30 December 2005

May Day, May Day

"What, no parachute? Too bad."

Today the Straits Times has three separate articles about SIA and the airline industry. If you use your head and put two and two together, it's quite easy to predict what's coming soon for SIA staff.

The first article tells us that MM Lee thinks that SIA pilots are overpaid and we need some new clever ways to slash their pay without appearing to slash their pay:
Pilots 'must be flexible with pay'

PILOTS are a 'special' breed, but like the rest of Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees, they must also keep up with changing times and be flexible when it comes to deciding their pay package, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew advised the pilots' union yesterday.

This will ensure that the airline survives in the face of intense competition, he said at a dialogue yesterday with SIA management and representatives from five unions, including the Airline Pilots Association Singapore (Alpa-S).

In general, he said, SIA would pay competitive wages, but wages must be more flexible.

'Salary increments should not be locked into basic pay and make costs inflexible when in downturns. Instead, more payments should be in allowances varying with profits,' he said.
In the second article, MM Lee talks about "hiving off" some SIA units. Which basically means "restructuring". Which in turn basically means "downsizing" and "retrenching".
MM's verdict: Airline labour-management relations have improved
SIA urged to hive off some units

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is persuaded that once-rocky relations between the five unions and management of Singapore Airlines (SIA) have improved, but he wants them to keep at it.

More adjustments will be needed to meet growing competition and one key step will be to hive off some parts of the business, he said.

He singled out SIA's catering and engineering subsidiaries as requiring hiving off 'sooner rather than later'.

Singapore Airport Terminal Services (Sats) and Singapore Airlines Engineering Company (Siaec) must become separate companies and compete with other players entering these two sectors, he said.
In the 3rd article, we learn that Mr Koh Boon Hwee, SIA Chairman, is stepping down and getting replaced by Mr Stephen Lee. MM Lee says some very nice things about Stephen Lee, which gives you an idea of why Stephen Lee has been chosen to be the new SIA Chairman. Basically Stephen has a proven track record (from his work at PSA International). He is very effective at managing unhappy, retrenched employees.

New chairman has special touch: MM Lee

MR STEPHEN Lee's journey from ports to planes received a vote of confidence yesterday from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who praised the former PSA International chairman for having a 'special touch'.


Under Mr Stephen Lee, 58, PSA successfully restructured its labour-management relations despite having to retrench staff and restructure operations amid intense competition. It was an achievement MM Lee had noted in November last year.

Now, he wants SIA to take the PSA route. 'SIA is going to go through a similar process, like PSA,' he said. 'It was not painless. But morale must not go down. So we mustn't go back and say the case is lost, we're finished. We're not finished, just as PSA was not finished.'

The key is for the troops to rally around their new general, he said, as he urged SIA employees to support Mr Stephen Lee whom, he added, was chosen because of his 'touch' at PSA.

Draw your own conclusions. Mr Wang is glad that he is not working for SIA.

17 December 2005

Cute Little Ducklings

ST Dec 16, 2005
China's new rich flaunt their brood
One-child policy is no deterrent to those who can pay the hefty fine

BEIJING - CHINA'S 'nouveaux riches' are not just competing with each other to buy grandiose mansions, private jets and fast, expensive cars - their latest status symbol is a brood of children.

The rich are finding a number of ways to get around the one-child policy adopted in 1979 to curb a huge population explosion in the world's most populous country.

Many business tycoons and celebrities are increasingly flouting the policy simply paying 'social maintenance fee', which can be as high as 150,000 yuan (S$31,000) per extra child for urban dwellers or as low as 7,000 yuan for rural residents.

Some wealthy people are even emigrating abroad for the sole purpose of having a second or third child whom they bring back to raise in China.
Singapore's position is opposite from China's - here the government keeps trying (and failing) to encourage more Singaporeans to have children. Nevertheless Mr Wang notes an interesting parallel.

Mr Wang has no official figures, but from personal observation, he notes that in Singapore, the people who choose to have three or more children are increasingly the richer folks. That's because they can afford it. In contrast, the "middles" tend to avoid having children, and even the poor, who used to have more children than they could afford, now seem to know better.

So the parallel between Singapore and China is that in both countries, the rich are the ones who end up having the most children.

15 December 2005

More on Marriage, Money and the Quality of Life

See my previous post on marriage. It turns out that on 12 December, the Straits Times had a third article on marriage, also by a young person. This young person is Christopher Choo, himself a blogger. Chris considered the topic of marriage from a financial perspective.
Dec 12, 2005
Marriage? Not if it lowers quality of life
By Christopher Choo

GETTING married here costs an arm and a leg. Doing so without adequate financial planning is foolish, in my view.

