsense like "For those at the top 20 per cent, for every dollar that they pay in tax, they get less than a dollar back in benefits."  Eduardo Saverin and the multi-millionaires that made a buzzline to Singapore must be chuckling away.

Forbes said that for Saverin, tax purposes are probably the biggest reasons for renouncing his U.S. passport. He is clearly unaffected by the exorbitant car prices (a 2008 Bentley Continental that costs about US$130,000 in the U.S. commands over US$580,000 in Singapore), while locals are scrapping their vehicles because of the crippling Certificate of Entitlement (COE). His kind are also entitled to the choicest real estate in posh Sentosa Cove, while locals are relegated to the rat infested Bukit Batok precincts. Their lot can guzzle up all the alcohol at Boat Quay without the bother of police patrols overlooking shoulders in Little India.

While the Financial Times reported “Billionaires and their supercars add to Singapore inequality concerns", Lee Hsien Loong was saying, “if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here… I think Singapore will be better off". Lily Neo may still have faith in training, but many others strongly feel it's really time to pull the plug.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

Jusuf Kalla, vice-president of Indonesia, has denounced neighboring Singapore and Malaysia for complaining about the severe haze caused every year by Indonesian forest fires.
"For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset.” (The Jakarta Globe, 3 March 2015)

The outspoken vice president is peeved because he thinks that foreign technology was behind the forest fires and therefore foreign countries must share the burden of responsibility in dealing with the forest fires. “Somebody once told me that Indonesia must restore its tropical forests, and I told him, ‘Excuse me? What did you say? Do you know who damaged our forests?’” Kalla added.

Kalla was probably making a snide reference to the Indonesian businessmen who have set up shop in Singapore after shipping millions, if not billions, out of their country, and are still operating their logging operations via remote control. The more interesting aspect of his tirade is that it reflects on the failure of our Foreign Minister to establish friendly ties with some of our short-fused neighbours. And to think the Environment Minister was supposed to have resolved the ugly issue of the smog some years ago, carrying big white envelope by hand and all.

Both should pay closer attention to the upset politician, he's no pushover like our local opposition members. You can catch a glimpse of him in a cameo role in Joshua Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary film "The Act of Killing" (Indonesian: Jagal, meaning "Butcher"). He was on camera, speaking at the rostrum of the right-wing paramilitary organization Pemuda Pancasila that grew out of the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, an ostensibly anti-communist purge in which more than 500,000 were murdered. It will interesting to see how our two debaters take him on with their characteristic hot air.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Is It Really Our Money?

The first thought that comes to mind: what's a nice girl like that doing in politics? Chia Yong Yong  was diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy at age 15. As her muscle tissue progressively weakened, she had to resort to crutches, and then a wheelchair. She has not been able to stand for 20 years and her hands have grown limp and curled as well. The perfect posture child for president of the Society for the Physically Disabled since 2008.

But we worry for her mental faculties when she argues that our life savings stowed away in the Central Provident Fund (CPF), is not our money.
"Is it our money? Our CPF savings are enhanced and forced CPF savings which are accumulated through our own deferred consumption, through co-payment by our employers and through top-ups from public funds. Is it really my private money? Do I have the right to spend it the way I would spend my own salary? I’m not entirely sure.”

This is not just a gaffe like the one committed by another lawyer who insisted that managing agent (MA) rates at Town Councils are identical for residential and commercial properties. One suspects she spoke not from her heart, or cranium capacity, but political motivations. The clue lies in her other affiliations: member of Our Singapore Conversation Committee (formerly National Conversation a.k.a. NatCon), member of the REACH Supervisory Panel (the Singapore Government’s "feedback" apparatus), member of the Council of the Law Society’s panel of approved Mediators and Investigative Tribunal members. The last being one who sees fit to deem a lawyer unfit to practise because of suspect medical condition.

Be kind with your visceral reaction to an obviously flawed interpretation of the original concept of the CPF. The people who reneged on the promise to release funds at age 55 are just as capable of resorting to all manner of wile to withhold our hard earned monies.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Fate Of Princelings

The disgraced Bo Xilai was the fourth child and second son of prominent Communist Party leader Bo Yibo, one of the Eight Great Eminent Officials (Chinese: 八大元老; pinyin: Bā dà yuánlǎo), a group of elderly members of the Communist Party of China who held substantial power during the 1980s and 1990s. Bo's fall from grace exposed disunity within Communist Party ranks, and some observers opined that it was because he posed a threat to Xi Jinping, current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Much of the intrigue and inside stories about Chinese politicians, past and present, are covered in "A Death In The Lucky Holiday Hotel" by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang, a thrilling documentation of the downfall of Bo Xilai and the personalities involved. Most fascinating of all, is the insight into a unique coterie of favoured sons known as "the princelings".

