Sunday, April 30, 2006

Election speak - 1

General Elections are about talking and persuading. So in the next week or so, there'll be lots of it. In the process, some will make brilliant speeches, other may utter nonsense and some will have freudain slips. Here, and in similarly titled blog entries over the next week or so, I will quote some quotable quotes from any and all candidates who make outstandingly ______ statements. You fill in the blanks based on your own opinion.

I have a lot of ideas. I have a dream like Martin Luther King did. I have a dream to make Singapore more democratic. Mr Syed Abu Bakar Alsagoff, 65

Dream on, Mr Syed, dream on...This must be the most un-original statement in these elections, so far.

If you have a flood, just carefully think who is more likely to get the drainage put right and have the flood alleviated as quickly as possible: A PAP candidate with links to the ministers and Prime Minister, or a non-PAP candidate who has become an MP, like in Potong Pasir or Hougang, and who has to manage on his own? Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Nomination Day 2006

Well, Sir, can you get your Ministers to look into the illegal parking of bicycles at the taxi stand in front of Compass Point. Its been like this for more than THREE years.

A "gan si dui" is better than a "pa si dui". Mr Low Thia Khiang on sending his young GRC team to contest PM Lee's GRC team in Ang Mo Kio GRC

Well said, Mr Low, well said. Failure is an option. Fear of failure is certainly not in the Worker's Party vocabulary. If they keep up this spirit, they may yet wrest a GRC or two someday. Why not on Saturday?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

3-cornered fight in Pasir-Ris Punggol

Apparently, there is a 3-cornered fight in the General Election for the Constituency of Pasir Ris Punggol. They are the People's Action Party (the Angelic Lightning Bolt Party), the Singapore Democratic Alliance (the Stars and Rings Party) and this:

They must be quite brazen. Calling themselves the Upside-down Power Action Party (UD-PAP), they even have the gall to copy feature for feature the logo of the incumbent Party in this Constituency. Another lawsuit perhaps? Things are getting hot in Pasir-Ris Punggol.

For those of you doubters, this is NOT a digitally-enhanced picture. This can be seen outside the entrance/exit of the Sengkang Bus Interchange (Sengkang Square), i.e. till it is 'right-sided'.

A Queueing we will go

Orderly QueueingIn Singapore, where shopping is a national pastime, you'd would often see people queueing at the entrances of certain shops that are giving away limited numbers of merchandise for a song. The last time, the furniture and home appliances retailer, Courts, was pricing some merchandise at 32c, so naturally, the queues formed before the store opened. After so much practice, Singaporeans have become great queuers, and they have taken this skill to the political arena.

For the General Elections, candidates need to book the grounds reserved for speech making and rallies. But only that many are set aside for this purpose by the authorities. In Single Member Constituencies, there is all of only one location set aside for such mass events. So I can understand when Opposition candidate, Mr Chiam See Tong, got his supporters to join the queue (actually head the queue because his supporters were the first in line on Wednesday though the bookings only open on Thursday). Everyone, including those candidates from the incumbent party, has to stand in line. Oh, what a great country this is, when the fields are so level. But when you think further, this orderly system is just a big fat waste of time.

Consider: In any one constituency, there is at most 3 parties contesting in the recent history of Singapore. Given 9 days of campaigning, isn't it easier just to draw lots among the parties? This way, each of the three parties will have at most 3 day/nights to hold their rallies - more than enough time to get their message across. If any party needs more days than that, then they should stop speaking nonsense. So why queue? Just draw lots. We should be taking the que from the IR coming our way, right?

Ok, so some days are hotter than others, especially the first and last days of campaigning. But drawing lots is still fair, isn't it? As even the MM would say, its the luck of the draw. But each party will still have enough opportunities to hold their mass rallies within the 9 days. With only two-cornered fights this time around, there are even more opportunities. The Elections Authority just need to set the appropriate rules, for example, that no one political party can book for more than half the total number of election days. This rule should be extremely easy to impose and monitor, right? Shouldn't be a problem for a First World government to handle.

So lets do away with this queueing nonsense. It makes our General Election look so totally out of sync with the spirit of our up and coming IR projects.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Off-side Elections

Drink don't driveBilly Bombers (see Today 27 April 2006) got their political parties all wrong for their house elections this year. Instead of political parties such as Cock and Bull, the parties that are contesting the elections are the Hammer, Rocket, Stars & Hoops, and Lightning parties. Unfortunately, no Asteroids appeared, so there will be straight fights. With the absence of crooked ones, the voting will be less colourful this time around. But guests now have enough of a choice. After all, they pay good money for a drink there and should be rewarded with more choices so that they are tipsy enough to vote for the party they truly fancy.

When all the voting is done, the gaiety of the night subsides and the results are tallied, it will be interesting to know if the people voted with their hearts, minds or *hic* their beers. Sorry chaps but I'll have another *hic* Tiger (Jessica Alba couldn't have said that better)...*hic*...and don't worry about driving after that. The police are all deployed for crowd control these couple of days at some tens of rallies around the island to bother about tipsy drivers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A place for special interest parties

Representing Special InterestsI mentioned in an earlier post that perhaps there will come a time when political parties in Singapore will need to be formed to represent special interest groups, such as the middle aged, the old, etc. Singapore is missing this political dimension thus far because the incumbent government has always taken an anti-sectarian policy in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore.

