31 August 2006

Asia Blog Awards


Gasp. Mr Brown wasn't nominated for Best Singapore Blog. How could that be? I guess it's because the man is already in a league of his own. Mr Brown is like an urban legend ... except that he's real.

Anyway, there are 10 nominees for Best Singapore Blog and you need to rank them all. If you like my blog, put me somewhere near the top, ok? My own ranking would go something like this:

As you might notice, I'm biased in favour of (a) myself, (b) serious social commentary and (c) funny social commentary. (I put Sonikbyte at the bottom, because I don't know what it's about and the link didn't work. Apologies, if it's actually serious or funny social commentary).

In other news, the Straits Times interviewed me yesterday. We can expect to see another one of those "Mainstream Media versus Blogs" articles in the ST probably tomorrow. It will be by Peh Shing Huei and Chua Mui Hoong. My comments were rather ... lively. So it will be interesting to see how they water me down or if they will omit my key points altogether.

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Sexual Exploitation of Children

Contrary to popular belief, I do not blog about all important social issues in Singapore. Alas, my time is limited and sometimes there are too many topics in a given week that catch my eye.

The sexual exploitation of child prostitutes by Singaporeans was in the news a couple of months ago. I didn't blog about it then, so I'll try to make up for it by now. Child prostitution does not happen very much in Singapore itself, but the issue is with Singaporean men who travel to nearby countries such as Thailand and Indonesia to have sex with young children. Click here to see our government's current position on this matter.

June Lim is one of the speakers for the public forum mentioned below. She has asked me to help publicise it. 8th September; SCWO Center; 7:00 to 9:30 pm. More details below.


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30 August 2006

The Tale of One Foreign Talent

K is a good old buddy of mine. We were hostel roommates in our freshman year at NUS. He studied engineering, and I studied law, and we both had the habit of studying with music turned on at full blast. Fortunately, we had compatible tastes in music.

K was not a Singaporean. Born in a quiet, sleepy Malaysian town, he first came to Singapore as a teenager, to do his A-levels on an ASEAN scholarship. For those who do not know, that's basically free money. It's a bond-free, no-obligations-attached scholarship that our government gives out to bright students from every ASEAN country (except Singapore itself).

He scored mostly A's in his A-levels. He went on to study chemical engineering (no more scholarship), and NUS is where we first met. We were close friends, but after graduation, we went our separate ways. Recently we met up again, the first time in years, and had a great time catching up. The story of K's life, since we last met:

After graduating, K found a job as an engineer with a small chemical company in Jurong. After three years, he considered a permanent move back to Malaysia, but the pay in Singapore was too attractive. He fell in love with a fellow Malaysian working here. They went home and got married, then came back to Singapore to work. They don't have any children. They don't intend to.

They wanted to buy a HDB resale flat. To be entitled to this, they took up PR status - then proceeded to buy an old 3-room HDB flat in Clementi. Time passed. The government offered them citizenship - repeatedly. They declined the first few times. They couldn't see any advantage in it. The offer remains open.

Recently they learned that their block of flats is due for upgrading. As they are not citizens, the government will not subsidise their upgrading cost and they would have to fork out quite a lot of money (something like $60,000?). Citizenship does have its privileges after all. So now, for the first time, they are seriously considering accepting the citizenship offer. Either that, or they will sell the flat and move out.

K has not doing that well in his career. He says it somewhat gloomily. More precisely, his company has not been doing well. They manufacture chemicals but he says that there are times when business is so bad that basically the factory comes to a standstill. "A great big factory, and nothing happening," he said. "All the workers just sitting around wondering what's going to happen next." I imagine that the orders for chemical supplies have gone out of Singapore, to China.

K is scared. All his working life, he's been a technical guy, a process engineer. That's all he knows. What if what he knows is not enough? Luckily, he doesn't have kids. K has decided not to sit around and wait to become obsolete. He took a big, bold drastic step. He applied to do his MBA in France. He got a partial scholarship from the university. The rest - he's funding with his own savings. He's been taking French lessons. He's resigned from his company and he'll soon be flying off. His wife will continue working in Singapore. He'll be back in a year. Or maybe he won't. Maybe after he finishes his MBA, he'll manage to find a job in France. Then his wife can join him.

What roots does K have left in Malaysia? Not much, he says. How time flies. A few more years, and it would become true to say that he has spent half his lifetime living outside Malaysia. He notes that when he goes back for Chinese New Year, he has hardly any relatives left to visit, apart from his own parents. His brother has emigrated to the US. There seem to be few smart, well-educated non-bumi Malaysians who are willing to work in Malaysia.

K is one example of what the Singapore government calls "foreign talent". I tell his story here, because his story says a few things not just about foreign talent, but also about life in Singapore today. I'll let you guys comment first, and I'll join you later. Bye for now.

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28 August 2006

Mr Wang Bakes Good Babies

I am in my thirties and I have two kids, aged four & two. Having a 3rd child is something that Mrs Wang and I talk about from time to time. We like the idea, but it requires careful consideration.

For us, the real constraint is time. If you want to raise kids, you should do it properly. To do it properly, you need time. I think we currently do a respectable job as parents of two kids. But the way I see it, if No. 3 comes along, then Mrs Wang has to quit her job to be a full-time mum.

If Mrs Wang quits her job, then she has no salary. That's the problem. So maybe the real constraint is money, after all.

Right now, I wouldn't have any real difficulty supporting three young kids on my sole income. Apart from earning more than the average Singaporean, I am also a lot less materialistic. A simple lifestyle and a happy family is good enough for me.

The problem is whether I, as sole breadwinner, would be able to continue to earn enough to support the family, as the years go by. The target would be to:

(a) support three children until they graduate from university; and
(b) still have enough to support myself and my wife in our old age.

Note Part (b) of the target. This is one important difference between society in the past, and society in the present. In the past, it was more or less understood that adult children would support their aged parents (the filial piety concept). Today, that understanding is already somewhat breaking down. I think that in the future, it will probably break down even more.

I belong to the middle phase. While I give some money to my parents every month, I myself do not have the expectation that my kids will do the same for me, when I am old. When that time comes, they may have financial obligations of their own. I see it as a basic responsibility to myself, to try as far as possible to depend on myself, not them.

That's why the target has Part (b). Which increases the financial challenge, and makes the decision to have a 3rd child more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult.

I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Of course, I strive to do well in my career and earn more money; and also I try to invest smart and make more money out of more money. Apart from that, my new Master Plan for the 3rd Kid actually relies on the Integrated Resorts and the Foreign Talent policy.

My intention is to save up money now, and wait for 2011 or 2012. Here's how it could happen. By 2012, the IR would have been operating for a year or two. A fair number of rich, gambling Singaporeans would suddenly go bankrupt and the banks will come chasing. Nice houses and apartments will be auctioned off at firesale prices, and Mr Wang will be waiting with hard cash, to pounce on a nice one in a choice location.

Meanwhile, by then, the foolish Singapore government will still be persisting with their Foreign Talent policy. All these FTs will need a place to stay, and overpopulation is good for property owners. I rent out my new house, and collect a handsome rental amount, and comfortably feed three kids while still working and saving for my own retirement.

Of course, this is just one possible permutation. A variety of different things could happen. And there are also timing issues. One of the constraints in baby planning is the woman's body clock. Wait too long, and the woman will find it difficult or impossible to conceive.

So these are some of the things I'm thinking about. As you can see, baby-planning can be a lot more complicated than PM Lee makes it out to be.

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26 August 2006

Art Against AIDS

A prizewinning entry from the 2002 Arts Against AIDS competition. Its creator, Poh Maolin, said:

"The idea of this poster was taken from an actual free sex advertisement on a wall in Geylang. By deleting the word 'sex' and replacing it with 'AIDS', I wish to warn the public that casual sex increases the risk of HIV infection. The feel of the poster is dark and dirty to emphasise the risk further."

