30 September 2006

Thank You For Reading

As September draws to a close, I note that Mr Wang's Karmic Biscuits have reached yet another all-time high in popularity. Mr Wang's monthly unique readership exceeded 31,000 this month, and has more than tripled in the past nine months.

So thank you for reading (and commenting). And if you have enjoyed this blog, don't forget to tell your friends about it!

29 September 2006

We're on a Roll!

ST Sep 28, 2006
EM3 stream to be dropped from 2008
Pupils will be grouped according to ability in specific subjects

By Jane Ng

THE EM3 stream, on the way out over the past few years, is finally being scrapped.

The hugely unpopular stream - which groups the weakest primary school pupils together - will be junked in 2008.

Students will instead be banded according to their strengths in specific subjects.

For example, a student strong only in mathematics will study it at the standard PSLE level - but he will take English and Mother Tongue at the easier foundation level, which covers the basics.

Currently, he would be studying all three at the foundation level - branding him as a weak student.

The change, which will take effect for students entering Primary 5 in 2008, was announced yesterday by Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at his ministry's annual Work Plan Seminar.

It is the culmination of a series of amendments made to the primary school streaming system over the past few years.

In 2004, the EM1 and EM2 streams were merged, allowing pupils to take Higher Mother Tongue, which was previously offered only to those in EM1.

Before that, EM1 students did both Mother Tongue and English at a higher level, while EM2 pupils took Mother Tongue as a second language.

The lines were blurred further that year, when schools were given the go-ahead to merge the EM3 stream with the rest of the cohort for non-academic subjects such as music and art.

For some time now, educators and MPs have asked for the EM3 stream to be done away with altogether, saying that it hurts student morale.
Another good move by the Singapore government, how surprising. Perhaps Tharman has finally educated himself about the well-documented Rosenthal Effect. In a nutshell, studies have shown that young kids who are labelled and treated as "smart" will really become smarter (demonstrating a clear jump in their IQ scores over a one-year period), while young kids who are labelled and treated as "slow" or "stupid" will really become slower and stupider.

Research shows however that the Rosenthal Effect becomes less and less pronounced among older kids. One possible explanation is that older kids are more likely to have already formed their self-concept. That is to say, due to their experiences in their younger years, they already believe that they are smart (or stupid), and therefore behave accordingly. If negative labelling has already damaged a child's self-esteem and self-concept in his earlier years, it becomes harder to later convince him that he actually is bright and has the capability to do well.

We will never be able to quantify how badly the self-esteem of older generations of Singaporeans had been damaged by streaming in our education system. Still, at least it looks that the system will be going less wrong in the future. Hopefully, the sad state of affairs described here will one day become a thing of the past.

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28 September 2006

A Major Change in Philosophy

Sep 28, 2006
Courts to review sentencing guidelines
CJ wants to strike new balance between punishing and rehabilitating offenders

By Tanya Fong

THE courts are reviewing sentencing guidelines for major offences carrying jail terms in order to strike a new balance between punishing and rehabilitating offenders.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong yesterday said a criminal justice system has to go beyond meting out punishment for crime: It should hand down appropriate penalties, reform the criminal and reintegrate him into society.

A 'holistic approach' would be needed for all this to come together, he added - and this will involve not only players within the prison walls, but also social workers, the offender's family and society.

First off, he said, the courts have to make the sentence fit not only the offence, but also the offender, and consider his potential for correction.

Opening a conference on the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, he noted that judges were pulled two ways when weighing punishment against potential for rehabilitation.

He said the law ' must provide a rational and principled basis to reconcile these competing tensions'.

Those in legal circles have called this a shift in thinking from current legal practice.

For Association of Criminal Lawyers president Subhas Anandan, it is 'a giant step forward'.

He said: 'I don't think it means that the courts are getting soft on crime. It means there will be more sentencing alternatives and room for compassion. The solution used to be just jail, jail, jail.'

The CJ himself is chairing the panel drawing up the new sentencing guidelines, which will pave the way for jail terms proportionate to the harm the offenders have done the community, and yet also conform with the community's cultural and moral values.

This is the latest of many initiatives he has introduced since becoming CJ in April.

In June, he instituted the Community Court, where judges have been handing down alternative, non-custodial penalties for young offenders and the mentally ill.

Pressing the need for the review, CJ Chan said those who are rehabilitated are likely to stay on the straight and narrow, which makes for better public safety.

He said that each time a judge decides to punish an offender, he must also ask himself: 'Why punish?', so that he will remember that the punishment 'should achieve a societal purpose and cannot be an end in itself'.
The new Chief Justice is out to make his mark, and his kind of mark looks very different from his predecessor Yong Pung How. I like what I'm seeing. I would have loved to be part of the process, but it comes a bit late for me. If this had happened seven years ago, I think I would have stayed on in the Legal Service to do my part, despite the many other warts in the system. But back then I had enough of a lousy system and among other things, I wanted to get out before they made me get someone hanged.

Traditionally, criminal punishment in our system comes in only three main forms - imprisonment, caning and/or fine. This is rather feeble, considering that criminals come in such a dazzling range of varieties - from the violent gangster to the old grandmother who rented a room to an illegal immigrant; from the mentally-ill flasher to the high-IQ rogue trader; from the teenager making love to his underaged teenage girlfriend, to the robbers of 4-D outlets; from the helpless drug addict, to the cool, calculating drug trafficker.

Human beings are pretty complex. You ... CAN'T ... just either lock them up, fine them, cane them or hang them. There must be more alternatives.

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26 September 2006

On Young Singaporeans

ST Sep 24, 2006
PM to young: Help make S'pore better
By Peh Shing Huei

THEY told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong they wanted to engage the Government, to contribute and be heard.

But the question that several young Singaporeans had at a dialogue with him yesterday was how. A youth parliament perhaps? Or internships with ministers, through blogs, or more such dialogues?

Mr Lee listened intently, interacting with the 220 in the audience at the Supreme Court auditorium, and gave this assurance: His Government recognises and encourages them to be a part of the process here.

What was important, he said, was not so much the medium used.

'What you really need is also not just the medium but to be on the same wavelength as the young people, to know what the young people are concerned about and to be able to talk to them so that they connect, their concerns, their issues,' he said.

He told the audience that included students, civil servants, representatives from the media, youth and voluntary organisations that their generation 'had been prepared to the best of our ability'.

Picking up a point from one participant who noted a recent survey which said youths wanted to migrate, he said they must ask themselves about their obligations to Singapore.