For example, groups that organise themselves along religious or racial lines are not only frowned upon, they are actively discouraged on pain of imprisonment and possible exile. The unfortunate reaction to this policy is the absence of political groups that advocate other legitimate and non-divisive special causes, groups or interests. A Today reader wrote in to express his desire for a pro-elderly MP - not a pro-elderly Party. This is telling because not all people are concerned about the 'bigger' things, the future of the country and all that. In Singapore today, that is a given with the dominance of the PAP.

Not all groups that stand for a political cause championing certain groups of people among the populace is necessarily divisive and bad for the country. Now, all political parties are forced (by the incumbent party?) to come up with a manifesto that spells out its thinking on forming an alternative government. The Workers' Party came out with theirs and was immediately hammered by the ruling PAP. On the other hand, Chiam See Tong, wisely as it turned out, declined to spell out any manifesto.

Is forming the alternative government necessarily the one and only political aim of an opposition party, as the PAP always seems to suggest and mock those that do not? I think not. These special interest causes may be marginal, but they can serve useful purposes in focusing on the needs of certain sections of the population, giving full representation to such needs through a dedicated voice in Parliament. In an increasingly aging population amidst an almost incessant emphasis on the need for renewal, youth and all, this seems to be what is needed from the Singapore political arena in the years to come.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Singapore's Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal at nightIf I am not mistaken, one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, is a monument that Shah Jahan built in memory of his dead wife. It is, in other words, a mausoleum or a grave. So when I read yesterday in Today a reader likening Singapore's proposed IR to the Taj Mahal (IR can be S'pore's Taj Mahal), my blood froze. I wasn't sure what it meant. Was the reader suggesting what first came to my mind, that the IR will be a white slap of marble dedicated to the dead? If so, it is a most uncomplimentary comment for a mega-billion development touted to revive and spur the Singapore economy in the years to come. Are we building another white coloured creature (again?) Is the Taj Mahal a good imagery to use as comparison and a draw on tourist traffic? I am not so sure. But from an oriental perspective, it certainly is not auspicious to cast the IR in the image of a mausoleum. I am sure that Harrah's, Sands, Genting and MGM Mirage would not want their respective proposals to come across as a glorified grave. So the reader's choice for comparison was unfortunate, to say the least.

Upon careful reading, I was relieved to note that the reader meant that the IR should be visually as beautiful and appealing as the real Taj Mahal. I suppose he had in mind the wish that the Singapore IR should eventually be crowned the 8th wonder of the world. Well, if this were to happen, the local tourism body overseeing this project will be more than gratified and the people pushing for and agreeing to the IR project will be vindicated. Its sad, though, that we won't have a Mr Tan Soo Khoon in Parliament singing the praises of the 8th Wonder of the World.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Exporting the old

Growing OldBuild retirement villages in another country for our aging population? The economics are sound when we consider that the cost of living, for example, in Batam or Bintan, will be much lower compared to the same villages located in Singapore. Therefore, whatever limited money and resources that the aged have left can be stretched much much further if they choose to live in lower costs areas.

Sounds great, until you realise that you will be an alien on foreign soil, subject to the laws of a foreign land. It is ironic that a person would choose such a way to live out the rest of his twilight years. That puts into question what we are working for all our lives in hectic and competitive Singapore. Does it mean anything if, at the end of it all, when we retire, we cannot afford a home in the very country to which we have given so much of our time, effort and, yes, our productive lives? Does it mean anything at all if all we can afford is cheap housing in a foreign land at the end of it all? I shudder to think so. This throws into question our assumptions about the rewards of hard work, of dedication, of commitment in making Singapore our home. Is it a home when we would likely not afford the place, come the day when it matters most - when we are old and decrepit and, by the standards we use to measure usefulness and productivity, we have served our purpose? This reminds me of Animal Farm, that satirical novel about how animals toil all their lives but in the end, get nothing.

Singapore's business environment today is less tolerant of the middle aged and the old. As we have been seeing and hearing in the recent past, once a middle aged person loses his job, finding another is as good as having to climb Mount Everest. More often than not, their living standards take a dive, they have to sell off their houses for a smaller one, take jobs, if any, that are usually the preserve of the relatively inexperienced 20-22 year olds starting out their careers.