This year's competition includes categories for digital art, photography and animation. To take part, click here. This post is brought to you as part of Mr Wang's free publicity programme for worthy causes.

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25 August 2006

Pulling a Fast One

Is Mr Wang done with PM Lee's rally speech yet? Almost. First, let's recap two major trends/policies for Singapore:

(1) Singapore faces the challenge of an ageing population (or so we're told). Current projections show that one in five Singaporeans will be over the age of 65 by 2030. The government therefore wants to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies.

(2) Singapore's economy lacks skilled manpower (or so we're told). The government wants to import huge numbers of foreign talents, to keep the economy going strong.

PM Lee's rally speech is perhaps the first time that the Singapore government has tied Point (1) directly to Point (2). Let's look at the relevant passage:

"Two years ago, we introduced major policy changes to encourage couples to have more babies. So far the results have been very modest. I understand why some Singaporeans do not want to have more children. But I have not given up hope and will continue to think of ways to encourage couples to have more babies.

Let me explain why we need new immigrants. To maintain a population of 4 million, Singapore needs at least 50,000 babies a year. Last year, we had 36,000 babies. This means that we are short by 14,000 babies. No matter how hard we try, it would be hard to produce another 14,000 babies. Hence we need to attract more immigrants."
Something is very wrong with the above reasoning, and no one in the blogosphere seems to have pointed it out yet. So I guess I'll have to do the job again.

This is it - babies are not adults. Adults are not babies. Let's imagine that PM Lee's baby-making incentives had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and Singaporeans produced 75,000 babies last year. That means we would have 75,000 one-year-old cute little chubbies in Singapore today.

But babies can't work. They don't contribute to the economy. They're not research scientists, engineers, bankers or teachers. That would take another 20 to 25 years to happen.

Meanwhile, we import foreign talent. Let's say A*STAR finds a 40-year-old stem research scientist in the US and imports him into Singapore. He settles here, and because of his valuable skills, immediately starts contributing to the economy. However, he is not a baby.

In 20 or 25 years' time, he will be 60 or 65 years old and would have become one extra member in the senior citizen population for the Singapore government to worry about. In fact, the more we import foreign talent in their 30s and 40s, the greater our future "aging population" problem will become!

Of course, I have also oversimplified. The true dynamics are more complicated. For now, my point is just that PM Lee is talking nonsense here:
Last year, we had 36,000 babies. This means that we are short by 14,000 babies. No matter how hard we try, it would be hard to produce another 14,000 babies. Hence we need to attract more immigrants.
I see his attempt to tie the lack of babies to the immediate need for foreigners as just another sales strategy to convince the Singaporean public about his foreign talent schemes. Furthermore he gets to shift the blame ("See? YOU Singaporeans are not producing enough babies, so I, the Prime Minister need to import foreign talent").

The truth is - babies are not adults. Adults are not babies. PM Lee is surely smart enough to see that. I think that he thinks you're not. Here's another example of his quicksell tactics, from April 2006.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans are getting fooled. Look at poor Ms Lee Pai Ping, writing to the online ST Forum:
Aug 23, 2006
S'poreans have to pay a price for not heeding govt's plea for more babies

I missed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally Speech on television last Sunday.

When I read about it in The Straits Times the next day, a sudden sadness overwhelmed me.

The Singapore government has decided to be more aggressive in attracting immigrants with talents of all kinds to Singapore with the offer of Singapore permanent residence status, once purportedly aimed at graduates, professionals, bankers, lawyers and the like.

What a huge price Singaporeans have to pay for not heeding the government's persistent plea for higher birth rates among its people, and to be less picky about jobs.

I am for the Singapore government's move to import foreign talents to fill the gap and boost the economy by creating job opportunities as entrepreneurs.

But I shrug at the thought that some native Singaporeans, especially the young and educated of marrying age, do not think it their duty to marry and procreate as part of nation-building, and the unemployed who still fuss over jobs, choosing to remain jobless rather than accepting a job below their expectations.

Singaporeans should not be complacent. Nation-building is our utmost duty and responsibility.

Lee Pai Ping (Ms)
Ms Lee Pai Ping, try to understand this. If today we import skilled foreigners in their 30s because we lack Singaporean working adults, then our problem isn't with young, married, childless Singaporean couples today. The problem really happened 30 years ago - when the government was busy telling young couples then to "Stop At Two".

So no need to suffer all that guilt, Pai Ping. The government is to blame. That's what PM Lee doesn't want to tell you. He'd rather just blame you and make you feel bad instead.

Pai Ping isn't the only person who got suckered. Seems like a senior ST columnist also got suckered too. Click here to read the ST editorial of 22 August 2006. There he goes - putting the blame on "career-minded young couples" without kids. Or maybe the Straits Times guy does know the truth, but just wanted to perform one of those "nation-building-press" gymnastic tricks.

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24 August 2006

Tidbit for Thought on the Ever-Increasing Reach of Blogs

Nowadays, when you want some quick info about something, what do you do:

(1) Ask a friend and hope he knows.
(2) Go to the library and borrow a book.
(3) Google.

Quite often, it would be (3). Right?

PM Lee made his rally speech a few days ago. Suppose you missed the telecast and you wanted to find out what it was all about. You go to Google and you type "lee hsien loong national day rally speech". What do you get?

Among the top 10 hits, you get Sprinter (the government's website for press releases); Channel News Asia (we know what that is); and STARS (a government website which compiles ministers' speeches).

The rest of the hits belong to the universe of free, independent individuals. We have Mr Brown; The Intelligent Singaporean; Tomorrow; Odeo (a website for hosting podcasts); Wikipedia and, yes, yours truly - Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma.

No wonder the government is concerned. They don't really like opinions, you know.

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23 August 2006

"You Can't Shoot Me. Legally Speaking, I Didn't Defame You."

Sometimes, reading the newspapers is like entering an imaginary world, one quite far removed from reality. Prof Ang Peng Hwa, Dean of the NTU Communication School, had an article in yesterday's TODAY. I shall not be too unkind, since he was obviously publicising his upcoming workshop on "Blogging and the Law". Still Prof Ang makes one point so strange that I just have to comment:
Having seen students doing journalism, I myself have been surprised at the difference that media training makes. I have seen how even students who have been considered good writers and editors have fallen into legal pitfalls when they have not had the proper training.

The importance of training was brought home to me in a recent research project done by a colleague in the Philippines. The Philippines has one of the most free press systems in the world; but by some reckoning, it is the second most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist, second only to Iraq.

In her research, she found that 90 per cent of the journalists killed had no training in journalism whatsoever. In many of the cases, they were radio journalists who so defamed, harangued and harassed their news subjects that these people felt that they had no recourse other than violence.

Had the journalists been trained, they would probably have known to what legal limits they could go. In other words, without intending to trivialise or condone the violence, 90 per cent of the murders of journalists could have been averted with proper training.
I wonder what they teach in journalism school these days. Karate? Wushu? How to Use a Bulletproof Vest? While such subjects would indeed lower the murder rate of journalists, I don't think that they've found their way into the syllabus yet.

Many journalists in the Philippines get killed, but it's not because they lack training. They get killed because just like Iraq, the Philippines has major problems with law, order and security. And it's not just the journalists who get killed. It regularly happens to politicians, labour leaders and social activists. Even the President gets implicated in their murders.

Click here, here and here, for examples. And does anyone still remember Mr Aquino?

By the way, here's another one of those statistical sleights of hand - "90 per cent of the journalists killed had no training in journalism whatsoever". Doesn't this show that untrained journalists are much more likely to get killed?

No, not at all. For example, it may well be that 90% of all journalists working in the Philippines have no training in journalism. If the killers do not care whether the journalists they plan to kill are trained or not, then on average, 90% of the journalists who get killed will be the untrained ones.

