Monday, January 19, 2015

The Pope's Speech

Pope Francis famously made the point that he'd punch a person who insults his mother. This is a very human and natural reaction. But it is not clear that this is an equal response - one that fits the "crime". The Muslim terrorists who killed the 12 staff of Charlie Hebdo and shot two police officers - one, a fellow Muslim brother, at point blank, certainly did not do so because their mothers had been insulted, but their Prophet. It was a heinous assassination, one that, sadly, many Muslims around the world applaud, whether quietly, or quite publicly. And that's the problem. While certain Muslim leaders stand up to condemn the action, many unknown more raise their figurative glasses (guns if they had one) in utter approval and satisfaction that their Prophet's name and honour have been defended so emphatically.

Pope Francis was making the point that we must be careful what we say or otherwise face the consequence. Unfortunately, some will read that as justification for the assassinations, and can expect more in future. As some have observed, that was not Pope Francis' finest impromptu "speech". After all, wasn't it Jesus who taught to turn the other cheek, to forgive our enemies? The King James Bible puts this very eloquently::

But I (Jesus) say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you...

God can take care of his own honour.

A person once remarked that Islam is a vicious religion. Whether we agree with that or not is obviously our personal view. But I think, in the light of the Charlie Hebdo killings and the aftermath, that many are silently agreeing with this assessment. Silently because otherwise, these innocent people will be next on the target list. The terrorists will not allow their Prophet to be talked about negatively. But they cannot prevent people to think so silently.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Je suis Charlie

It happened almost half a world away, but on reflection, could have happened in my own backyard. The tentacles of Islamic extremism knows no bounds. It purportedly crusades in the name of Allah, but kills Allah's believers nevertheless. They may refer to this as collateral damage. How flippant. It has been more than 13 years since 911, two wars and countless terrorism acts, yet Islamist jihadists remain uncowed and unbeaten. This doesn't mean that its cause is right and sacred. It does mean that this world remains a dangerous place and Islam can never regain its glory days, not with so much hatred in its midst. Change can only come from within, but there has not been any action except the obligatory verbal condemnation. More needs to be done. Over to you.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Problem with Dengue

Compassvale Road, in Sengkang, has been identified as a Dengue cluster. We have been told, through print, web and TV media, to do the mozzie wipeout, and exhorted to anything and everything to prevent mosquitos from breeding. Yet, we have this potential monster of a breeding ground just next to an identified cluster.

Picture taken on 20 July 2014, from the overhead bridge near Kopitiam Square
After (right now):
Picture taken on 2 August 2014. from the overhead bridge near Kopitiam Square

Picture taken on 2 August 2014. Kopitiam Square is at the back.

The tented event is over, everyone has gone home. Now the mosquitos can move in? Its really a waste of everyone's time and effort getting into the wipeout mode when the civil authorities (Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council?) may be part of the problem in the first place. This place hosted a similar tented event earlier, the damage of which has not healed completely (left side of the picture). Shouldn't they have insisted on a complete restoration of the grounds before even allowing for another event to take place?

P.S. This field is located behind Compass Point, Sengkang, just next to the Compassvale dengue cluster:

Source: Retrieved 2 August 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

An own goal

Here are a few truisms (aphorisms): The armed forces of a country defends its country. Funding of the armed forces of a country is derived from taxes. Taxes originate from the country's tax-paying residents. Residents are protected by the country's armed forces.

So I was surprised and somewhat disturbed by a report online that revealed that 2 doctor-inventors, apparently citizens of Singapore, had given up their legal fight over intellectual property rights they claimed over an app (Mobile First Aid Post) with Singapore's Ministry of Defense (Mindef). According to one of these inventors, the reason for giving up was that they did not have enough money to continue the legal action. If this were true, it is disturbing fact indeed. It is claimed that Mindef had "three sets of lawyers" and that in a war of attrition, these inventors couldn't win, and perhaps even if they did win, it would be a pyrrhic one.

The thing I find disturbing is why would Mindef, a public institution that exists at the pleasure of the electorate, and funded entirely by tax payers, could find it necessary to engage an army of lawyers to defend itself? What is the justification for this? Yes, the case might involve IP issues across different countries, but is it that complex as to warrant the legal firepower employed? I am not siding with one or the other party in the case. I do not know enough beyond what has been reported about the case.

