Friday, March 31, 2006

The pinnacle can be precarious

Our objective is to win and serve the needs of our customers. If our competition is unable to catch up with us, I'm not going to apologise for that. I don't think that the party needs to make apologies for the fact that the Opposition is weak.

So said the new PAP candidate for the coming General Election, Ms Jessica Tan, General Manager of Operations at Microsoft Singapore, in an interview with Today (31 March 2006). Well, good for you, Ms Tan, but I would be more impressed with your convictions if you had not been from Microsoft and the PAP - organisations that bestows a feeling of strength and superiority. To refresh your memories, Microsoft and the PAP were built-up from positions of weakness many many years ago. By the same token, political parties that are weak today can become strong tomorrow.

Microsoft had to outwit and out-compete the IBM behemoth, which really started the PC revolution with its IBM PC. Two young man started Microsoft in a garage they did not even own.

By Mr Lee Kuan Yew's own admission, PAP's strength was not apparent in the beginning, its survival not guaranteed. He wrote about the PAP in 1955:

The PAP organisation was weak, almost non-existent: no paid staff, branches or grassroots leaders. For canvassing and help at election rallies, we could call upon the unions and Chinese middle school students. But once our campaign started, our candidates went their separate ways. Lee Kuan Yew in The Singapore Story - Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, p182

Precarious PinnacleMr Lee has also written of how the PAP could have been sunk by the communist, so fierce was the struggle in those early years. His PAP eventually prevailed and the rest, as they say, is history. Ms Tan is a beneficiary of that legacy today.

So I thought it a bit presumptious for Ms Tan to claim a position of strength on someone else's hard work. I think every PAP candidate must be more humble and circumspect. Treat your opponent and the voters with the greatest of respect because the democratic process can be so fickle sometimes - as Mr Lee himself has acknowledged in the past. Success in business, in academia or in the material trappings of life does not automatically lead to success at the polls. Why do you think GRCs were invented? There is safety in numbers, is there not?

The view from atop the pinnacle on the edge of a cliff can be inspiring and breadth-taking, but there is one way going forward without expending sweat and toil building higher - and that is down. As the saying goes, pride precedes a fall.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A wager gone wrong for 4 lives

GamblingAs the month of March draws to a close, the parties that are still in the run to bid for the Marina IR (Integrated Resort) project, such as MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands, and Harrah's Entertainment, have started to announce various tie-ups and grand plans for the IR. We do not know who will win the bid, but many people feel that the man in the street will ultimately be the loser.

Why so? Because of the gambling component in the IR. All the bidders are well known for running very successful casino businesses, along with their other entertainment businesses. Of course, all these bidders and the government have always insisted that the IR is more than just a casino. It is that, and more. Bidders have been talking about building world class Museums and Theatres with world class acts, amongst other glitzy projects that will form part of the IR.

But really, it doesn't take a lot for a person to get hooked on gambling and get destroyed after that, pulling others down with him. Take for instance, the recent case of the property agent who lost so heavily on soccer betting that he had to resort to cheating his clients out of a total of $2 million in an effort to settle his gambling debt. He was sued by these same clients, was convicted, and is now slated to serve a 7 year jail sentence. That's not all. He still has to re-pay his debt when he gets out of jail. Furthermore, his wife feels too ashamed to continue working in the property business because his husband's actions have forever tainted her reputation and trustworthiness. She has reportedly used up all the family's savings. She has two young toddlers to bring up. One of them is barely one year old and will not see his father for much of his growing up years.

This is indeed a sad case of gambling destroying or, at least adversely affecting, the lives of 4 people, and we are not even talking about casino gambling here - just soccer gambling. When the casinos are up, when the dice begins to roll, we will likely hear of more such sad stories. With the Soccer World Cup 2006 around the corner, there will be increased soccer gambling in the days to come.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. I Timothy 6:10, NIV Bible

May God help the gamblers help themselves to stanch their greed and stop their madness before it is too late.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chained Bicycles

For those looking for more pictures on those bicycle parking idiots, click here.

Its also here at Parking Idiots.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where is home?

Mr Mahbubani of the LKY School of Public Policy, Mr Edmund Cheng of Wing Tai and MP Amy Khor are right - a person's sense of home and belonging, or ownership - is inevitably bound by intangible factors. A home is more than mere concrete structures and designs, or even landscaped environments and community amenities represented by the latest and the best ideas imported from elsewhere. So when the URA announced plans to re-develop the East Coast area, not everyone, I would imagine, is celebrating. Instead, there is concern that URA's re-development gurus will sweep away what is near and dear to many people who have lived in that area for a long time, and who have organised their daily lives around that area, so much so that they identify with that place as home.