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National Youth Environment Forum 2006


This latest publicity request comes from ECO Singapore. They are organising the National Youth Environment Forum, for Singaporeans aged between 17 and 30. The focus is on sustainable living; the aim is to challenge youths to rethink existing policies on environmental issues; and the topics include Energy and Climate Change; Biodiversity and Nature Conservation; and Poverty and Population.

The event will be held on 2 Sep 2006 at SMU. Bring along your ideas and opinions. To sign up or find out more, click here.

This post is brought to you as part of Mr Wang's free publicity programme for worthy causes.

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22 August 2006

Digital Art Against AIDS


Action for AIDS has asked me to help publicise this event. It's an art competition to raise public awareness about AIDS. If you're into graphic/poster design; digital photography; digital video or digital animation, this could be a good chance to showcase your talent. Winning entries will be exhibited at various public events in conjunction with World AIDS Day in December. Closing date for the competition is 23 Oct 2006. More details here.

This post is brought to you as part of Mr Wang's free publicity programme for worthy causes.

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A Nation in Concert


Drats. I promised the organisers to give this event more publicity but I never got around to it. Oh well, better late than never. And besides, I'm not late. This musical will be performed at the Esplanade on 9 September 2006 and features well-known local performers Chermaine Ang, Chua Enlai and Pierre Goh. It also involves various organisations such as the Handicaps Welfare Association; the Singapore Association for the Deaf; and the Yellow Ribbon Fund. So it's all for a good cause. Get your tickets here.

This post is brought to you as part of Mr Wang's free publicity programme for worthy causes.

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The Gardener Kills Trees Too

A tidbit from PM Lee's rally speech:
"Many people have put heart and soul into building what we have today. And through hard work and clear thinking, we've created something unique and something precious in Singapore, a home for all of us. Our forefathers have planted the trees which now provide the shade which we now enjoy. It's now our duty to plant trees and grow them, trees which will give hope and strength to a new generation."

Then chew on this:

"We the undersigned would like to appeal to the National Parks Board, URA and LTA to help conserve Jin Long Si Temple and the biggest and the oldest Bodhi Tree in Singapore.

The Bodhi Tree is sacred to all Buddhists. The tree sheltered the Buddha from the elements during his quest for enlightenment and it is under the Bodhi tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. Thus the Bodhi tree has come to symbolize the Buddha's enlightenment, his wisdom and compassion."
The authorities' plan was to chop down the tree and demolish the temple to make way for some construction works. What will be the fate of the bodhi tree now? Let's wait and see. If you're hungry for a further metaphor, click here.

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Babies & Foreigners

My wife and I were deeply inspired by PM Lee's National Day rally speech. In particular, we were moved by his comments about the need for Singapore to have more babies. This is so very important for the continued success of our economy. We want to do our part for the nation, so last night we decided to make love without a condom.

HaAhahAHAha! Of course not. Don't be ridiculous.

That's exactly what I want to tell the Straits Times, after reading this editorial:
ST Aug 22, 2006
All comers welcome, but...

FOREIGN talent figured large in the National Day Rally speech on Sunday, only it was couched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a less loaded 'immigration' issue of replenishing vigour and numbers which reluctant Singaporeans are not managing well enough. Birth statistics justify the reiteration of old policy: On a stable statistical trend line, last year's 36,000 births would be 14,000 short of the population replacement level. If this is the best that financial, workplace and childcare inducements can deliver, ready-made infusions from abroad surely are self-recommending. But can this ever be taken on faith? Less self-assured Singaporeans have never been comfortable about the competition for jobs. The downright hostile ask whether newcomers - whether migrant settlers or sojourners on work passes - are not too 'foreign' for the society's texture and of questionable 'talent'. It is to be hoped such opinion does not become prevailing sentiment. Career-minded young couples must make the mental adjustment of accepting parenthood, with all of its sacrifices and not many of the assumed joys early on, or stop muttering about foreigners coming to steal their jobs. They cannot remain selfishly self-absorbed about 'lifestyle choices' of child-free indulgences and expect the economy to keep growing to pay for their wants. It's one or the other ...
Apart from the obvious point that no one actually has sex and makes babies for the sake of supporting the national economy, the ST editorial is also somewhat badly-written. Incoherent, almost. But let Mr Wang help you decipher it. Let's take this mysterious sentence:
Career-minded young couples must make the mental adjustment of accepting parenthood, with all of its sacrifices and not many of the assumed joys early on, or stop muttering about foreigners coming to steal their jobs. They cannot remain selfishly self-absorbed about 'lifestyle choices' of child-free indulgences and expect the economy to keep growing to pay for their wants. It's one or the other.

... strip it down and see what it really means. Here's the decode:
"Young couples must either:

(a) accept parenthood; OR
(b) accept that foreigners will compete for their jobs.

They cannot:

(a) choose not to have children; AND
(b) still expect to benefit from a thriving economy."

When we strip away the clumsy, convoluted language, we see much more clearly how muddled the ST's argument is. The logic collapses all over itself.

For example, whether or not you choose to have a child, you will still have to compete with foreigners in Singapore. What were you thinking - if you get pregnant today, them tomorrow the foreigners in your workplace will resign and go home? If you become a father of three, then your boss won't employ foreigners? What nonsense.

Then the ST tells you that if you choose not to have children, you should not expect to benefit from a thriving economy. Ridiculous. Even if I were a hamster, I couldn't possibly propagate enough children to have any measurable effect on the economy. But I could definitely propagate enough children to impoverish myself!

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21 August 2006

The Straits Times Thinks You're Stupid

The amount of intellectual dishonesty is staggering. Today the Review section (this being the ST's section for serious, "intelligent" articles) has an article about the importance of Singapore supporting its talented individuals. I fully agree with that sentiment - I just don't like the ST seems to feel compelled to twist facts to support its opinion. Take a look:
ST Aug 21, 2006
Making room for genius

TALENTED young Singapore musicians are getting a break. Two recent pieces of news were especially heartening in this respect. Last week, this newspaper reported that the new freshman class at the National University of Singapore's music conservatory includes three Singapore teenagers who have not even sat for the 'O' level exams, let alone the 'A' levels. Together with four youngsters from abroad, that makes seven early admissions this year - compared with a previous total of one. And earlier, word emerged that the Defence Ministry had finally given 17-year-old Ike See a deferment on his national service obligations, allowing him to immediately pursue music studies in the United States. Both cases are a victory for the extraordinarily talented ...

... more often than not, it is in rich nations that such a gift finds sufficient outlet to become noticeable. Clearly, this is happening in Singapore. If the past year alone is anything to go by, more evidence will emerge. Thus, society and its institutions must find even more ways to deal with this welcome development.
About Ike See - the article strives to create the impression that the Defence Ministry recognised his extraordinary musical talent and so decided to "make room for genius" by granting the NS deferment. Thus the Defence Ministry is supposedly one of those enlightened "institutions" of our society finding ways to deal with the "welcome development" of geniuses in our midst.

Of course, this is quite untrue. Although Ike See got his NS deferment, his musical talent in fact received no recognition and carried no weight or significance whatsoever in the Defence Ministry's decision to grant that deferment. For reasons I've previously explained, the Defence Ministry would have just as readily granted him a deferment to study Accountancy or Tourism Studies at Singapore Polytechnic. To understand the real background, click here - More Bureaucractic Nonsense.

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Trees, Robots & Babies

An excerpt from PM Lee's speech:
"Finally, let me talk about a major problem we face – population shortage. To keep our society lively and vibrant, we not only need our people to be healthy, but must also maintain our population .....

To sustain our growth and prosperity, we need to have enough people living and working in Singapore. This means that we must encourage families to have more children, and also attract more new immigrants here.