Reminding them of the seriousness of his pledge to engage them, he said: 'We're looking for a young generation to come along and take the team forward. And if you go to another country...will you be heard? What will be your impact on public life on the community in a country with a few hundred million people?'

They must, instead, stay and make a difference.

'If I say I don't like this, I'm fed up, let's go, I think that's a great pity. We would have lost somebody in whom we've put a lot of hope, and I think Singapore will be worse off.

'But if we say this is not good, I'm going to make a nuisance of myself until I fix it, that's different. Then I think there's hope for Singapore. You stand your ground and you make it better.

What is it you are unhappy with, let's get that changed...You must have the optimal degree of unhappiness - just right, and the conviction to make a change.'

This time, PM Lee displayed more PR savvy. At least he didn't ask the young Singaporeans whether they would support his "hip and happening" cheerleaders and balloon clappers.

But based on the forum that PM Lee's daddy had with young Singaporeans just a few months ago, I wouldn't bet two dollars that "the government recognises and encourages young people to be a part of the process here". Somehow, the term "radical English-educated young" does not sound encouraging.

On the positive side, I have to say that this particular group of young Singaporeans made an impressive attempt to become part of the process, and certainly displayed some serious conviction to make a change.

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25 September 2006

Unhappy Pilots

ST Sep 25, 2006
SIA and pilots quarrel over pay once more
By Aviation Correspondent, Karamjit Kaur

THEY are at it again. Barely a year and a half after they mended fences, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its pilots' union are at loggerheads again, this time over salaries and benefits for flying the new Airbus 380 aircraft, expected to enter service next year.

SIA and the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S) - agreed last week to refer the dispute to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC), after six months of wrangling.

It is believed to be the first serious dispute since both sides inked a new collective agreement last year, providing increased annual leave, and introducing monthly and annual variable components into the pay packet.

That episode prompted Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew to step in, urging both sides to set aside their two decades of acrimony.

The Straits Times understands that the latest breakdown in labour relations has to do with whether pilots who will fly the new Airbus A380 super-jumbos should be paid more than a Boeing 747 pilot.

SIA has ordered 19 of the A380s and the airline will be the first to fly the new plane next year.

According to pilots interviewed, the general rule of thumb is, the bigger the plane, the higher the pay.

So a B747 captain, for example, starts at about $10,000 a month excluding allowances, compared to $9,300 for a B777 captain.

Alpa-S, which represents 1,600 pilots, is upset because SIA is proposing to pay the pilots less than what a Boeing 747 captain now makes, although the new aircraft is bigger and will carry more passengers.

SIA's A380s will have just under 480 seats - about 100 more than the existing B747s.

Sources said SIA is proposing that pilots flying the A380 get the same as B777 pilots. The gap between what the airline wants to pay its A380 pilots and what the union is asking for, is between $3,000 and $5,000.

Contacted by The Straits Times, both SIA and Alpa-S president Captain P. James confirmed the deadlock but neither would reveal details.

SIA's spokesman said: 'The company is seeking to have some differences with Alpa-S over proposed pay scales for A380 pilots adjudicated. We hope that the outstanding issues can be resolved quickly.

'As is always the case when we use these sort of dispute resolution processes, we do not intend to negotiate the differences in public.'

She added: 'To date, our discussions with Alpa-S have been constructive and have resolved some of the issues, but there are areas where we do not yet have common ground.'

Captain James confirmed that SIA had proposed a lower starting pay for A380 pilots compared to B747 pilots.

The airline is also seeking to revise rules that stipulate the number of rest days owed to a pilot after a flight, he said, without giving details.

According to SIA pilots, this currently depends on the destination rather than the type of aircraft.

So a pilot who flies from Singapore to London for example, gets two nights of rest in London and three days off when he gets back. On the third day, he can be recalled if necessary.

Captain James said: 'We do not see any need to introduce a new set of guidelines for the A380 since the rules already exist.'

He said: 'Since we cannot come to an agreement, both sides have jointly decided that we will go to the IAC.'

From the ST report, it seems that basically SIA wants its pilots to fly bigger planes and get less resting time, and still receive the same pay. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it.

Let's wait and see what happens next.

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19 September 2006

Just Another Day in Singapore

As I walk to my office every morning, I am frequently accosted by people handing out flyers in public places. I get flyers with promotional offers to join the new "Fitness First" gym. I get flyers about special discounts at some newly-opened restaurant. I get flyers about investing in UK properties; about the wonders of noni juice; and how to make money by being a part-time telemarketeer.

Flyers are such a common part of Singaporeans' daily lives that I wonder why police officers must waste their time following the distributors around and using video cameras to film them in action. It is a sad reflection on our nation that the following story should even qualify as newsworthy:

Reuters, Monday September 18, 5:02 PM
Singapore opposition leader allowed to distribute flyers

SINGAPORE, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Singapore opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, whose stand-off with police in a city park near "Speakers' Corner" is in its third day, was allowed to leave the area and distribute pamphlets, police said on Monday.

At midday, Chee and a handful of supporters walked to Raffles Place, close to the Suntec City convention centre where the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank are taking place. He handed out pamphlets that criticised Singapore's curbs on free speech and freedom of assembly.

Chee and his supporters walked to the site separately, as any gathering of more than four people is illegal without a permit.

"(Chee) was advised not to proceed as a group as it might constitute an illegal procession," a police spokeswoman said.

After about an hour, the group returned to the park, where since Saturday police have blocked them from carrying out a planned protest march to the IMF-World Bank venue.

"Police followed the group to observe and ensure that they did not carry out illegal activities as they were still in the general vicinity of Suntec City and Parliament House," the spokeswoman said.

Chee told Reuters that he had distributed about 500 pamphlets, and that the group plans to hand out more during the evening rush hour.

"We just wanted to register the point that we have been stopped, but we are not defeated," said Chee.

Chee said many people were afraid to accept the pamphlets as policemen were recording the scene with several video cameras.

"The reason we are here is because we are protesting against the denial of the rights of Singaporeans to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly," read the pamphlet.

Chee reiterated that he and his supporters will remain in the park until Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gives his speech at the IMF-World Bank meetings' opening ceremony on Tuesday morning.
Incidentally, if you are a Singaporean and you don't already have the habit of surfing the Net for non-SPH-produced news about Singapore, I encourage you to do so. It can be quite an educational experience, whatever your own personal views about Singapore may be. Yawning Bread gives an interesting example.

Here's a photo from AFP. The caption they used was "Singapore dissident steals show from world financial summit".


Oh. So scary. What a severe threat to public security. No wonder we need to mobilise 23,000 police NSmen and surround Suntec City with steel barricades and barbed wire. Otherwise buildings may fall down and all the IMF delegates may die.