Take this for example: An HDB flat today is likely to keep a couple in debt for more than 10 years. An extravagant wedding dinner and an exotic honeymoon will sink them further in the red.

The situation deteriorates when children come into the picture.

There is the notion that children complete a family: Complete? Yes, complete chaos.

Usually, the family income is insufficient to allow one parent to stay at home.

So when the do-it-yourself method is not economically viable, Singaporeans choose the second-best course of action - outsourcing. And so Junior goes to childcare and families employ maids. And a car becomes an attractive option.

The couple remains in debt for the next decade because their assets are locked in what they own. This is why marriage is a roller-coaster ride that goes beyond glitter and romance, down into the dungeons of financial distress.

Whether couples can navigate the financial labyrinth and emerge stronger is questionable, and the proportion of divorces attributed to financial problems is evidence of this difficulty. Why lead a married life fraught with financial worries if it means giving up the carefree life of a bachelor?

Until this problem is addressed, many would rightfully defer marriage because it risks lowering their quality of life.
There are many things that Mr Wang would disagree with in the above article. Where should Mr Wang start?

Firstly, the high cost of housing in Singapore is precisely that - it is the cost of housing. It is not the cost of getting married. Everyone, married or single, needs a roof over his head, unless he or she wants to live out in the streets.

In Singapore, many adult single persons continue to stay with their parents even when the single person has started work and draws a stable income. Lest you be mistaken, the cost of housing still remains high. It is just that you make your parents pay for it. Naturally, it also means that you get less space. Physically, and mentally.

Single persons may also want to purchase their own apartment. For many years in Singapore, this wasn't much of an option due to HDB rules. Now those rules are being relaxed, to the great happiness of many singles. However, this simply means that flat-buying singles will now also similarly have to pay for the high cost of housing. It's just that unlike married couples, the single person will not have a spouse to help him or her meet the mortgage payments.

Christopher's next point is about children. This is somewhat a non-point for me because marriage does not necessarily mean children. In fact there are many married couples who do not want to have children. Leave it sufficiently late, and they wouldn't be able anyway, even if they wanted to. Infertility rates in Singapore are extremely high.

Nevertheless, let's consider the young married couple with children and a mortgage and a maid and childcare and a car and _______ and ______. Certainly, some married people handle their finances rather badly. However, the perspective I offer you is that some single people handle their finances just as badly. Many single persons go bankrupt, for example, because of their credit card addictions. In the end, Mr Wang thinks that your financial stability or otherwise depends much more on your attitude towards money, than on your marital status.

Marriage, in fact, can offer a kind of financial stability which singlehood cannot. Suppose for instance, that Mr Wang is suddenly retrenched - he can depend on Mrs Wang to support him. Now if Mr Wang were a bachelor, it is unlikely that he would obtain such support. Unless he was an extremely charming Romeo with many rich girlfriends.

At a more philosophical level, Mr Wang suspects that he thinks quite differently from Chris, on several fundamental points. Firstly, Mr Wang sees money as a tool, as a means to your ends, whatever your ends may be, rather than an end in itself. Money is to be used to achieve what you want. Thus, to Mr Wang, it is sensible to say, "I intend to save $500 a month, to fund my children's future education." It is not sensible to say, "I shall not have children, so that I need not save $500 a month to fund their future education."

To put it another way, if you choose not to raise a family because you do not wish to spend money raising a family, then you are being silly - unless you know very well what other purpose you want to spend your money on, or save it for. Singles who spend their money on frivolous things and unnecessary luxuries and then say, "I cannot afford to get married" sound rather strange to Mr Wang.

Mr Wang is also a little startled when he reads these words by Chris Choo:
... many would rightfully defer marriage because it risks lowering their quality of life.
This makes Mr Wang feel a little dumbfounded. Personally, however, marriage does not put Mr Wang's quality of life at risk - marriage CONTRIBUTES, and greatly, to Mr Wang's quality of life. And I believe that this applies generally to the human race. Here are the studies to back me up:

Better Financial Picture

The old saying "Two can live as cheaply as one" isn't exactly true. Two do appear to be able to live as cheaply as one and a half persons, though. That means sharing furniture, food, insurance benefits, a car, etc.... And, when one person becomes ill, loses his or her job, or needs emotional support due to stressors, the spouse is there to help. This is cheaper too, as in home nurses, credit card debt, and therapists cost more.