Two years ago, we introduced major policy changes to encourage couples to have more babies. So far the results have been very modest. I understand why some Singaporeans do not want to have more children. But I have not given up hope and will continue to think of ways to encourage couples to have more babies.

Let me explain why we need new immigrants. To maintain a population of 4 million, Singapore needs at least 50,000 babies a year. Last year, we had 36,000 babies. This means that we are short by 14,000 babies. No matter how hard we try, it would be hard to produce another 14,000 babies. Hence we need to attract more immigrants."
This reminds me of an old episode of Battlestar Galactica where a Cylon (a metallic, evil robot representing the Bad Guys) remarks that the human methods of replication are very inefficient. A baby human takes nine months to gestate; then after birth, it takes about 16 or 17 years to reach full maturity. Furthermore, a baby human requires an extraordinary amount of care. In contrast, a fully-functional Cylon can be manufactured within a day.

As we can see, PM Lee's thinking is somewhat Cylonic. Faced with the challenges of baby-making, he decides to opt for "instant adults" from overseas. Fully functional - just like the "instant trees" that have been popping up around Suntec City this past week for the IMF/World Bank conference.

Maybe PM Lee needs to consider this - generally, human beings do not breed for the sake of sustaining the economy. Yes, Adolf Hitler did try to promote that idea, but he isn't exactly an ideal role model for any modern government today.

One problem with PM Lee's baby-making incentives is that they focus on the time of the child's birth (maternity leave; paternity leave; cash gift; tax rebates the following year) or at the most, the first few years (Edusave scheme). But raising a child is a much longer-term commitment, and Singaporeans know this.

I believe that most Singaporeans would view it as a basic parental responsibility to support their child (if they had one) at least until he/she completes secondary education (and in many cases, polytechnic or university education). Singaporeans who doubt that they can do this will likely choose not to have children.

I also suspect that the present generation of young Singaporean adults view parenting more seriously than past generations. Ironically, this is what deters many Singaporeans from having a child, or if they already have one, from having another one. Parenting is a very time-consuming activity if you want to do it properly - and it is a very important responsibility that cannot be lightly undertaken - that could be why many Singaporeans choose not to undertake it at all.

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National Day Rally Speech

I didn't watch the PM's rally speech on TV last night. I always like good news. But the elections had just ended recently, and I figured that the PAP wouldn't be announcing any new benefits for the people (not for another four or five years anyway). Poked around the ST this morning, and true enough, these were the first four paragraphs I saw:
Aug 21, 2006
Embrace talent, technology to secure S'pore's future: PM
Boosting population, tackling digital age and building 'heartware' pose long-term challenges, he says
By Peh Shing Huei

A GLOBAL city with citizens firmly anchored to the country and welcoming of new immigrants to add to its vitality.

That was the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong envisioned last night that would do best in a rapidly changing world.

Even as he sketched this vision, Mr Lee acknowledged that it would require both individuals and the nation to adapt to secure such a future.

Giving his third National Day Rally speech, he confessed at the outset that he had no 'goodies' to announce this year.
Heheh. I swear I'm psychic sometimes. But you skeptics will merely say, "Ahhhh, Mr Wang, you're not psychic, you just understand the PAP too well."

I've been perusing the many ST articles today on PM Lee's speech, trying to see what's new and significant. Not much, really. Plenty of old messages being reiterated - foreign talent good; Mr Brown bad; more babies needed; then there's a new, misconceived but somewhat unsurprising plan for the government to use "podcasts, vodcasts, humour and wit" to reach out Singaporeans (oooh, so hip and happening, this is funny, I'm laughing already).

We get a couple of points framed in a happy, positive manner - the ST reports that PM Lee notes a rise in the employment rate for older workers, especially for men aged 55 to 64. But there is a curious silence about how big or small the rise was; how many retrenched, older Singaporeans have now found jobs etc.

And a couple of self-congratulatory, simplistic statements like this: "Las Vegas Sands is pouring more than $5 billion into its Marina Bay integrated resort, a major commitment that is a vote of confidence in Singapore". Heheh, Las Vegas Sands already has multiple casino resorts in Macau (like this one). So they must be VERY confident about the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Macau too, despite the triads, the prostitutes and the drugs there.

As for this:
The manufacturing sector is also attracting investments. Oil giant Shell plans to build a new multibillion-dollar petrochemical complex occupying Bukom and Jurong Islands, and two major investments in water fabrication have been secured.

These companies invest here not because Singapore has the lowest wages but because it is the 'best place for high-quality investments', Mr Lee said.
Well, well. Nigeria must also be one of the best places for high-quality investments, because Shell has had PLENTY of investments there for decades (and still does). Yet Nigeria is a hotspot for guerilla activity, civil war and political upheaval. Maybe Shell's choice of investment location doesn't have that much to do with the strength or quality of political leadership in the country? In the Singapore context, educate yourself. Go on, click here.

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18 August 2006

An Insider's View of the Legal Profession in Singapore

Ah, the dynamics. Once upon a time, and not really all that long ago, the government decided that Singapore had an oversupply of lawyers. A series of big changes were then made to deal decisively with this problem.

NUS (Singapore's only law school) progressively reduced its student intake each year, shrinking downwards to about 150 at its lowest point (and incidentally being more elitist than ever before).

The Supreme Court shrunk its list of approved foreign universities whose law degrees would be recognised in Singapore. This sharply reduced options for Singaporeans who hoped to go overseas to get a law degree.

Rules were amended to raise the bar for practising lawyers. New law graduates from NUS had to have at least a 2nd Lower to practise in Singapore. New law graduates from any of the approved foreign universities had to have at least a 2nd Upper.

Quite independently of these changes, two other big things were happening at the same time.

Firstly, Singapore set itself some very ambitious goals for its banking and financial industry. None other than Lee Hsien Loong himself was chosen to be the man to make this happen (he became Chairman of MAS). The banking sector opened up and foreign banks were given more room than ever before to operate in Singapore.

Secondly, ex-Chief Justice Yong Pung How launched some powerful plans to clear backlogs in courts' cases; speed up the litigation process; invest in technology and turn the Singapore courts into the most efficient court system in the world.

I believe that no one then really foresaw how all these seemingly separate initiatives were going to impact each other. But what happened subsequently is now well-known and obvious to those in the profession.

The supply of homegrown lawyers steadily shrank, even as the financial industry became larger and more sophisticated and its demand for legal services grew sharply. Lawyers, in terms of numbers, became a limiting factor for the industry's growth. In terms of expertise too, lawyers were a limiting factor - due to lack of numbers, they could not sufficiently specialise. Many had a broad understanding of the financial industry, but few had in-depth expertise in specific areas with the financial industry.

Meanwhile, in the courts, the pace of litigation sped up so much that lawyers couldn't cope. Calendars became fully crowded out (and it is physically impossible for a lawyer to appear in two courts at the same time). More than ever before, litigation lawyers had to work in teams, anything from 4 to 12 lawyers per case, and this led to the systematic deaths of the traditional one-man and two-man law firms. They would have hired more lawyers, but the supply of new lawyers was steadily shrinking.

Lawyers' salaries climbed sharply. But they had to work harder than ever before. In turn, working hours shot up fiercely and the attrition rate was extremely high. Many quit legal practice for a better quality of life, causing a vicious cycle of further shortage. You may have read in the media stories about how lawyers are not renewing their practising certificates anymore; how Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong is desperately encouraging young lawyers to come back to litigation; and how many lawyers quit high-paying jobs in law firms to sell secondhand cars; go into teaching; start bakeries; be actors and yoga teachers etc.

