31 October 2005

Money & Happiness

I just noticed that this blogger, Adrian, from Stardom Dreams, hyperlinked to my earlier post about credit cards. He also shares his own thoughts on money and happiness.

Basically, Adrian has looked around and seen some people enjoying material riches (a Cooper, an EC etc) and maxing out their credit cards, and this has led him to muse as follows:
We feel that it is wrong as it is against our mindset. But these group of people just want to enjoy what they reaped and some wants to enjoy it in advance via credit.

You can't really say these kind of people are wrong.

The only "wrong" here is the credit amount gets out of control, banks begin to sue and you become bankrupt. Even then, they had already enjoyed material items that most people with my mindset won't even had the chance to.(I'm sure I won't get to own a Cooper in this lifetime)

So in living a life that I've always preached that we only lived once, is it entirely wrong that we MUST be financially prudent and have savings? Should we not let our urge take over once a while and make ourselves really really happy by getting, say a, EC?

Life is about happiness after all.
There are a couple of things I want to say, but because of my bad habit of excessively lengthy posts, I'll just focus on one angle. That's the nature of the relationship between happiness and money (or material items). Adrian says that life is about happiness, a statement I won't argue with. But he then wonders whether we should splurge once in a while and "make ourselves really really happy by getting, say, an EC".

Well, Adrian, listen carefully to what Mr Wang wants to tell you. Money doesn't buy happiness. That's an old cliche - but it's true. And here are the scientific studies to prove it.

(A) People in Bangladesh and India are happier than people in the US and the UK, despite the much greater wealth of the US and the UK.

(B) Professor Ed Diener discovers that the Masai cattle herdsmen living in dung huts in Kenya are approximately as happy as the 400 richest people in America.

(C) A study of 7,167 students across 41 countries showed that those who valued money over love were less satisfied about life than those who valued love over money.

(D) Personal income in the USA has nearly tripled since 1956, while the number of Americans who say they're very happy has remained the same year after year — about 30%.

(E) Empirical data demonstrates that it is untrue that an increase in wealth brings an increase of a sense of well-being.

There's a lot more, of course. Adrian, if you plow through the literature on happiness, you will discover subtler points. But I'll give you one last point to ponder. The remarkable adaptability of the human race will always prevent it from finding happiness in material things. Like monkeys which quickly get bored with the same old toy, we're just too smart for our own good. We get used to our material possessions so quickly that any happiness we derive from them is necessarily short-lived.

You can verify this for yourself, by looking at the material possessions you do have. Perhaps your digital camera; your handphone; your 19-inch monitor; your most expensive shirt; your watch. Did they bring you happiness when you first purchased them? Quite possibly, yes. Do they still bring happiness now? Nope. The novelty has worn off.

Why do you think it would be different with an EC? Or a Cooper?

Osho Rocks!

Never mind the fact that he looks somewhat like Osama bin Laden. He is wonderful. Here are some Osho quotes from the books I bought:

On witches:

"Christianity burned living women in thousands, calling them witches. The word `witch' is not a bad word; it simply means a wise woman. But Christianity converted the word, gave it a wrong connotation, created courts all over Europe, a great investigation to destroy witches, because witches are directly connected with the devil. This was the strategy to destroy those wise women.

The real fcat was that if those women remained alive, Christianity would have looked very poor as a religion. They knew far deeper truths than Christianity, far more refined religious flights, methods of hypnosis and meditation - which always go together. By destroying the witches, Christianity was trying to destroy hypnosis and meditation both. It was a question of survival.

... Christianity destroyed living human women. And the courts tortured those women, forced them to confess before the court that yes, they had a sexual relationship with the devil.

There is no devil anywhere. After those witches, the devil has not approached any woman. And strangely enough, it was only in Christian countries that the devil was having sexual relationships with women - in no other country."

On goals and self:

"Every desire leads not to the goal it has promised you; it leads to just the opposite of it. You want to be special? you have already accepted your ordinariness. One who is special does not want to be special; he's not even aware that he is special. Whatever you want, one thing is certain - you are not that. And from where are these desires and wants coming? - imitation. All around, you see people: somebody is so rich, somebody is so intellectual, someone is a wrestler, someone is a boxer. And you are nothing - it hurts. It hurts because of your wrong conceptions about life.

So you have to note down a few things in your being: one, you cannot be anybody other than who you are. If you try to be somebody other than who you are, you will never be somebody else, but you will miss being that which you were destined to become. It is almost as if a roseflower wants to become a lotus. His whole energy will be in how to become a lotus; he will forget all about the roses. All his energy will become misdirected. He will never become a lotus because he has no seeds, no potentiality to be a lotus. Only one thing is certain: now he will not become even a flowerting bush of roses.

And who said that a lotus is better than a rose? They are both beautiful and they are both needed. Even the smallest blade of grass is much needed as the biggest star in the sky. This whole universe is one organic unity. Here nothing exists that is not needed ..."

On Freud and modern psychology:

"I have called the psychology that is based on meditation the psychology of the buddhas. Modern psychology is the psychology of people who are asleep.

It has to be understood; the people who came to Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychology, were all sick people - obviously, otherwise why should they come to the psychoanalyst? They were seriously sick, their minds were falling apart. Sigmund Freud came into contact only with sick poeople - that gave him the impression that man himself is sick, In a way he is logical because everybody he examined, everybody he analysed, everybody he treated was sick. And these were high-class people, bourgeois - professors, scientists, very rich people - because a psychoanalyst's time is the costliest thing in the world today. All these people werre basically living an insane life, but because everybody else is also living the same insance life you don't become aware of it.

If Sigmund Freud denied that there is any possibility of a soul in man he cannot be blamed. He never came across a Gautama Buddha, he never came across a man who had gone beyond mind.

The trouble was that these people who have gone beyond mind have no reason to go to Sigmund Freud. And Sigmund Frud is afraid to go to such people because they are against the very foundation upon which he has raised a whole empire - certainly there was a great vested interest."

How To Screw Up Your Own Life

Sunday Times, Oct 30, 2005
How long can I hold off credit-card debt repayments?

Q I AM a divorcee with a young child. About five years ago, I was burnt badly in share trading. It caused my marriage to break up.

I get maintenance of $1,300 from my ex- husband every month. I live in an HDB rental flat. I have credit-card debt of about $50,000 owing to a few banks, averaging $5,000 each. I have a job as a sales manager and drive a company car.

Though I make about $5,000 a month, I always delay the payments I owe the banks. I want to provide my child with a comfortable life and I need to dress myself up as I meet clients every day.

When the banks call me about the late payments, I always try to avoid their calls.

When a lawyer's firm sent me letters of seizure and sale, I paid the minimum to prevent that action from being taken against me. But since I did not service the debts regularly, the banks have started chasing me again.

Can I get my ex-husband to pay, since the debt was incurred during our marriage?

What can those banks do to me if I pay only when they start to take legal action?

How long can I avoid the banks? In my rental HDB flat, can I claim that my assets there belong to the flat owner?

Does the bank have the right to call my company to find out my income status?
It makes Mr Wang a little sad to see how some people mess up their own lives. If you probe a little deeper, you can always see a little more and that makes you a little wiser. Yes, we all can learn something from the errors of other people's lives.

This woman speculated in shares and lost a big bunch of money. The consequences were not merely financial. She lost a husband as well - "it caused my marriage to break up." That was five years ago. She now earns $5,000 a month and also gets $1,300 in maintenance from her ex-husband.

If you learn your lesson, then you move on. If you don't learn the lesson, it always comes back again to revisit. The form is different, but the substance is the same. This time, it's not shares - it's $50,000 worth of credit card debt, snowballing at some astronomical rate like 24% per annum.

When you examine this woman's underlying attitude, you can see why she's made such a mess of her life. She doesn't take any responsibility for her own actions. She doesn't sit down and say to herself, "Okay, I really screwed up - now how do I try to solve the problem?". All she wants is to either run away or make someone else suffer the consequences.

Look at this:

"Can I get my ex-husband to pay, since the debt was incurred during our marriage?"

[Mr Wang's translation: "I'm not responsible for my shopping on my credit cards. Surely the man who used to be my husband should pay for it?"]

"In my rental HDB flat, can I claim that my assets there belong to the flat owner?"

[Mr Wang 's translation: "When the banks come to take my computer and TV set and furniture away, can I tell some lies and say that they actually belong to someone else, so please leave them there?"]

"When the banks call me about the late payments, I always try to avoid their calls ... How long can I avoid the bank?"

[Mr Wang's translation: "Of course I don't intend to pay my debts on time. Quick tell me, how do I delay them?"]

And there's abundant self-deception as well. Look at this part:

"Though I make about $5,000 a month, I always delay the payments I owe the banks. I want to provide my child with a comfortable life and I need to dress myself up as I meet clients every day."

Don't kid yourself, woman. You're not the only person with young kids. They don't cost that much. As for your own pretty clothes, well, with $50,000 worth of credit card debt and a bunch of banks chasing after you, I suggest you place your priorities elsewhere.

When I read accounts like this, I start to get worried about the casinos coming to Singapore. There are so many Singaporeans whose worst enemies in money matters are themselves.


Mr Wang's Biscuits: Automatically pay your credit cards in full every month. Pick up the phone and call your bank for a GIRO application form right now!