Perhaps, even as the nation goes to the polls to elect a new government, we should think, in future, about forming a political party that represents the needs of the middle aged and the old, just like the Israelis' Pensioners Party, which represents the hard-put old people:

By now, the basic reasons why the party won seven seats are understood: Voters, especially the young, were fed up with the corruption and hypocrisy that had spread through Israeli politics;it was clear Kadima was going to win the election no matter what; and here was a feisty, unlikely, underdog party with a unanimously popular cause - a better life for Israel's hard-put old people. Jerusalem Post, April 6, 2006

The PAP, or for that matter, existing opposition parties, can't be everything to everybody. That would be unrealistic an expectation. So, instead of thinking about retirement villages that will banish its own citizens to foreign lands to live out the rest of their days, people belonging to these groups should form their own political party in time to come so that they can advance their own causes. They should not simply accept what the government offers now as the only way to retire and die.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Taxpayer football

Crab Soccer - Too many hands?I didn't know that the SAFFC (Singapore Armed Forces Football Club) doesn't have a commercial sponsor! I learnt this in Today (18 April 2006 issue). According to that report, they haven't had a commercial sponsor for 11 years! As far as funding is concerned, they are taking from the taxpayers' till. Considering that other FC's do not have access to this till, but have to work very hard every year to get sponsors, it seems very unfair, and smells a bit fishy. The SAFFC says, in its defence, that the taxpayers' money are well spent since SAFFC has been in the forefront of promoting the sport, which, undoubtedly, has made strides since the S-league was first conceived more than 10 years ago. But doesn't this apply to other clubs as well? Haven't they made similar, if not greater, contributions? And anyway, what is the SAF doing promoting sports at the national level? Isn't this the preserve of the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sport?

I think that the SAFFC is presumptious in thinking that they are the ones who are playing the major role in the promotion and development of football in Singapore. The SAFFC can hardly do this without having an opposing team to play with. At $300,000 at year over 11 years, that's $300,000 x 11 years = $3.3 million - a large sum by any measure, and a sum that rivals numbers raised in the NKF saga.

I hope this doesn't snow-ball into an NKF-like saga. Apparently, this has been sanctioned by people in high places, but they must have a good explanation for this. While death and taxes are a certainty in life, the use to which tax money is put is less certain. Is there a smoking gun here? Time will tell.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Clash of the generations

Ruins of the Roman ForumMany things have been said and written about the conversation that some under-30s Singaporeans had with Mr Lee Kuan Yew a week ago. This was broadcast a couple of times over local TV. I caught one of these broadcast. I must say that the verbal sparring was interesting. While I sometimes thought the youths were naive in some of the questions they asked, and views they spouted, I am nonetheless impressed with their candidness.

There is nothing wrong in these youths expressing themselves in public in the manner in which they did so, especially when they had the courage of their convictions behind it. That is what educators in Singapore have always encouraged or at least, dreamed, our students would do - to be critical, to question, to reason and not accept the conventional view as necessarily a given all the time. What is happening now is that students tend to committing the whole gobe to memory in order that they can be regurgitated at the right time and place so that they can move on to a 'higher' level where they can then repeat the same gobe formula, ad nauseum, until they 'graduate'. Rote learning is not the way to go.

So I cannot understand people criticizing some of the forum participants for being disrespectful to Mr Lee in the way and words they used. Yes, Mr Lee had to 'put down' some opinions he thought were perhaps frivolous or not readily backed by facts, but that is Mr Lee for you. He is not one who sits around allowing what he thinks are untruths to go unchallenged. But I don't think he feels offended personally and I think both parties would have learnt something new, including Mr Lee, from this forum.

If we keep going on with the attitude that "you don't speak like that to a man who built Singapore with blood...", we will probably never progress. We will always be living in the past, and all effort to get youths engaged, to think about how to face new challenges as the world changes, will come to nought. So I applaud the courage of all the young forum participants in voicing their frank views. In doing so, they have also probably helped to express the views of many in Singapore society today. Like it or not, we are all products of our times. While history remains an important signpost (some would say guardpost), we are influenced far more by what is happening today than something that happened to our grandfathers fifty years ago. As products of the times, the current generation will voice concerns that are immediately meaningful to them. There is no right our wrong here. Each generation must accept this and try to bridge the divide, if it exists at all.

So, give yourself a pat on the back, chaps. All of you have done well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

GE starts next week

Vote responsiblyFinally, the most anticipated event in Singapore this year will be held next week and the week following. Nomination day for the GE is next Thursday, 27 April and polling day is 9 days later, on 6 May 2006. This must be one of the shortest GE in Singapore's short history, but then various parties, including the PAP have been canvassing the ground for more than two months now.

While the PAP has introduced its full slate of candidates, the Opposition parties have yet to show their full hands. This may be because they want to avoid having their nominees investigated and their reputation sullied if something, lets say, uncomplimentary about them is uncovered. The other possibility is that they haven't found enough people to fill the GRC teams. Whatever it is, I am sure that all parties are ready to put up a good show to win the votes.

For many, this may be the first time they have the chance to vote, so it will be an interesting fortnight ahead. Just cancel your plans and be prepared to attend some of the rallies. For those who cannot, Channel News Asia has dedicated a website to cover this election. This will be ideal for Netizens on the go, although I am reminded that local mass media tend to take a pro Government stance (the same as a pro PAP stance?) in the way they report the news. I have previously highlighted instances of this in this blog. So blogs, which tend to have a greater diversity of views, may in fact act as a counterweight to the established media. That said, I wouldn't put too much store on what any and every blog were to say. We need always to corroborate the facts and balance the perspectives. Local established media is good in the former but suspect in the latter. Blogs are atrocious in the former but more colourful in the latter. This is probably the first time ever that the established media and the Singapore blogosphere will compete with one another for the ears of the electorate.

