Monday, March 31, 2008

EZ Today

I didn't know that Today had a Reader (called EasyReader in version 2.9 BETA now) that one can install on the computer and used to retrieve its news stories. I have all along subscribed to its daily paper in electronic format via e-mail for the odd occasion when I forget to pick up a print copy, or when the print copies for that day run out. It is therefore nice to know that Mediacorp, Today's parent, is printing another 50,000 copies to meet the demand. Mediacorp is also saying that readers should turn to the online editions to get the daily news fix. EasyReader does make reader Today Online more easy and pleasant to read. Reading the e-mail copy can be a real chore, actually. For those planning to install the Reader, be warned that you need to really have your Microsoft O/S patched well to successfully have the Reader installed and running. This is really easy. Just go to Internet Explorer and do a Windows Update. I don't own a Mac, so I cannot say for sure, but the EasyReader is not supported on that platform. You also need to register with Today Online as the Reader will prompt for a userid and password to access the site. Registration for an account is free, for those not already in the know. The Reader is fairly responsive and it has some nice features such as allowing you to annotate the news or articles and to file a copy of a news story - features that costs an arm and a leg for pdf documents.

The only complaint I have with this version of Today Online is that it doesn't have the advertisements that comes with the print copy. You'd think that that would be a god-send as I wouldn't have to waste time flipping through those ads. But I ready find the ads in Today quite interesting and informative. So in spite of EasyReader, I would still want to get my hands on a print copy. Besides, I share this with another person, who doesn't use the computer all that often.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Three of the worst

When you get 3 of the best - or worst - on the butt for nothing, you'd be upset and extremely so. Some would resign themselves to bad luck, a tacit admission that they shouldn't have been in that position (pardon the pun) in the first place. Others will see this as the height of injustice, particularly when it is the justice system that has perpetrated the injustice.

I am referring to the case of a Mr Dickson Tan, who was jailed for crimes he had committed. He was also sentenced to be canned. But unfortunately for everybody, he was canned 3 more strokes than what the judge originally ordered. Mr Tan reportedly raised the objection at the extra strokes but the prison authorities ignored his protest and went ahead to whack him another 3 times. It turned out the prisoner was right and the jailors were wrong. And Mr Tan's family and the lawyer advising them are demanding justice. In admission of its culpability, the government has reportedly already paid out an "interim" amount of $8,000, but out-of-court negotiation towards the the final amount eventually broke down. Now, in a reversal of roles, Mr Tan is taking the government to court.

Cases like these are rare in Singapore, and when it happens, it makes news. I leave the unfolding saga to the press to cover. Suffice to say that I sympathise with Mr Tan, and I don't think I will be far wrong to say that many Singaporeans and foreigners living amongst us feel the same way. The administration of justice is serious business in Singapore. It is one of those pillars that makes the system of government the envy of many. But mistakes will inevitably be made. And when they are made, justice must continue to prevail - for both parties. It is gratifying to note that the government is not shirking its responsibilities but it is not paying just any amount to appease the protagonists. This is also right, because whatever payment is agreed upon, it is the taxpayers' money.

I am in no position to say whether $3 million is the right amount of compensation. Ultimately, the court will decide. When a professional Property Valuer puts a value on a piece of property, it is based on certain concrete parameters - like location, amenities, age, floor size, etc. But how do you value the suffering, the hurt and the pain of the excess 3 strokes of the cane? Should the economic measure of "diminishing returns" be used? After all, he had deservedly suffered the correct number of strokes of the cane before he suffered the excess. Is each subsequent stroke more painful than the earlier one? There may be a case to say no. But of course, lawyers would like to use more subjective measures because that is the only way they can argue a wrong to a right, an ambiguity to a clarity. In this case, compensation for medical expenses is an objective measure. But 'loss of future earnings' and, particularly, loss of 'marriage prospects'? How does getting whacked an extra 3 strokes lead to this? Sure, Mr Tan is reportedly suffering from schizophrenia, paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder, but how can anybody, including his psychiatrist, say for sure that these are due to the extra 3 strokes and not to the first few deserved ones? Of course, "expert" witnesses, both probably well-regarded psychiatrists, will be trotted out to give evidence for and against the case (if this goes to court, i.e.), using the same medical diagnostic techniques that are part of their profession. It is a wonder that we often  see these same diagnostics give rise to different interpretations by these experts.