30 October 2005

The Book of Man

Have you heard of Osho? Until very recently, I foolishly thought that Osho was some kind of Japanese interior design concept. Well, that's not it. Osho is actually one of the world's best-known spiritual teachers of the twentieth century.

Osho was from India and passed away in 1990. Just to give you an idea of Osho's influence - the Sunday Times in London listed him as one of the "1000 Makers of the 20th Century". Osho has also been described as one of the 10 people - along with Gandhi, Nehru and Buddha - who have changed the destiny of India.

I discovered Osho while browsing in Kinokuniya. Osho books occupy quite a number of bookshelves there. I flipped through a few of the books and found them to be a captivating read. I bought two titles, "Sermons in Stone" and "The Book of Man", and shall be reading them this week.

Right now, I am not very familiar with Osho yet. From my brief browsing, it seems that Osho has an opinion on just about everything. He is simultaneously profound and irreverent (his autobiography is entitled "Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic"). He regularly intersperses his musings on meditation and spirituality with funny jokes (some dirty too, but all quite funny).

Osho's grand vision was the birth of a new kind of human being, which he called "Zorba the Buddha". Zorba is a rebel, representing the ultimate that any of us can aspire to be, and this is Osho's rebel:
"... a man who is in search of his original self, of his original face. A man who is ready to drop all masks, all pretensions, all hypocrisies and show to the world what he, in reality, is. Whether he is loved or condemned, respected, honoured or dishonoured, crowned or crucified, does not matter; because to be yourself is the greatest blessing in existence. Even if you are crucified, you will be crucified fulfilled and immensely contented.

A man of truth, a man of sincerity, a man who knows love and who knows compassion, and who understands that people are blind, unconscious, asleep, spiritually asleep ..."
In case you're wondering what Osho's personal influences were, well, I don't know. Flipping through his books, I find references to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sufism, Lao Tzu. At the same time, as I said, Osho seems to have an opinion about everything - from pornography to psychoanalysis to Hiroshima to homosexuality to sociology to Socrates to American business entrepreneurship.

Well, I won't say any more about Osho (at least, not until I get to know him better). So I'll just end here with one of his little jokes:
A man asked a rabbi, "Why didn't Jesus choose to be born in twentieth-century America?

The rabbi shrugged his shoulders and said, "In America? It would have been impossible. Where can you find a virgin? And secondly, where can you find three wise men?"

28 October 2005

More True Stories from Mr Wang's Case File

Typically, as part of the trial preparations, the DPP will arrange to meet and talk with his witnesses. This is very important for various reasons. Although the police would have already completed their investigations by then, the DPP still needs to meet his witnesses personally.

For each witness, you need to get a sense of their personality, their intelligence, their language ability and their level of self-confidence. That matters a lot. These factors affect how you conduct the case in court. You also need to give them an idea of what to expect in court. Otherwise they may be very nervous.

When I was an inexperienced DPP handling my first molest case, it felt awkward to ask the victim questions like, "So how did he squeeze your breast? Left breast or right breast? Was it a squeeze? Did he just brush against it, or touch it, or squeeze? Did you feel all his fingers?". But you have to ask, because you really need to know. For example, if the victim says that the accused just lightly brushed against her breast, then there is the greater likelihood that perhaps it was an accident.

You quickly get used to it. After a while, you get so used to it that when you go to parties and people ask you about your interesting work, you start talking very unself-consciously about breasts and anal penetration and smashed human brains on the sidewalk when people jump from the 12th storey (yes, DPPs also deal with suicide cases). Then your party hosts give you all these looks, and you realise that, ooops, there you go again, grossing people out.

One thing I always told my witnesses is that they must always tell the truth. Sometimes they would ask me questions like, "What will the defence lawyer ask me? How should I answer?". And I would tell them, "The important thing is that you must always tell the truth."

I still remember a tricky little case I handled, about a Filipino maid who abused a one-year-old baby by burning her with an iron. The only other person present in the home then was the older girl, who was only three or four years old. The baby was of course too young to testify in court, and so the key witness was the three-year-old girl. Young children are difficult witnesses to handle because firstly, they obviously are not as articulate as adults, and secondly, they may not really understand what's happening.

Anyway, as usual, I told this little girl before the trial that she must always, always tell the truth in court. And her parents told her, "Yes, yes, listen to Uncle. You must always, always tell the truth in court."

As it turned out, the case was rather tense. Not least because the Philippine Embassy sent two officials to monitor the case. The promptly spent the next two days sitting in court glaring at me, recording my questions and giving me the evil eye. Meanwhile, the ST journalist flitted in and out of the courtroom, hoping against hope for something to blow up and perhaps lead to an international diplomatic row that she could get the scoop on.

Anyway, my little three-year-old star witness gave excellent testimony in court, speaking clearly in simple English and answering all my questions calmly. When I finished, the defence lawyer began his cross-examination and tried to confuse her with trick questions.

The basic defence was that the 4-year-old little girl was too young to understand anything; her words shouldn't be believed; whatever she recollected of that day's incident was in fact not what she recollected, but just false stories planted into her head by her parents and/or the police and/or the DPP (i.e me).

Defence: "I put it to you that your entire testimony is actually just what your parents taught you to tell the judge today."

Little girl: "I don't understand."

Defence: "Your parents taught you what to tell the judge today."

Little girl: "Yes."

[My heart sank a little].

Defence: "And the DPP also taught you what to tell the judge today."

[I stood up to object, but before I could, the girl answered.]

Little girl: "Yes, of course."

[Judge glares suspiciously at me. Defence lawyer smiles victoriously].

Judge: "And what did your parents and the DPP teach you to tell me today."

Little Girl (with wide-eyed look of innocence): "They taught me to tell the truth, of course. [Points at me]. Uncle says that I must always, always tell the truth in court, so that's what I'm telling you today."

[Warm glow of vindication in Mr Wang's heart].

[Filipino maid is later sent to 7 months' imprisonment for burning the younger baby with an iron].

27 October 2005

Gan Huai Shi's Mitigation

More on Edmund Pereira's mitigation plea for his client:

Oct 27, 2005
Racist sentiments stemmed from baby brother's death:

GAN Huai Shi kept his deep-seated feelings towards Malays a secret, even from his parents and closest friends.

In his mitigation speech yesterday, Gan's lawyer Edmond Pereira told the court how shocked his parents and friends were when they found out what he had written.

'He never openly expressed his dislike for the Malays to anyone. In fact, the parents knew of his feelings towards the Malays only when he was questioned by the police,' he said.

To those who knew him, Gan was an introvert who spent most of his time in front of a computer.

Mr Pereira said the root of Gan's feelings lay in the death of his one-month-old brother 10 years ago.

On Aug 27, 1995, the baby boy began to suffer serious breathing difficulties and Gan accompanied his mother to take the baby to the hospital.

The first taxi they spotted was being boarded by a Malay couple. Gan's mother Koh Ah Luan pleaded with the couple to let them take the cab, but they refused.

They had to wait another 20 minutes for a taxi and by the time they reached the hospital, it was too late.

Mr Pereira said the incident left a 'very deep scar' on the youth.

'These ill feelings gradually grew with him over the years and unfortunately neither his parents nor his close friends knew about this,' he said.

Gan had since visited a psychologist and counsellors to 'resolve his many emotional issues'.

'It is extremely unlikely that he will offend again. He has learnt his lesson...and the Court's serious view of the matter will have a lasting and deep impression on this young man,' the lawyer said.

The 3rd Racist Blogger

Well, the blogging news of the day is that the 3rd racist blogger, Gan Huai Shi, has been convicted. What I'd like to gossip about today are the other folks involved in the court case. Follow me:
ST Oct 27, 2005
3rd racist blogger convicted but may avoid jail term
Teen pleads guilty to two charges; probation being considered due to his age and clean record

By Chong Chee Kin
PRIVATE school student Gan Huai Shi yesterday became the third person this year to be convicted for making racist remarks on the Internet, but he may yet avoid a jail term on account of his age and clean record.

The 17-year-old San Yu Adventist School student faced seven charges of sedition, four more than animal shelter assistant Benjamin Koh, who was jailed for one month on Oct 7.

Gan pleaded guilty to two counts of sedition for comments he made on his blog, or Internet journal, which he titled The Second Holocaust. Another five charges were taken into consideration.

But instead of handing down a jail term, District Judge Bala Reddy called for a pre-sentencing report to see if Gan could be placed on probation.
So Bala is now a judge. Heheh. He was formerly one of the most senior DPPs around, and one of my bosses. In fact Bala was the one who assigned to me the case of The Rape That Never Was, years ago.

As a DPP, Bala Reddy was somewhat of a hardliner. Contrary to popular belief, not all DPPs are hardliners - Mr Wang was a real softie for example - but Bala was definitely a hardliner, and a longtime practitioner. If you drew up a list of the 10 DPPs in Singapore history who have gotten the largest number of drug traffickers hanged, Bala would probably feature somewhere right up there on the list.

(By the way, Mr Wang has never hanged anyone or anything except his laundry. No bad karma for me, thank you very much.)

However, it's difficult to say what Bala would be like as a judge. I've seen individuals morph a lot, when they change appointments within the Legal Service. Hardliner DPPs can become softie judges; softie judges can become hardliner DPPs; softie DPPs can become softie judges; all permutations are possible.
Gan caused a furore when between April and July this year he posted a series of offensive comments about Malays - even admitting in one April 4 entry that he was 'extremely racist'.