Married men are more successful in work as well, getting promoted more often and receiving higher performance appraisals. They also miss work or arrive late less often (Kostiuk and Follman, 1989, and Shaw, 1987). As for women, white married women (without children) earn 4% more and black married women earn 10% more than their single peers (Waite, 1995). While some point out that house work for married women (37 hours per week) is greater than that of single women (25 hours), half of that is due to having children (South and Spitze, 1994).

Longer Life

Married people live longer as well. Single men have mortality rates that are 250% higher than married men. Single women have mortality rates that are 50% higher than married women (Ross et all, 1990). Having a spouse can decrease your risk for dying from cancer as much as knocking ten years off your life. Single people spend longer in the hospital, and have a greater risk of dying after surgery (Goodwin et al, 1987).

Married women are 30% more likely to rate their health as excellent or very good compared to single women, and 40% less likely to rate their health as only fair or poor compared to single women. Based on life expectancies, nine of ten married men and women alive at age 48 are alive at 65, while only six of ten single men and eight of ten single women make it to 65. Married men may have better immune systems as well, either from support or from nagging to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, etc... and may be at less risk to catch colds (Cohen et al, 1997)

Better Mental Health

Married men are half as likely to commit suicide as single men, and one third as likely as divorced men. Widowed men under 45 are nine times more likely to commit suicide as married men (Smith, Mercy, and Conn, 1988). Married people report lower levels of depression and distress, and 40% say they are very happy with their lives, compared to about 25% in single people. Married people were half as likely to say they were unhappy with their lives.

Single men drink twice as much as married men, and one out of four says his drinking causes problems for him. Only one of seven married men says the same. One out of six single men abstains from alcohol, but one in four married men do (Miller-Tutzauer et al, 1991).

Better Sex

About 40% of married people have sex twice a week, compared to 20-25% of single and cohabitating men and women. Over 40% of married women said their sex life was emotionally and physically satisfying, compared to about 30% of single women. For men, it's 50% of married men are physically and emotionally content versus 38% of cohabitating men."

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12 December 2005

On Marriage

"Honey, we're still underaged."

The Straits Times has a number of articles today where young people write about why they would rather not get married. Interesting, interesting. Let's take a look, first, at the article by one Goh Wen Zhong:
If my immediate future is not secure, the thought of marriage, or even emotional attachment, does not cross my mind. It is not born out of a selfish desire of self-advancement, but for practical reasons.
The funny thing about practical problems is that if you look hard enough, you can usually find practical solutions. And Mr Wang is such a practical guy. So let's take a look at Wen Zhong's practical problems.
I want to be able to afford a wedding ceremony befitting the significance of the occasion.
This is dumb. A wedding ceremony is a one-day event. A marriage is a lifetime project. Now if you and your partner really want to undertake a lifetime project, you should never let a one-day event stand in the way. It would be as absurd as saying, "I really want to go to university, but it's just too difficult to get the application form and fill up so many blanks."

Dear Wen Zhong, if the wedding ceremony is really such a big problem for you, I suggest you just skip it. Seriously. If you have a limited budget, spend on a nice honeymoon in an exotic place, rather than on a 75-table wedding dinner where half the guests are there only because they feel socially obliged to be there. I can't even remember half the things that happened on my wedding ceremony day. But the honeymoon, heheheh, I remember. Next problem, please:
I want my wife to have the freedom to choose whether to work or be a homemaker.
Mr Wang says: that's not an immediate problem. When you've just gotten married, you don't have kids (hopefully). When you don't have kids, your wife will be bored stiff staying at home playing homemaker. So she should go to work. What do you want her to do - stay at home and mop the floor all day? As for kids, you can defer them until you and your wife feel willing or able.
I want my marriage to be a genuine joy to my parents, and not a burden.
Frankly I think it's none of their business, but if you ask me, most parents are happy to see their kids get married, and most parents are even happier to become grandparents. And why should your marriage be a burden to your parents?
I want to be the best husband and father I can be.
That's nice. That's also impossible as long as you stay single. The first step to becoming the best husband and father around is, of course, to become a husband and father. Funny, this Wen Zhong fella. His aspiration sabotages itself.
The peripheral thoughts are mind-boggling: Financial stability is a must.
Good point. So save your money. Set some financial goals. Educate yourself on financial planning. Which you should do anyway, Wen Zhong, regardless of whether you get married or not. Contrary to what you seem to be thinking, Wen Zhong, singlehood doesn't make you rich. And actually, Wen Zhong, marrying a rich lady could be your fastest way to get rich (not that Mr Wang advocates marrying rich ladies for no other reason than their being rich).