Memories of homeNot everything must be planned down to the last detail. The community must be allowed to grow organically on its own, sprouting places and corners that will uniquely identify it as one's home. Alas, this is often decided for us by some people who do not live among us, nor share the aspirations and memories of that community. What home is it when, after being overseas for the last 10 years on assignment, you return to find that there is nothing familiar around the place you used to live in since your childhood? What home is it when the playgrounds and landscape you grew up in gets constantly re-developed with the latest and greatest world-beating community features but which are totally foreign to your memories and sense of belonging - to your home?

I know only too well, these feelings. I am sure many others in Singapore do too. My childhood home has been all but demolished and replaced by spanking new highrise apartment buildings. Even the school buildings that was my Primary and Secondary schools are gone. Collectively, that represents 15 years of my life and memories. This is exactly what many felt when the old National Library building along Stamford Road was demolished. The National Theatre, in which signal events occured in our lives, has been demolished a long time ago. Nothing has since replaced that building on the soil on which it once stood. Therefore I envy my colleague, who owns a house near Cambridge, England. That house has stood for over 200 years, and except for occasional leaks here and there, is still home away from home for him.

In Singapore, more often than not, we mortgage our memories for that couple of hundred thousand dollars. Just as soon as the money is in our hands, it is then sunk into some other property. We are tied down by 99 year leases and, when not so, are plagued by en bloc sales that takes away not only our freehold houses but our homes with its familiar surroundings and memories of where, perhaps our first child grew up, and where the family went for breakfast every weekend at the corner coffeeshop. Our houses can also be forceably re-possessed by the authorities so that a highway can run over it someday. Losing our homes and its memories, whether intentional or not, seems to be a national past time.

How can we call anywhere home, where that home can soon be no more than a distant memory?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Teacher blogging

I am not surprised that teachers blog. Another word for blogging in another time is journaling. In yet another age, it was known as keeping a diary. The difference is that blogging can be a very public activity. When a person keeps a virtual diary online, that diary will be indexed and can be searched using easily available tools provided by Google and even Technorati.

Teachers who blogSo I am somewhat surprised that students are surprised that teachers blog. Why shouldn't teachers blog in the first place? Is it because youngsters cannot imagine teachers writing stuff that are trashy and gossipy, as most youngsters' admit their own blogs contain? Do they think that their teachers do not have personal thoughts of their own which they would want to write about in online weblogs? While some teachers are married to the profession, many are not. They keep their personal life separate from their professional life. Teachers have hobbies of their own, things that they are interested in outside of the classroom. If this were not so, the teacher will be of little value. We might as well replace him with a robot. After all, if teachers just teach from the textbook without contextualising the material to life and experience, lessons will be so boring.

Every blogger, not only teachers, should exercise restraint in their blogs. Yes, teachers should not talk about the faults in their students online. Even if they do, no names should be mentioned. But then, students should also accord the same courtesy. I am aware that students gossip a lot about their teachers in blogs. They vent their frustration and dislikes about their teachers online. Many of their remarks are written out of context. A lot of it is one-sided rant, and their teachers are often unaware of these blogs. Actually, its not hard for a teacher to find out. Just do a search on your name in popular blogging engines such as Blogger, and you'd be surprised how many times your name can turn up in the search results.

However, the blogosphere is a place where anybody can say anything. But it is not without its limits. Bloggers have been convicted for making seditious statements on their blogs in Singapore, no matter if those statements reside on some server in the US. The sad thing about humans is that they tend to want to listen to hearsay and are not too interested in knowing what the truth is, nor the rational reasoning behind it. People just like juicy gossip without thinking about the consequences of what they write.

Let the blogger beware.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Who said what?

Mis-communicationOh dear me, everybody except LTA (Land Transport Authority) got it wrong. LTA has sent letters to both the Straits Times and Today newspapers to correct a report that came out in both papers that stated that the LTA will be equipping public buses with CCTVs. LTA clarified that this has yet to be decided on and that a feasibility study is being carried out now to determine the viability of the proposed CCTV-on-bus project.

Well, it seems to me that either the people who we rely on for our daily news (and that's not just one newspaper) are not very reliable news reporters or the LTA is not a reliable communicator, or both. If it is the first, I am worried because most people on this island rely either on ST or Today for the news. For that matter, even Mediacorp TV got it wrong in its Broadcast News Reports, which I caught on the evening 9.30pm bulletin when the story was reported. If we cannot rely on all these sources of news, then who else can we rely on? This is a bit worrying.