The following picture has been circulating around the Internet. It shows opposition politican Chee Siok Chin (Chee Soon Juan's sister) literally being surrounded by a bunch of police officers. Apparently this is to stop her from carrying out a protest march to Suntec City.


They know that they have no legal power to arrest her (she isn't committing any crime). So they decide to stop her by surrounding her. If you look closely at the picture, you can actually see the police officers putting their arms around each other to form a circle to confine Siok Chin inside. I wonder if Siok Chin did ever try to squeeze through their legs or something. I mean - what if she needed to go to the Ladies in a hurry?

This is so childish. And shameful. Furthermore, if I remember my first-year law school Law of Torts well enough, these police officers have probably just committed "the tort of false imprisonment". Basically this means that you're illegally confining a person and breaching her right to move about freely. Hey, police officers, she can sue you for that, you know?

I never did like Chee Soon Juan. But the Singapore authorities are certainly doing a great job in making me feel more sympathetic to his cause.

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17 September 2006

Luckily, She Missed The Train

Sunday Times, Sep 17, 2006
Scholar charged with attempted murder
Man accused of pushing ex-girlfriend off platform said to be depressed at the time

By Selina Lum

AN ASEAN scholarship holder with a double degree possibly faces a lifetime in jail for allegedly attempting to murder his former girlfriend by pushing her off a train platform.

Kwong Kok Hing, 26, was yesterday charged with intending to kill Miss Low Siew Mui, 26, on Thursday evening by pushing her onto the train tracks at Clementi MRT station.

The court was also told that Kwong, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, has been suffering from depression.

Kwong's lawyer told District Judge Marvin Bay that he has been undergoing psychiatric treatment at Raffles Hospital.

Mr Shashi Nathan also said Kwong's psychiatrist had suggested that he was suffering from 'reactive psychosis' at the time of the station incident. Reactive psychosis is a sudden display of psychotic behaviour prompted by a stressful event.

As he stood in the dock yesterday, the bespectacled man seemed nervous, occasionally glancing at his parents in the public gallery.

They had travelled here from Petaling Jaya earlier this week because of his depression. They declined to speak to reporters.

Kwong, the eldest of three children, came to Singapore as an Asean scholarship holder. He studied at the National University of Singapore and worked at a local bank.

He is believed to have suffered depression because of relationship problems.

Kwong is accused of pushing Miss Low on the back with both his hands. His action caused her to fall onto the tracks and into the path of an oncoming west-bound train, it is alleged.

Police had studied footage from a CCTV camera which captured the incident.

Miss Low narrowly escaped death. She picked herself up and ran to the other side of the tracks when she realised the platform was too high for her to climb up in time.

She managed to steady herself as the train whizzed past her. She suffered cuts and bruises to her arms and legs from the fall.

Several commuters caught Kwong and pinned him down until police arrived.

If convicted of attempted murder, Kwong faces life imprisonment and caning. He has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for psychiatric examination and will return to court on Sept 29.
When I was a DPP, my favourite kind of case was where I was convinced that the criminal had done a very bad thing and was an utterly wicked, evil person. Then I could step into court, hold nothing back and prosecute him to the best of my ability. Which is to say, mercilessly.

I used to call these cases the "Evil Mosquito" cases. The reason is that I feel only glee, and no remorse whatsoever, whenever I smack a mosquito and turn it into a dead, disgusting splotch of blood. I got the same feeling in court, whenever I had to prosecute anyone who, in my view, deserved the very worst that the law could possibly do to him.

In reality, however, "Evil Mosquito" cases are very rare. In fact, they were so rare that I eventually quit the DPP job - for I felt compassion for criminals much more often than I felt distaste. The biggest lesson I learned from my DPP days is that criminals are human beings, just like you and me. Alter a few key factors or events in the story of your life, and you might jolly well have become a criminal too. A sad story often lies behind the act of some apparently nasty criminal.

Take the case of Kwong Kok Hing. From his profile, it's quite unlikely that he has ever committed any other serious offence in his life. Now on that fateful day, if things had happened differently - for example, if his girlfriend had said, "Let's break up, goodbye, I'm flying off tomorrow" and then just left the country without telling him where she was going - Kwong would have wallowed in his depression for six months, maybe he would have gotten some pills and counselling, and then he'd recover and life would just move on.

Hey, many of us have been dumped, in the stories of our respective lives - it hurts, but we recover and we move on too. In time, we look at our earlier romances and we might even think, "Thank goodness she dumped me. Boy, were we NOT compatible."

But no, she and him had to be there, at the MRT station, and he had to say THAT to her, and she had to say THAT to him, and then they just had to be standing THERE, and in that split second, he had to do THAT incredibly dumb thing ..... and now, he faces life imprisonment. While she's probably suffering from post-traumatic stress- disorderly recurring nightmares every night, of being squashed by an oncoming train.

By the way, that Siew Mui lady - good, sharp thinking in a situation of life & death. To have the presence of mind to run to the other side of the track. I think many others in her shoes would have panicked and screamed and kept jumping and trying to get up the platform.

I'll be tracking this case because I'm interested to see how the "reactive psychosis" defence holds up in court.

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Scholarship System Blues

So now they begin to realise. Heheh.

I once wrote, on this blog, a series of posts about the flaws and failings of the scholarship system in Singapore - here, here, here and here. In one of them, I posed this question to my readers:
Find two differences between Group A:

Singapore Airlines / Singapore Press Holdings / Development Bank of Singapore / Singapore Power Ltd / SembCorp Industries / Singapore Armed Forces / Singapore Police Force

and Group B:

Citibank Singapore / Hyflux / Creative Technologies / Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation / Asia-Pacific Breweries / Courts Singapore / Goodwood Park Hotel /
Osim International / Fraser & Neave Ltd.

... and then I gave the answer:
1. All the Group A entities are linked to the Singapore government. But all the Group B organisations are genuine private-sector entities.

2. All the Group A entities offer undergraduate scholarships. But none of the Group B organisations do.
This, of course, leads the reader to the next question:
Why is this the case? What makes genuine, bona fide commercial organisations shy away from offering undergraduate scholarships?
For my answers to that question, you'll have to read my old post. Slightly more than one year later, a few government-linked entities seem to be catching up with Mr Wang's analysis. The Sunday Times reports that PSA, DBS and SLA have all cut back on their scholarship programmes:
Sunday Times, Sep 17, 2006
Scholarship blues
PSA, DBS and SLA have cut back on their scholarship programmes. Is this the start of a trend as employers become more wary of bond-breakers?