Some true stories of how hard lawyers have to work almost sound like the stuff of urban legend. Once upon a time, a pregnant partner, M, of a big law firm went into labour at the time when she was trying to close a big transaction. M instructed her secretary to get a laptop and meet her at the hospital. Later, while lying on the hospital bed and giving birth, M continued to type on her laptop until she could not type anymore - she then dictated notes (in between her moans and groans) to her secretary who did the typing for her. I cannot now remember which happened first - the birth of the baby, or the closure of the deal. But I know that the baby turned out ok.

In recent years, the Singapore government has begun to tacitly acknowledge its mistakes. It all seems to have started with Lee Kuan Yew's daughter publicly saying that the government has mishandled the supply of lawyers AND doctors. Since then, the government has been trying to reverse gear. These are the latest attempts:
Aug 17, 2006
New law school to raise supply of lawyers
SMU starts course next August; NUS to up intake; easing of rules for grads from foreign universities

By Ben Nadarajan & K.C. Vijayan

A SECOND law school will open at the Singapore Management University (SMU) next year, while the National University of Singapore (NUS) will increase its intake of law students, in an attempt to boost the number of lawyers in the country.

The new school will take in its first batch of about 90 students in August next year. At the same time, NUS' law faculty will also raise its annual enrolment from 220 to about 250 students.

The requirement for graduates from recognised foreign universities to practise here has also been lowered to a second-lower honours degree - although they will have to fulfil a host of stringent requirements.

Between 1997 and last year, about 300 law graduates were unable to practise because of the lower grade of their overseas degrees.

These recommendations were submitted to the Law Ministry last month by the third Committee on the Supply of Lawyers, which was headed by then Attorney-General Chan Sek Keong, who is now the Chief Justice.

The committee estimates that these changes will add 150 lawyers to the Bar each year from 2010 onwards.

Yesterday, Law Minister S. Jayakumar accepted the initiatives, saying they were necessary to bridge the widening gap between demand and supply plaguing the profession.

The number of lawyers has dipped slightly in recent years. There are now about 3,490 lawyers, compared with 3,537 in 2000.

Professor Jayakumar said there would be an increasing demand for lawyers in the next decade and the current crop was insufficient to meet this need ...
What's the moral of the story? The Singapore government DOES screw up big-time in its micro-management readings of the needs of the economy. Lawyers are one example. Other examples have been doctors (undersupply) and engineers (oversupply).

So if you are making your next career move based on the government's prediction of the next "hot" area or the next "dead" area, just be aware that the government has a record of getting things wrong. Life sciences and the biomedical industry is what comes to my mind. It may indeed be the next big boom. Or it may not.

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17 August 2006

AIDS in Singapore

I had previously commented on two ST articles about AIDS in Singapore - click here and here. In both cases, the ST used statistics in a most misleading way. Today, the ST is once again twisting and tweaking numbers in a story about AIDS:
ST Aug 17, 2006
Rise in sex infections hastens need to educate the young
Threefold increase in cases among those aged 10-19; over 40 have HIV

SINGAPORE youths continue to be vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), with more than 40 Singaporeans aged 19 and below being diagnosed HIV-positive by the end of last year.

Over the last 20 years, more than 470 people have tested positive for HIV - the virus that causes Aids - when they were in the 20 to 29 age group.

And with a threefold increase in STIs such as gonorrhoea, genital herpes and warts between 2002 and 2004 among those aged 10 to 19, it has become even more urgent to step up HIV/Aids awareness efforts among youths here.

Okay .... based on the above, answer this simple question - how many Singapore youths were diagnosed with HIV last year?

When you're ready, scroll down.

Your answer was probably this - "More than 40 Singaporean youths were diagnosed with HIV last year." Furthermore, they were all naughty teenagers screwing around and in need of "education". Right?

Surprise, surprise. Actually, last year, only seven Singaporeans aged 19 and below were diagnosed to be HIV-positive. Out of those 7, three were babies born with HIV.

Why then did the ST say that "more than 40" Singaporeans in the 0-19 years category were diagnosed with HIV? To be more precise, there were 46 such Singaporeans. 25 of them were babies born HIV-positive. The other 21 were teenagers (in the 10-19 year category). What the ST didn't mention is that this is over a 20-year period (1985 to 2005).

So on average, over 20 years, about just one teenager is diagnosed to be HIV-positive each year.

The ST then mentions that over the past 20 years, more than 470 Singaporeans were diagnosed to be HIV-positive when they were between 20 and 29 years old. But this doesn't demonstrate any "rise in sex infections" in that age group. It's just a total figure which in itself reveals no trend (upward or downward) over the 20 years. Thus the figure in no way justifies the exciting title "Rise in sex infections hastens need to educate the young".

Especially when the education efforts that the article mentions are mainly for secondary school kids ... and not Singaporeans in the 20-29 age group.

Anyway, back to the "more than 470" figure for that age group. In the same 20-year period, 912 Singaporeans aged between 30 and 39 were found to be HIV-positive. 668 Singaporeans aged between 40 and 49 were found to be HIV-positive.

912 and 668 are both much bigger numbers than 470. So contrary to what the ST claims, it isn't at all obvious that AIDS is a more "urgent" problem among the youth, as opposed to those in their 30s or 40s.

My statistics on HIV are from the Ministry of Health.

As for the ST's third paragraph (regarding other STIs), I do not know what their source is. But are you still inclined to accept at face value anything that the ST says in this article? If so, you must be a fool. The article has little bits of manipulation all over the place. I'll just point out one last bit.
Last year, about seven in 10 secondary schools - totalling almost 43,000 students - took up the Health Promotion Board's STI/HIV programme.

Close to 50 schools from secondary to tertiary level have joined Standard Chartered
Bank's 'Be Aware, Be Safe' programme since its 2004 launch.

Students who have taken part in these programmes say they have helped to dispel many myths about HIV/Aids.

Said Temasek Secondary School student Tan Wei Sheng, 15: 'I used to believe that sharing a drink with someone with HIV/Aids would infect me too. I know better now.'

Describing the rising trend of STI cases among youths here as 'alarming', Senior Minister of State (Information, Communications and the Arts and Foreign Affairs) Balaji Sadasivan said students need 'comprehensive, accurate information about HIV/Aids and how to protect themselves'.
Here's the last bit of ST manipulation I want to point out:
At Temasek Secondary School yesterday, where Standard Chartered Singapore celebrated having reached out to 20,000 students here, the bank's chief executive Lim Cheng Teck reiterated its determination to drive the cause forward.

'We must remove the stigma of HIV, to increase empathy for the HIV community, increase awareness and change lives,' he said.

With around half of all people with HIV infected before they are 25, 'HIV infection can be prevented if the young are better informed and knowledgeable about the disease', he added.
"Half of all people with HIV are infected before they are 25" ....?

Hmmm, how could this possibly be correct? From figures mentioned earlier, we already know that:
1. 473 + 46 = 519 Singaporeans were diagnosed to be HIV-positive while they were below 29 years of age; and

2. A much larger number of Singaporeans (912 + 668 = 1580) were diagnosed to be HIV-positive in the 30-49 age group.

Thus a total of 519 + 1580 = 2099 Singaporeans were diagnosed before reaching the age of 50. Without even taking into account the infection rate among older Singaporeans (in their 50s, 60s, 70s ...), we note that 519 is already less than 25% of 2094. So it seems completely wrong to say that 50% of new infections happen to Singaporeans before they turn 25.

Another blunder by the ST? Seems that way. Wait, this time the ST has attributed the statement to Lim Cheng Teck, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank. Is Mr Lim the one who's talking nonsense then? I don't think so. Mr Lim was talking about Stanchart's AIDS awareness programme and he must have been citing the same figures found on Stanchart's HIV web page. The page cites a study which suggests that indeed, about half (50%) of new HIV infections happen between the ages of 15-24. Stanchart goes on to say that this is the age-group on which it wants to focus its awareness efforts.