Which is why, and pardon me for saying so, I often feel that psychiatrists sell snake-oil more than anything else. And lawyers, what to say about them? They sell lizard-oil, I suppose. Now I need my head examined...

Image source:  Author: Dave Watts

Friday, March 28, 2008

Out of the mouths of dentists

I have had nothing but positive things to say about Ikea, the global knock-down furniture retailer. Pretty much a third of the furniture in my house comes from Ikea. So I was disturbed to read that a woman customer found it necessary to be abusive to one of its cashiers when she was told that the product she was checking out was $60 more expensive than what was suggested in the computer system. The cashier, to his credit, sought authorization from his supervisors, who then offered to refund the excess amount to her through a credit transaction to her credit card account (I assume she was paying by card).

One month ago, I bought a coffee-table off Ikea's AS-IS section. When it was delivered, the delivery man damaged the table-top when he pull off the tag which was pasted on the table-top. I made a complaint to Ikea and told them I no longer wanted the table. True to its promise, it took back the table and duly refunded the money I had paid through a credit to my card account. All this while I had thought that products bought off its AS-IS section weren't refundable or returnable. I was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which Ikea accepted the Return - like it promised: no questions asked.

So whoever the woman is who made such an unnecessary fuss, I say, get off your high horse. If she is a dentist, as she claimed to be, I'd be terrified to go into her dental clinic. Who knows what will come out of her mouth as I subject my to teeth to inspection and cleaning. Yikes!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sans Power

One hour of total darkness on a Saturday night between 8 and 9pm? Called Earth Hour 2008, it is meant to create an awareness of global warming. That's great! It wouldn't be difficult for me to 'take part' because on most Saturdays between those hours, I am not home anyway. I'll probably be dining in a restaurant with the family - a ritual meant to bond the family. But wait a minute, what if the restaurant I dine in decides to join in this programme? Then I'll really be out of a meal as my wife doesn't cook on Saturday evenings. I thought this is to save on energy, not sap my energy at the same time and leave me famished. But of course, such an event requires planning.

First, buy a dine-in meal from Pizza Hut or McDonalds or KFC and have it delivered way before the hour. Otherwise, the delivery guy will surely get lost. Get the candles and matches ready. Make sure the matches work. Get out a board game - say, Monopoly, or Scrabble. These games force you to sit down for hours on end so you don't need to move around and knock over furniture in the darkness. Some would suggest powering up the PC Notebook on battery to do something more useful, but that is not in the spirit of the occasion. And make sure you empty your bowels way before hand too. You wouldn't want to have to start feeling your way to the loo to locate the bowl and...ok, I won't go into the specifics. And switch off your cellphone. Remember, fuel is burned to produce the electricity to charge your batteries in the first place. That'll get me through that hour. Moreover, this will get the kid off the PC for a change too.

No problem! Except don't have it on a night when MU plays Arsenal and preferably have it on a night when the mother-in-law plans to visit. That'll be dandy.

I am all for Earth Hour 2008! Really.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hard to swallow

I visited the Singapore General Hospital recently. The appointment was 11.30am, so after seeing the doctor at the Specialist Outpatient Client in Block 2, I put in the prescription at the Pharmacy just next to the SOC. I was pleasantly surprised that the pharmacy would take my handphone number so that it can SMS me when the medicine was ready for me to pick up. That was great because I could do lunch first instead of having to wait for my number to be called, which would take anything from 15 - 45 minutes, depending.

But lunch wasn't that great. I couldn't go far as I had to return to the pharmacy when the SMS from the pharmacy came in, so I settled at the KOPI cafeteria for lunch, just a stone's throw away. I was shocked. A 'economic rice' plate of 1 meat + 2 vege set me back by S$4.50. I can understand this kind of pricing if I were in a Shopping Centre Foodcourt operated by Kopitiam, or Koufu, of some similar operator. At these places, for what I ordered at KOPI, I'd probably have to pay S$4.00 at most. I noticed that many patrons at this cafeteria were senior citizens, couples, and I just thought that they could have found these prices forbidding. Some just ate a 'pau' and two 'siew mai' although it was lunch hour. I wondered if they didn't have appetite for the food or for the prices. Eat, a person must. It is not an option, like having a cup of coffee or a snack. The cafeteria was doing a roaring business. The queue at the 'economic rice' counter kept moving along, but never disappeared the whole 45 minutes I was there having, what else, my expensive lunch. And it wasn't because service was slow. Everybody behind the counter had their hands full, so much so that they didn't even notice me in front of their dessert counter. I gave up and took a cup of tea (which cost much less) instead, at another counter.