But I am concerned about why, as a taxpayer, so much of my money is being spent on this legal tussle, and against its own taxpayers - people who feed it, at that. Mind-boggling sometimes, the things that go on.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Honk honk

Just what is wrong with some drivers in Singapore anyway? They act like they own the road, and if you give them a plane, they'd likely feel, and yes, act like they own the skies too. So what is the reason for this rant? After all, Singapore drivers, or at least enough of them, have been known to be an impatient lot. Well I got a taste of that today.

You see, I was crossing the path that leads into a carpark in a building. It was a small entrance, no barrier and good only for a car to enter at any one time. The width of the passage (I wouldn't even call it a road) was so narrow, about 4 strides wide, that one could be forgiven to miss it as a passageway for cars. As I was crossing it, a car honked at me. It was obviously attempting to drive into the pathway into the building. I was obviously annoyed, and would have thrown a rotten egg at it if I had one then. However under the circumstance, restraint is the better part of valor and I let it pass. But I got to wondering why the driver can't even overlook an obvious unintentional instance  of "trespass". No, let me correct that. I wasn't trespassing. I was just using a public facility. The road didn't belong to me, nor for that matter, to the driver of the car. So what right had he/she to honk his/her horn at me? Absolutely no right of way nor right of reason. In fact the driver can be accused of threatening a member of the public. What if I had not heeded that horn? If we follow the logic, he/she would have to get out of the car to take physical action - a threat if ever there was one. If you think I am exaggerating, then think again. What good would honking at me accomplish anyway? The only rational reason I can think of is the driver just takes pleasure in shocking and frightening me. Now why would anyone do that? I wasn't threatening the driver in any anyway, nor obstructing him/her, intentionally. In any case, it would take me at most 4 seconds to cross the path. Can't wait? Must fight? Easy to act thus when you are behind the wheel. Bloody coward.

Obviously courtesy, kindness, graciousness, consideration are not part of the driver's vocabulary, nor mental makeup. They say what goes around comes around. Let the driver beware that the same medicine will be doled out to him/her one day.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Buy rent marry

Minister Khaw Boon Wan has made me feel young again. In a blog post on Boxing Day 2013, he admits to being outdated, that his assumption that people get married first and then get a home is no longer valid. Instead he appears to have been caught off-guard when told by his YOUNG Sembawang activists, that Singaporeans now buy an apartment first before getting married. I don't know how young his young activists are, but this is certainly not news to me. I have been married 21 years. I remember that one of the first things I proposed to my fiancee (now my wife) was to put in an application for a HDB apartment. It was like dowry, except that it is shared by the couple - both fork out their CPF monies.  Marrying and renting just wasn't "on the cards" for us. We were young, just starting out on our careers, and didn't make a pile of disposable cash. So every dollar was valuable, which we would rather put away for tomorrow than spend it today. And so it was for my generation then. The received wisdom then was to head on over the HDB, not the ROM, to get married. And that was more than 20 years ago. At that time, Singapore was not exactly awashed with available HDB apartments. I had to ballot for mine.

So I was amused when Minister Khaw reported his ignorance. I wonder how young his "young activists" are. Is this another case of being fed the wrong and/or outdated information from the ground or being out of touch in the first place, or perhaps both?

Yes, I agree with Minister Khaw that couples, while waiting for their flats could get married, rent an apartment, get a head start in making babies, and then move into their newly minted HDB BTO (whatever) castle. But the argument against this has always been that the money spent on "non-recoverable" rental could have gone into payment for/investing in a HDB apartment, so why spend when you can invest, right? This was exactly what my fiancee and I thought when we embarked on our marital journey more than 20 years ago. From the wisdom of the young activists I see that nothing much has changed all these many years.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Murky Broth