What the ST conveniently forgot to tell you is that this study was a global one done by the United Nations. It is not just about Singapore alone. And Mr Lim wasn't talking just about Stanchart's AIDS awareness programme in Singapore - he was talking about Stanchart's AIDS awareness programme worldwide (spanning 50 countries). Hence he mentioned the UN study.

The ST had decided to quote Mr Lim and omit the proper context, so that the article would look more exciting. 50% of new infections afflicting ... YOUNG ..... Singaporeans! Urgent need to save them! That is the impression which the ST wants to give you. Mischevious, aren't they.

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Applause for Abigail

A few nights ago, I watched "Life Story". It's a dramatised TV show based on the true stories of real people. Anyway, in this episode, the relatively well-known Singapore comedienne and actress Abigail Chay (Under One Roof; Money No Enough etc) played the role of the main character.

The main character has had transsexualism since he was a young boy. Psychologically, he is unable to think of himself as male, and feels as if he's a girl/woman. Eventually, he has a sex-change operation and becomes a woman (well, kind of).

Her subsequent life story through the years had various dramatic moments - including her parents' distress at her condition; a failed wedding (the groom walked out on her); and a nasty incident many years ago where some friend-turned-villain blackmails her by threatening to reveal to the world that she was once a man.

Anyway, guess what? Abigail Chay was playing herself. Yup, that was her own life story. Abigail Chay was once a man. I thought it was enormously courageous of her to do a TV show like this. Nobody asks to be born with transsexualism, and it comes with a huge social stigma, which is unfortunate. I hope the TV show helped to educate some people and open their minds. Transsexuals - the world should give them a little more understanding and acceptance.

Click here to know about transsexualism.

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16 August 2006

Respectable Showing By NUS

More details available here.
ST Aug 16, 2006
Newsweek ranks NUS 31st in the world
NTU at No. 71 on its online list of world's top varsities
By Liaw Wy-Cin

A NEW global league table of universities compiled by international magazine Newsweek has ranked the
National University of Singapore (NUS) 31st in the world.

In its latest issue,
Newsweek put NUS ahead of top institutions like Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the United States' so-called Ivy League colleges, and the prestigious Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

US universities made an almost clean sweep of the top 10, though the sixth and eighth positions went to Britain's famous
Cambridge and Oxford universities.

Top spot went to
Harvard. Stanford was second and Yale, third.

The double issue of the magazine ranked the top 50 universities worldwide. Its online version, which lists the top 100, placed
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) 71st.

NUS, however, was not the top Asian university. That honour went to
The University of Tokyo, which came in at 14th. Kyoto University bagged 25th spot.

NUS president, Professor Shih Choon Fong, said the latest ranking was a recognition of the university's 'pursuit of excellence in education and research'.

He said: 'This is a call to further raise Singapore's reputation and visibility in the global education landscape.'

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15 August 2006

How Utterly Unconvincing

Today, DPM Wong Kan Seng is in the Straits Times. The ST focused on the terrorism angle, but also reported, in an incidental sort of way, DPM's remarks about job seekers rejecting offers.
ST Aug 15, 2006
Security won't help if people take it easy: DPM
By Zakir Hussain

NO AMOUNT of security measures will be adequate against the threat of terrorism if people are complacent about their role, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said last night.

In his assessment of the security situation here after last week's foiled bomb plot in Britain, he said security is a priority and everyone has a role to preserve safety and stability.

He was responding to questions from reporters ahead of a speech at the 25th anniversary of the National Transport Workers Union (NTWU), where his message to job seekers was not to be choosy despite the improved job situation.

........ [comments about terrorist concerns deleted]

In remarks to more than 1,000 dinner guests, he advised job seekers to give serious thought before turning down jobs.

'A few hundred dollars is still better than zero,' he said.

Given the opportunities elsewhere, firms that cannot find enough workers here will move, he added.

Should that happen, even those who are now employed will lose their jobs.
It's quite amazing to see how highly orchestrated MSM reporting sometimes seems to be. Yesterday we had an ST article (see preceding post) urging young graduates to be content with menial jobs. Today, Wong Kan Seng advises job seekers to give serious thought before turning down jobs and tells them that "a few hundred dollars is still better than zero." Note also his comment that if firms cannot find enough workers here, they will move away.

And last week, in case you did not notice, the Straits Times reported that 3,500 workers at Maxtor Corporation are going to be retrenched:
ST Aug 11, 2006
3,500 workers to lose jobs as Maxtor shuts down

By Grace Ng

ABOUT 3,500 workers at Maxtor Corp's local plants had their worst fears confirmed yesterday when the firm's parent company said it will close the entire operation here by the New Year.

The announcement by Seagate Technology was expected by Maxtor staff, who have witnessed a series of layoffs at the disk-drive plants over the past 18 months.

The job cuts, affecting everyone from the factory floor to the executive suites, will sever Maxtor's 26-year link with Singapore.
... and that the Singapore government had pledged to help them.

ST Aug 11, 2006
Govt and unions set to help retrenched staff
Job-matching and counselling for retrenched workers; those laid off will get compensation
By Aaron Low &Gabriel Chen

THE Government and the unions are ready to help 3,500 or so of Maxtor Corp workers set to lose their jobs by the end of the year.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) yesterday pledged to help the retrenched staff find new jobs and get counselling over the plant closures.

This follows the announcement by Seagate Technology yesterday that it will shut all three Maxtor plants here.
Call me a cynical conspiracy theorist, but I can almost see it happening already. The Maxtor employees will be retrenched. The government will try to help them find new jobs, but will fail for a large proportion of them. In the end, the government can only get them menial jobs which pay "a few hundred dollars". Obviously they'll turn these down because a few hundred dollars a month will barely cover their transport expenses to go to work.

However, the government will then reiterate Wong Kan Seng's statement that "a few hundred dollars is still better than zero". Next the government will say that in the first place, it's because you Singaporean workers are so fussy that companies like Maxtor can't find workers here and are therefore closing down. If only you fusspot citizens would accept menial jobs, none of this would have occurred!

Of course the truth is that Maxtor is closing down in Singapore because the hard-disk manufacturing industry is one of those areas where we've simply lost out to low-cost China.

And going back to Wong Kan Seng's speech .... frankly, it's just absurd to urge a job seeker to accept an offer because by doing so, he would stop factories from closing down and save his fellow citizens from unemployment. Apart from the point just being delusional, it's also terrible salesmanship by DPM Wong. It's like an insurance agent telling you to buy life insurance so that your monthly premiums will help others who do die young.

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14 August 2006

Bored With Work?

Today, the ST Youth Ink section has the following topic:
This year's batch of university graduates have just entered the workforce 5/8 and some are having a hard time adjusting to their jobs. They complain that they are not being given important work, or that they have to report every little thing to a boss. Do they expect too much? YouthInk writers have their say.
Nur Amira, an SMU student, wrote this:

Aug 14, 2006
Don't expect work to be a walk in the park

By Nur Amira Abdul Karim

WORK, as the term suggests, involves performing a series of sometimes unfulfilling tasks that may not be completely mindless but may very well involve the drudgery of repetition, struggle and sweat.

If someone happens to enjoy the drudgery of work, then it is a bonus.

But why anyone would expect work to be a walk in the park is beyond me.

Do not get me wrong. I am a strict advocate of being passionate about what you do.

Yet, there is an ugly sense of impatience among some of my peers who want their ambitions fulfilled almost immediately.

Grades and degrees are testimony to your calibre, which is different from your ability to succeed.

How far you go is determined by your approach to work, the extent that you allow your impatience to defeat you, and your ability to reconcile your expectations to the reality of the working world.

Many young working adults cannot manage their expectations. They are frustrated by having to perform menial tasks.

To be fair, the work they do hardly matches the qualifications they hold.