Over the next three months, he made more inflammatory remarks mocking the Malay community and ridiculing their religion, which were deemed by the court to promote 'ill will and hostility' between races, an offence under the Sedition Act.

Between Aug 5 and 10 this year, three students and an engineer reported Gan's remarks to the police.

In court yesterday, Gan kept his head bowed and his hands behind his back, fidgeting nervously in the dock as Deputy Public Prosecutor Jaswant Singh repeated what he had written in his blog.

His parents looked on impassively from the public gallery.
Heheh, I know Jaswant too. He's quite a senior DPP too. A sensible fellow. By now, he must have evolved into one of the pillars of the Attorney-General's Chambers. Looks like AGC is well aware of the sensitivities of the case and has decided to put one of its top guys on the case.
But after Gan had been convicted, his lawyer Edmond Pereira delivered an impassioned speech in his defence, urging the court to consider his youth and clean record and spare him a prison sentence.
And guess what? The defence lawyer - Edmond Pereira - well, he was an ex-district judge too, AND an ex-DPP before that. Heheh. Well, well, well. it's like musical chairs. Now he runs his own firm. Edmond is a nice fellow. Gracious. With ethics. Oh, and long ago, when he was a young fellow, he represented Singapore in athletics. I think he was a national sprinter.

Mr Pereira explained that Gan's deep-seated ill feeling towards the Malay community stemmed from the traumatic death of his baby brother 10 years ago, which Gan blamed on a Malay couple.

The couple had refused to give up a taxi they had hailed when his mother was trying to rush the infant to hospital.

Now this is interesting. This is an unusual mitigating factor. If the judge is inclined to give a mild sentence, this offers good justification. If you just give the run-of-the-mill excuses, it's often difficult for the judge to reduce your sentence very much, because everyone gives the run-of-the-mill excuses. Every mother will always say that her son is actually a good boy.
Gan and his parents were visibly relieved when the judge agreed with Mr Pereira's request to consider the possibility of putting the teenager on probation. The teen, who is sitting for his O-level examinations, will return to court on Nov 23, a day after the exams end.

It is then that a decision on his sentence will be announced.
So we'll wait and see.

26 October 2005

True Stories from Mr Wang's Case File

First, an announcement. SingaporeClassics is truly dead. All his posts have disappeared. Click here and see. Well, we hope for his reincarnation sometime soon.

Next - Mr Wang's post, Suspects and their Lawyers, attracted much interest. However, as Mr Wang had previously mentioned, the topic is complicated and not easy to understand. Mr Wang will now provide a real-life example to illustrate how police statements really work in practice.

This example is not meant to make any specific point about the discussion in my previous post. It is merely meant to facilitate general understanding of the role of police statements in the overall investigation process.

Mr Wang has handled hundreds of criminal cases. Most of them have blurred together in his memory. This one, however, stands out in Mr Wang's memory, because it was one of the first few cases he ever handled. If memory serves Mr Wang correctly, it was assigned to him in his first week of work. Here we go:

    1. Two young women come to the police station at 5 am. Let's call them Ling & Mei. Ling says, "This is my cousin, Mei. She was raped a few hours ago. Please help her." The officer at the counter scribbles the gist of what Ling says into the station diary. This becomes what we call the "First Information Report".

    2. Time is vital in these cases. The faster you move, the better your chances of catching the person and securing physical evidence at the crime scene. A police officer quickly asks Mei where she was raped and what the rapist looks like. Room 503, in a well-known swanky 5-star hotel, by a Middle Eastern man named Faisal, fat, balding, in his 40s etc. Immediately, three officers speed off in a police car to the hotel. No time to lose - they can get Mei's full story later.

    3. Back at the station, Ling & Mei are placed in separate rooms. Witnesses' statements are always recorded separately - otherwise they may contaminate each other's evidence. Not necessarily deliberately. It could be what the law calls "innocent infection". Witnesses may inadvertently influence each other into thinking that they did hear or see something that they didn't exactly.

    4. According to Ling's statement, this was what happened: Mei unexpectedly showed up at her house at around 2 am. Mei asked to spend the night there. Ling said, "What's wrong? Why are you here so late?". Mei said nothing. Mei went to the bathroom. She stayed inside for a long time. Ling got worried. She knocked very hard and insisted on coming in. When Mei opened the door, Ling went in and found that Mei was bleeding heavily. From the vagina. Ling said, "What happened?". Mei said that she had been raped. Ling immediately wanted to call Ling's parents. Mei said no. Ling said, "Let's call the police." Mei said no. Ling insisted. Reluctantly, Mei followed Ling to the police station.

    5. Meanwhile, in a separate room, a highly experienced female inspector, Inspector Amy, is recording Mei's statement. Inspector Amy is having a tough time. Mei, a 17-year-old teenager, looks calm enough but her story doesn't make sense. She says that a stranger named Faisal raped her in his hotel room. She had met him for the first time in the hotel lobby at around midnight. Why was Mei there so late? No answer. Why did Mei follow the man to his hotel room? "To take a shower. Then he raped me." Instinct tells Inspector Amy to ask for Mei's purse. It contains, apart from some notes of small denominations, four new $50 bills.

    6. By now, the three police officers have reached Room 503 of the swanky hotel which I shall not name. They bang on the door. A sleepy, fat, balding Iranian man opens the door. He identifies himself as Faisal. Faisal is arrested and brought to the police station.

    7. Inspector Amy sends Mei for a medical examination. Fresh hymenal tears, indicating that until a short time ago, she was a virgin. No traces of sperm, indicating that the rapist probably used a condom.

    8. Faisal is aghast at being arrested. He tells the police that he is a reputable businessman here in Singapore on a business trip (police later check this out and verify this with his business associates). Late that night at the hotel, a young woman approached him in the lobby and asked if he wanted sex. He said, "Ok, how much do you charge." She says, "$200." They go to his hotel room, they take a shower together. Then they have sex. According to Faisal, "She liked it and made a lot of noise." After sex, he pays her $200, 4 new $50 bills, and she leaves. "Having sex with a prostitute is not illegal in Singapore, is it?" Faisal asks.

    9. The police interview Mei again. Inspector Amy suggests to her that she wasn't actually raped. Mei denies this. Inspector Amy warns her that it's an offence to lie to the police. Mei denies lying. Inspector Amy says, "Okay. Do you agree to take a lie detector test?" Mei breaks down and admits that she was lying. She gives a 2nd police statement and admits that she was prostituting herself. It was her first time having sex. She was frightened after that and she didn't know what to do when she started bleeding.

    10. Just to be sure, the police ask Mei to take a lie detector test anyway. The polygraph expert asks her questions backwards and forwards, twisted round and round, phrased in multiple different ways. Polygraph results indicate that she had been lying about being raped.


A couple of interesting things happened here. Firstly, the victim, Mei, turned out to be the offender (it is an offence to lie to a public officer, and most certainly, it is a serious offence if your lie is that someone has committed rape). Her first statement (see Paragraph 5) becomes the subject-matter of the offence. Her second statement (see Paragraph 9) becomes a confession, a statement that can be used against herself.

Secondly, there are the polygraph results. Polygraph results are generally believed to be highly accurate but due to various controversial and debatable reasons, they are currently not used in actual court cases. In other words, no police officer ever stands up in court and says, "We then did a lie-detector test and we confirmed that X was lying about ABC." This doesn't happen. Basically, judges like to hear for themselves from all the witnesses what each has to say, and then the judge will decide for himself who's lying and who's not. Judges don't like to be replaced by machines.

Nevertheless, polygraphs nevertheless are a highly important tool for the police in their investigations. If nothing else, it is helpful for the police to satisfy themselves whether a witness is lying.

In our case, Faisal is not guilty of rape. However, for the purposes of discussion, let's change the facts somewhat. Assume that Mei did not admit to lying about being raped, and assume that no lie detector was used. In effect, it becomes Faisal's word versus Mei's word, as to what happened in the hotel room.

In such a case, it is extremely, extremely unlikely that the prosecution would charge Faisal with rape. Firstly, any DPP worth his salt would probably doubt that any rape had occurred. A rape may indeed have occurred - however, the legal
standard for securing a conviction is very high (proof beyond reasonable doubt) - that is, the judge must be very, very convinced of Faisal's guilt. If the DPP himself isn't convinced, neither will the judge.

The fact that Mei was present at a hotel lobby late at night for reasons she does not explain already raises a doubt. The fact that she followed a male stranger to his hotel room, knowing that no one else was around raises another doubt. A third doubt is raised by the fact that she received money from the stranger. A fourth doubt is that the alleged "rapist", after sex, made no attempt to run away but instead contentedly went back to sleep until the police officers woke him up by banging on his hotel room door.

With all these doubts, and no other compelling evidence to the contrary, the prosecution will never be able to prove its case of rape beyond reasonable doubt - therefore the prosecution will never even bother to prosecute Faisal.


Back to the actual facts of the case.

What about prosecuting Mei for a section 182 offence (lying to the police)? Let's assume that the prosecution does want to prosecute Mei. That's possible. And here we also see one very important use of the accused's statement.