But of course, it could also be that LTA did a lousy job communicating the facts to the public via the news media, which must then be clarified / corrected / backtracked on (choose any one word that suits your view of events) via the same media. If this were the case, LTA was perhaps running ahead of itself in announcing this bit of news, and in the process, mis-communicated it.

A third theory is that the news as reported were not wrong but LTA backtracked because the public was non too happy about the prospect of paying for these CCTVs and their operational upkeep. These were expressed in the same press media and through local blogs. So LTA might have thought it wise to say that nothing has been decided until the outcome of the feasibility study.

Public transport and transport costs is a sensitive issue on this island, so you don't want to stir up the hornets' nest unnecessarily.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Care-rot for a paper, anyone?

Care-rot for a paper, anyone?When I read that SPH, the company that puts out Singapore's largest circulating newspaper, the Straits Times (ST), was doing giveaways to new subscribers, I felt vindicated. This tells me that ST must have lost readership substantially over the last couple of years, and it is now trying the age-old method of offering freebies in exchange for subscriptions. What's more, subscriptions to homes will be charged 70c a copy instead of the usual 80c. On top of this, delivery to homes (I would imagine) is free of charge. At this price, ST has rolled back the years to when I was a regular subscriber and reader of the ST.

Alas, it has come too late, as far as I am concerned. I have already written in an earlier blog why I am not a regular ST reader anymore, due in no small part to the increase in its cover price to 80c. You may call me petty, but I remember then that there were many complaints about the price increase. There were no clear reasons for them doing so. While SPH felt that it may lead to a reduction in readership, such attrition would be within their expectations and they could live with it. After all, it is a quality paper unmatched by any other paper on the island at that time. It is still a quality paper, but Today presents a viable alternative now.

It is supremely ironical then that, having lost a reader, it is now backing down on its pricing policy and trying to woo back old subscribers like me. But of course, I am not ST's main target, although I fall within their 20-45 year olds target group. Many in this group have grown up or moved on to reading only free papers such as Today and electronic papers on the Internet. I suppose that SPH realises that if this trend continues, their circulation will decline surely and steadily over the years. Is SPH pre-empting this or are they reacting to declining sales?

But as in all cases of genuine competition, the consumer benefits. However, I am not interested in the carrot SPH is dangling out anymore.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

1984 Redux

Your every movement is being monitored. Your every trip is being watched. Your every destination noted. Your every companion is seen. You are being watched...

Surveilance CameraSuch notions must have gone through not a few minds when the LTA announced that they will be looking into installing CCTV on every public transport bus and subway train in Singapore in the future. This will most likely involve SBS Transit and SMRT, the two main public transport providers on the island. This is a bid to stay ahead of would-be terrorist designs on our public transport system, which ferries hundreds of thousands of people from one part of the island to another for work and play every day. It is good to know that we can have this extra layer of defence against the unpredictable and often destructive actions of terrorists. This island will become a even safer place to live and work in. But the trade-off is a loss of privacy and a sense that Big Brother is watching a la 1984. You can never be too paranoid.

The other practical concern in the minds of many is, who will pay for all these gadgets, and the on-going monitoring that must be in place to make the system effective? The answer is still up in the air. The powers that be, i.e. the LTA (Land Transport Authority), says that this should not increase the cost of travel. I don't know which school they attended, but its Maths department must be non-existent. We are not talking about $1,000 or even $10,000 but $10 million. Tell me that the commuter will not end up paying part of the $10 million and I'll show you a white elephant.

At the end of the day, I think the paying public must be convinced that, on balance, this expense is worth the extra layer of safety and peace of mind. Otherwise, it will become an onerous cost that will throw up the image of a white elephant all over again. And there won't be just one this time. These white elephants will be running all over the island. I am sure the LTA does not wish to end up chasing and holding these creatures. It has enough problems dealing with escalators on overhead bridges that go only one way.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spreading the election goodies

Day dreamThe goodies from the incumbent government never stop flowing, it seems. Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC has just announced a billion dollar package that will see improvements to this giant constituency over the next 5 years. Why 5 years? I leave you to speculate. But at the rate and quantum that goodies are being introduced all round the island, we may as well have elections every year. Yes, you didn't read wrong, its every year. Why so? Well, if you spread $1 billion over 5 years (which is what is being proposed anyway), that'll be $200 million every year for just one constituency. That's already a very generous carrot to hook the voters, right?

There are other benefits. One, this will ensure that every eligible citizen will have a greater chance of voting at least once within the 5 years, since there are 5 chances now (hmmm... this is beginning to sound like a lucky draw). Politicians, both incumbents and those from the opposition, will have greater opportunities to hone their electoral and political skills. Third, politicians will need to be close to their constituents (or potential ones) more often, instead of surfacing only once every 5 years, so constituents will be better served.