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

AT LEAST three scholarship boards which fund undergraduate studies are relooking the way they do it, with one stopping the scheme altogether.

PSA Corp, which has been awarding about 20 scholarships a year on average, is no longer doing so this year.

DBS Bank, one of the first companies here to hand out scholarships in the early 1970s, has tweaked its programme and will only award scholarships to those in their final year of undergraduate studies or postgraduate students.

And unlike previously, these scholarships are not likely to have a bond attached to them, the bank said.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which handed out about three scholarships a year, is now only offering local scholarships.

The Public Service Commission (PSC), which for years was the primary source of scholarships with over 200 given out annually, has also cut back dramatically, though this was a decision made to avoid crowding out the private sector.

From 253 scholarships in 2001, the number was slashed to 54 in 2002. This year, only 39 students were given the PSC scholarship.


the moves by PSA, DBS and SLA could signal a wider problem: recruiting talent via the scholarship route isn't working out for some companies, the experts said.
Well, of course it isn't working. That's why, as I have observed in my earlier post, genuine, bona fide commercial organisations generally do not offer scholarships - at least not in the way the government and the GLCs do.
When contacted by The Sunday Times, the three agencies did not pin down reasons for the change.

SLA said it had not awarded any overseas scholarships this year because there were no suitable candidates. But its website said it would offer only local undergraduate scholarships this year.

DBS, on its part, said its scholarship programme has been restructured to suit the bank's current focus on regional and emerging markets. Its future scholarship holders will study at top universities in the region instead of popular study destinations like Britain and the US.

It did not give a reason for no longer giving out scholarships to students fresh out of junior college.

A PSA spokesman would only say: 'The number of scholarships we offer year to year varies and depends on the organisation's needs and how these needs are met by other channels such as direct recruitment.'

The cause for the cutback could be the problem of bond-breaking, said human resource experts, or a realisation that some scholarship holders do not meet job requirements after they graduate ...
Took them a long time to realise it, didn't it? Too bad the Singapore government will take an even longer time. Next time, they should all just read Mr Wang's blog and push themselves more quickly up the learning curve. Even this person, Tan Joo Sin, doesn't quite get it:
The way around this problem is not to do away with scholarships, said Mr Tan Soo Jin, vice-chairman of Amrop Hever Group, an executive search company.

Instead, companies should focus on developing career plans for the scholarship holders to entice them to stay - which is how big companies like Shell, Nestle and Unilever retain their staff.
Tan Soo Jin works for an executive search firm. What does an executive search firm do? It helps companies to find, screen and hire the most suitable candidates for job vacancies in the company. It also helps job seekers to find jobs that provide the best match for their skills, knowledge and career expectations.

Suppose I go to Tan Soo Jin today and say, "Hello, my name is Mr Wang. I am a lawyer. Please find me a job as soon as possible. However, please let them know that I can only start work in the year 2011, and they must continue to employ me until the year 2017."

What would Tan Soo Jin say? "You're crazy, Mr Wang. Which company would know today whether it would have a vacancy in the year 2011 for a candidate like you? And how can they be sure you would be good for the job until the year 2017? How do YOU even know you would want to work for them until then?"

Exactly, Mr Tan. That's why the scholarship system is stupid.

And that's why our government, which has many scholars, is also __________.

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16 September 2006

Change of Mind

ST Sep 16, 2006
S'pore agrees to admit 22 of 27 blacklisted activists

By Li Xueying

SINGAPORE will allow 22 of the 27 civil society activists it had objected to previously to enter the country after all.

In an unexpected statement last night, the Singapore organising
committee for the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings said:

'Based on input provided by the IMF and World Bank this morning, the S2006 Organising Committee has reviewed the list of 27 CSO representatives whose entry was subject to interview by Singapore. The S2006 Organising Committee has decided to allow the entry of 22 of the 27 CSO representatives.'

CSO refers to civil society organisations.

The remaining five activists will be 'subject to interview and may not be allowed in', if they try to enter Singapore.

As in previous statements, the 27 were not named.

Singapore had earlier objected to their accreditation to attend the
meetings, citing security and law and order concerns.

Hours before the about-turn, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said that Singapore had inflicted 'enormous damage' to its reputation. Describing its actions as 'unacceptable', he told a meeting with the CSOs that he had raised the matter with President SR Nathan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In the afternoon, 164 CSOs announced a boycott of all official IMF-World Bank events.

Mr Wolfowitz said that Singapore would have to decide whether to show it was 'authoritarian' or 'at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process'.

His comments, the harshest yet, came after a week of wrangling between the IMF, the World Bank and Singapore over the issue ...
Paul Wolfowitz never gave up, and now the Singapore government has given in. 22 of the 27 banned activists will be "un-banned", after all.

Those who understand Asian culture and the Singapore government mindset will also be able to guess why five activists continue to be banned. At least part of the reason is called "saving face". Although the Singapore government has decided to concede, it can't allow itself to be seen as conceding completely.

Earlier this week, the blogger known as Chemgen referred to IMF's and World Bank's displeasure with the Singapore government as a "token rebuke". Chemgen wrote:
Both are just moving their prearranged pieces. The Singapore government is making its anti-protest move and the IMF / WB are reading their prepared statements in response. All don't want to see that much protest in Singapore. I don't think we should take the IMF and WB's "rebuke" literally as one for the masses and a slap in the face of the Singapore government.
I felt that Chemgen was wrong. Well, I think that my feeling was correct.

In my opinion, the Singapore government's real concern is not the demonstrations or other activities that the 27 activists might carry out while they are in Singapore. The government can always deploy another 100 police officers to follow the 27 activists wherever they go and keep them under control. And frankly the 27 activists have no interest in Singapore - their interest is the IMF and the World Bank, and after conference is over, they'll be gone for good too.

What then is the real concern of the Singapore government? This is it - if they allow these World Bank/IMF demonstrations to happen (under anything but the most controlled, prescribed indoor conditions), this sets a bad precedent. In the future, the Singapore government will find it much more difficult to provide plausible, convincing reasons why citizens (eg Chee Soon Juan) shouldn't be allowed to hold peaceful, orderly demonstrations in Singapore.

In fact, back in October 2005, I had already foreseen the possibility of this scenario arising and I had described this as a "potentially embarrassing situation" for the Singapore government.

We live in interesting times. Some of my less-perceptive readers may be surprised, but I personally don't fancy the idea of a "mass demonstration" culture developing in Singapore (emphasis on mass). If only we had a freer press; more opposition MPs in Parliament; a more consultative ruling party; less censorship, and so on .... then no one would even think that Singapore needs mass demonstrations.