Faisal, an Iranian businessman, already had to miss his flight home because of this false allegation of rape. He's not going to stick around in Singapore any longer. In other words, he won't be showing up in court to testify against Mei on the lying charge.

His police statement (Paragraph 8) cannot be shown to the judge. Accused persons must of course attend their own trial and also their own police statements (confessions) can be used against them. The laws of evidence, however, generally require other witnesses to personally show up in court to tell their story - statements on their own aren't good enough. Yes, the judge wants to personally see your face, hear your voice. If Faisal does not show up in court, then the judge won't get to hear Faisal's side of the story about what happened in that hotel room. At all.

With Faisal flying back to Iran, the only evidence against Mei is her own statement - (the 2nd statement, where she admitted to lying in her 1st statement). So the prosecution will use Mei's 2nd statement against herself. What will Mei do, in her own defence? Well, if she is determined to fight the case, she only has one logical defence left. She will go to court and allege that she was abused, tortured, threatened etc etc into making her 2nd statement. And that her 2nd statement is actually the false one. And that Inspector Amy made her sit on a block of ice, and took off all her clothes and sprayed her with cold water etc etc.

The DPP will sigh .... Another loooong day in court.

Inspector Amy will take the witness stand, thinking to herself, "Man, I really hate this stupid job."

24 October 2005

Boring, Inane Trivia About Glasses, Spectacles Etc

Blogs are often said to be self-indulgent, boring, filled with trivia, a waste of time etc etc. The blogger just goes on and on yakking about his personal life to an extent that no one cares about. Nothing constructive or useful or informative is offered. Let's take a look at this example:
Why do some women persist in thinking they look less attractive when they're wearing their glasses?

YOU would think - nay, hope - that when a woman reaches a certain age, she'd have more serious things to occupy her mind than to be vain about her looks.

Guess it doesn't apply to me, at least not yet.

I've had recurring styes in my right eye over the past month, and two weeks ago, an especially bad one appeared.

An angry, red lump popped up on my upper eyelid, and as the week went by, it got bigger.

I went to see an eye doctor who said an old sty had probably overhealed and there was now tissue growth in its place.

He gave me an ointment and antibiotics and told me to wait to see if the lump would shrink. If not, it could be removed in a minor operation.

Meanwhile, he said, stop wearing your contact lenses.

For good measure, he added that he saw many patients who had severe eye problems because their contact lenses were dirty or they had over-used them. The really bad ones needed corneal transplants.

I was suitably frightened.

Two days later, a dot of pus appeared on my lump. It grew bigger and heavier, then, thankfully, burst and drained itself. My eyelid started to heal.

Meanwhile, it was no contact lenses for a while but the weekend was coming up and I had appointments to keep.

Thing is, I'm shy about being seen in my glasses.

It's irrational, I know, but I feel self-conscious and unattractive in them, and it doesn't help that I have very bad myopia - 800 degrees - and my glasses have the thickness of a Coke bottle.

What's wrong with me? Why do I allow two tiny pieces of glass held by a wire frame to affect my sense of self-worth?

Besides, I love wearing sunglasses and have many pairs.

Far from feeling dorky when I wear them, sunglasses give me attitude. Depending on their shape, they can make me feel Jackie O-sophisticated or Liz Hurley-glamorous or Paris Hilton-tarty.

Is it down to coloured lenses then? Why should specs be okay if they are rose-tinted, but when the glass is clear, I dare not face the world?

Am I that insecure?

I'M probably not the only woman around who doesn't like her specs.
That's only about half of it. Yes, only half. I deleted the rest of it to save you from falling asleep. The writer goes on and on and on, yakety yakety yak yak yak, about spectacles and contact lenses and prescription lenses with colours etc etc. Utterly boring.

What would this blogger say, in her own defence? How would she respond to Mr Wang? Probably something like this:
"Hey Mr Wang, this is just my personal blog. It's like my own diary. Here I write whatever I want, just for myself, and that includes my whimsical mutterings, if so I please. If you don't like reading my blog, then go away and read some other blog lor. Or go and read some serious article in the mainstream media lah, like the Straits Times."
Fair enough. Mr Wang would agree.

Except that the long, winding, boring article about glasses, contact lenses etc etc did NOT come from a blog. Nope.

It came from none other than the Straits Times itself. Published on 23 October 2005, and written by ST columnist Sumiko Tan. Aptly entitled "Making a Spectacle of Yourself".


So the next time some ST journalist accuses bloggers of being inane, self-indulgent, boring, self-navel-gazing etc etc, well, just remember what Mr Wang pointed out to you today.

And don't forget, ST journalists don't even have the same excuse as bloggers. Journalists draw a salary and they're paid to bring you news. Real news. They're not supposed to say:
"Hey Mr Wang, this is just my personal space. The Straits Times is like my own private diary. In this newspaper, I write whatever I want, just for myself, and that includes my whimsical mutterings, if so I please. If you don't like reading my articles, then go away and read something else lor."

Exchange Programmes

ST Forum, Oct 24, 2005
Can ex-exchange student evade his conscience?

I AM writing in response to the report, 'Exchange student's switch to US varsity surprises NTU' (ST, Oct 20), on engineering student Cheng Yi Wei's switch to Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta while on an exchange programme from the Nanyang Technological University.

It is unfortunate that Mr Cheng, 24, failed to consider the implications
of his actions:

By accepting to study in NTU initially, he deprived another student a precious chance to study there;

By taking advantage of the exchange programme to switch to another university, he deprived another NTU student of the rare opportunity to take part in the programme; and

By doing so, he abused the trust that NTU had placed in its undergraduates.

It was shocking to read that Mr Cheng said he could do it since he was not 'legally bound'.

This event has had severe consequences - now NTU will have to legally bind its students on aspects that would not have been an issue when there was trust. Has our society degenerated to such a level that a six-month programme needs legal contracts?

While Mr Cheng managed to evade the legal repercussion of his actions, he cannot avoid his conscience.

What we do in life echoes in eternity - this a line from the movie Gladiator. Singapore society cannot thrive in a web of legal boundaries, but on the ethics of the people.

Kelvin Law Wei Ming
Sorry, I just fail to see the significance of this event.

Say I join NTU. I study there. Then I decide to leave NTU. I could leave for any number of reasons. For example, I may have personal family problems. Or financial problems. Or I realise that I really have no interest in my chosen course.

What's so wrong about that?

Then suppose I leave NTU because I decide that I prefer to pursue my education somewhere else, which I feel is better suited for me.

What's so wrong about that?

This Cheng Yi Wei chap was on an exchange programme. So? An exchange programme is just another university activity. It's another part of the overall curriculum. In fact, I understand that in NUS and NTU, it has become a rather ordinary part of the overall curriculum - there are MANY exchange programmes being run with MANY other universities for students in MANY different faculties and disciplines.

So what is the big deal here? Just because a student was on an exchange programme, therefore he cannot decide to switch universities?

Mr Wang offers you two different ways of looking at this matter. The first way is to view Cheng Yi Wei as a customer. He is a customer because he pays school fees to NTU to study there. The second way is to view Cheng Yi Wei as talent. He is talent in the same way that all bright, educated Singaporeans are talents.

If you choose to see Cheng as a customer, then the moral of the story is that customers are not necessarily loyal. Customers pay for what they want, and if they can get better value elsewhere, then they go. So if you're running a business, your job is to make sure that you deliver well enough to keep your customers. If you don't, well, too bad.

If you choose to see Cheng as talent, then the moral of the story is the same story that has been actively playing out in Singapore for the past seven, eight years. Talent is mobile. It has the capability to uproot itself and move elsewhere. So if you'd like to keep your talent, you have to create an environment where talent wants to stay.

That's it. Simple as that.

21 October 2005

First, An Announcement

Every week Mr Wang gets several emails in his email account from people he's never met before. They point to this report or that report in the newspapers, or on the Internet, and then they ask Mr Wang for his views and opinions on the legal aspects.

Mr Wang regrets to inform his readers that due to lack of time, he may not always be able to respond to all these emails nor to write about the relevant event here in this blog. But Mr Wang always finds your emails interesting, so keep them coming anyway.

Mr Wang's latest email is from Crumbs Crumby, who drew Mr Wang's attention to this Internet forum discussion about the case of a 14-year-old girl who systematically prostituted herself to various men, and then, for reasons best known to herself, went on to make a police report. Now, of course, the men are in trouble for having sex with an underaged girl.
Oct 19, 2005
Cash-short girl, 14, asked boyfriend to get men for her

By Selina Lum

A 14-YEAR-OLD girl who needed money to pay her bills hit on a shocking solution: she asked her boyfriend if he had friends who would be willing to pay for her sexual services. Then, after she had slept with at least five of them, she reported them all, including her boyfriend, to the police.

The girl's boyfriend, a 19-year-old national serviceman, had invited each of them to pay to have sex with her.

Two months later, in September last year, she made a police report stating that she had had sex with several different men on different occasions. The boyfriend, now 20, and five others were later charged with having sex with an underage girl.

Yesterday, operations assistant Muhammad Taufiq Sahak, 21, became the fifth person convicted for having sex with her. He was jailed for two months.

Two others have been jailed, one for eight months, the other for three. Another was sent to a boys' home. The fourth was given probation.