As the established media swing into high gear, I am sure that local blogs will also ramp up their output to spout their take on the events in the next fortnight. Just watch your language. It is just an election, people, not a war. You don't need to defame anyone and don't get too personal.

After all that is said and done, don't forget to vote. Voting is compulsory! Voting is secret (in spite of recent slips of the tongue). And vote responsibly. We don't want to do an Italian, do we?

Mahathir the megalomaniac

Mahathir criesMalaysia's former PM, Mahathir Mohammad (Dr M) is at it again. This time, he is not only attacking Singapore, but his own government too. He is now calling for a referendum in Johor to determine the real level of support for the proposed bridge to replace the Causeway, casting doubt on the very reasons given to abandon the project in the first place. Now, I am not saying that the reasons given - the Johoreans opposition to selling sand to Singapore and allowing Singapore's Air Force to make use of Malaysia airspace - are real. That is for the Malaysia government to determine. But Dr M now thinks that he is the government, going by his tirade. Did Singapore force the M'sian government to give up the project? I don't think so. Rather, I see Singapore as playing a constructive role in having this unfeasible project shelved, saving a lot of time and money for both parties, money that belongs to the people of Singapore and Malaysia, including Johoreans. This money that can now be better spent to really benefit the peoples of both countries.

Why should the people have to spend money to satisfy the ego of ONE man? This one man also said that Malaysia has lost in this battle, that it is no longer able to do things on its own terrritory. Well, it seems that Dr M either didn't have Geography classes in school or if he did, he didn't do too well in it. As far as Singapore is concerned, we can't care less if Malaysia wants to erect a statue of Dr M smack in the centre of Johor Bahru, similar to the one of Saddam Hussein's in Bagdad - before it was torn down by angry Iraqis, that is. But we are talking about the Causeway, which is shared between Malaysia and Singapore and therefore not Malaysia's territory to be decided on solely by Malaysia. The current Malaysian government led by Datuk Abdullah Badawi understands and has accepted this. This is also consistent with the spirit of the judgement passed down by the International Court of Justice in settling the dispute over Singapore's land reclamation project on Singapore's terrority this side of the Straits of Johor. It seems that Dr M still admires this institution a lot as he is calling for the ICJ's intervention yet again in this Causeway bridge dispute. There is such a thing as being vexatious, which is precisely how ICJ might view such appeals from Mahathir, err...Malaysia.

Either Dr M has very short memory, selective memory, or it is a sign of senility typical of people who have left high office and yearns for the days of old when everybody else kowtows to him. Unlike MacArthur, he cannot be content to just fade away. It is said that a person's legacy is often shown by the longevity of the monuments he leaves behind, whether those monuments are physical, intellectual, social or political. Ever since Dr M left office, his successor has cancelled many of the mega projects (the replacement of the Causeway being one of these) that arose from his megalomaniac mind. It looks like his legacy will not last - a reflection of the quality and wisdom (of lack) of some of these decisions he made while in office.

Dr M can laugh or cry any way he wants. There will be little sympathy for him this side of the Causeway, and the other side too, if he keeps on behaving like this. Some former politician grow old gracefully, others behave as if they are still important and influential when they are not. To this second type of people, I can only say, 'balek kampong' so that you can 'go fly kite'.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Finally - a day in court

NKF SagaIt has been 9 months since the furor over the NKF mis-use of funds issue exploded and blew up in the faces of many Singaporeans. There was a big outcry because many Singaporeans, including myself, and other generous foreigners living in Singapore then, had given their hard-earned money in good faith to an organisation that they believed was doing good. Well, yes, there were many who gave because of the lucky draw prizes, which included cars and condos, but they gave money nonetheless.

For 9 months, except for occasional mentions, news of NKF re-organisation and auditor's reports, nothing much seems to have happened. Granted, the NKF seems to be in better shape with good and steady hands now. The initial beying for blood has died down, probably because the police had taken over the case. Singaporeans trust our efficient and fair police force implicitly, so it was a sooner or later matter where people involved in any illegal action in the NKF mis-use of funds affair would have their day in court. That happened yesterday when 4 members of the former NKF council were arrested for questioning. Two of them had charges filed against them. I think for most of us, it is about time. But I cannot help wondering why it took all of 9 months to bring relatively straightforward charges against the perpetrators of the NKF fraud.

My naughty mind suggests that the powers that be must have felt it good politics if the charges are filed BEFORE the General Election, which will most likely be held in the next one month. This will probably take the sting out of the Opposition who have made known that they will raise the NKF issue as an example of the failure of the incumbent government in discovering the fraud, which could have protected the people. This is exacerbated by the fact that people in high places, linked to the government, were involved in supporting the NKF - and very publicly at that. Of course they committed no fraud, but there is always the inconvenient thing about guilt by association. And don't we all know that nobody can speculate nor comment on on-going court cases on pain of contempt of court charges.