The next writer is Chen Wei Li, a recent graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. He wrote:
On a more pragmatic note, I simply want to spend more time doing things without the obligation of answering to a family.

I would love to go backpacking in Europe or run a business or throw all my money on a new car.
So the argument goes like this: "I don't want to get married because I want to do other things first like ... A, B, C." The questions are then (a) what are your ABCs; (b) do you really want to do them; (c) are you taking positive steps or making some definite plans for your ABCs, (d) are they just idle daydreams that will last even when you're 60 years old and still single; (e) does marriage really stand in the way of these ABCs; (f) if the right person comes along, will your ABCs still be overwhelmingly important.

I know many people who would say, "I don't want to get married now because I want to focus on my career and succeed in my job." Now I can respect this kind of argument very much - if the person is indeed passionate about his job; works very hard at excelling in it and so on.

Question these people further, and you find, more often than not, that they don't particularly love their job (they may even hate it), they aren't facing any particularly exciting work challenges, and they are approximately as lackadaisical as the average other employee (married or not) in their organisation.

If you look at Wei Li's ABCs, you may begin to see some likely false dilemmas. For example, if you want to go backpacking in Europe, just go. It's only one month, maybe two months of your life. How does it stop you from getting married? Heck, get married and go backpacking with your spouse in Europe.

Wei Li's second ABC - running a business. Curiously, if you stop to think about it, most of the SME-type of businessmen you know are probably married. Furthermore, their wives probably play a big role in helping to run the business.

Wei Li's 3rd ABC is ... a bit sad, in my view, but to each his own. If the romantic interest in your life is someone to whom you're willing to say, "I won't marry you because I prefer to own a car instead", well, chances are, she's not someone you genuinely love anyway.

More thoughts later ...

10 December 2005

Mr Wang Speaks

An interesting development - Mr Wang has received an invitation to be a guest panelist and speaker at a students' event. To be held in the first quarter of 2006, the students' event focuses on current affairs and national issues in Singapore. Mr Wang has been asked to speak on the topic of youth, society and politics. 200 students from various educational institutions in Singapore are expected to attend. This will be rather unusual, because Mr Wang will probably be the first person ever to speak at such an event while using a pseudonym like "Mr Wang Says So".

Still thinking about it, but am likely to go.

08 December 2005

Ex-President Devan Nair

So ex-President Devan Nair has passed away. Customarily we say only nice things about dead people. And in Singapore, nice things generally mean things that are nice according to the establishment, the ruling party, the Powers That Be. This confuses Mr Wang somewhat because ex-President Devan Nair, in more recent years, has himself said many things which the establishment wouldn't think of as very nice. For example, Devan Nair spoke loudly in support of certain well-known opposition figures. Even bumbling idiots like Chee Soon Juan, whom Mr Wang detests.

Well, Mr Wang doesn't really know what else to say. So perhaps I'll just show you a couple of things that Devan Nair himself wrote. And after reading what Devan has to say, you might want to guess why ex-President Devan Nair and his wife left Singapore and went far, far away, to live out their twilight years and die in another country. Click here, or see below:

--Devan Nair speaks out
March 26, 1999

A serious threat of closure faces the Worker's Party led by Mr. J. B. Jeyaretnam because of failure to pay the forbidding damages awarded against the Party by a court in Singapore. One hopes against hope that this might be avoided at the last minute. It is a slim hope. The world has come to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the political tactics used by the PAP against opposition politicians have for some time come to include suing their pants off, forcing them into bankruptcy and losing their seats in parliament as a result. Now the same device is resorted to against opposition political parties themselves, as registered institutions. The onus of proof is on the government of Singapore, not on global public opinion.

Nothing that smacks of opposition seems safe in Singapore any longer. Singaporeans must sooner or later come to realise the harsh truth that nobody in Singapore is truly saved unless all are seen to be saved. The post of no return has long passed for Singaporeans, and one fears they will perforce learn this lesson the hard way. In the ultimate analysis, this is probably best. The more painful the price paid to learn basic human lessons, the more firmly might they become embedded in the national fibre. A free Singapore will arise and justify the sacrifices and efforts of undaunted Singaporeans, now including the courageous Chee Soon Juan, who had immolated themselves on the altar of freedom. Phoenix-like, their dreams will rise once again from their ashes. Were this process not true, the world would have come to an end long ago.