Of late, for every 10 SMS messages that I have received, 8 o f then begins with the qualifier <ADV>. Needless to say, I have become very annoyed with these unsolicited messages. SMS is not like Email. Its something that you would want to check in on because it is more immediate and the person who sends it probably wants to get your immediate attention. Nowadays when I fish out my phone to check my SMS, I often only do one thing - delete the SMS. Its ridiculous. I have to pay to receive something that I never asked for. Some might even call this cheating. Its really getting on my nerves, the same reason why I NEVER answer my handphone calls when the number is one I do not recognise. Experience tells me that 10/10, that call is a telemarketing call, or a call to sell my house, or someone suggesting that I protect myself, my family, my house, my car, and yes, even my dog. Now I have nothing against people selling insurance. They perform a vital advisory service and I have benefitted from such advice. If on the off chance it is a call from someone I know, that person will call back. But this SMS spam is not so easy to deal with. You don't have spam filters that email systems have that will send them to the trash bin immediately. You become a virtual hostage to unwanted and uncalled for messages. But what is upsetting is that  it appears to have the blessings of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC). As far as I can tell, everyone except the self-interested stakeholder businesses are up in arms and crying foul.

The point is that the PDPC, as CASE puts it, "has back-pedalled and diluted the intention of the DNC (Do Not Call) registry". The PDPC has now allowed for SMS and Fax messages sent by businesses, or whatever entity, to bypass the DNC restrictions so long as there is an "ongoing relationship" between the business and its customers. How does one define "ongoing relationship" anyway? If we adopt the PDPC's understanding of the term, it can be used to define ANY number of transactions between a business and it customers, even "one-night stands". It will be no stretch of the imagination that a business can stalk a customer simply because the PDPC has given its blessings. The PDPC says that an organisation that breach any of the data protection provisions in the PDPA may be liable for a financial penalty of an amount not exceeding $1m. But how can such violation be proved and acted upon if the exceptions and exemptions can be made post-PDPA?

I am in no way suggesting that businesses that engage in direct marketing be banned. By all means communicate with your customers in whatever way that customer chooses provided that he has explicitly and clearly given consent. Now, anything beyond that is ambiguous, and laws are not meant to be ambiguous, are they? It appears that in Singapore, when the government jumps into bed with businesses, a murky broth can surface, to the extreme discomfort of the people to whom it has given its word to care and protect.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I want curry

Friends, Singaporeans, countrymen (and that includes countrywomen), lend me your ears. I write not to bury the dying but to comment on those who would seek to muzzle the tongue. I speak, of course, of the Breakfast Network (BN) ceasing to publish because it does not want to play ball with the Media Development Authority's (MDA) requirement for it to register itself. This, so I read, includes the onerous task of filling up a registration form. But more than this, the Breakfast Network, if appears, refuses to list its group of editors and occasional writers (this last was corrected by the MDA as not a requirement) by name. We learn that by refusing to comply, they will have to shut their doors,, including their Facebook page.

Ms Bertha Henson, who appears to be helming the BN, is not unknown in the journalistic circles in Singapore. According to her bio that can still be found online, she has been with Singapore Press Holdings since 1986, holding various positions such as Acting Editor of the New Paper and editor in  charge of journalism training programmes of English and Malay papers.. I don't personally know her, but her body of work suggests that she is no lightweight in journalism circles in Singapore.

Thus it came as a surprise that the erstwhile  establishment figure is now fighting a battle with the media supremos in Singapore. For now, she appears to have given up the fight. When a hundred pound gorilla wants to block your way, you don't rush head-on. You'd only damage your brain, with nothing much else to show for it. This is the first time I have heard of this altercation, and about the Breakfast Network. So I do not know if the BN will spout nonsense, or offer a credible voice on and about Singapore. I don't even know if it will be aligned with the powers that be, or the ones on the other side of the political divide, or even be a fence sitter. But one thing is certain - it operates within the sphere of social political commentary and she has written about things that may have caused the authorities to squirm in their seats. You see, the authorities don't like to squirm, if they can help it. In any case, a voice has been silenced. The MDA insists that it is not muzzling the voice of Singaporeans. It says that so long as certain rules are complied with, you can proceed to put out commentary and write about Singapore all you want - short of defaming people and engaging in too much negativity that may cause foreigners to think that Singapore is going to the dogs.

Now if Ms Henson had just restricted her website to issues of cooking in the kitchen, she would have been able to spew some oil and add some spice and honey when discussing her cooking in the kitchen. Then we can all have a party.