While I understand and sympathise with their frustration, it would be good if young people matched their perceived abilities with a comparable dose of humility.

I found Nur's article somewhat confusing. She seems unclear about the differences between hard, boring, challenging and easy work. Or perhaps the ST sub-editor mangled the article and inadvertently destroyed its flow. Because the article is not making much sense to me.

If you feel underchallenged at work, you probably are. Who could be in a better position to know? No one. (For that matter, you're the best person to know whether you're overchallenged at work). Also, whether a task is menial is relative to the individual's level of competence and ability. If you feel that your work is menial, then it is.

According to Nur, some of her peers have an "ugly sense of impatience" and are "frustrated by having to perform menial tasks". Her advice is that they should match their perceived ability with a "comparable dose of humility". Strangely, she also advises them not to expect work to be "a walk in the park". Yet I imagine that her "impatient" peers are precisely the ones who don't want work to be a walk in the park - instead, they want it to be challenging.

My own advice is this. If you're a young capable person stuck in a menial job, go find out what your career path and development prospects are, with your current employer. Where are the opportunities for change? Can you get more challenging assignments? (Sometimes you just have to open your mouth and ask). Is your menial work just a very temporary state of affairs, or will you still doing the same menial work 12 months from now? If so, you'd better quit and work elsewhere.

In my opinion, menial work is one of the most valid reasons for work frustration. Furthermore, it is quite dangerous to stay long in any job which you find menial. That only shows that you aren't learning anything of value (or that you aren't learning as much as you should be). Either way, in the age of the Knowledge Economy, that's a risky situation to be in.

There are a few things which Nur may not understand about the reality of the working world. If you are very obliging about doing menial work, you may simply be dumped with more and more menial work. If you are very patient about your career prospects, you may be perceived as lacking in drive and ambition (therefore you won't be given bigger responsibilities or a higher position). And if you keep on doing menial work for a long time, you endanger your own c.v and therefore your future career prospects.

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09 August 2006

Two Views

Here's MM Lee Kuan Yew, in a recent interview:
ST Aug 9, 2006
MM Lee on lawyers, politicians and S'pore's future

THE idea of selling his skills, and doing a job where it did not matter if a client was in the right or wrong, did not appeal to Mr Lee Kuan Yew as a young lawyer here.

Recalling those times in the 1950s in an interview with the Singapore Law Gazette, Minister Mentor Lee also said he did not think highly of the adversarial system ...

Mr Lee said if he had remained a lawyer, 'it would have been a meaningless existence. I have been a participant and as prime minister, I studied the system. I found it an unfulfilling profession'. ....

He felt that his role when he was prime minister, was to ensure the legal system brought justice and that it should not be circumvented by skilful advocacy.

Meanwhile, a blogger, Dharmendra Yadav, has just published the full text of his exclusive interview in 1994 with the legendary David Marshall. An interesting contrast:
"I’m full of gratitude for having become a lawyer and, especially, a criminal lawyer; for having helped thousands of people terrified, helpless before the silly forces of society. They’ve looked into me as their protector. I have no regrets at all for having helped them; humanity, if you can understand this.

If you ever become a criminal lawyer, never look down upon your client. He may be a murderer or he may be a thief; he is a fellow human being. You must try and respect your client no matter what he has done. It is very important in your own self-respect in your work, and to help who is helpless in seeking help.

Look, at the age of 86, I can say in all earnestness, the thing that matters most in bringing human satisfaction is human relations. To be able to care for your fellow human beings, to be able to give! Never mind about receiving."
Incidentally, I thought that the ST article about MM Lee was quite pathetic. Basically, the "journalist" didn't do any footwork of his own at all - he merely reported what another publication, the Singapore Law Gazette, had written about MM Lee. Basically, a lot of copy, cut and paste, and zero value-add.

Blogger Dharmendra did a much more commendable job in his own 1994 interview with David Marshall, even though he was only a junior college student then. Do check it out - click on the link above.

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The Police Seem To Have No Sense of Priority

Remember Char? He had posted some allegedly offensive cartoons of Jesus on his blog. Someone called the police and this led to the police investigating Char for possible offences under the Sedition Act. A few months ago, I wrote about Char's case, and in the Comment section of my post, I queried whether the police was wasting time and resources on such cases instead of focusing on serious criminal matters:
".... In contrast - and you may not know this - if you have ever been a victim of other kinds of offence:

(minor molest? stolen handphone? neighbour hit you? husband threatened you with violence? car vandalised?)

you may be very disappointed to discover that the police may not be very keen to investigate the case. They simply are too busy. They will often tell you to take out a private lawsuit; or they will tell you that your matter is very minor; or they let you make a police report, then chuck it into the file and do almost nothing.
I cited an example of a violent case of gang assault on a young girl . The police didn't seem to bother with the matter at all:
I do not know whether you are aware of this case -

... and the police response as reported in the media. This is an outright crime, in a public place, organised, premeditated violence; and there is extremely clear evidence that the crime did occur (event was caught on video);

and the police response was: "Oh, we will respond if someone makes a police report."

In other words, if the victim doesn't come forward to report (due to fear etc), the police won't bother to investigate.
Some of you may not be convinced, and may believe that these were one-off incidents, freak examples of terrible police inaction. Well, here are two more examples for you to think about:

1. You get beaten by two men in a road rage incident, in broad daylight, and so badly that you black out twice. The police arrive at the scene and guess what they do? Nothing much.

2. Read this ST Forum letter - six young punks beat up a Singaporean doctor eating at a coffeeshop, breaking a few bones in his face. The doctor needs a 3-hour operation and six months to recover. Again, what did the police do? Read for yourself.

And what DO the police waste their time on, apart from "seditious" bloggers? Ask Yawning Bread - he can tell you. Harassing "Mardi Gras girls" at a party. But not the "Tequila girls" at the same party. What's the difference, you ask? Not much, sensible people would say. But then the police are not sensible. Read more here.

Well, the good news is that we still have hope. The TODAY newspaper reported this on 4 August 2006:

Police may reduce their role in licensing

The police may no longer be the agency issuing licences or regulating businesses that do not cause law and order problems.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said yesterday he has asked the law enforcement agency to relook its areas of responsibility.

Speaking at the Home Team National Day Observance ceremony, Mr Wong said the police should not be distracted by non-policing issues.

They can then refocus on core areas of responsibility in security, and law and order.

According to 938Live, a review is underway.
Well, I hope you finish the review soon, Mr Wong Kan Seng. So that the next time a Singaporean gets his head beaten in by a bunch of gangsters, the police will actually do something.

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08 August 2006

Great Timing for Our Gamblers

Are we all set for the great casino game yet? About one year ago, I commented on the nation's new gambling plans and wrote this:

..... when the casinos arrive and the loan sharks get locked away, it may well be the banks which celebrate most exuberantly. Addicted Singaporeans will surely borrow. They can even borrow to pay the $100 casino entry fee. Remember - no questions asked. That's a basic characteristic of personal credit lines.

And with the serious competition - loan sharks - locked away in jail, it's the banks which will enjoy this exciting spin-off from our wonderful integrated resorts.

Well, see what's happening now. Watch closely, as the MAS looks into dismantling Singapore's current rules on unsecured personal credit ... to allow everyone - the rich, the poor, the juvenile - to borrow more and more. All just in time for some fun & sun on Sentosa!

Credit cards may fit in shallower pockets
(TODAY) Tuesday • August 8, 2006
Lee Ching Wern

IN A move that could bring easier unsecured credit to the Average Joe and potentially higher credit card limits for those earning more, the Government is now looking at tweaking the credit regime.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Law have sought public feedback on a number of proposed changes.

Until now, you needed an annual income of at least $30,000 to obtain unsecured credit — such as a credit line or card — from a bank. This limit could be reduced to $20,000. The income requirement for credit cards, however, remains $30,000.