As far as cost is concerned, we needn't worry. An election period can be as short as 2 weeks, which can become the norm with annual elections. Flyers can be re-cycled, or printed ahead of time to lower printing costs. Now, 2 weeks out of 52 is not disruptive at all, especially when it allows politicians to get up close and personal with the voters.

But of course, this is just me day dreaming....

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reaping what you sow

You reap what you sowOne of the most common ways of justifying an action is to appeal to peer example. For example, you'd hear of people say they are going to this party or that party because their friends are also going, or that some students are not attending lectures because nobody attends lectures in the other classes anyway. Some coffee shops justify increasing the price of a cup of coffee they sell because 10 other shops have done so. Even those in authority often use this same argument to justify its policies. For example, Minister Lim Hng Kiang cited Brazil, France and Germany as countries with compulsory menbership in their respective Business Federations to justify the law in Singapore that makes it compulsory for Singapore businesses to join the Singapore Business Federation, whether such membership is beneficial or not. Some companies have questioned this policy lately in the press and, through MPs, in Parliament.

It is no wonder that an increasing number of teenagers who are reportedly engaged in pre-marital and other kinds of sex acts as well as filming themselves doing so feel no shame at all. They justify what they do by appealing to peer example again. They simply make the point that they know of others who are doing the same thing. What they are saying is what they do (all the sex and filming) is normal, and by extension, should be acceptable in the society in which they live. They are surprised when society at large is horrified and critical of their actions. But can you blame them when that same society, as well as those in authority, often appeal to the same argument when justifying their own actions?

We reap what we sow into the fertile minds of our teenagers, albeit often unawares.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Majestic visit let down by pasar wear

RoyaltyQueen Elizabeth II came by Singapore again yesterday. She was last here in 1972 and 1989. As she had done before, she was gracious enough to visit our heartlands, and in particular, a Singaporean whom she first got acquainted with about 34 years ago who still lived in the same Toa Payoh Town, albeit in much better circumstances now.

TanktopST's front page photo (18 March 2006) showed Mr Pung dressed to his nines - a full suit and tie in his own house - welcoming the Queen, who herself was dressed in a simple but beautiful flowing green gown with matching hat. It is not far fetched to imagine and expect that everyone else would be dressed well, for it is her Royal Majesty, the Queen of Britain, visiting. So it was disturbing to see in that front page picture Mr Pung's daughter so under-dressed, and, what's more, standing next to the Queen! Granted, she is in her own home and she is a housewife, but doesn't she have anything more appropriate to wear for the occasion except a white tanktop (it would be called a singlet in 1972, worn only by men), particularly when her father is so well dressed? One would probably wear the same clothes to the market nowadays. After all, as another housewife, Ms Tay, said, "It is not everyday that the Queen visits". Is this a generation gap thing or what? The daughter is 33, the father, 63.

Perhaps the powers that be suggested some degree of informality. If so, the father didn't heed it and the daughter has gone off on a tangent. Inappropriate is what I call it. Some would accuse her of not having any dress sense. Others will say she is disrespectful. You will no doubt hear this in conversations in the heartland coffeeshops in the days to come, in kaypoh Singapore blogs (such as this one) and further afield where the ST is distributed (which includes Britain).

So ok, Singapore is no more a colony of Britain, and QEII is no longer our Majesty the Queen, but she is a visitor from afar, and one who doesn't come by often. I am sure that formal wear is also called for if and when President S.R. Nathan visits, or for that matter, any friend or relative visiting on a special occasion.

P.S. I am sorry that readers cannot see the photo here. ST requires subscription before one can view its pages. Subscription here means paying $$$. I am too poor to do so. Even if I weren't and did subscribe, ST will probably send their lawyers after me for infringing copyright if I link to that picture here, in which case, I will be made poor anyway. Actually, there is also another reason why I don't read the ST regularly. I've blogged about it here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sex and the classroom

MaleTeenage promiscuity is occupying the minds of educators again today. The latest was over the Tammy video incident. I say 'again' because I am old enough to know that this is not a new problem. About 30 years ago in Singapore, when handphones had yet to be invented, teens have been just as promiscuous. I used to read of debates in the press and discuss it in class during my school days regarding teenagers who fathered / mothered (its an equal society now right?) babies before they are even old enough to exercise their vote rights in a General Election. The morality, the social consequences and the psychological issues that inevitably accompany teenagers who become romantically and/or sexually entangled and those who become fathers and mothers prematurely were hotly debated. The only difference then was that there were no naughty videos to download, watch and debate over. The only videos then could only be seen at the cinemas, and even then, there were no such movies with R18, R21, etc. ratings. There was only the XXX rating, but you will never get to see these movies in Singapore. Movies which passed censorship would have scenes that are snipped off at the most inconvenient places. Imagination was all important. Nowadays, nothing much is left to the imagination.