It is just as well that I release this Requiem now. If not timely yet, it will be soon enough. Here goes, for good or ill to myself.

Some months after I was kicked upstairs to the presidency of the republic of Singapore in October 1981, there was a by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Anson, which I had held prior to my ill-fated elevation. I had won that seat with a comfortable majority of some 80 percent of the votes cast. My opponent was the Worker's Party leader J.B. Jeyaretnam.

Today, looking back, I realise that it was not the PAP that had won that seat with such a thumping majority, but I myself who had won it almost entirely in my personal capacity as the unchallenged leader of the free trade union movement in Singapore (no longer free). True, I had persuaded the trade unions to cooperate with the government in its attempts to ensure that the economy of Singapore was kept on an even keel. They overwhelmingly voted their approval, because I had successfully convinced them that the organised greed and reckless disregard for the social good represented by British style trade unionism of the day would clearly not do for a small island state like Singapore with absolutely no natural resources of any kind to boast of apart from God's own fresh air. In doing so, my members knew that I had not surrendered an iota of the institutional independence of the NTUC (National Trade Union Congress). Indeed they knew that at every Delegates Conference of the NTUC they had unanimously endorsed a firmly worded resolution I had introduced from the platform reiterating what they most highly valued - the institutional independence of the labour movement.

These days, you won't find a single reference in any of the resolutions passed by the NTUC to the priceless oath of institutional independence a few colleagues and I had entrenched in our founding constitution. Let me make it clear. The PAP had no hand in the founding of the NTUC.

Be that as it may, a by-election had to be called in Anson. The PAP's candidate was a faceless civil service appointee of Lee Kuan Yew who had been seconded for service to the NTUC, while the Workers Party put up J.B Jeyaretnam. To the consternation of the PAP, Jeyaretnam won.

The day after the by-election verdict was declared, I had lunch with the Prime Minister (Lee Kuan Yew). I was amazed at how he fretted and fumed like a caged fury. As I saw it, Jeyaretnam constituted no threat at all to the PAP whether in parliament or outside it. For one thing, despite Jeya's courage, he displayed a woeful lack of economics. He clearly never knew at any point of time how Singapore clicked economically. And it was as plain as a pikestaff to me that in five years of free performance in parliament against the likes of Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Lim Kim San et al, he would stand exposed in public for his abysmal ignorance of economics.

In truth, if I had to cope with J.B Jeyaretnam as a hostile delegate at regular NTUC Delegates Conferences, I would have given him all the rope and more he wanted to hang himself with. And after free and open arguments over three days of conferencing, I would have beaten him hands down at the ballot box. I knew this, as did the workers. For they knew that in the colonial days, Jeyaretnam had never stood on a picket line. I had, not once but several times, not only stood on picket lines, but also bedded down for the night on the gravel with the workers whom I led.

I told all this to Kuan Yew. Nothing I said sank in. He fretted about a potential critical percentage drop in PAP votes across all the constituencies that could eventually bring the PAP government down, and he wouldn't stand for it. Only later did I realise that this was the moment that started his formidable brain box ticking away furiously at the fecund gerrymandering schemes he was to introduce later to ensure that all opposition parties would be put in a Gordion bind that would make it impossible for them to ever achieve control of parliament, unless an Alexander came along. Such a possibility appears impossible now, unless it takes the awesome shape of shattering geo-political circumstances already building up around Singapore.

Immediately, however, Kuan Yew's attention was concentrated on how he would deal with J.B Jeyaretnam in parliament. I was quite alarmed at some of the things he told me at that lunch. "Look," he said, "Jeyaretnam can't win the infighting. I'll tell you why. We are in charge. Every government Ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time." And I will never forget his last words. "I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy."

Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff. To his eternal credit he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy. And it is to Lee Kuan Yew's eternal shame that Jeyaretnam will leave the political scene with his head held high, enjoying a martyrdom conferred on him by Lee. Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that Jeya more than deserves the crown of the martyr for his indomitable courage and dignity in the face of the vilest persecution.

Even greater human spirits than Jeyaretnam had refused to bend their knees to Lee Kuan Yew. It is my considered view that the greatest human being living in Singapore today is one who declined to surrender to the intimidation of prolonged incarceration and restrictions imposed on him without trial for a total period which exceeds that suffered by Nelson Mandela. And here was the mark of true greatness. He emerged from the experience like a god unembittered. His name is Chia Thye Poh. And it is Lee Kuan Yew who emerged from the episode as the knave and fool of his own mindless vindictiveness, while the real conqueror smiles benignly - unnoted, of course, by the local media. For only sound waves from the Istana Annexe are picked up and regurgitated by His Master's Voice.