Whatever the case, I am glad that this NKF saga will finally, though belatedly, see closure.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Let the Elections begin

In the past couple of days, many press space and air time has been given to the roll-out of PAP candidates for the coming General Election. I am beginning to feel nauseas from the space and the air time that the ST and Channel News Asia respectively has been giving to these events. Well, now SM has said that the GE is probably going to be held in the first or second week of May, though that is his best guess. I wonder, though, if it is at all necessary to carry on with the suspense over the timing of the GE. I don't see how it benefits the PAP. Instead, it disrupts people's plans for travel, for business and for pleasure. Unlike many countries, voting is compulsory in Singapore, so you need to plan to be around on polling day. Resentment can arise over this. Travel agencies must be cussing that people are holding back on their travel plans, the Progress Package notwithstanding. On the other hand, citizens just do not like to be led around, especially when these people will decide if any party stays around the next time around.

So I think the game has gone on for too long. Let the Elections begin!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Podcast a threat?

Podcast deniedTechnology is a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Podcasting is a technology. It can be used for good or bad. Essentially, podcasting allows a person to distribute an audio recording on any subject, whether it is intelligible or not. Podcasting uses the internet as a distribution media, which explains why it has been gaining currency in recent times.

Podcasting is really not new. A few years ago, before even the word 'podcasting' was invented, there were already people who were recording and distributing their audio recording through the internet. One such was from Jeff Harrow of the Harrow Group. He used to issue the Harrow Technology report fortnightly in three formats - one is delivered over e-mail, the other is on the web and a third is through audio which can be downloaded from his website and 'played' over an audio capable software. These audio recordings are still available on the web.

Of late, use (or denial of use) of podcasting for the coming General Election has a been a bone of contention. I am not convinced by the Singapore government's recent explanation that podcasting is a media over which there can be little or no control. Well, yes, you can't stop somebody, anybody, from podcasting. You can't shut down their operations if such podcasts contain slander and defamatory content, because they will likely operate from some overseas server out of reach of local jurisdiction. So you can't sue them with the local defamation laws.

But fighting such opponents need not necessarily be in the form of police action or law suits, effective though they may be. Yes, these have proven to be very effective means, some say, in bankrupting (and silencing?) not a few opposition politicians in Singapore. That's another story. With the advent of the internet, and the technologies that are increasingly available to spread one's message, whether these messages are obscene, defamatory, ridiculous, frivolous or serious, parties must learn to appreciate these technologies and use them just as effectively, if not more so, to fight those who would podcast against them. Apparently, the incumbent government does not want to do this, just yet. Why so is anyone's guess. The government spends quite a bit on R&D in the newest technologies in its Statutory Boards such as DSTA, and even in the military. So podcast as a technology is not unknown to the government. Instead, it still prefers its proven formula involving the police and the defamatory laws. This is short-sighted. Times are changing, and the methods must also change.

As mentioned, the technology is really not new. To communicate with the younger set of people, it must embrace the various technologies that have come out of the internet. Increasingly, they must realise that they are dealing with a very connected internetworked generation whose primary and preferred means of communication is through the internet.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ghost from the past

I read with great sadness the experience of a young women who was discriminated against because of her history of epilepsy. This person's letter to Today, published on 13 April 2006, recounts her experience of being sacked from her part time job in sales due to her history of epilepsy. This is in spite of the fact that she was free from epilepsy attacks for the last 6 years. That means that the last time she had a fit was when she was 11 years old.

Now, if you speak to a neurologist, he/she will tell you that 6 fit-free years is an good indication that the condition is well under control. People suffer from epilepsy for different reasons arising from different causes. In some cases, some people may have had fits when they were young, but they never have them as they grow older. Many ignorant people think, erroneously, that once a person has epilepsy fits, they will always have them. Which explains why the Manager sacked her. He/she was probably fearful that the girl will throw a fit right in front of her valuable customers, which will scare them off and ruin the good image and reputation of the company - a prestigious company at that.

As I say, this is very sad as this Polytechnic student will enter the job market with many doubts, and perhaps some fear. Doubts not so much about her intellectual, social and emotional abilities, but doubts about whether, for example, she should truthfully state her medical condition in job application forms or not. This is a real dilemma. To do so may mean that she will be passed over without any further consideration even if she possesses the right qualifications. Not to do so will be to knowingly tell a lie. Should the firm find out about the condition after engaging her, she will face almost certain sacking - not for the medical condition but for being dishonest.

I think that epilepsy education and/or awareness is still lacking, and probably will continue to be lacking. Ironically this is happening in our medically and educationally advanced country. So many myths about epilepsy is still being passed around in casual conversation if only because an epileptic fit is always so dramatic, and yes, frightening to people. The problem is that there are many types and manifestations of epilepsy. If one doesn't know better, myth usually accompanies ignorance. A neurologist I know once remarked that the probability of one dying from a car accident is higher than any harm that may come from an epilepsy attack.