FemaleNominated MP Eunice Olsen recently talked about sex in Parliament. Its nothing new. The proposal to have some form of sex education in schools was raised even in those days. The major thing that came out of those discussions was the institution of Moral Education as a subject in the schools. But by then, I was already out of the school system. So, more often than not, until Moral Education was introduced, teachers took their own initiative regarding the issue of sex education.

I remember one afternoon, when I was a Secondary 2 student, my Science teacher took the class into the labs as usual, for our weekly lab lessons. But he started talking about how the penis and vagina could be joined and how, when it did so, eventually, a fetus would be formed in the girl's uterus when her eggs got fertilized by the guy's sperm. The teacher drew on the chalkboard to illustrate his lesson on sex. The lesson was all very scientific you see, but I am sure there wasn't an eye which was closed. But the unusual thing about this lesson is that this topic was not even in our syllabus for that year, and there was no such thing as sex education in the Singapore school system then.

Well, fortunately, the class was an all-boys class, so nobody was very embarrassed then nor did anybody hide their heads under the tables. Many laughed uncomfortably and some joked out loud. That was my first sex education. For the first time, I understood how babies were made. The teacher was not moralistic during the entire lesson, he just said matter-of-factly that it was important that we understood these things. Till today, I do not know what triggered the teacher into deciding to hold this impromptu sex class, but I am grateful that he did so - not for the graphic description and the excitement in the lesson, but enlightening me on what can happen when a boy and a girl got very close - not that I was close to any girl then, that is.

So there is indeed a place for sex education for teenagers. This is a time when they will start to be interested in the opposite sex, and some may be interested enough to begin experimenting with each other, without realising the power that nature has put at their disposal when they come together in a certain way. Today, such experiments are becoming startlingly very visible.

After all these years, however, the jury is still out on whether sex education will do any good in actually stopping young, impressionable teenagers from taking the plunge.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Today, not yesterday

Readers of this blog would by now notice that I tend to comment on what is written in Today more than in the Straits Times. The reason is very simple. I read only Today on weekdays, and only occasionally the Straits Times (ST). The reason why this is so is that I 'swore off' ST some time ago when they raised their cover price from 65c to 80c (or was it 70c to 80c?). I didn't see how the price increase could be justified, especially when there is a good newspaper (Today) that is distributed free of charge. So I switched to the free Today newspaper. That's the free market mechanism for you - when you have a choice.

Free NewspaperNow, some of you may say that I am a scrooge, a freeloader and all that, but I am quite settled now with Today, after reading the ST for over 20 years. Yes, its been that long, especially when no close alternative was available. I don't miss the ST though. In fact, I have become somewhat impatient with ST because it take a lot longer to get through that paper compared to Today - yet another reason for me to stop paying the inflated price for a paper which I rarely complete reading anyway. I am not saying that Today is a perfect paper. But it suits my lifestyle now, and that's where, I think, it has succeeded and will continue to do well.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

One shop too many?

A local property company, in a joint venture with a Hong Kong property heavy-weight, is going to develop a shopping centre cum condo along Singapore's Orchard Road (called the Orchard Turn) by 2008. The land alone costs S$1.38b, so it is going to be a very very expensive development indeed. The eventual tenants of this development can also expect about S$2000 psf, which will result in very very high rentals. But this is inevitable for the developers to recoup their investments in an acceptable time-frame. The developers think that they can get certain retailers now not represented in the current retail scene to take up the floor space, and thus make this a retail destination that is truly unique. (Reported in Today, 14 March 2006).

Shop till you dropGreat plans, huge prices, sanctioned by the government, no less. But somehow, I am sceptical that it will make a real difference to the retail scene at all. Plaza Singapura was renovated recently. Its a huge shopping centre, but it has nothing revolutionary to offer, though I must admit that I shop there more often. What the new development will do is to take away one of the remaining spots along Orchard Road that still 'houses' a green park where the air is fresher and people can meet without the distractions of shops and promotions that are a usual feature in any shopping centre. Yes, this may liven up the retail scene, but do we really need another shopping centre with air-conditioned air? Tang's hasn't been doing all that well in recent times and its just across the road. To think that a new development on the other side of the road will do better in the long run is being a tad over-optimistic.