There is no political justification for obliging the Workers Party to close down. And not a shred of moral justification. What lies behind the move is among the most brazen vindictiveness ever shown in the political life of Singapore. It merely adds one more nail in the coffin of the PAP's reputation when the true history of the party will be exposed to the world, as it surely will be one day in the coming decades of the third millennium. As mankind accelerates to the abyss, the shining memories of the past will certainly not include Lee Kuan Yew and the department store dummies he boasts today as his acolytes. He clearly does not possess the foresight to avoid such a fate.

I gladly salute J.B. Jeyaretnam and the Worker's Party at this highly deserved requiem, even if I never once had shared their platform.

Please note that the above views are Devan Nair's, not mine. I don't necessarily agree with all or any of his points. I even disagree with some of his points. So please do not sue me for citing his views. After all, Devan Nair is a national hero, a founding father of Singapore. That's my general impression anyway, based on what our dear leader PM Lee Hsien Loong wrote about Devan Nair in the Straits Times today:
Mr Nair made substantial contributions to Singapore. During the formative years of our nation, he served with courage and commitment, and played a significant part in building modern Singapore ... Singaporeans will remember Mr Nair for his many years of service to our nation. He belongs to the generation of founding fathers who made Singapore what it is today. His passing is a loss to us all.'
And what could be so wrong about quoting a national hero? A founding father of our dear nation? His passing is a loss to us all.

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06 December 2005

Look Who's Getting Married!

None other than Elton John himself. I used to love his music back in my younger days (oh yes, that was quite some time ago). Nowadays Elton has gone pretty crappy, singing dumb songs for cartoons like "The Lion King", but there was a time when Elton was really, really cool and successfully combined his vocal artistry with powerful songwriting.

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about is Elton's wedding. Gee, a gay wedding. Here's a news report:
Eight months after the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles married at Windsor's Guildhall, the venue will witness another high profile union - the gay "wedding" between Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Sir Elton and Mr Furnish yesterday joined hundreds of other same-sex couples across the country by officially registering their civil partnership ceremony on the first available date.

The formal notice announcing the event, which will be held on Dec 21 after a mandatory 15-day waiting period, was put on public display at Maidenhead Town Hall in Berkshire.

The couple listed their address as Windsor and Maidenhead alongside their dates of birth and a description of their occupations, musician and filmmaker.
What's all this about? Well, the Civil Partnership Bill just came into effect in the UK. Read more about it here. Essentially, civil partnerships are legally recognised unions between two people of the same sex. Couples who enter into such partnerships are granted almost all the same legal rights as married couples. Like marriages, they can only be dissolved by a court.

Well, now. Isn't that nice? I kinda think that if society chooses to create and recognise an institution like a "civil partnership", then among other things, it helps to provide some kind of structure to gay relationships. That in turn may encourage gays to stay in a committed relationship (much as the institution of a heterosexual marriage encourages husband and wife to stay faithful to each other). In turn the AIDS problem amaong gays would probably lessen (note that Mr Wang is NOT saying that AIDS is an exclusively gay problem - of course it is not).

Speaking of gays and AIDS, the Straits Times has a remarkably lousy article today. It is so ambiguous that if I were the editor, I wouldn't have published the article. Instead I would've told the journalist - "No, no. You gotta do more homework. Go back to the relevant people, ask more questions, get more information, get clearer answers. What you have here is just not good enough to be printed. It's a non-story."

Of course, we can't seriously expect the Straits Times to share Mr Wang's high standards. So instead we get a lousy piece of reporting like this:

Dec 6, 2005
1 in 25 gay men here may have HIV

ABOUT one in 25 gay men in Singapore is HIV-positive, said Dr Balaji Sadasivan yesterday. Researchers came to that conclusion based on the data gleaned from the anonymous human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing clinic at Kelantan Lane.

However, the Senior Minister of State for Health was quick to point out that the data used to come up with the figure is far from perfect.

Dr Balaji explained: 'There are many, many questions about this data.

'Is this representative of all gays? Or is it representative of a sample of gays? We can't answer this question unless we do more detailed studies which may invade into people's privacy.'

Action for Aids (AFA), a non-governmental organisation which runs the anonymous testing clinic, also has no idea how accurate the figure cited by Dr Balaji may be.

AFA's programme manager Abdul Hamid Hassan said the figure could be an overestimate, or an underestimate.