Perhaps I can do no better than to point you to various sources where you can find out more about the true nature of epilepsy. Hopefully you will understand better the person who has been diagnosed with epilepsy and give them the leeway and respect they desserve in having to overcome prejudices and misunderstanding.

Epilepsy - The Facts
Basics of Seizures & Epilepsy

Epilepsy Organisations on the Web
Epilepsy Foundation
Int'l Bureau for Epilepsy
Int'l League Against Epilepsy

Country Specific
American Epilepsy Society
National Institudes of Health
The Charlie Foundation
Guide to Healthcare Schools

- Singapore
Singapore Epilepsy Foundation
Epilepsy Care Group Singapore
National Neuroscience Institute

A straightened bridge

Building the Johor-Singapore Causeway - 1922Malaysia has finally conceded - they will give up their proposal to replace the present bridge connecting Singapore and Malaysia. The Causeway, as it is usually called, will stay and history is saved.

The Malaysian government did not go into specifics when they announced their decision - whether it was the legal complications that sunk their proposal, or the tremendous cost to them in acceding to Singapore's demands, or some other reasons - but this decision was a costly one, as they conceded. Contracts that have already been awarded will be re-imbursed by the Government (read: taxpayers) and their original plans for use of the waterway should the bridge be replaced by a suspension bridge will have to be shelved, putting paid to whatever reason it was that prompted the replacement bridge proposal in the first place.

As far as Singapore and Singaporeans are concerned, its a huge sigh of relief to see that common sense has prevailed, that we needn't have to spend money demolishing an otherwise good and functional bridge that has stood the test of time. Lest we call this a victory for Singapore, lets not forget that they are our neighbours. At the worst, we should live and let live. We don't want to be smug about this. The situation could have been worse. If not for the wisdom and magnanimity of Malaysian PM Ahmad Badawi, we'd be in for very rough waters, with neither side benefitting at all from this issue.

Right now, there are other matters that occupy motorists who cross the Causeway to Johor. Come May 2006, each car using the Causeway into Johor will have to pay a toll of RM20. Predictably, this has caused unhappiness among Singaporeans, but Malaysia is well within its rights to do so. Further, pumping petrol over at Johor, which many Singaporeans do before heading back to Singapore, is probably going to be a less attractive proposition as the Malaysia government will be piling on the taxes so that the Singaporean motorists cannot continue to take advantage of the petrol subsidies the Malaysian government hands out. This may adversely affect businesses in Johor with reduced frequency and number of Singapore customers. Ironically, many of these businesses in Johor are owned by Singaporeans (or at least have part equity), so Singapore businessmen plying their wares in Johor will also be adversely affected too. Talk about a double whammy.

There will always be issues between the two neighbours. We just have to talk more often to avert misunderstanding - something that its former PM Mahathir is averse to doing, which probably cause all these trouble in the first place.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Freudian slip

A Freudian slip is defined as:

A verbal mistake that is thought to reveal an unconscious belief, thought, or emotion.

Damage ControlNow, it may be debateable if Mr Goh Chok Tong, the Senior Minister, committed this a couple of days ago when he promised residents of Realty Park that if more than 60% of the residents voted for the PAP's candidate in the coming General Elections. The obvious question asked by many Singaporeans was, if voting is secret, how would the PAP, much less Mr Goh, know if those residents did indeed put in 60% or more votes? Mr Wong Kan Seng was in damage control mode when he tried to explain the 'open secret' that indeed, this fact can be arrived at by doing a observation count of how the physical votes stack up in the counting centres during polling day. But even so, how would one ever know if the stack of voting slips are from Realty Park, and that that stack of voting papers actually exceeded 60% for that particular Park? One can only speculate that, after 10 GE's, PAP candidates and/or experienced ministers will be able to tell.

With the unnecessary and unhelpful dust he has kicked up, maybe Mr Goh shouldn't have gone to Potong Pasir and Hougang to 'help'. He, and the PAP, should just let their candidates fight their own battles. If they succeed on their own, they would then have earned their seats proper and gained respect from the residents, even from those who may not have voted for them. The credibility of the winner, especially in General Elections, is important for the long term work of that MP, both inside and outside Parliament.

Monday, April 10, 2006

To rest or not to rest

MaidsMany people who know no better (and that includes me) express shock when they learn that a majority of our paid domestic helpers (more commonly referred to as maids) are NOT given a single day off in a week. Judging by how they seem to congregate in droves along Orchard Road during the weekends, you'd think that maids do have off-days. But I now know that many maids do not enjoy this off-day - something most Singaporeans workers (including employers of these maids) enjoy as a civil right.

So it all seems unfair to these maids, until you realise that maid employers are financially liable for their maids' behaviour outside of their house. A common concern is that maids may get romantically involved and, with one thing leading to another natural thing, a third party may pop out at the wrong time. This will involve the loss of a security bond of $5,000 for the employers should their maids bear even one child. So now I understand why our employers are reluctant to give their maids off-days. If I were in their shoes, I would most likely do the same.