Following the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989, Deng Xiaoping was quoted as saying, "Nobody is more reliable than our own children. We need our children to protect the red China that we have established." At that gathering to discuss leadership succession, veterans including Bo Xilai's father agreed in a secret deal that the government should pick one child from the family of each veteran leader who had fought with Mao during the 1940s revolution and gradually elevate him to the equivalent of a vice minister or higher in the government and the military:
"This special group of senior leaders' children were the original princelings. Over the next two decades, the princeling definition was expanded to include children of all senior leaders, national and regional, and the princelings have emerged as a formidable political faction. At the recently concluded Party Congress in November 2011, three have made it to the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body." (page 93)

We don't know what Goh Chok Tong was alluding to when he said succession planning has long been a part of the Government's DNA. Maybe it was just a poor choice of words, like his recent phrase about "dropping the ball" after someone had his prostate gland removed. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms, solid  fuel for the nature versus nurture argument. The White Horse special treatment during national service has not been forgotten. Makes you wonder what other secret deals are under wraps.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Running Wild In Singapore

I want my 5 minutes of fame too
Somebody is paying big bucks for Sir David Attenborough to narrate the two-episode "Wild City", Channel NewsAsia's first documentary on Singapore's wildlife. The first episode will feature the wildlife found in and around the urban sprawl in Singapore, such as civets that take up residence in roof cavities, and wild otters spotted at Marina Reservoir.

Attenborough's voice over has been used in many of the natural history programmes produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. The most expensive documentary series ever made by the BBC - billed as "the ultimate portrait of our planet"  - is Planet Earth. In Episode 8, "Cities - Surviving the Human Jungle", Attenborough talks extensively about the rat patrols in New York, New York.

Which means he is amply qualified to cover the rat infestation in Bukit Batok. Apparently the big bucks spent by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) on pest controllers like Star Pest Control only resulted in the rodents moving off from the natural hilltop adjacent to a train station to nearby concrete housing blocks, such as Block 165. And since Minister of State Desmond Lee is the member of parliament for the Bukit Batok GRC, he may get to share the limelight with Attenborough, widely considered a national treasure in Britain.

Ms Mok Choy Lin, Vice-President of Programming at Channel NewsAsia said, "I really hope that it's going to reveal a side of Singapore that even locals have never seen before, and that it shows off a wild diversity of wildlife and species that have never been documented before." It is doubtful the rodents will ever get to share the same billing as the civets in roof cavities, and wild otters at Marina Reservoir. And we have had enough television coverage of the rats in parliament.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bad Luck All Around

Do you see a circle or an octagon?
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his Budget speech that the rise in petrol duties is meant to encourage less car usage and reduce carbon emissions. One man took that advice to heart and went one step further. He even skipped the bus alternative - another carbon emission source - and decided to walk on the viaduct between Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Gombak MRT stations. Hence the latest train service disruption for over a span of 90 minutes on Friday evening (Feb 27).

February 2015 seems to set a record of sorts for train breakdowns and other hiccups:
  • 03 Feb - NSL no train service from Marina Bay to Marina South Pier station for an hour
  • 17 Feb - EWL disruption from Joo Koon to Jurong East due to a train fault at Jurong East
  • 18 Feb - NEL train service suspended for 40 minutes, signalling fault
  • 23 Feb - NSL disruption between Yew Tee and Kranji, track fault
  • 24 Feb - LRT service between Choa Chu Kang and Keat Hong disrupted by damaged third rail
  • 25 Feb - NSL delay between Somerset and Dhoby Ghaut, signal fault with train departing Somerset 
  • 27 Feb - NSL disruption due to  track "intrusion" near Choa Chu Kang station

There's a story about then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew consulting the highly respectable Venerable Hong-Chuan when the plan for building the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) was first mooted in the mid-eighties. The monk warned that the crisscrossing tunnels would severely damage the excellent fengshui of the island, and the only solution was to ensure all Singaporeans carry a "bagua"(octagon diagram) with them. In consideration of the sensitivities of various races and religions on the island, Lee suggested the minting of a new coin embossed with the shape of a bagua. The new $1 coin was launched in September 1987, just two months before MRT began its first operation.

Note that the road tax label is also in the shape of an octagon, which means every car on the roads of Singapore is carrying a bagua too. Not that it does any good for the motorists pummeled by punitive taxes and tariffs.