As I read this article, many questions pop up in my mind. Let's take a look. Balaji tells us that 1 in 25 gay men in Singapore has AIDS. We are told that this is the "conclusion" of researchers at the Kelantan testing clinic. However, Action for AIDS, which itself runs the clinic, then says that it has "no idea" how accurate Balaji's figure is. And the Straits Times tells nothing about what kind of research was done, or how the figure was derived.

What kind of reporting is this? The Straits Times might as well report that in Mr Wang's view, approximately 3 in 2,775 gay men in Singapore have AIDS. Mr Wang arrived at this opinion using his amazing extrasensory powers of perception and other methods of special research which shall not be reported. Mr Wang then explained: "There are many, many questions about this figure. Is this representative of all gays? Or is it representative of a sample of gays? I can't answer this question unless I use my extrasensory perception and special research methods a few more times." And then Action for AIDS could say, "We have no idea how accurate the figure cited by Mr Wang may be. Our programme manager Abdul Hamid Hassan feels that Mr Wang's figure could be an overestimate, or an underestimate."

Fat lot of good such an article would be.

05 December 2005

Woof Woof

Some lingering thoughts on the Nguyen Van Tuong case. Much earlier I had convincingly argued (Mr Wang is always convincing to himself) that the death sentence is no powerful than life imprisonment as a deterrent. If you cannot scare off a drug trafficker with a life sentence, you cannot scare him off with the death sentence either. The blogger known as Gilbert Koh expresses a similar view in the comments section of this Singabloodypore post and offers us a colourful illustration:

Actually I think life imprisonment is as strong or even stronger a deterrent than the death sentence. For all practical purposes, if a person cannot be deterred by the idea of being locked up for the rest of his life, I don't think he would be deterred by the idea of being hanged either.

It is like a devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation. Both are qualitatively very different, but both are also very extreme.

It is like telling a person "If you commit this crime, I will dig out both your eyes";

or proposing an alternative:

"If you commit this crime, I will cut off your testicles."

Both are qualitatively quite different - they lead to quite different consequences - but if one does not deter a particular person, the other is also unlikely to deter.

By the way, Whineeey, assuming you are male and have been convicted of the relevant crime, which form of punishment would you prefer?
Whineeey had no answer. But Mr Wang does have a further insight to offer on this matter. Here it is - the severity of the potential punishment matters less than the likelihood of being caught.

To elaborate, assume that a drug trafficker knows very well that Singapore has the death penalty (or for that matter, life imprisonment) for drug traffickers. He believes however that he has a 90% chance of successfully passing through Customs without getting caught. The potential for the death penalty (or life imprisonment) would not deter him if he is prepared to bet on his 90% chance.

Assume conversely that Singapore has much more lenient laws on drug trafficking (eg a maximum of 10 years in jail). However, also assume that the authorities are much more vigilant at the immigration checkpoints. Thus the drug trafficker believes that there is a 90% chance of being caught at Customs.

Mr Wang is very certain that in the 2nd scenario, many more drug traffickers would be deterred than in the 1st scenario, from attempting to pass through the immigration checkpoints with their illegal merchandise.

Thus one wonders why the Singapore government doesn't simply step up measures at the immigration checkpoints. For example, train 100 new sniffer dogs and plant them all over Changi Airport. Surely this would be (a) very useful in catching traffickers who still dare to come, (b) very effective in deterring traffickers from planning to come, (c) very useful in reducing the future risks of damaging foreign relations with another nation over the death penalty, and (d) coincidentally useful in thwarting the terrorist threat.

Who needs the death penalty?

Rover will do just fine.

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NKF Woes

The Straits Times constantly amazes me with the vigorous spins and warped angles it places on its reports.
Dec 5, 2005
New donations spell hope for NKF
50 donors sign up for Lifedrops scheme; 3 others have rejoined

By Lee Hui Chieh
DESPITE the controversy over how its funds were used, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) has managed to attract 50 new individual donors - as well as three who have returned.

In the past four months, 50 new donors have signed up for the NKF's Lifedrops programme, pledging a small sum of money each month through Giro or credit card deductions.

Three others who had earlier quit the programme have since rejoined.

The Lifedrops programme used to have between 2,500 and 3,000 new donors every month. Since mid-July, when the scandal broke, about 50,000 people have dropped out, taking with them about $400,000 worth of donations.
50,000 regular donors quit, and 3 of them later rejoined. That's a recovery rate of 0.006%. And for the title of its article, the Straits Times says "New Donations Spell Hope"?!? Mr Wang suggests to you that more appropriate titles would be "Deep Shit Continues for NKF" or "Thank Goodness for the Reserves".