My complaint is that there are too many shopping centres in Singapore already. One more won't make a significant difference. It may provide more choice, but in tiny old Singapore, that is likely to be at the expense of another shopping destination on the island. Of course there is the tourist dollar that they are gunning for, but there will be competition from the IR at Marina Bay and Sentosa to contend with in the long run.

Yet, some experienced property developers must have done their Math and are sinking huge amounts of their own money into this, so what do I know?

Politics set in stone

I am beginning to think that erstwhile Singapore journalists, of current and the former kind, are a bias lot. Ms Tan Sai Siong is correct in that some will comment on her column in Today (14 March 2006). She is wrong, however, about Mr Wang.

The Political LandscapeI have no issue with what she wrote as a whole. It is a thoughtful article about the Opposition and the coming GE - a subject which is very much on the mind of the public. But I have a slight quibble regarding her statement, that given a prolonged GE, the Opposition's "propositions will unravel with over-airing". Well, wouldn't this be true of the PAP's propositions too? Is Ms Tan suggesting that the Opposition has little substance to start off with, that they are not worth listening to in any case, so why give them more time?

I sometimes wonder if former ST journalists have not all been conditioned to think and write pro-PAP articles, not that I am against the PAP. But since she is freelancing now, she can afford to break free of the ST mold, or is it so ingrained in the unconscious now that its well nigh impossible? Have we been living in Orwell's 1984 in Singapore all these years?

Lest readers of this blog begin to think that I am a closet opposition, nothing is further from the truth. I would like to think of myself as someone who, when he sees or reads something not quite right, would want to exercise his tongue, or rather the fingers on the keyboard, to right the situation, which means pushing the position somewhere towards the centre. How effective this keyboard clicking is, I leave to readers to judge.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Shop that's not a shop

The Singapore Parliament has just concluded its sitting. Like many Singaporeans, I didn't sit in on the proceedings to view history in the making (any decision that comes out of that haloed house is historic). So, besides watching the proceedings on TV news, I did the next best thing - visit the Parliament website.

That's how I found out that the Singapore Parliament website has a Parliament shop. But you can't really shop on this online shop. All it does is display a list of books related to the Parliament and some interesting souvenirs. The prices are quite afforable though, ranging from as low as $1 (a pen) to as high as $37 (a book on the Singapore Parliament written by Sumiko Tan).

Singapore ParliamentWell, ok, so Parliament is not a shop. I can appreciate that, although I suspect that some would disagree, saying that, to a greater or lesser extent, it can be a place where "horse-trading" happens. The only thing is, we probably need more horse-traders who look at horses differently, if you know what I mean.

But why have the 'shop' in the first place, and why list products when you don't bother to inform people where they can be purchased? I assume they can be purchased since all the items comes with a tagged price. I've search through the website and have not found a single alphabet of advice where I can purchase the listed products. Some of the souvenirs are quite nice so its a pity.

There are some things in Parliament that still puzzles common folks like me. But I don't this this will be an issue in the coming General Election, whenever that is.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Power of Words

The Power of WordsWriters, particularly news reporters, should have a healthy doze of balance. I know, sometimes, having drunk in someone else's mesmerising speeches, one can get heady and unbalanced. Not that this is true of Mr Leonard Thomas of Today, but he did tip over to one side when he reported on foreign talent bashing in the front page of Today (10 March 2006 edition). The case was about opposition MP, Mr Low Thia Kiang's questioning the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme - a scheme where foreigners get fast-track citizenship based on their potential contribution to Singapore in the field of sports. Agu Casmir was one of its beneficiaries, but who has proven to be an embarrassment to the country instead.

So there are those who question the FST. In reporting this, Mr Thomas referred to these anti-FST people as having reared their 'ugly heads'. Quite obviously, Mr Thomas is an FST person as I don't think he would describe his own head in such terms. But what's so ugly about the anti-FSTs' head, I wonder, and in particular this opposition MP's no less, questioning a scheme that has produced people like Agu? Do those who support the scheme have beautiful heads? Come now Mr Thomas, you are blatantly bias here. Why bash an opposition politician for expressing an alternative opinion which is based on a glaring fact?

There's this thing about words that one must also be careful about. In describing the punishment meted out to Agu, Mr Thomas reported that Agu has been banned from International duty along with a huge fine. Now, if I were banned from guard duty, I'd thank my commander, if I were banned from class duty, I'd hug my teacher, if I were banned from International (soccer) duty, I imagine that I'd kiss my coach, no?