Me, I prefer to work my own peaceful little corner of cyberspace, offering my opinions and analysis to all who are interested. By the way, my September readership is on track to hit another new all-time high again, so thank you for reading.

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15 September 2006

Bloggers Going Places

Bloggers seem to be really going places these days. I hear that 18-year-old blogger Gayle Goh is just back from Bangkok, where she and veteran social activist Alex Au (Yawning Bread) spoke at a forum organised by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. What was I doing when I was her age? Polishing my army boots and singing the "A-for-Alpha, B-for-Bravo" song on Pulau Tekong. Bleah.

I just received an invitation to appear on the Channel U Talk Show, "Shoot" 《有话就说》,hosted by Desmond Koh and Quan YiFeng . You might have seen it on TV before - it's quite good. They usually film it live in some public place (like a coffeeshop or a shopping centre) - and anyone in the crowd can just come forward and pose questions to the speakers. So the show has quite a raw, authentic and spontaneous feel.

Their next episode is about the freedom of speech. They want to discuss PM Lee's National Day rally speech - the part about the government's plans to engage with the people via the Internet. I am supposed to talk about Mr Brown's case and share my views on how much room Singaporeans really have to express their views.

Unfortunately, I had to decline this invitation. My spoken Mandarin is not great and apart from embarrassing myself, I would be doing the show an injustice. And I happen to know that Yawning Bread's Mandarin is even worse than mine, haha. I did however nominate Loy Hui Chieh from Singapore Angle. He used to spout abundant amounts of 成语 and 俗语 on his old blog, so I presume he must be quite fluent in Mandarin.
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14 September 2006

The Story Goes On and On ...

... and on and on:
ST Sep 14, 2006
World Bank hopes S'pore objection to activists not censorship

THE head of the World Bank said he hopes that Singapore's decision to prevent some activists from attending the IMF-World Bank meetings is not a case of censorship.

Singapore's position on 28 activists has drawn criticism from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Singapore authorities said these activists posed a threat to security.

Officials at the two institutions have said the ban may be in breach of an agreement.

'I certainly hope their opinions are not the reason they have been excluded,' World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz told a forum of civil society groups on Thursday.

'Their opinions are critical to our institution. It's all the more reason we need to hear them. 'If this is censorship based on people's views then this is even more serious,' he said.

He also said he had so far not received a 'satisfactory explanation' from authorities on the exclusion of some of the 500 pre-approved activists who planned to come to Singapore ...
The Singapore authorities must be feeling pretty irritated with Paul Wolfowitz by now. Maybe instead of the Four Million Smiles project, they should have done something like Singaporean Seelan Palay's Four Hundred Frowns project.

Then again maybe not. I hear Seelan Palay has just been arrested.

In other news, Singabloodypore has other news you won't read about in the local mainstream media.

I have disabled the comment function for this post, so that no one can post any comments on this blog about the above sensitive matters and potentially get me in trouble. However, I have not disabled the Backlinks function. Feel free to post stuff on your own blog and link here. If your blog is Technorati-enabled, your post will show up as a Backlink on this post.

Ho Pin

In July, I wrote a post entitled "Politicians' Blogs". In it, I compared two blogs - the first by the Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono, and the second by PAP Member of Parliament Teo Ho Pin. Basically, I concluded that Ho Pin's blog was disappointing.

Today - well, see what happened. I wonder if this has anything to do with me. Did I just chase the PAP off the Internet?

13 September 2006

The Three B's

Foreign Affairs Minister BG George Yeo just used the word "balls" in his blog post. "Balls", as in "testicles". Heheh. I don't know about you, but I like this. The man is loosening up. I see this as a positive sign:
"What are the 3 B's? They are Brains, Balls and Breaks.

Brains - well, it always helps if one is smart, alert and able to spot trends. One also needs a sense of social situations. We need both IQ and EQ.

Then you need Balls. Guts, the courage to take calculated risks and persistence. Balls without brains is dangerous. Brains without balls doesn't get you very far...."
More here.

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One Chap's Story

Do Singaporean men really decide to leave Singapore for good, because of NS? See for yourself.
UPDATE: The link is broken; the post has been removed; but the chap in question, TakChek, explains why, in the Comment section below.

11 September 2006

Rethinking NS - Part 2

UPDATE 14 September 2006: I've been informed that this post (or an earlier version of it) has been forwarded to Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean via the Government Feedback Unit. Or something like that.

NS is a provocative issue. So is foreign talent. Link the two, as I did here, and what we get is a passionate flurry of readers' responses. All good and well, but as in all passionate debates, people can get a little hasty and muddle up their own thinking.

So I begin by explaining my basic premises again. It is an ongoing policy objective for MINDEF "to make our NSmen feel appreciated for their contributions to National Defence". That policy objective came into existence long before "foreign talent" ever became topical. The question is how well MINDEF is succeeding with its policy objective today.

The new and major challenge for this old MINDEF objective is the foreign talent policy. Increasingly, Singaporeans are angry and dissatisfied because:

1. NS compels them to make heavy personal sacrifices;
2. foreigners in Singapore enjoy the benefits of these sacrifices;
3. foreigners in Singapore do not have to make such sacrifices themselves;
4. there are, and will be, more and more foreigners in Singapore; and
5. NSmen, in their civilian lives, are disadvantaged by having to compete with these foreigners who need not make these sacrifices.

Next, we need to make some basic assumptions to simplify the matter. We assume that:

(A) NS is necessary;
(B) Singapore needs its foreigners;
(C) the government cares about Singaporeans' inequitable situation;
(D) the government wants to manage Singaporeans' dissatisfaction.

All four assumptions are questionable. But since I am a blogger, not an author of thick books, I make these assumptions and move on. Some suggestions I have to improve the situation are:

Increase NSFs' pay. Following the fine example of our ministers and their salaries, NSFs salaries should be pegged to market rates. While the exact salary of an NSF would vary with his rank and vocation, NSF salaries in general should be pegged to the salaries they would be drawing, if they were not serving NS.

For example, assuming that the majority of NSFs are polytechnic grads, NSF salaries could be pegged to the starting salary of fresh polytechnic grads. Depending on the defence budget, the NSF's pay could be pegged to, say, 100%, 85% or 65% of a poly grad's pay.

The obvious argument against this suggestion is that the cost is too high. However, what we must recognise is that the loss already exists. Each year, about 36,000 NSFs (my estimate) and their families are already suffering financial loss. The loss is the money that the NSFs would be earning, if they were not serving NS.