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02 December 2005

Government Press Release

Singapore Government Press Release
Media Relations Division, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
MICA Building, 140 Hill Street, 2nd Storey, Singapore 179369
Tel: 6837-9666


Nguyen Tuong Van was charged for importation of 396.2 grams of diamorphine or pure heroin into Singapore, under Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Chapter 185), which carries the death penalty. Mr Nguyen was convicted as charged and sentenced to death. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides that the death penalty is mandatory if the amount of diamorphine or pure heroin imported exceeds 15g. Mr Nguyen unlawfully brought into Singapore almost 400 grams of diamorphine, enough to supply 26,000 doses of heroin to drug addicts. The street value of the heroin was worth an estimated S$1.3m. Mr Nguyen failed in his appeals to the Court of Appeal and to the President for clemency. The sentence was carried out this morning at Changi Prison.

Ministry of Home Affairs
2 Dec 05

More on Death

Nguyen Van Tuong, the Australian drug trafficker, is dead. He was hanged this morning. Peace to your soul, Nguyen. In the grand design of the universe, everything happens for a reason. Perhaps your death will help Singapore take a few small steps towards the eventual abolition of the death sentence. Or at least save the life of some young foolish Australian somewhere who had been contemplating the same crimes as you did.

Meanwhile an even more dramatic case continues to unfold on the other side of the world. Stanley Tookie Williams, a five-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is scheduled to be executed on 13 December 2005, and people are campaigning for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare him. Here's a news report:

Rallies plead for Tookie's life
Protesters in Fremont decry nation's 1,000th execution
By Josh Richman

SAN FRANCISCO — Elected officials, clergy and others rallied on City Hall's steps Wednesday to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare the life of condemned murderer and activist Stanley Tookie Williams.

The rally was among at least a dozen events held in Fremont and elsewhere throughout the state Wednesday — with scores more staged nationally and around the world — in opposition to the death penalty in general and Williams' execution in particular.

A group of local protesters gathered on the steps of Mission San Jose on Wednesday morning to oppose the country's 1,000th execution since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

An execution was scheduled to take place late Wednesday, but the governor of Virginia granted clemency to the inmate. The next execution is scheduled to take place at 11 p.m. PST today in North Carolina.

The "day of action" coincided with the state Supreme Court's rejection of Williams' lawyers' last-ditch challenge to ballistics evidence and other factors underlying his conviction; only a federal court or the governor can intervene now.

Schwarzenegger will hold a closed-door clemency hearing with Williams' attorneys and prosecutors Dec. 8; Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 13.

"Become 'The Redeemer,' not 'The Terminator,'" San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano urged the governor Wednesday.

"There is no human being who is created without an aim and a purpose," said Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad of San Francisco, adding that Williams has now found that purpose: to help young men ask and answer the same tough questions of themselves that he has of himself.

"Killing will never bring peace, killing will never bring closure — not once. It is a spiritual impossibility," said Rabbi Alan Lew of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom. "Life is a sacred gift. All life. Every life."

Others speaking to scores of activists and a media crush in San Francisco included the most Rev. John Wester, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco; United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta; and Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Wednesday's events came two days after human rights watchdog Amnesty International and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued their own calls for Williams' life to be spared.

Williams, now 51, was convicted of murdering four people in two separate robberies in 1979; he has continued to claim his innocence of those crimes, but state and federal courts have upheld his convictions at every turn. He's also the co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang, which spread from Los Angeles to cities throughout the nation and world, wreaking violence upon communities.

But since emerging from solitary confinement in 1994, he has become known as an anti-gang activist and author who directly or indirectly has inspired uncounted youths to straighten out their lives. He's been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize — once by a Swiss lawmaker and four times by a group of American college faculty led by a professor at Belmont's Notre Dame de Namur University.

Stanley Tookie Williams is a fascinating character. Read more about him on Wikipedia. Once a violent criminal, he is now an anti-gang activist who reaches out to young, troubled people in jail and inspires them to turn their lives around.

Picture on the left shows Tookie in his (much) younger days.

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01 December 2005

What's Mr Wang Doing For Lunch Today?

He's meeting a student from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Communication. Apparently this student is a student of Professor Randy Kluver, and this student is doing a school project on bloggers in Singapore. Yes the student would like to interview Mr Wang, although Mr Wang doesn't know yet about what exactly.