At the same time, a bank until now could allow you a limit of up to twice your monthly salary on both credit cards and other unsecured credit facilities — through ATM cards, for example. For those earning more than $30,000 a year, these limits will be merged into an aggregate of four times your monthly salary so that you can pick the form of credit you want.

For those with annual income of at least $20,000 and below $30,000, the maximum aggregate credit limit will be twice their monthly income.
Oh, wait, wait. Now of course the government is not changing the rules so that more Singaporeans will gamble. Mr Wang was only referring to what Singaporeans can do, and what many of them would no doubt do, with the new sources of borrowing that the government is making available to them.

An MAS/Ministry of Law statement said that the changes "do not signal a relaxation in the Government's policy stance towards unsecured credit".

Recent advances in risk management practices and the introduction of the credit bureau have made unsustainable debt for borrowers less likely.
One thing that concerns me about these rules is that while they limit the amount that an individual can borrow from any one bank, nothing stops the individual from going to many different banks to get more credit cards and credit lines.

For example, suppose I earn $4,000 a month. Under the new rules (if they're passed), if I go to DBS, I can try to get aggregate unsecured borrowing limits of up to $16,000. Now if I then go to UOB, OCBC, Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC, Citibank, ABN AMRO and Maybank, theoretically I could get up to $16,000 x 8 = $128,000.

Wow, simply irresistible .... for gambling addicts.

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Singapore Makes International News Again!

The little red dot makes a splash in the big ocean again. We are mentioned in Voice of America, Guardian Unlimited (the UK), INQ7.Net (Philippines), China Post (Taiwan) and Men's News Daily. From the China Post article:
Roby Alampay, executive director of the Bangkok-based watchdog Southeast Asian Press Alliance, noted that the latest move came ahead of next month's annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) hosted by Singapore.

"The truth ... has always been known that Singapore is intolerant of too many questions and prying eyes. The real context here, we believe, is the upcoming IMF-WB meeting in Singapore," he told AFP by e-mail.

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07 August 2006

A Singapore Play is Censored Killed

For all its many failings, the Singapore government used to be able to at least say that it was efficient. I say "used to", because in recent years, we've had a variety of incidents - the Nicoll Highway collapse; the nationwide blackout; the recent day-long failure of the MRT Northeast Line; hospital patient overloads due to the common flu - which just makes you wonder a little bit about what's really happening. Here's another great example of our (in)efficiency:
"The Media Development Authority of Singapore's (MDA) censorship of the arts has become an unbearable joke today.

We applied for a public entertainment licence for the play SMEGMA, written and directed by Elangovan (bilingual poet-playwright-director) a month ago to the MDA for censorship vetting.

I called the MDA on Tue 1 Aug afternoon at about after 2pm to find out about the licence. I was told that MDA has approved the licence and it was ready for collection.

About half an hour later, I received a call from an MDA officer saying that the licence was not ready and they were still processing. When I asked her whether it was a joke and also added that I would go the media, she immediately did a full roundabout and said that the licence was ready and we could collect it.

We collected the black & white approved licence document from MDA at 4.55 pm on Tue 1 Aug 06 after paying them S$20 by NETS at the counter.The conditions in the licence were as expected- RA18 with advisory: 'The play is Rated RA18. The play contains strong language and adult themes that may be objectionable to some members of the public. The advisory must be reflected in all publicity materials.'

Today, at about 2.30 pm, I received a call from an MDA official who did not reveal her name. She informed me that the licence which MDA issued to our group Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) for the play MEGMA has been cancelled. She did not give any reasons and I demanded for a written letter. She said that MDA would follow up.

Meanwhile, MDA had a press conference for the local media at 3pm at its premises to inform that they had cancelled the licence issued for the play SMEGMA. The script of SMEGMA was given to the press members for private reading and collected back.

I finally received a letter by fax today from Ms Amy Tsang,confirming the cancellation of our licence with the following reasons:
[para1. Further to our teleconversation today, we would like to inform you that the Media Development Authority (MDA) is cancelling the arts entertainment licence No: 005/08/2006 issued on 1 Aug 2006 for the play 'SMEGMA'.

[ para 2. After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society, and may negatively impact upon our bilateral relations with our neighbours.

para3.The play portrays Muslims in a negative light. Two playlets featuring Muslim terrorists are also provocative in view of the increased tension in the Middle east.

para 4. In view of this, MDA has decided not to let the play be staged.]

After the above fax, I received a call from MDA saying that they would be faxing another letter soon and it would supercede the fax sent earlier. I received the final fax at 5.29 pm with a cover letter saying - "Please ignore the earlier letter on the above subject which we had faxed to you before 5 pm today. The attached supercedes the previous letter."

Now, this fax had only one para (para 2) to give a reason for the cancellation: [para 2: After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society, and portrays Muslims in a negative light."

Paragraph 2 from the earlier letter disapperaed and paragraph 2 has been amended.

Elangovan's TALAQ faced a different sort of problem in OCT 2000 from the then PELU of the Police. The licence was not issued and the whole situation ended in a fiasco, that led to a relook at the censorship laws for plays in Singapore.

But now, six years later, the esteemed MDA has created a mess for a small minority theatre group, by issuing the licence and then cancelling the licence, and also changing their reasons for the cancellation, the same day.

MDA had a month to vet the play. They claim on their website that they would usually vet a play and respond after two weeks.

MDA had sufficient time to vet the play and inform us. We would have made the necessary amendments if MDA had informed us earlier.

What's wrong with the Censorship panel of MDA and its super-efficient officers? Why are MDA officers behaving like this? Why cancel the licence on the eve of our production, which is tomorrow and Sunday?

If MDA had cancelled the licence much earlier, we would not have proceeded with our production.We would have saved our finances but now we have lost so much. It only confirms that liberalisation of the arts in Singapore is just lip-service of the 66.6% powers that be.

What happened to us ( worse than the TALAQ incident in 2000) may happen to fellow artistes in this country. With the National Day celebrations to glorify nation-building next week, and the IMF meeting in September, what Freedom of Expression are we talking about in Singapore?

It is a painful joke. Grateful if you would globalise this Singapore Joke.
Thank you.

S Thenmoli (Ms)
Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire).

For (a little) more detail, click here.

Basically, MDA killed the play and inflicted financial losses on the theatre group. MDA's to-ing & fro-ing and letter-amending behaviour suggests that it wasn't even sure why it was censoring what it was censoring.

If MDA had been clear about what it found objectionable about the play, the theatre group would probably have been able to save it. It could have been a matter of changing ten lines; cutting one scene; adjusting the plot a little; making one or two characters utter a few nation-building, MDA-pacifying and racial-harmonising lines. Not ideal, from the art purist's point of view, but at least the play would still have gone on.

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More Bureaucratic Nonsense

Firstly, my warm congratulations to Ike See, Singapore's very own music prodigy. For background, click here. The latest development is that Ike gets to defer his NS and go to Curtis Institute, after all. Why? Well, Ike found a way out.

Instead of studying for a 3-year Bachelor of Music degree at Curtis, he will study for a 2-year music diploma at Curtis. Why is this permissible? You see, Mindef's policy allows Singaporeans to get their A-levels, diplomas or the equivalents (but not their degrees) before making them to do NS.

Although I'm happy for Ike, I cannot resist a dig at Mindef here. The absurdity of their rigid rules becomes even more obvious now.

Mindef wouldn't allow Ike, a rare music prodigy, to defer NS to study for a 3-year Bachelor of Music degree at Curtis (because that's a degree). But if Ike had applied to spend those exact, same 3 years studying Accountancy or Tourism Studies at Singapore Poly, Mindef would have allowed deferment (because that's a diploma).

That's Singapore for you. What's the average IQ of Mindef officers these days?

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