The case of the boyfriend, who faces nine charges of having sex with her, is expected to be mentioned on Nov 21. Police investigations are ongoing to trace the rest.

A person convicted of having sex with an underage girl can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $10,000.
Crumbs Crumby has asked Mr Wang to comment. Here are Mr Wang's thoughts:

The relevant provision of the Women's Charter is designed to protect underaged girls. Essentially it is a crime to have sex with a girl aged below 16. In determining whether the crime has been committed, the girl's state of mind is irrelevant. In other words, whether or not she initiated the sex does not matter. Whether or not she consented does not matter (of course, if she had not consented, it is likely that the man would have been charged for rape, a much more serious offence).

In the facts of our present case, there seems to be an element of unfairness. After all, the girl was the one who thought up the whole idea and actively made arrangements to find men to have sex with. And she collected money out of the whole arrangement as well. Obviously she was no sweet innocent young thing herself. Young, yes, but not very sweet nor very innocent.

How does the law take those elements into accout? It probably goes into the sentencing. The girl's own behaviour would probably lead the judge to decide to impose a less severe sentence on the men, than he would otherwise have done. At least, if I were the judge, that's the way I would have approached the case.

However, personally I would find it quite difficult to argue that just because the girl was such a slut herself, the men should not be prosecuted or convicted at all. To proceed down that line can be quite dangerous from a public policy perspective. It could lead to a situation where you end up inadvertently endorsing child prostitution. You could have young girls aged 14, 13 or 12 years old, with terrible sexual morals, offering themselves to men, and the men would take full advantage, again and again, and never be punished at all. This isn't exactly an ideal situation either.

What then is the solution? Hey, don't keep looking at Mr Wang like that. Yes, Mr Wang is clever. But he certainly doesn't have all the answers to all the ills of society.


Here we have a different kind of criminal case. The accused fights desperately for his right NOT to have access to a lawyer.

20 October 2005

Suspects and their Lawyers

In Singapore, when the police investigate an accused person for a serious crime, they may arrest him and hold him under custody for some time. During that period of time, they may deny him access to his lawyers. They may allow him to meet his lawyer only when they feel that their investigations are more or less done.

The longstanding debate in the legal community is whether such accused persons in Singapore should have a right to earlier access to their lawyers. Once again this debate has resurfaced, and this time it has made it to the mainstream media. Here's the ST report on it:
ST Oct 20, 2005
Lawyers seek early access for

Law Society awaits minister's response to paper submitted
late last month
By K.C. Vijayan

SEVERAL lawyers have called for more to be done to allow arrested suspects early access to legal counsel.

They said they do not regard this week's government response - which indicated no change is imminent - as a step forward in expediting access to lawyers.

The Law Society submitted a paper to the Minister for Law late last month on the early access issue as well as early disclosure of statements or documents to be used for trial against the accused.

'We are waiting to hear if and how the discussion can move forward,' Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam said yesterday.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told Parliament that an accused person would have access to legal counsel when police were about to or had wrapped up investigations, but not during the arrest and throughout the interviews.

Mr Jeyaretnam said 'Singapore has become a striking exception internationally on this issue.

'There is absolutely no reason to think our lawyers are less trustworthy or our police less capable than anywhere else so as to justify Singapore's refusal of early access to counsel.'

A check by The Straits Times showed that in Britain, a suspect is allowed one phone call to contact a lawyer at the time of arrest.

The lawyer helps explain to the arrested person his or her legal position when police statements are taken.

Mr Jeyaretnam said early access to counsel would not impede police investigation.

'At the very least, early access should be the general rule, with the exception being made for certain categories of hard-core cases.

'The current practice leads to over-reliance by the police on confessions whose truth may be in doubt as they are taken from an accused before he has seen a lawyer.'

The issue of access also surfaced in the recent case of factory supervisor Leong Siew Chor who was charged with the murder of Chinese national Liu Hong Mei on June 18 but was allowed to see a lawyer only 21 days later.

Former Law Society president Peter Low stressed it was important for a lawyer to see an accused person as soon as possible because whatever statement is made to the police without the presence of a lawyer and not under oath can be used against him in court.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Subhas Anandan said yesterday that there is now increasing public awareness about the issue of access.

'The authorities should work towards a target to allow access at least within 48 hours, aligning this with the period within which the accused person has to be produced in court from the time of arrest.'

He urged that the practice be reviewed against the backdrop of what other countries with similar legal systems did.....
This is a rather tricky issue for the lay public to understand. There are many layers to the situation. It is difficult even for law students. When Mr Wang was a law student, notwithstanding that he was regularly on the Dean's List for Academic Excellence, Mr Wang was so intimidated that when preparing for his 4th year Law of Evidence exam, he gave up on the topic completely and focused on other topics. Only when Mr Wang became a Deputy Public Prosecutor and started to see this aspect of the law operating in real life, did Mr Wang finally figure out how it really works.

For the purposes of this blog, Mr Wang will have to oversimplify the issues and present them in a way that his lay readers can grasp. Hopefully, Mr Wang will still be able to accurately capture the essence of the issues. A simple factual scenario will be helpful to illustrate:

1. SingaporeClassics, a blogger, has been murdered.

2. The police suspect that Anthony did it. They arrest Anthony.

3. Either Anthony did it, or he did not do it.

4. If Anthony did not do it, he only needs to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as the truth is known to him. No one needs a lawyer to be able to tell the truth.

5. If Anthony did kill SingaporeClassics, Anthony can now do one of two things. He can admit to it, or he can lie and deny it.

6. If he admits to it, good for society. The bad guy is caught. Justice is served.

7. If he lies and denies it, well, the police will either believe it, or they won't, and investigations will continue as the police follow up on other clues.

Why do some people argue that accused persons should have early access to a lawyer? It goes back to Stage 5 above. The concern is always with accused persons who don't understand what's happening and don't have lawyers to advise them. They end up making self-incriminating statements to the police. In other words, they don't lie well and they end up giving themselves away.

Mr Wang's opinion is simply this. If a person really committed the crime and then, due to his lack of legal advice, he fails to lie well and ends up making self-incriminating statements, well, why should we be concerned? The point is that he really did it. He's really guilty. Aren't we glad that the truth came out?

Now, Mr Wang will wait patiently for Anthony to say something.

19 October 2005

Low IQ Criminals

Some time ago, I wrote about the plight of low IQ criminals and mentally ill criminals in Singapore. I pointed out that Singapore's criminal laws relating to defences of insanity etc are very old (essentially unchanged for more than one century) and do not reflect the world's modern understanding of psychiatry and psychology. Therefore many mentally-ill and low-IQ people get convicted in Singapore, when there are strong arguments that they should not be.

Here is my old post. It highlights the case of one Iskandar Muhamad Nordin, a repeat molester with a low IQ of 58. He is educationally subnormal with mild intellectual disability. He also suffers from conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and had been on daily medication.

Today's Straits Times tells us that MP Sin Boon Ann made a valiant attempt to speak up in Parliament for such people. Unfortunately, but probably not very surprisingly, his arguments seem to have been decisively rejected by DPM and Law Minister Jayakumar. Anyway, here is today's ST article about mentally-ill criminals:
Oct 19, 2005
Should the law go easier on low IQ offenders?
Mental capacity no excuse if he knows it's wrong, says minister

By Laurel Teo
NO OFFENDER, whether of normal or low intelligence, can be excused entirely from his actions so long as he understands that what he did was wrong.

In making this point yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Law Minister S. Jayakumar also dismissed the idea of changing the law to mete out sentences based on IQ or intelligence levels.

What constitutes an appropriate sentence depends on the facts of each case, he said, and is a decision best left to the judge.

He was responding to Mr Sin Boon Ann (Tampines GRC), who asked whether the Government would consider reviewing its criminal laws to differentiate between sentences for convicted people who are of normal intelligence and those with low intelligence.

But Professor Jayakumar said such a proposal would be 'neither desirable nor practical'.

The issue of whether the law should treat people with low IQ differently arose in August, when convicted molester Iskandar Muhamad Nordin appealed, without a lawyer, to be spared the cane.He was given a stiffer sentence instead.

What sparked public debate was that the 18-year-old had an IQ of 58, compared to the 100 that a person with average intelligence would have.

While no direct reference was made in Parliament to that case, Prof Jayakumar gave this assurance: 'No one will be criminally culpable for his actions if his mental capacity is so limited that he did not understand the nature of the act, or what he was doing was wrong.'
We do not know, of course, how greatly the ST has, for reasons of limited space, simplified Sin Boon Ann's arguments. If however, Sin Boon Ann built his central arguments around IQ only, I would be very disappointed. For the issue is not merely about IQ. If you click on the link I had earlier supplied about conduct disorder, you see that there are also mental illnesses which make their victims prone to criminal behaviour (conduct disorder is just one example). Even if you are too lazy to click on the link, I'll just supply you with one brief quote from that website (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry):
"Conduct disorder" refers to a group of behavioral and emotional problems in youngsters. Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as "bad" or delinquent, rather than mentally ill. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.
In the world of psychiatry, conduct disorder is clearly recognised as a form of mental illness. With proper psychiatric treatment and medication, the condition can be cured, alleviated or kept under control. In prison, however, victims are extremely unlikely to receive the kind of professional care they need in order to fight off such a mental illness.