As I wrote before, I cannot see how being banned from International duty can be a punishment. It isn't a must for a footballer's career nor the development of his soccer skills. Look at Alan Shearer of Newcastle United. He opted out of representing his country a long time ago. Yet I think nobody will disagree with me that Shearer is one of the best and certainly one of the most enduring soccer player England has ever produced. He now holds the all time scoring record at Newcastle United.

Words...they do mean certain things. As wordsmiths, we need to do justice to the language tool of our choice, plus or minus a grammar mistake here or there ;-).

p.s. I leave the reader to draw his/her conclusion whether I am for or against the FST scheme. One hint: my head is not ugly.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Who's that in Parliament?

Who's that?Parliament has just adjourned till 3 April 2006 - "barring unforeseen circumstances", as the Mah Bow Tan mentioned last night. I have been watching Parliament proceedings on TV news almost every night this past week, and one thing struck me: Many MPs that rose to speak (and some more faces the camera zoomed into) looked new to me. Just last night alone, I found 5 or 6 faces that were totally unfamiliar to me. A name or two sounded familiar, but certainly not their faces. And to think that these elected MPs (err...sorry, some got elected through walkovers) were brought in in the last election about 4 years ago.

I can think of some reasons for my lack of familiarity.

  1. I have not been observant enough when Parliament proceedings are broadcast; or

  2. Mediacorp has missed them on their cameras all these years; or

  3. The newspapers have ignored them completely, in which case they should get themselves noticed somehow; or

  4. These MPs have not spoken in Parliament at all - from day one; or

  5. They were not in Parliament when Mediacorp was around; or

  6. When these MPs did speak, there weren't impactful enough, unlike Tan Soo Khoon, who makes the most entertaining speeches which, and this is important, mirrors the sentiments of the man in the street.

Maybe they are now turning up to get noticed when they have not been noticed before because the General Elections are coming? Hmmm...such last minute effort won't cut it with the electorate. But then, there is the GRC behemoth they can take shelter in, so no worries?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

International Women's Say

Int'l Womens Day8th March was International Women's day. I skipped most of the pages in Today that day. There was simply so many pages devoted to women and women issues. No, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against women. Two of the people I love most are women - my wife and my mother. So I am happy that women get a day to declare and celebrate their womenhood.

But I was riled this morning when I read a provocative article in Today (9 March 2006 page 28) where a women lambasted all men for being, well, men. In this article, she declares that men cannot tell the difference between love and sex, that men want to feel they are capable providers, that men view their wives as trophies,that men must be the centre of attention and that men must be made to feel important. There isn't a single kind thing to say about men, as if all men are the scum of the earth. I don't know what this tells me about her marital status. If she is not married, well, a dog is probably a much much better alternative. After all, couples are already adopting dogs in preference to making human babies nowadays. On the other hand, if she is already married, well, good luck - to the husband I mean.

As they say, the truth often lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, some men are cads, some are sex-fiends, rapists, molesters, and child abusers. But you will agree with me that these do not define all men. Similarly, not every women is chaste and innocent - there are the rotten apples among them too.

So let's not play this blame game everytime one party gets lauded. It hasn't got to be a zero-sum game. Men and women can get along very well, outside as well as within the marriage bond. Otherwise, this will be a dreadful world to live in indeed.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

$2,200 reward

SoccernomicsAgu Casmir is now reportedly paid $2,200 a month for his services as a soccer player for Woodlands Wellington. He is 21 this year. Now, who in Singapore at that age except an extremely small number of wage earners take home $2,200 + CPF? Plus match bonuses, the effective take home pay can be much higher. What we are not told is if WW is providing fringe benefits like rent-free, or at least subsidised, housing and other allowances such as those for travelling, equipment, medical, etc.

Is he very hard up? Is that punishment? Naah...So Agu is a very $ortunate man. He should feel deeply indebted, bound even, to play excellent soccer for WW from now on.

The biggest question remains: What if Agu does not deliver? Heck, what can WW do then except fire him? Can they ask Agu to pay back all those money that WW is throwing now to rescue him? I fear he would have spent all of it by then. Somehow, this sounds familiar, doesn't it?

But then, let's not judge him too early. Let's give him a chance, as WW is doing so now. Let's hope WW is right. Anyway, they've put money where their mouth is, so that's a credit to them.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blood on the innocent

Bloodied handsI cannot understand it. I just cannot. What would a 2 year-old girl have done to deserve death? Kidnap maybe - for being valuable to loving parents, a scolding even for being naughty, but death for a girl who may yet have uttered a full and intelligible sentence to offend anyone? Yet this is the fate of a 2 year-old girl found dead, possibly murdered, near Circuit Road where she lived and was reported to have disappeared. That's where a relative of mine lives.