See: Media bias

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reflective Glass

Singapore is amazing. There is perhaps no other country on earth where the response  to a major riot on its streets is a call for restraint and reflection on what Singaporeans could have done better to prevent such violent behavior. After all no Singaporean deliberately provoked the Indian foreigners to bring out such violent behavior. Yet some are earnestly suggesting that Singapore could have done more to integrate them into our society, to our way of life, our docility even. We cannot understand why these foreigners reacted so violently for after all, they would have been in Singapore long enough to appreciate that we don't settle grudges this way. We defer to the law and the courts but more often than not, we talk things out. Sure there are people who will resort to violence, but on this scale? We don't fight on the streets or otherwise cause trouble. Those who do know that they will be courting trouble with the authorities. This is probably why Singapore has not had a street riot in more than 40 years.

Yes, Singapore will, and has thrown the book at the perpetrators of this riotous disturbance, but at the same time, it is willing to look into this issue more deeply to discover the underlying reasons for this behaviour, which included the willful act of destroying police vehicles, an ambulance and fire truck. Were the police action too provocative? Judging from the large numbers of policemen that were injured one would have thought that the police was not tough enough. Yet that is one of the things that are being discussed, not how long a jail sentence the rioters will likely end up with, or if they will be caned. Many speculate that they will be deported. Perhaps Singaporeans prefer not to speculate for we have been told more than once that the case is before the Courts so we should not comment or speculate.

Singaporeans have a right to be angry but most of us are in a more reflective mood. Perhaps this is just as well and, true to our nature, we will talk, discuss and analyse, and then move on to the next incident. We don't really like to demonstrate on the streets, unlike a neighbouring country, where you wonder what the people do for a living besides march on the streets.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wisdom of the ages

Mr Hri Kumar, erstwhile MP for the Group Representative Constituency (GRC) of Bishan-Toa Payoh insists that the Workers Party make clear its stand on the issue of Muslims wearing the tudung. He claim!s that the PAP is clear on this, that it has taken a clear stand. He accuses the WP of avoiding taking a clear position on the issue. I don't think there is anything wrong with this stance. After all, they are practising the wisdom of the ages:

"A politician is an animal who can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears on the ground" - H.L. Mencken

"Practical politics consists of ignoring facts" - Henry Brooks Adams

"A politician should have three hats. One for throwing into the ring, one for talking through,  and one to pull rabbits out of if elected" - Carl Sandberg

"Politics, n. Strife of interest masquerading as a contest of principles" - Ambrose  Bierce in the Devil's Dictionary.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bug off

There's the question whether 27,200 likes of a Facebook page that rejects Ashley Madison setting up shop in Singapore is representative of the majority of Singaporeans'  preferences. I would like to add one more vote (or like) for that Facebook page. But then again, whoever said that this issue is best settled in a one-man/woman-one vote way? When morals are allowed to be settled in this manner, there will be no end of social problems. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah.
I have come across many a broken home where the greatest victims are not the husband or the wife, but the children. It always pains me to feel the loss and confusion that a teenager suffers when his/her parents quarrel and/or separate. One of the most frequent problems I have witnessed is a child's loss of interest in his studies. And this despite the fact that the child is possessed of a good mind and has demonstrated brilliance in school, until parental conflict intervenes.
True, couples do not necessarily separate because of adultery, but it drives a wedge into a child's feelings of security, love and loyalty when his/her parents don't talk to each other anymore. How do you ask such a young person to choose, as he feels he must? Why should he have to choose? It isn't his fault after all, is it? He didn't asked to be born into that family.
So Ashley Madison, bug off. Go ply your ware elsewhere where people are foolish enough to believe in your warped logic and immoral business. You are not welcome in Singapore.

Face it

Is this the face of Anonymous a.k.a the Messiah?

Yes, he/she/it remains anonymous till today behind his/her/its bald pate.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Fighting a cause

I agree with the Messiah's cause, which is its opposition to the Singapore government's policy of requiring website owners that publishes news to post up a performance bond of $50,000 if the number of unique visitors to its website exceeds 50,000. This has the effect of muzzling independent publishers. How can the Singapore government hope to produce independent thinkers and doers with this wholly unenlightened policy? What, or who is it afraid of?