Unhappily, Law Minister Jayakumar does not seem to know this. Also unhappily, there is nothing in the ST article to show that Sin Boon Ann knows about this either.

What else did Jayakumar say in Parliament:
He explained the process to determine this. First, accused persons of low intelligence are given psychological assessments during investigations, before they are charged and before they go on trial.

When investigations are completed, the public prosecutor will carefully consider the relevant facts, including mental capacities, before proceeding.

'Those who are charged with an offence are those who knew the nature of their actions and who could appreciate that it was wrong to do what they did,' he said.
Some subtle points are obviously getting lost on Jayakumar. It is true that section 84 of the Penal Code says:
"84. Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law."
But this merely means that if the prosecutor learns from medical reports that the accused person is so mentally ill that he does not know what he is doing, or does not know that what he is doing is wrong, the prosecutor will not proceed in court. (That's because the prosecutor has no case).

However, we know that there are many forms of mental illnesses where the accused person knows what he is doing, and knows that what he does is wrong. However, due to his mental illness, he is nevertheless unable to stop himself from doing the act. To give you a common example, some mentally-ill people steal even though they know it is wrong, and they steal things which are completely useless for themselves. For example, the person may steal tennis balls even though she does not play tennis and does not intend to learn; or she may steal men's shaving foam even though she has no use at all for it.

These people are mentally ill. Mental illness drives them to the crimes they commit. They can be cured if they receive proper psychiatric treatment. They grow worse if you deprive them of such treatment, and instead throw them into prison for months or years.

Jayakumar does not understand this. How sad.

Hey, you. The ST journalist. Yes, YOU. I know you're reading this. Do something good for the sake of your own karma. Write an article about these issues and publicise them to the world.

17 October 2005

Yes, Mr Wang Agrees

ST, Oct 17, 2005
Walk the talk, please
By Mazuin Khamis

IT REALLY irritates me when people talk and write passionately about the recent spate of natural tragedies but do nothing to help.

What is the point of 'feeling so deeply for others' if it does not spur us into action? Talk is good, but just pretty words will not help an orphan in Kashmir, Aceh or New Orleans.

Some might say: 'But these places are so far away! I really want to help, but how can I?'

Well, I was offered the chance to join a Singaporean team travelling to tsunami-hit Aceh and help out sometime this year. But I did not go.

I was apprehensive that, with the outpouring of international aid, I would end up hampering aid efforts.

I wanted to offer my help where it was truly needed - right here at home, where we have many pressing charity cases as well.

My point is: You can always help if you want to. And you do not have to wait for a disaster to happen.

It should not require great tragedies like last year's tsunami for one to realise that no man is an island.

It is not the scale of the disaster, the media coverage or even the death toll that matters.

What is really important is that people help others who are less fortunate, whether in big or small ways.

Big words and philosophy are fine, but there is really no excuse for saying you want to help but cannot.

The writer graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic last year

This article reminds me of the part of Stephen Covey's book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" where Covey writes about the concept of a Circle of Concern and a Circle of Influence. For most of us, the things that we are concerned about (represented by our Circle of Concern) far exceed the things that we are actually able to influence (represented by our Circle of Influence).

To be highly effective people, we need to be proactive. To be proactive, we need to stop wasting time on the things we are concerned about but cannot control. Instead we need to focus our efforts on the things that we can control and influence (ie the things in our Circle of Influence) - yes, and on expanding our Circle of Influence.

Click here for more info about the Circles.

Little Ironies

ST Oct 17, 2005
Community spirit will see us through, says PM
He says it will help S'poreans tackle municipal and national issues
By Zakir Hussain

PUNGGOL and Sengkang may be new housing estates, but residents there are already starting to build a sense of community.

Yesterday, despite the pouring rain, they turned out in the thousands to take part in community activities.

Such a spirit, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is what Singaporeans need to tackle municipal as well as national issues.

He assured the residents that the Government and grassroots leaders would work together to solve problems they faced in the new estates.

'Progressively, we'll be able to deal with these problems one by one,' he told some 160 grassroots leaders after visiting Punggol North.

'And if we can do that, then we can also tackle national issues,' he added, citing examples such as dengue fever, restructuring and

He also urged residents and grassroots leaders to speak candidly to him.

'We need to be able to talk together, candidly, openly, and I must know what you think and you must know what my concerns, shared with you, are,' he told them.

Snigger, snigger, snigger. Sorry, I cannot help it. Coming so soon after the saga of the Endangered White Elephants of Buangkok, I think that one can be forgiven for taking PM Lee's words with a double pinch of salt.

Or is this PM Lee's method of damage control? An attempt to rebuild the faith of his own grassroots leaders?

14 October 2005

Oh My. We're All Going To Be Rich.

No, we're not. Increasing an extremely, extremely low interest rate to an extremely low interest rate does not help you to get very much richer.
Oct 14, 2005
DBS raises interest rates for deposit accounts

AFTER keeping savings rates unchanged at a record low level for over two years, DBS Bank finally nudged up its rates for savings accounts more than a week ago ...

With the latest changes, POSB savings account-holders will get 0.25 per cent for the first S$3.000, or double the 0.125 per cent previously. The next S$47,000 will attract 0.275 per cent, up from 0.125 per cent previously.
Seriously, folks, if you're still keeping your life savings in the traditional bank savings account .... DON'T. Put the money somewhere else.

Just keep enough money in your POSB bank account to pay your usual monthly bills and other foreseeable expenses. As your monthly salary is credited each month, sweep the excess into other investments and accounts. Everything is online these days, just click, click, click and you're done.

Even if you know nothing about investing, at least open an online bank account such as Standard Chartered Bank's eSaver account or Finatiq's Cash Investment Account. Then sweep the bulk of your cash there. They pay you 1.88% and 1.90% respectively. More than 10 times what POSB is giving you.

The only way to get rich on savings accounts.

Mr Wang's New Idea

I have been toying with a new idea. Haven't actually decided to execute it yet. The idea - whenever I see a worthy post in anyone's blog commenting on some aspect of government policy or practice in Singapore, I will email the post or hyperlink to the Singapore government as feedback.

By "Singapore government", I mean the appropriate government agency or person or institution for that matter. It could be some government ministry's feedback channel, or the Feedback Unit, or some civil servant whose email address is found in the Singapore government directory. Or even the Prime Minister's Office.

"If Mr Wang says so, I'll read it. I promise!"
- PM Lee Hsien Loong

I will preface my own message by saying that the post I am highlighting was taken from a particular blog which I found interesting; that I believe there is some value in this feedback; and that while the person wrote this in his personal blog and had not intended his message to be official feedback to the government, this merely means that his post is all the more likely to reflect his true, honest view. I may then go on to point out a few things about the blogger's background or experience which indicates that his view on the matter deserves some consideration.

An example of the kind of message that I would be interested in posting to the government is this. Trisha, who teaches maths in a SECONDARY school, finds the PSLE maths exam quite difficult, and wonders whether there is really any point in making the PSLE so tough for our 12-year-olds. Here's a maths teacher talking, a REAL one, and it would be good for the Education Ministry to actually KNOW what its own professionals think about these kinds of issues.

13 October 2005

Some Worthy Reads

* On the topic of calibrated coercion, the PM's Press Secretary Chen Hwai Liang has been having a boxing match with blogger-academic Cherian George in the pages of the Straits Times. Singapore Classics provides his analysis.

* Singapore's favourite Irish blogger, Steven McDermott, had promised to open his blog Singabloodypore to contributions by other bloggers. Pleinelune makes his maiden appearance, commenting on BG George Yeo's views about Singaporeans' supposed cultural advantage in dealing with PRC Chinese.

* PM Lee Hsien Loong professes not to be homophobic. However, Yawning Bread dissects Lee's views in decisive fashion. Lee's self-contradictions are laid bare for all to see.

* Jeff Yen shares his thoughts on World Mental Health Day. He thinks that compared to many other places in the world, Singapore is pretty lacking in its support for mentally ill people.

* XenoBoy imagines a different kind of Straits Times, driven by the passion to do what's right. Mr Wang considers himself too old. He won't live to see the day.

* A Singapore entrepreneur, Gwen, ponders the pros and cons of taking your company to an IPO.

* Merv has thoughts about breastfeeding in public. By the way, Mr Wang disagrees with Merv.

* Oh, and here's someone who thinks that people who read Mr Wang's blog are pretty "intellectual". That means you too, Mr Miyagi!

Calibrated Coercion

Blogger Cherian George wrote an article about the Singapore government's use of "calibrated coercion" to stifle the expression of dissenting opinions. Here's the article. Notwithstanding the fact that ST journalist Carl Skadian thinks that bloggers are worse than porn stars, the Straits Times went on to publish blogger Cherian George's article.

Chen Hwai Liang, Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, then responded with a strongly worded letter to the ST Forum expressing, shall we say, some unhappiness with Cherian's view. Personally, I feel that the Prime Minister's Office generally missed, or chose to miss, the real point of Cherian's article. But I shall not elaborate - if you are interested, you can read Cherian's further response to Chen Hwai Liang in the ST Forum today, or check out the relevant hyperlinks over at Singapore Angle.