Why is food so expensive at a cafeteria located in a government hospital, I wondered? (OK, ok, its a 'restructured' hospital, but it isn't in the same category as say, Mount Elizabeth Hospital or Raffles Hospital, which are privately run hospitals. Restructured Hospitals in Singapore are still 100% owned by the government). Well, its no mystery, actually, These operators lease the place from the owner of the place - the hospital/government - at a certain tendered price. They probably bid high, and so have to charge more to recover their fixed rental cost. Of course, the biggest beneficiary is the hospital/government - which probably rakes in big bucks just from rentals of cafeteria space. It would appear that that's the other big business that government hospitals are into these days, besides charging huge fees for the beds, the medicine and the medical care. This reminds me of how when McDonalds, the hamburger chain, started in the US, it was more a real estate business than a hamburger business through an inspired approach to buy its stores and the land they sit on and rent them out to the food business. Even today it is doing the same thing. (see McDonald's Commands a Real Estate Empire in Russia, Ray Croc's McDonalds). But I digress.

The government does provide subsidies towards these medical related services (at least for citizens), I grant you. But 'taxing' visitors to the hospital indirectly at such 'top-end' high prices, particularly the old (and likely economically inactive) among us, for a simple meal? This is not a Shenton Way crowd here, man. I mean, nobody goes to a hospital for a gourmet lunch or dinner right? Even KF Seetoh of Makansutra, in reviewing hospital food, wrote about the food from the hospital's kitchen and not those from the public eateries. So food is not why people visit the hospital. I cannot but begin to wonder what kind of deal people, and especially the older ones among us, are getting. Another example of government 'give and take', I suppose.

It is said that in Singapore, you'd better not get sick. I say that in Singapore, you'd better not visit the hospital on an empty stomach, especially during lunch time. And if you cannot help it, take along a sandwich from home or a neighbourhood bread shop. It'll go down your tummy more easily.

Image source: Author: melodi2

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tasting your own medicine

I am an avid cycler, bicycler, err...cyclist, bicyclist, whatever. You know what I mean. I have written elsewhere of how, when I lived in the British Naval Base during my childhood, that I used to cycle all over that sprawling military base. And because it was a protected place, the roads where relatively safe. With a majority of the workers cycling to and from work, a cyclist is in good company. I developed my love of cycling then.

Unfortunately, all things had to come to an end. The family had to move because the Naval Base was to be redeveloped. Sembawang New Town sits on pretty much what I knew as my childhood home today. I tried to cycle as often in my new home in Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood, but soon discovered too much obstruction and danger that took the joy out of the cycling. So I pretty much stopped, until I relocated to Pasir Ris later - that bicycle town, where I resumed my love affair with the bicycle, roping in my wife, who, believe it or not, had never learnt to cycle. I have since moved again and for reasons I have yet to understand, stopped cycling. So I can appreciate the present debate over the rights of cyclist on footpaths, the irritating cyclists who think they have the right of way by ringing their bells at you, the pedestrian, and all. I still love cycling but dislike the imperious way that cyclist behave, as if they have the right of way on footpaths Just because one has two wheels doesn't imply ownership or right of way.

Cyclist - if you want to over-take a pedestrian, go around them, if there is a grassy path beside the footpath. If there isn't, respect the pedestrian's right of way. If you can't wait, don't honk at the pedestrian. As a pedestrian, I have always felt offended by such action and intentionally NOT move aside. Get down from your high horse and wheel your wheels around the pedestrian. Remember, you don't own the road. If you don't behave, eventually some people will be forced to throw the book at you. Then it'll be hardship for the cyclist, and they have only got themselves to blame.

I hope it doesn't come to this because I would very much like to get on my bicycle again one day and not have to cycle only on the roads, competing with motorists, who are not so easily bullied. If that ever happens, cyclists will get a taste of their own medicine. And you can't throw any rule book at the motorists because its their road to use, what with all the taxes they have already paid for that right.