The question then arises - who should bear the loss? Under our current system, the NSFs (and their families) bear the loss. However, the benefits of NS are for the entire state. Thus my view is that the loss should be transferred to the government, and indirectly to all taxpayers (instead of being borne by the NSFs themselves).

NS for University Admission. In recent years, universities in Singapore have broadened their selection criteria beyond academic grades. For example, in deciding whether to admit an applicant, the university may give consideration to his achievements in non-scholastic areas, such as sports or music or volunteer work.

I think that MINDEF should encourage local universities to give similar recognition to NSFs' military performance. As things currently stand, the university will favour the applications of students who, in junior college:

(1) learned to fire an air rifle at static target boards;
(2) were class chairmen; or
(3) organised the college fun fair;
(3) went overseas to Taiwan for language immersion programmes.

It seems ridiculous that the university would not similarly favour the applications of NSFs who, during NS:

(1) learned to fire missiles to destroy enemy naval vessels;
(2) were section or platoon commanders;
(3) organised a 500-man combat mission; or
(3) went overseas to Taiwan for full-scale live-firing military exercises.

SAF personnel administrative systems need to change such that NSFs leave the SAF with a Certificate of Service which does not merely say that they aren't liable for AWOL offences any more. Like a "School Leaving Certificate", the SAF Certificate of Service should properly reflect what the NSF had been doing in the past two years.

(And if the girls complain of unfairness, then they, like the boys, can take two years off from pursuing their studies, and go spend those two years pursuing achievements in sports or music or volunteer work.)

Insurance Benefits. I have heard stories about how the SAF compensates the family with a few thousand dollars, when an NSF dies in a training accident. That's like an insult. I cannot substantiate these stories - they are more hearsay and rumour than anything else. But I think few of us would really be surprised to learn that the SAF pays little, if an NSF suffers death or serious injury as a result of military training.

Singapore forces its young men into military service, which in turn necessarily entails some degree of risk of death or injury. It is bizarre to me that the SAF has no standard insurance plan in place for NSFs. I think that it is only reasonable that the SAF buys life, disability and personal accident insurance for NSFs (at least for those in combat vocations, and for something significantly more than a few thousand dollars). In fact, the coverage should extend to active NSmen as well. As a fringe benefit, NSmen should have the option of continuing with the coverage (and paying for it themselves), when their NS liability is completed.

These measures would show that the SAF has the welfare of NSmen and NSFs at heart (I have to make that assumption, of course) and also serves the very real purpose of protecting the individual financially. The other significant side benefit is that the SAF will have an added incentive to maintain high safety standards (otherwise the occurrence of training accidents will drive insurance premiums upwards over time - costing MINDEF more money). Personally, I have a poor impression of the SAF's safety record.

Making NS a Worthwhile Experience. Many Singaporeans feel that NS was a heavy personal sacrifice, because they got little out of it. A common perception is that NS was basically a waste of their time - it was not a meaningful experience. What's meaningful will vary from individual from individual. But to quote a real-life individual, Victor, as one example:
"I am a 100% true blue Singaporean;
I wanted to serve, but they didn't want me the way I wanted it to be;
I wanted to pull the trigger of a rifle, but they made me push a pen instead;
I wanted to march with soldiers, but I ended up fraternizing with CMPB SAF girls instead.

- From a 50-year old who was base-employed not by choice. (But I guess it is still better than moving flower pots.)"
Some Singaporeans would be delighted to get a desk job in NS. But it is also easy to understand why some other people who spent two years of their lives filing documents, typing letters and making coffee for their superiors in the SAF might regard their NS experience as meaningless. Victor is grateful for at least one thing - things could have been worse. His fate could have been as an SAF flower-pot mover for events like the IMF/World Bank conference.

What if things were different? What if more Singaporeans found their NS experience to be meaningful, exciting, interesting, rewarding, personally fulfilling ....? I feel that it is important that the SAF make some attempt at channelling NSFs into vocations that:

(1) they are likely to enjoy (or at least to hate less);
(2) they may possibly acquire some relevant working experience;
(3) tap their individual strengths and abilities.

The process is straightforward. At the pre-enlistment stage, or in the early months of NS, the SAF can provide NSFs with basic information about different types of vocations. NSFs can then rank their preferences, and briefly state why they have such preferences. Wherever feasible, they are posted to their preferred vocations.

This would be heavily subject to operational requirements, of course. NS is to fulfill the nation's defence needs, not the individual's preferences. On the other hand, if individuals get to go where they want to go in the SAF, then overall, they are likely to find their NS a more worthwhile experience, and the SAF is more likely to benefit from having more motivated servicemen.

Currently, in some very limited ways, the SAF does take into account NSFs' preferences and strengths. NSFs with prior training in karate are, for example, often selected to be instructors in unarmed combat. BMT recruits are specifically asked if they would like to go to OCS. But overall, these ways of tapping NSFs and NSmen are still very limited.

I would suggest a system which is much more broadly based. Some Singaporeans do long for the challenge of the really gruelling vocations like the Commandos - if that is what they want, why not let them do it. Singaporeans who aspire to work in the healthcare industry may be interested to be medics; Singaporeans who studied mechanical engineering in poly may have a preference for vocations involving heavy military equipment like artillery or tanks. From the SAF perspective, if you already have a motorcycle licence, it is more sensible to make you a scout than a sniper; if you already have a Diploma in Nautical Studies from the Singapore Polytechnic, it would be more sensible to send you to the Navy than the Air Force. These are just some examples.

Yes, there are operational constraints in giving everyone what they want. But if out of 18,000 recruits a year, 3,000 get to go where they want to go, then I think we have achieved great success.

That's all I have, for Part 2. I will share more ideas in "Rethinking NS - Part 3".

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10 September 2006

The Protest Against No Protest

I know that many readers are waiting for "Rethinking NS - Part 2". They will have to wait a little longer. Tonight I'm blogging about the IMF/World Bank conference which starts tomorrow in Suntec City.

Back in July, I mentioned that the Singapore government planned not to allow anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations to take place (except in certain prescribed indoor areas). I also said that the IMF and World Bank were unhappy about this - for they welcome the active participation of civil society in their matters . To recap, here's what a World Bank representative said:
'While we recognise the desire of the Government to provide space for civil society within the conference precinct, we believe that other options could give civil society representatives more space and more opportunity to express their views, without violating Singapore laws,' Mr Stephens wrote.

'Effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that their Annual Meetings are a success'.
Well, the matter has since worsened somewhat. The Intelligent Singaporean provides the relevant links. Here's an excerpt from the very respectable Financial Times, to give you a flavour of the current situation:
IMF and World Bank rebuke Singapore
By John Burton in Singapore and Shawn Donnan in Jakarta
Published: September 8 2006 13:16

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank on Friday issued an unprecedented rebuke to Singapore over a ban on accredited activists invited to attend the annual meetings of the two financial institutions next week.

The IMF/World Bank suggested that Singapore had violated the terms of its agreement to host the event by blocking the entry of 19 civil society representatives, who allegedly posed a security threat.
Sounds nasty, doesn't it? So much for the Four Million Smiles project. It looks like out of this whole IMF/World Bank event, Singapore has succeeded in creating a bad reputation for itself - even before the event actually gets started.

I wonder if it would have been better for Singapore not to host this event at all. Singapore's views on civil society are way out of sync with those in other developed countries - we knew that already. But now our backwardness is now being highlighted all over the international press, in a most embarrassing manner. We wanted a high profile, and now we're getting it - for all the wrong reasons.

I am not completely unsympathetic towards the Singapore government's security concerns over the World Bank/IMF event. But if the World Bank/IMF event is such a hot potato, then perhaps the better decision would have been for Singapore to give it a skip.

Yes we want to be champion mice - but the world has many other international events which don't normally attract protests and demonstrations, and aren't natural magnets for terrorist attacks. Can't we focus on those?

And I'm not saying this, just because I happen to work in Suntec City.

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07 September 2006

BG Yeo's New Posts

After a slow start, BG Yeo is warming up. His posts are getting more interesting. I hope he keeps it up. Thank you, Lesley, for highlighting these: (1) Global Connectivity and Friendships, and (2) Goal Setting & NS.

Rethinking NS - Part 1

Recently, I had lunch with a lawyer. A foreigner who has been working for some years in Singapore. He has PR status now and has been offered citizenship a few times. He also has a very young son, about three years old. During lunch, he asked me point-blank to explain the NS system and how he could avoid his son having to do NS. The man is looking 15 years down the road and calculating his options.

This would anger many Singaporeans. But I think that the anger is misdirected. Everyone wants to do the best thing for himself and his family. Given the choice, 99% of Singaporeans would avoid NS too. So the FTs aren't doing anything that you wouldn't do, if you could. If you feel angry, blaming the government seems more logical than blaming the FTs.

The state is not the individual. The individual is not the state. That seems too obvious to require stating. Yet the speeches of our politicians regularly conflate the two and confuse the masses. "This is for the good of Singapore," our leaders say, announcing some new awful policy. Three questions arise. One - if it's good for Singapore, does it mean it's good for you? Two - if it's good for Singapore but bad for you, shouldn't you be concerned? Three - what on earth is this abstract notion called Singapore, anyway?

Question 3 isn't a daft question. It's pretty profound, actually. Is a nation - any nation - worth loving? Today, however, I have no mood for existential meanderings and so I'll just leave you with a link - here. Back in 2002, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's children were probably too young to be dishonest.

Back to my lawyer friend. What was my reply? I said: "It's useless to think too much about it now. Between now and then, the government's NS policies will probably change again." Fifteen years, after all, is a long time. Last year alone, we saw two big changes in NS policy - full-time NS liability being reduced, and in-camp training also getting cut. Who knows what the future brings?

If I had to guess, I would say that NS liability will be further reduced in the future. But it won't vanish tomorrow. In the meantime, the government presses ahead with its foreign talent imports, and Singaporeans continue to be angry and disadvantaged. NS is the single largest cause of Singaporeans' anger with the government's FT policies (and for good reason). If I were the government (and actually cared), what would I do?

I would implement ideas and policies to reduce the disadvantages of NS. No, being Mr Wang, I wouldn't stop there. I would implement ideas and policies to make serving NS advantageous. This is the most direct way of managing Singaporeans' dissatisfaction with NS. It is certainly a more concrete and more sincere approach than just pulling the revered MM Lee out to make pretty speeches every now and then about the wonders of FT (see today's Straits Times, for example).

If the government can spare $1,000,000,000 to build two durians (the Esplanade) to make life in Singapore more interesting for foreign talents, I don't see why they can't afford to make NS a worthwhile experience for Singaporeans. In a subsequent post, I will make some concrete suggestions as to how this could be done.

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04 September 2006

The Adventures of BG George Yeo

Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo has ventured into the blogosphere. He appears as a guest writer on local blogger Ephraim Loy's blog. I visited Ephraim's blog and was a bit disappointed. But never mind, it's a start, and that counts for something. I left a long comment on Ephraim's blog as follows:
"Dear BG Yeo:

Congratulations for your brave little foray into the wild & woolly world of the Internet. Since PM Lee's rally speech, I have been waiting to see how the Singapore government will venture into the blogosphere and engage citizens in this space.

For a start, your first few posts are interesting. But my hope would be for you (or your minister colleagues) to write not so much about events in your/their personal life (eating kueh paiti; going to church etc), but about social, political, economic and legal issues that concern Singaporeans.

If you merely write about your personal life, I think you cannot compete successfully with the dazzling range of characters who inhabit the blogosphere, each with his or her own unique story to tell. PAP MP Penny Low might possibly have learned this, from her blog last year - it launched with more publicity than most blogs ever get, yet sank just as rapidly into obscurity. Occurrences like that don't do any good for PM Lee's newly-announced goal.

Why Singaporeans might be interested to read you or your colleagues' blog posts is because you are politicians and ministers. In turn, this means that they are interested to read what you have to say, as politicians and ministers. For example, they would be interested to hear what you, as Foreign Affairs Minister, have to say about Singapore's foreign affairs.

Furthermore they are interested to hear it in your own voice. Here I am not referring to podcasts, online videos and the like which MICA and PM Lee seems so distracted by - these are mere technological toys. When I say voice, I mean your unique personality - the real George behind the title BG Yeo, honest; authentic; human; a little raw; unedited.

That's the way we like it.

Otherwise we might as well read the Straits Times.

(I meant that in a bad way, in case you didn't get it).

Thank you for reading this far. I know your time is precious. A final note - as a ministerial blogging model for you (or your colleagues) to think about, I suggest you visit this (if you haven't already):


I think the name should be familiar. Good day."
Juwono Sudarsono is Indonesia's Defence Minister. I previously blogged about him here.

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03 September 2006

No Laughing Matter

ST Sep 3, 2006
It's not funny, says Mindef
Apart from security and safety concerns, others also find videos offensive

By Jeremy Au Yong

TWO uniformed Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers stand in a jungle clearing on either side of a dirt path. One raises his rifle - loaded with blanks - and shoots his compatriot. The soldier retaliates, draws his parang and rushes at his assailant. More shots are fired and the parang-wielding soldier falls. Both break out laughing.