The purpose of my present post is more modest. It is simply to quote a certain part of Chen Hwai Leong's letter and invite you to take a closer look at the underlying implications:
"...... zero tolerance for law breaking does not equate to zero tolerance for dissenting views. On the contrary, we encourage people to speak up and express their opinions on national policies and community life, so that out of the diversity of views a consensus can be forged, and a better decision made for the good of the nation.

Dr George's critical article was published in The Straits Times, contradicting his own claims."
Heheh. There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth. (Please be clear hor, Hwai Liang, I meant that figuratively, I'm not saying that you're a real horse, therefore no defamation). Hwai Liang has just told you that:

(1) Dr George wrote a critical article;

(2) Dr George's article was published in the Straits Times;

(3) This shows that the government tolerates dissenting views and encourages people to speak up and express their opinions.

Now Mr Wang will tell you what (1), (2) and (3) also show. If we accept what Hwai Liang said to be true (please be clear, hor, Hwai Liang, I am not saying that what you said is not true, therefore no defamation - I express no view on whether what you say is actually true or not true), then it follows that:

(a) critical articles can only be published in the Straits Times if the government tolerates them; and

(b) therefore the government can control what is or is not published in the Straits Times; and

(c) therefore the Straits Times is government-controlled and not exactly a "free press".

"Yawn", I hear some of you say, "What else is new, Mr Wang? We already knew that the Singapore press is ranked one hundred and thirty-something or forty-something in the world for press freedom. Tell us something new, Mr Wang."

Well, I guess I'm just pretty tickled by the fact that the above conclusions follow logically and directly from the utterances of none than the PM's Press Secretary himself. Hehehe.

Finally, I thought it was pretty funny that Hwai Liang mentioned "zero tolerance for law breaking". Funny because just very recently, on 7 October, we saw a law-breaker in a highly publicised case being let off. No jail, no fine, no prosecution, just a warning. And the law-breaker wasn't even named.
Oct 7, 2005
Police give stern warning to protester

By Leslie Koh

THE Case Of The Eight White Elephants has finally been wrapped up.

The punishment for putting up eight cutouts of cartoon elephants in front of Buangkok MRT station to protest against its non-opening: A stern warning from the police.

The placards, they said in a two-paragraph statement issued yesterday, did not cause public annoyance or a nuisance. But they did infringe on a law requiring people to obtain a permit before putting up posters or exhibits for public display.

So the police have issued a stern warning, instead of prosecuting the person who did it. They did not name the culprit.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the Elephant Man should have been prosecuted. I'm actually pretty happy that he wasn't. But it does go to show that Hwai Liang wasn't not quite right about "zero tolerance", was he?

(Wait - please be clear, hor, Chen Hwai Liang, not saying that you're dishonest or stupid, just saying that you're not quite right, nobody's perfect you know, so you can't sue me for defamation, anyway I call on the defences of (a) justification and (b) fair comment, this clearly being a matter of public interest).

There's also an ST article on 10 October hinting at the identity of the Elephant Man:
Oct 10, 2005
'Fight' to open Buangkok MRT station goes on

By Lydia Lim
GRASSROOTS leaders of Punggol South will fight on to get Buangkok MRT station opened.

And they will come up with more unusual ways to get the message across.

Grassroots leader Sunny Leow told reporters yesterday: 'We'll still be very creative, but within the law.'

Mr Leow, 54, chairs the Punggol South Citizens' Consultative Committee.

The businessman is believed to be the one who received a police warning after an investigation into the placing of eight white-elephant placards on the road divider outside the station.

The incident became a national talking point.
So here we have another clue as to another possible good reason why the law-breaker was not prosecuted. It could have been rather embarrassing for a certain committee in a PAP constituency, and a certain PAP Member of Parliament, could it not?

(Wait, nobody sue me ok, let me explain, I've never believed in zero tolerance for law breaking, I believe that we must always be flexible and creative and leave room for discretion and human judgment in the criminal justice legal system, I think that thie Elephant case was handled wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully.)

12 October 2005

On Illegitimate Children in Singapore

ST journalist Leong Ching has an article about the illegitimate children in Singapore, and the rights of their fathers vis-a-viz the mothers. But I get the impression that Leong Ching doesn't really understand her chosen topic. Let's take a look:
In Singapore, land of the Women's Charter and pro-family policies, a man cannot be a bigamist but apparently, he is free to sow his wild oats and head as many households as his wallet can support.
I later laughed at this, because Leong Ching so confidently referred to the Women's Charter, and then later displays her ignorance of how it actually works.
For family lawyer Foo Siew Fern, there is nothing wrong with the way things stand. You cannot make adultery illegal. So if a man wants to sleep around, he has better take responsibility for his actions, says the straight-talking lawyer who has been handling matrimonial cases for 14 years.

There are two ways in which the man can take responsibility, she says. One is to settle the matter with a lump-sum payment. The other is to pay monthly maintenance. The reasoning is that a child has a right to claim his biological father's assets, whether his parents are married or not.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Mr Sin Boon Ann, puts it this way: 'As a choice of society's values, we have decided under the Women's Charter to make it a right of women to expect monogamous marriages as a measure of decent conduct.

'So when a man begins to have dalliances with other women and worse still, has issues from that relationship, should the mistress be penalised? More importantly, should the child be penalised?

'For the mistress, I think our position is clear. A person who knowingly enters into a relationship with a man cannot and should not be expected to benefit from that relationship legally.'

It is the child, he argues, who should be entitled to maintenance from his father.

He makes two important points: A man should pay for his mistake and the child should not be made to suffer because two adults have made a mistake.
Here comes Leong Ching's own take on the matter:

... I would argue that while the man should pay for his mistake, he did not make the mistake alone. Unless the woman was raped, she was a consenting partner in the relationship.

If we speak then of a mistake committed by two people, surely both should have a say in how this mistake can be rectified?

Why should it be that the woman can compel the man to fork out maintenance money because she wants to keep the child? Think of the reverse situation: If she does not want to carry the child, but the man does, he cannot compel her to carry the baby to term.

Why is the relationship asymmetrical in this way? Both parties should have equal say in whether to have the baby or not, and in how to take care of the child.

If the woman wants to keep the baby, she should either persuade her partner to agree or make sure that she can afford to bring up the baby herself. If neither party wants the child, then she can either abort or carry the child to term and give it up for adoption.

If she does not want to do either, then she must be prepared to pay for the child's upbringing herself.

I do not argue for abortion, but I do argue for the right of the man, as well as the woman, to choose. Now, it seems that the man, and by extension his 'first' family, do not have a choice.

Leong Ching's error is that she's seeing things purely in the context of illegitimate children. She thinks like this, "A man and his mistress have sex and the woman becomes pregnant. The man should have the right, or at least some say, to decide whether the woman should have an abortion or not. If the man does not want the child, but the woman does, then the woman should pay for the child's upbringing herself."

Actually, the Women's Charter is surprisingly enlightened on these issues. As far as the child's right to maintenance is concerned, the Women's Charter does not draw any distinction based on whether the parents are not married or married, or married but not to each other, or are divorced. In fact, where the child's rights to maintenance are concerned, the Women's Charter does not even draw a distinction between fathers and mothers.
68. .... it shall be the duty of a parent to maintain or contribute to the maintenance of his or her children, whether they are in his or her custody or the custody of any other person, and whether they are legitimate or illegitimate, either by providing them with such accommodation, clothing, food and education as may be reasonable having regard to his or her means and station in life or by paying the cost thereof.
In other words, whether you're the father or the mother and whether you're married or not married, you have to look after your own children and provide them with accommodation, clothing, good and education. And the level of care you provide has to be something reasonable having regard to your means and station in life. For instance, if you are a blue-collar worker, then perhaps the court will order you to contribute $400 per month, but if you are a high-flying professional, then perhaps the court will order you to contribute $4000 per month.

I think that's fair. That's very reasonable. I love section 68 of the Women's Charter. I've loved it ever since the first time I came across it as a law student. To me, it is intuitively one of the RIGHTEST legal provisions I've ever seen (pardon the grammar, but you know what I mean).

The important thing is that the law will compel the parents to support the child, because the child is the most vulnerable one. The innocent one. The one unable to fend for himself. The one who didn't ask to be born. Well, he was born, so the parents have to look after him. This is the overriding consideration. No if's, no but's. This is a "just-do-it" situation. And it should be.

Despite what Leong Ching thinks, it is just not right that a father (or a mother, for that matter) should be able to say, "Hey, I never wanted this child, I told you that, YOU wanted it, now it's YOUR problem, I'm not paying a cent." And then just walk away.

11 October 2005

Blogs - A Medium in Search of a Role

Mr Wang has just read an article by Koh Buck Song in the Straits Times about blogging - it's entitled "Blogs - A Medium in Search of a Role". And he can't help feeling that this is another one of those rather misconceived MSM articles that try but fail to understand blogging.

Koh keeps talking about "durability" and "value" and how blogs struggle to build and maintain a readership. He thinks that blogging is a fad that cannot last unless the author can "keep churning fresh, engaging material, re-inventing content while retaining some consistency of approach to foster the blog's character. It is a long-haul game of branding, just like in the real world, and demands plenty of time".

Koh doesn't seem to understand a few key points. The first is that blogs, unlike newspapers, are not profit-driven; bloggers blog out of personal interest. The second is that anyone can set up a new blog in three minutes flat, or delete an existing one in five seconds.