So we cannot compare ourselves with that of the maids' because both have different employment terms and conditions. Both have different 'status' - one is likely a bona fide citizen or a permanent resident, in which case the powers that be cannot care less if these go forth and multiply. So I think that MOM's decision not to impose a mandatory rest day is a wise one. A financial compensation given in lieu of this off-day, is also a fair thing.

All this is easy for me to say because I have never employed a maid. Sometimes, I think that employing a maid is more trouble than it is worth, having witnessed, in the cases of relatives and friends, the troubles and inconveniences that employing a maid can bring to the household. Yes, they do fulfill the task of caring for the children and the aging parent, but they are not automatons that will do every bidding exactly as you would want them to. They are human beings with prejudices, insecurities, hopes and dreams, just like you and I. Not all problems arise from the maids, some originate from the employers. There is enough anecdotal evidence that suggests that the cost of employing a maid goes beyond money alone. Tax incentives aside, employers are often strained by emotions (dis-satisfied with job performance, juvenile behaviour from both the maid and employer, etc.), time (supervising the maids, attending to legal matters, etc. etc.) and long-term behavioural issues such as the growing over-dependence of children on maids.

And you thought office politics is stressful...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Don't choke on that drink

A cup a cup a cuppahSo Coffeeshops are not only increasing the price of a cup of coffee, but some are doing so across the board for all hot beverages by the same quantum - 10 cents. This was originally triggered by the increase in the price of coffee, apparently because coffee prices have increased.

Many people are not happy about this, but what's so wrong about it? People who sell a cuppa are businessman who have an obligation to increase shareholder value, just like the big boys do when they increase their prices of goods and services, citing shareholder value. A business' first loyalty is to its owners, we are often reminded, which are the shareholders, not the consumer, not the customer, right? The capitalist is king, is it not?.

What the coffeeshops are doing is no different. The difference is if you can get away with the price increases. Coffeeshops may see a short-term decrease in business as people defect to other coffeeshops that can offer cheaper hot beverages. This can have a ripple effect in that foodstall owners might see a smiliar decrease in business because these same customers have defected to other coffeeshops.

But going by experience, Singapore consumers will eventually accept the extra 10 cents they have to fork out because they cannot do without that plate of Char Kway Tiow that is sold in the same foodcourt where drinks cost an extra 10 cents, or the alternative foodcourt is just too far away, etc. Moreover, knowing Singaporeans, they'd find it a hassle switching just because of 10 cents, or even 20 cents. I have been told that some coffeeshops are charging 20 cents more per cup of coffee. Ultimately, its really up to the consumer to vote with their feet, or their stomach. All things considered, I think they will stay put.

Its the consumers' choice, so put up or go somewhere else.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On time every time

Work-life BalanceWhen I was working for my previous boss, I made it a point to come into the office on time. In fact, I have always practiced being on time whether work started at 8am, or 8.30am or even 9am. I have honed my sense of timing so well over the years that I am seldom, if ever, late for work. By the same token, I make it a point to leave the office on the dot, whether that is 5.30pm or 6pm - not a minute earlier or later. I believe that this is only right by me and by my boss. There have been occasions when I have been held back by some meeting or some work needed urgent attention that cannot be held over the next day. Fair enough, I put in the hours, but those are exceptions.

There has been some discussion over the issue of work-life balance, and how woefully lacking it is in the Singaporean worker. Whether it is the boss' fault, or the employee, or the business, or a real or imagined force that goads you to put in unholy hours every day, a lack of work-life balance is simply wrong. I believe in work-life balance, that the family - the wife and children - are just as important as work. And this is not my opinion only. Madan Birla made the same point in his book, Fedex Delivers, arguing from experience how important having a work-life balance was to Federal Express employees' ability to innovate throughout its history. Fedex is renown not only for its door-to-door express delivery service, which it invented, it is also well known as a company that initiated many innovative practices such as package tracking.

Read his book and I am sure you will be a believer and start living a more healthy and balanced life. Employers, especially, should take note if you want your company to grow meaningfully in the long run. It is better to have innovative employees than hardworking employees who are all too ready to lick your boots or heels, whichever the case may be. They have a downward orientation whereas innovative employees constantly look (up) to doing things better.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A feeling of political ambivalence

Ambiguity & AnonymityWhy do I feel ambivalent when Minister Balaji Sadasivan said that blogging about one's political opinions is ok but persistently promoting political views is a no no? When does expression of one's political opinions become viewed as persistent promotion of that same opinion? When anyone expresses an opinion, that person is promoting a point of view. If that person repeats that opinion once, will it be viewed as one too many times? Or is persistence quantified in the 10s or 100s? Only the powers that be knows, and that's ambiguity for you. And that's why many people would still rather not express a political opinion or openly take sides.

Granted, the simple interpretation will be that if I blog about political happenings in Singapore in a disinterested manner, I need fear no reprisals. But once I show interest and take a political stand, I need to register with the government. Once that is done, you know that you are monitored by people who have an agenda quite different from your intended audience - the man in the street. This is no different from muzzling people, really.