Having said this, I do not think that defacing the government's websites will cause a change in policy. nor is it the right thing to do because this strengthens the government's position that one cannot allow unfettered use of the internet media to push an agenda, which is what this law is for. Furthermore disrupting these websites will only prevent government employees to complete their jobs. Delays will only create a backlog of work and inconvenience people's access to services that some may depend on for their livelihood.

Bringing down websites, or disrupting their normal functioning is no different from breaking and entering a house and defacing the property. If the Messiah thinks that he/she is bringing salvation and freedom to internet users, I for one beg to differ. There are certainly other ways of making the point These alternatives may take a longer time to produce results, but like Nelson Mandela, reasonable people will agree with a sensible position, if not today then some time later.

Let us be civil and reasonable. Right thinking people who make poor decisions will realise the error of their policies and come around.  If they are not right thinking, they will likely be bumped off in the next General Elections. If nothing. the weight of reason and the force of history will convince them to repent, one day. In meantime, affected parties like Yahoo News may just have to pony up the cash and continue to report without fear of losing their money or favouring anyone. We look to such as these to carry the banner. For the rest of us, we just have to move off-shore with the belief that truth cannot long be muzzled by time, place or coercion.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How much is that again?

$2.80, $3, $3.20, and now $3.80. Taxi fares in Singapore have gone mad. So too the people who allow this state of affairs to carry on. What are these numbers, you ask? Those in Singapore who have boarded a taxi in the last month or so will know. Just 3 weeks ago, I boarded a cab and was taken aback when the meter read $3.80. I learnt later that taxi companies have decided unilaterally to impose an increase in flag down fares for newer models of it fleet of cars because of the extraordinary prices that these cars were acquired, no thanks to the COE system of buying a car in Singapore. An occasional taxi commuter wouldn't able to determine this type of taxis when they stick out their hands to flag for one traveling towards them. More often than not, they'd just have to pay the going rate because it is still quite difficult to get another taxi. From the consumer point of view, this whole system is blatantly unfair.
Today we insist on fair employment practices, but the powers that be seem happy to let this discriminatory taxi fare practice to take place. I believe all taxi flag down rates need to be approved by the authorities. But their stance is that taxi companies are free to set their rates because they are private enterprises, never mind that other private transport operators such as buses and trains do not have such discretion.
What riles me particularly is that you cannot pick and choose the cab you take in a queue. It appears that there is a gentleman's agreement among cab drivers that the cab in the front of the queue must be boarded first. The ones behind this cab will refuse to take you even though the reason why a commuter would want to do so is because the flag down fare is lower. The only way is to let others willing to pay the higher fare to board first until you get to the desired taxi. What if I am the only one in the queue?
And it is not as if the cab drivers are benefitting from this discriminatory pricing. They don't earn more as the rental of these newer cabs are higher. So who are making away with the increases? The taxi companies of course. But since they pay for the sky high COEs, the one which ultimately makes the money is the Government, no? We're already suffering from increasing costs. Why do the governed have to bear this cost, especially when those who take the cab likely do not own a car?
Fairness is not a hallmark of life in Singapore.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wayang wayang

In Singapore, we like to wayang. The latest show we want every business to put on is that they must show fairness in their recruitment advertisements. This means that the ads cannot contain words like 'fresh graduates', 'Permanent Residents', 'foreigners', 'women', etc. You just shouldn't, not can't, be too specific in who you are looking for. The exception is the word 'Singaporean'. Now this is allowed. It's the golden word. The mother of all words. I don't know what our HR professionals must be thinking. I for one think its ridiculous. Its plain and simple stupid. Even our highly educated senior government ministers are singing the same tune. I am calling this a wayang because you can don't use those words in the ads, but when the recruiter shortlists applicants for interviews, only specific people will be invited, no? Looked at another way, you are giving false hopes to people. The more job seekers do not get replies, the more demoralize they will get.

Thus this policy causes people to waste a lot of time writing in when they aren't suitable to start off with, and wasting recruiters' time having to sift through a larger than necessary pile of applications. The result will probably be no different from employers' original intentions anyway. I am sure we have something more meaningful and productive to occupy our minds.