Put these two points together, and what do you see? If a blogger loses interest, if he feels that he has nothing to say, well, he simply drops out. No loss to the world. Not such a huge loss to him either. Journalists depend on the press for their livelihood; bloggers don't depend on their blogs for a living.

Meanwhile hundreds or thousands of new blogs spring up each day. Millions of existing blogs go on. These are powered by people who ARE interested, and who feel that they still DO have something to say. Individual blogs may die, but blogs collectively march on.

What about the value of blogs, another point which Koh harps on? He suggests that bloggers can't offer much value to readers. Well, think about it this way. Ask yourself - which ten living people in the world do you think could possibly have thoughts, knowledge and ideas that are of great value to you? Next, ask yourself - do these ten people have Internet access? Probably yes. That means that all these ten people are potential bloggers.

That's the real power of blogging. It's instantly accessible to so many people in the world. And I believe that there are many, many people in the world who are able to write something of value to other people. Among bloggers, there are teachers, lawyers, parents, doctors, insurance agents, journalists, pastors, physiotherapists, poets, bankers, human resource officers, academics, business managers, chefs, scientists, accountants, CEOs, old people, young people, people of different races, religions and nationalities - each with unique backgrounds, insights and experiences to share.

Blogging makes their thoughts available to the world. Oh, and devices such as Technorati, Blogsearch and hyperlinking help, of course.

Koh makes a big deal out of the effort it takes to keep a blog going. Well, I think he exaggerates. People blog about what they are interested in, and naturally they would do what they're interested in, whether blogs exist or not. Take for example Reader's Eye, the blog of award-winning poet Gilbert Koh. Because Gilbert is interested in poetry, he'd be writing it and putting effort into it, regardless of whether blogs exist or not. However, it's thanks to the existence of blogs that he can cut and paste and share his works with the whole world (or whoever in the world is interested in his poetry).

And if one day, Gilbert loses interest in poetry, well, he'll end Reader's Eye. And if it ends, it ends. It was good while it lasted. Life goes on. There will be other poets, and other bloggers, and other poets who are bloggers. Just use BlogSearch, or perhaps just start exploring from Gilbert's blogroll.

Three cheers for Blogger!

What the Straits Times Doesn't Understand About Home Ownership For Poor Singaporeans

ST Oct 11, 2005
9 in 10 of S'pore's poor own homes
More than half own four-room flats or bigger, survey finds
By Daryl Loo

THEY are among the poorest in Singapore but nearly nine in 10 of the bottom 20 per cent of HDB families own the roof over their head.

Even more notable is the size of the homes they own: more than half own four-room or bigger flats.

Duh. Well, of course. Quite some time ago, the government already decided to stop building three-room flats, remember? You wouldn't be able to get a new 3-room flat if you wanted to. And that's the problem. Poor families are forced to purchase 4-room flats even if it would be a much smarter financial decision for them to get a smaller, cheaper one.
And if these 87 per cent of lower-income families sell their flats at current valuation, most will have quite a handsome sum in hand even after settling their HDB loan.
At least the Straits Times understands that these poor families still have a HDB loan to settle. Which means that along with struggling to pay for their rice, water and electricity bills, they also struggle each month to pay their loan interest to the HDB.

The more obvious point is that if these families sell their homes, they will be homeless. Gee, how come the Straits Times didn't think of that? So clever.
Technically known as home equity, calculations by the Department of Statistics estimate it to be an average $138,000.

But even more telling is when these figures are compared to the national average, which shows that 93 per cent of all HDB dwellers own their flats and that their home equity is $154,000.
Wow, such respectable sums. Now if the Singapore government allowed you and your family to camp out in the HDB void decks or on Changi Beach in a tent, that would be nice. However, neither option is available, which you would know if you have been keeping up with the news.
Experts said they point essentially to two things:

The national policy of home ownership, started in 1964, has worked well enough to reach the poor

When needed, the average HDB family can sell its property and have a tidy sum.
The average HDB family can then set up camp and live in the forested areas around MacRitchie Reservoir. That is, until the park rangers chase them away.
Nanyang Technological University Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap said the success of the home ownership policy, 'means it is now extremely critical for the Government to make sure the prices of HDB's cheaper flats do not dip'.
Maybe it's more critical for the Government to set up some new camping grounds.

08 October 2005

Judge Magnus On The Seditious Bloggers

Today the Straits Times has reproduced key points from the ruling of Senior District Judge Richard Magnus. In routine cases, the Subordinate Court judges usually do not explain their decisions at all, unless there is an appeal against their decision. In the present sedition cases, the fact that:

(a) Magnus, the No. 1 judge in the Subordinate Court hierarchy, personally heard the case; and

(b) Magnus bothered to articulate his grounds of decision in court;

shows that the courts recognise these sedition cases to be quite significant, from a public policy perspective. Let's take a look at what Magnus had to say:
'WHILE an offence under section 4(1a) of the Sedition Act is rare, it is necessary for this court to make it clear that such an offence will be met, upon conviction, with a sentence of general deterrence.
The phrase "general deterrence" tells you that the court is going to give a heavy sentence. When a judge says "general deterrence", this means that he wants to impose a sentence that will send a warning to the public and tell people that they had better think twice before committing a similar offence. The other kind of deterrence is "individual deterrence", where the judge is imposing a heavy sentence to deter that particular offender from committing the same crime again.
Racial and religious hostility feeds on itself. This sentencing approach of general deterrence is because of three main reasons:

The section 4(1a) offence is mala per se (heinous in or of itself);

The especial sensitivity of racial and religious issues in our multicultural society, particularly given our history of the Maria Hertogh incident in the 1950s and the July and September 1964 race riots;

The current domestic and international security climate. The court will therefore be generally inclined towards a custodial sentence for such an offence.
The third reason is interesting. In fact, in my private email discussions with one of my readers, Asoka Lotus, I had mentioned this factor as one likely to shape the authorities' view of the matter. The rise of terrorism has arguably made peaceful, conservative Muslims (ie the extremely vast majority of Muslims in Singapore) somewhat less certain of their place in this country, and it is important that we do not allow any behaviour that makes them feel that they might not be welcome or accepted here - this is probably what Magnus is saying.
The virtual reality of cyberspace is generally unrefereed. But one cannot hide behind the anonymity of cyberspace, as each of the accused has done, to pen diatribes against another race or religion.

The right to propagate an opinion on the Internet is not, and cannot be, an unfettered right. The right of one person's freedom of expression must always be balanced by the right of another's freedom from offence, and tampered by wider public interest considerations.

It is only appropriate social behaviour, independent of any legal duty, of every Singapore citizen and resident to respect the other races in view of our multiracial society.
The three paragraphs look rather obvious, but somewhere in their midst lies a rather subtle point. Many of you would not notice it, unless Mr Wang pointed it out. The point, however, is very significant, because this is Magnus speaking, and the Senior District Judge's ruling on this matter is what the other judges will scrutinise, and follow, in future similar cases. Here is the subtle point again:
"The right of one person's freedom of expression must always be balanced by the right of another's freedom from offence ..."
Why is this significant? Because when we talk about the freedom of expression, we always end up talking about the grounds on which it can be legitimately limited. Then we would turn to consider two broad principles.

The first is known as the harm principle, which says that the freedom of expression can be limited if the words or ideas expressed would cause undue harm to society. The second is known as the offence principle - that is to say, the freedom of expression can be limited if the words or ideas expressed would cause undue offence to society.

The offence principle is more controversial than the harm principle. Proponents of free speech are much more wary of the the offence principle than the harm principle. Let's illustrate the difference with a simple example.

Consider a speaker whose remarks are likely to incite racial riots. In such riots, people would be killed or injured. The harm principle says that this person's freedom of speech should be limited, so as to prevent harm from happening to society.

Then consider a person whose remarks will not cause racial riots at all, but will offend members of a particular race, say, the Indians. No harm is actually caused, except that the Indians feel very offended. The offence principle says that the speaker's freedom of speech should be limited, so as to prevent the offence from happening.

What Magnus is saying is that he will support limiting free speech on the basis not just of the harm principle, but also the offence principle. And Magnus's view is significant because, as I said, his ruling and reasoning as Senior District Judge is to be followed by all the other Subordinate Court judges.

What else did Magnus say?
... the remarks posted by Benjamin Koh on his blog were particularly vile, to use the words of the learned Deputy Public Prosecutors. Paragraph 10 of the learned DPPs' submission on sentence said: 'He...spewed vulgarities at the Muslim Malay community, derided and mocked their customs and beliefs and profaned their religion. He even compared their religion to Satanism.'
That is all we will learn from the court's judgment about what the two bloggers actually said.
His remarks provoked a widespread and virulent response. They sparked off more than 200 comments, some of which involved the slinging of racial slurs at Chinese and Malays. This is an aggravating factor.
In other words, if your seditious remarks attract lots of readers, you get a heavy sentence.
In the case of Nicholas Lim, the learned DPPs say that his comments are less serious than those by Benjamin Koh. This is borne out by a comparison of the offending materials.

The quantum of sentence on each of the accused persons, therefore, varies according to their level of blameworthiness.
As I mentioned in my preceding post, Magnus is paying careful attention to the actual content of the remarks made.

Finally a word of warning from Magnus:
The court will not hesitate to impose appropriate salutary and stiffer sentences in future cases.