I appreciate the point that there should be no anonymity in the exercise of one's political views, but to imply that one cannot defend oneself effectively when subject to negative, misleading or libelous comments from such anonymous sources is nonsence. Manipulation of public opinion can be done just as effectively by both anonymous and named sources, and even by the incumbents. Yes, the particular danger posed by anonymous sources is their more brazen and irresponsible behaviour but if you have right on your side, I don't see why you should be too concerned. Give people more credit to see right from wrong. You can't control extremists because they are irrational anyway. But they tend to be in the minority, so why micro-manage?

I suppose what you cannot, or would find it more difficult, to do, really, is slap the defamation laws on that anonymous person - a practice that has many precedents on known persons in the relatively short political history of Singapore.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Upgrading and kiasuism

Mr KiasuI do not live in the Hougang or Potong Pasir constituencies, which are currently run by the opposition parties. From what I heard and read, their MPs have tried their level best for the constitutents regarding civil upgrading works, but have often hit a wall with the incumbent government's sense of prioritization. The PAP is dangling the promise of upgrading these constituencies pronto should they be returned to power in the next General Election. Is it a good thing to upgrade every and anything? These two constituencies are aging in terms of facilities, but would we want to re-develop, say, Holland Village until its old world charms disappear? I think there is a place for everything. What this means is that there are places that you don't necessarily want to 'over-develop' to the point of sameness.

When everyone has the same thing - the shopping centres look and feel the same, the parks and cycling tracks have a certain stamp of a particular party, etc., the place loses its distinctive character. Common-ness generally reduces the value of the place when supply is more than demand. Moreover, as some sensible people in Potong Pasir have pointed out, upgrading comes with increased costs and leads inevitably to increased prices.

But in kiasu Singapore, kiasu Singaporeans always want what his fellow Singaporean already has. Prove me wrong.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Dr Tony Tan leaves Sembawang

Old Chong Pang RoadDr Tony Tan, erstwhile Deputy Prime Minister and long-time Member of Parliament for the Constituency of Sembawang / Sembawang GRC, will not contest in the next General Elections. He gave a poignant interview which was reported in the Saturday edition (1 April 2006) of the Straits Times. Reading those interviews brought back many memories for me. A photo (not the one above) of the road leading up to the old Chong Pang village (which is very far from its namesake in Yishun Town today) reminded me of days past when I would go up that road on Sunday mornings and have breakfast of fishball nooodles at the corner coffeeshop for 30 cents a bowl. All of it is now gone, replaced by spanking new HDB Apartments.

I first met Dr Tony Tan in person one Sunday morning, around GE time in 1979, when he came by my Church in Sembawang and shook hands with the congregation departing after Sunday worship service. I was too young to vote then, but he shook hands with one and all regardless. Over the years, he has proven to be a good MP and able Minister. Candidates aspiring to become MPs should take a couple of leaves out of his book of wisdom and experience garnered over 27 years, particularly his fair-mindedness. While it is normal for the ruling party to reward its supporters first, it doesn't mean that the government must make it difficult for those in the opposition. The opposition, after all, serves the people. Speaking on the issue of upgrading, he said,

...eventually, all the estates have to be upgraded because I think it would be bad for Singapore if we had some areas - whether it's Potong Pasir or Hougang or some others - where it degenerates - Straits Times Interview, 1 April 2006

While HDB may have its rules, those same rules are set by the incumbent government. So I am dismayed that HDB keeps pointing to prevailing policies and policy changes to defend itself on why it disallowed Hougang's opposition MP to upgrade its residents' homes. One can argue that HDB is following the rules, but who set those rules in the first place? At the end of the day, it may have right on its side, but it would have lost the hearts of the people.

Well, time has really past us by, too fast we always tend to feel. For all the good that Dr Tan has done for the country, I wish him well. He is still relatively young. God willing, I hope he will continue to play an active part in the development of Singapore as a nation.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Goodbye, Clifford Pier

Clifford Pier and the Marina BarrageChannel News Asia reported yesterday that Clifford Pier will cease operations from today, 1 April 2006. The top view of this 73-year old pier, named after Sir Hugh Charles Clifford, then Governor of the Straits Settlement, graces the home page of this weblog. It was reported that no more boats will call at this historic pier anymore to pick up and drop off passengers. This job will reportedly be taken over by the Marina South Pier (indicated as the New Clifford Pier in the map?). The reason cited for the closure is the building of the Marina Barrage project, which was previously described as consisting of damming up the mouth of the Marina Bay (so no boats can come into and go out of the Bay area?). This will indeed be a major milestone in Singapore's history because yet another landmark will be transformed.

Funny, for a major change such as this, you'd expect to hear about it sooner rather than later. Mediacorp's story was posted up on their website at 7:54 last evening and covered in their broadcast bulletins around the same time. That's less than 6 hours before Clifford Pier would cease operations. I would have like to have been alerted earlier so I could have made a visit to the pier for some picture taking. Oh well, I still have some recent photos.