When the story broke last week, I was puzzled how a 2 year-old girl could have gone missing so fast, and even incredulous that she may have crawled all the way to Bedok from Aljunied. But that was what desparate people were doing to look for the girl. We now know that she was likely murdered by none other than her step-father, a twenty-something delivery man. What led him to do such as thing? I cannot imagine. Now that he has been apprehended by the police, the truth will come out soon enough. The country waits with bated breadth the revelation of the truth behind this sad sad event.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tipping for Good Service

TippingWell, it came up again - tipping, I mean. One Alvin Gho wrote in to the Straits Times advocating the restoration of tipping as a practice to improve the service standards among our people. I can't agree more. I wrote to Today some time ago advocating the same. Some other letter writers also agreed. But I remember one who expressed horror at the suggestion. I don't understand that sentiment except that the writer is living in the past and change is a very uncomfortable thing for him.

I wouldn't have come to hold this opinion but for the fact that I have done my fair share of travelling, sometimes on pleasure and many times on business. Of course, tipping outside of Singapore is fairly common. While I would not claim that better service came along with it all the time in those countries, I learnt to appreciate the fact that it is a source of income for many of these service people. We should not begrudge a person his/her just desert if the service was performed well. I have also come across people who are generous tipsters - certainly much more generous than I - that I pale in comparison in the tipping 'department'. I blame our 'no tipping' culture for having ingrained in me an inability to reward good service well. That calculator in the head never ceases to function, if you know what I mean.

Well, the world has gotten smaller for a long time now, and if Singapore wants to join the ranks of the global city in respect of service, it is time that we learn how to reward people for good service. A service charge always sounded forced, and we never really can establish an appreciation of the service rendered or the person who rendered it. We'd always feel that the service came packaged, as a matter of course, and the person who rendered the service is collecting on behalf of the establishment he/she happens to work for. It's not personal, and therein lies the problem.

Our economic planners are bullish on the service industry. Like it has always done, it is engineering a major shift of the economy toward the service industry. But service itself cannot be merely engineered. Formulas like 10% service charge + 3% cess + 2% whatever are an anarchronism in a truly service-based industry.

How can the service industry improve if we carry on like this?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

It just got bigger

Pasir-Ris Punggol Group Representative Constituency (GRC) just got bigger. With the growth in the population in the area covered by this constituency, it will have 6 MP's to represent the ward in the coming General Election. The opposition parties have always complained about the inequities thrown up by GRCs. So with a giant GRC like Pasir-Ris Punggol, the challenge got bigger - literally. I doubt they will want to add one more person to their team just to fight for this ward. Furthermore, this ward is helmed by a relative heavyweight in the form of Radm Teo Chee Hean.

For me, this means that I can take a rest on polling day, go wherever I want so that I make full use of the public holiday usually declared for such occasions. I do not believe that polling day will be a Saturday because that goes against the family-friendly policy that was enacted not too long ago. Some say this is also one of those election sweeteners, so if it is taken away, some fence sitters might jump over to the 'other' side, if only to register a protest vote?

Well, all these are just speculation. Believe it if you will, spread it if you want, but don't lay the blame on me if none of the above prove accurate.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Virginally yours

These are exciting times for the young, particularly when you are between the ages of 14 and 19. Why so? Because:
  1. You are not old enough to earn your keep, but you can get part time jobs that will fund your toys (read top of the line handphones, etc.)

  2. You are not old enough to have a family of your own - you know, husband/wife, kids and the dog - but you are obliged to experiment - and hope you won't start one.

  3. If hope doesn't hold out, you can't announce to your parents that you have lost your virginity, but that doesn't stop you from telling the rest of the world this fact through those 'for your eyes ony' video of you having sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend.

Virgin of QuitoThere are certain things about you that you might want to keep, particularly those things that you can have only once in a lifetime. When it is lost, it can never be recovered, not EVER. One of these is one's virginity. However, today, being a virgin is odd, undesirable even. Instead of admiration, you'd be ridiculed for being one, like what Donald Trump did to one of the project managers on his show last week. Of course, Trump is no paragon of virtue himself, nor does he pretend to be one. But I wonder about a person's value of self-worth when that person feels that he/she must measure up to those of a flawed individual's.

There will always be peer pressure. The measure of your maturity is not to boast that you have lost your virginity before 19, or that you have filmed yourself having sex. Rather, it is to love yourself enough not to succumb to tempations at the spur of the moment. Keep your head on and don't loose those marbles!