That sequence of events was captured on video - probably with a camera phone - and posted on the popular video-sharing website Youtube.com. Since July, the 15-second video has been viewed nearly 3,000 times.

The clip, though mere entertainment to the layman, represents a security breach for the army. The act of pointing a rifle at a comrade and pulling the trigger, filmed or not, is against Ministry of Defence (Mindef) rules. The fact that it was recorded in camp, where cameras are not permitted, and subsequently released on the Net makes it that much worse.

To top it off, the machine gun clip is not the only one making the rounds online. A search at Youtube.com using the keywords 'Singapore' and 'Army' turns up 44 clips, most of which were uploaded in the last six months.

While not all videos are as blatant as the shooting clip, some tread on thin ice.

One video shows a group of men, one of them in army threads, holding a mock National Day Parade in a locker room. The parade commander in this skit uses an umbrella as a sword while the guard wears a box on his head. Towards the end of the clip, a man is wheeled out on a large dumpster as he salutes his fellow actors. The National Anthem plays in the background.

Another video has an NSman pinned to the ground as his peers try to cover him in shoe polish, while yet another shows men on guard duty at night fooling around with a video camera before supposedly spotting a ghost.

Each video has attracted thousands of viewers. The clip depicting the ragging incident, for example, has been viewed about 8,500 times since April 29.

Mindef naturally takes a dim view.

Its director of public affairs, Colonel Benedict Lim, said servicemen are not allowed to carry video cameras, cameras or phones with cameras into SAF camps and training areas.

'We regularly educate our servicemen on the security implications of such actions and remind them of the guidelines. We have taken disciplinary action against servicemen who were found breaching security regulations,' he said.

Mindef has since taken action against the men in the four videos found breaking the rules. The online clips, however, were still accessible yesterday.

The emergence of video-sharing sites like Youtube.com and the fact that nearly every phone now comes with a camera mean organisations have to deal with a whole new level of security risk.


Ms Indranee Rajah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, also criticised the people who posted these videos for their effect on the army's reputation.

'It is one thing to do silly things in the confines of a camp or barracks with no one to see you but your platoon mates. It is quite another thing to capture those acts of silliness in a permanent record and share them with the world at large, because it negatively affects the image of the SAF,' she said.

The bottom line, she said, is that NSmen need to discern for themselves what is appropriate for the Internet and what is not.

The above article immediately reminded me of the SAF's golden rule. Every NSman knows this rule - it is one of the earliest things they tell you in the SAF - but it is not written down anywhere. The rule is - "Everything is allowed, as long as you don't get caught."

These NSmen got caught. I understand Indranee Rajah's point of view, but at the same time I feel that her opinion is somewhat removed from actual reality. Somehow she has the expectation that NSmen understand public relations or corporate communications and ought to care or know about the potential reputational risks for the SAF if videos of their everyday life are posted on the Internet.

The truth is that our NSmen enter the SAF at the age of 18. They're teenagers. Some, at that age, are smart, sensible and mature. Others are not - and this shouldn't surprise us. It's just the stage of life they're at. A couple of months ago, they were throwing paper balls at teachers, or colouring their hair red or bravely learning to gulp down their first beer. And now they happen to be in the army, through no choice of their own. They do not know how to worry about "negative effects on the image of the SAF".

I'm just afraid that those NSmen being punished for the Youtube incidents will face some disproportionate amount of punishment. Knowing what the SAF is like, I wouldn't be surprised if they are slapped with the same kind of charges that a solder would be slapped with, if he deliberately threatened someone with a rifle; burned the national flag or intentionally leaked a significant military secret.

And that would be very sad - these NSmen were just clowning around and now they probably face jail time in the detention barracks and their respective futures will be stained with the equivalent of a criminal conviction.

Sometimes I wonder whether we will ever learn to laugh a little at ourselves. The US military is the world's most powerful force - it also comprises mainly professional soldiers, not unwilling conscripts. Yet the existence of Beetle Bailey, a cartoon strip featuring assorted stupid, malingering or otherwise inept soldiers in the US army, was tolerated through the decades. It's easily one of the most popular cartoon strips of all time.


In case you believe that Beetle Bailey was for some reason a very special exception to the rule, click here. You'll see a selection of professional soldiers (including one retired soldier who retired as a Navy Chief) who also make a living drawing cartoons about military life. Not in Singapore, of course.

Personally, I think that the ST article exaggerates the reputational damage that the SAF stands to suffer, from these Youtube incidents. The authorities still don't get it - the SAF is a conscript army; and every able-bodied male Singaporean goes through it. There's no image to defend or portray, because all of us Singaporean men already know, from firsthand experience, what the SAF is like. If the ladies want to know, they can just ask their father, brother, uncle, boyfriend or husband.

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02 September 2006

The MSM Smiles Bravely

I had mentioned that the Straits Times recently interviewed me. They had wanted to do yet another story about MSM versus alternative media. The story appears in two articles today - on the Prime News and the Insight pages.

The articles were rather .... boring. No, I'm not being mean. Just expressing my opinion. Go read for yourself. If you don't have the ST, click here.

In a nutshell - global newspaper readership has been falling. The cause is often said to be alternative media. The two ST articles look at the international situation as well as the Singapore context. Conclusion - Singapore's MSM is going strong; it's trustworthy, professional and intelligent; it will thrive and live happily ever after.

Heheh. Well, we all gotta do our part to say the right things and keep the company's share price up.

Personally, I'm getting a bit jaded with all these newspaper articles about their own fates and futures. Every industry in the world has its own challenges - why does the media industry keep yakking about its own? All this self-absorbed, navel-gazing behaviour is what they used to accuse bloggers of.

On a separate point, time is precious and we all suffer from information overload. On any given day, newspapers carry a lot of news that we don't need to know.

As the world becomes more specialised, people increasingly want information relating to their own very specific concerns. And not merely information which a newspaper editor thinks is newsworthy.

The next thing is that people want information when they want it. Not when the MSM happens to provide it (and who knows when that might be?).

Also, people do not merely want information - they want expert information from authoritative sources. For instance, if you want to know more about the IMF/World Bank, why listen to what the Straits Times has to say? You can go straight to the IMF/World Bank websites yourself.

Technology enables companies, governments and organisations of all kinds to quickly put a lot of current information out on the Internet. Technology enables individuals who want that information to find it quickly.

Somewhere in that equation, the MSM got lost. In the international context, that's really their biggest problem. Not blogs.

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