Image source: Author: taliesin

Thursday, March 20, 2008

rednano or yes

When SPH labels its just-out-of-the-stove rednano search engine as a beta product, it really means it. So far, I have runned three searches through it - 'LTA', 'ERP' and 'Lee Kuan Yew'. The results returned look ok, but the page loading just doesn't seem to end although all results for the first page is completely displayed in the browser. I am using Firefox 2 (latest stable version, not the version 3 beta) and I can open another tab, no problem. But when I try to tab back to the rednano results page, or indeed to any tab opened earlier, it just doesn't do so. It is as if the browser has hung. A look at the tab containing the rednano page indicates that the page is still being loaded. The only way out of this lock is to first close all the tabs, which will get you back to the tab containing the rednano page, and then click on the browser's stop button. Then only can you take control of that page and do another search, or close the tab. Internet Explorer 7 is more explicit about the problem. The error is 'Stack overflow at line 0', whatever that means. But you can overcome the problem by ignoring the error. (p.s. as of today, 20th Mar, this error seem to have been resolved).

This is not a very promising start to a custom search engine that focuses on searching Singapore sites only. Actually, I wonder if SPH has wasted money and time developing this custom search engine in the first place. A roughly similar result can be obtained through Google by putting the 'site:sg' directive after the search word/phrase on I tried it, and yes, roughly the same results are returned. Well, the rednano results seem to be more targeted as opposed to, but any refinement to the searches in Google can be handled by further refining the search directive. For example, indicate .gov to return only government sites, or .com sites for commercial related sites.

If this is consistently so, why do we need rednano anyway? But of course, for SPH, it will be a great advertising avenue, though it is a tad late in this game. Better late than never, I suppose.

rednano search results for 'LTA'. Search done on 19 March 2008 search results for 'LTA'. Search done on 19 March 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cooked Deal

Good for them. They came, they listened, and they changed. Well, not the policy. It is still pickup-stop-at-taxi-stands-only in the CBD. But now the Authorities, the LTA, is allowing additional stop and pickup at 'side roads', i.e. roads that do not have public buses plying them. And the LTA is probably stepping on the accelerator putting up taxi stands so that more stops can be made by taxi drivers in the CBD. And I heard that buildings can put up their own taxi stands too? I am not sure that last bit is a good thing, but we can trust the LTA to put things right if it goes awry, right?

While all these go a long way to addressing the grouses of taxi drivers and commuters alike, it still leaves certain things unresolved - like handling the handicapped. But we can't have the cake and eat it too, apparently. So the word on everyone's mouth is, "Why didn't the LTA think through the issues properly before hastily implementing the policy?". You wouldn't have expected this from Singapore's reputed efficiency, but there you have it. By being efficient and quick to implement a policy, it leaves all the stakeholders behind. On the other hand, I do not wish to see a government paralysed into inaction because it is afraid it may not have considered all angles of a policy before being caught out in its implementation.

Just think how it will affect people's rice bowl next time. That's where the loudest noise comes from, like how some people, through their negligence at the Whitley Road Detention Centre, must now be feeling awfully miserable for allowing Mas Selamat to escape, causing a lot of people to lose business at the Causeway. Less business means less tax receipts mean less bonus from the government next year, get it? Yeah, whoever it is should feel even more guilty now.      

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Futile Demos

There he goes again! Dr Chee Soon Juan caught in an illegal public protest, this time outside Parliament House. This time, his sister, Chee Siok Chin, may have gotten into more serious trouble than staging an illegal demonstration. She reportedly tried to bite a police officer who was attempting to arrest her. Now, that is ill-advised. I thought they don't believe in violence, that all the demos that Dr Chee and Co. have held so far are peaceful though totally irritating to the police.

I do not know what effect all these demonstrations have anyway. If it is meant for local consumption, it is not working. I, for one, find his tactic tiresome. He does not bring up issues that are truly of critical concern to most Singaporeans. Yes, inflation is a concern but it isn't that the government has not tried to help. Yes, the GST increase from 5% to 7% was, in retrospect, ill-timed, exacerbating the inflationary pressures. But few would argue that it is unnecessary in the long run. That is why Dr Chee's show of protest never attract the mass that makes demos effective as a voice of the people, like in the Philippines and recently, in Malaysia. Doesn't Dr Chee realise by now that few see the need or the relevance in standing with him? It is not all due to political apathy. There are avenues to get ones' personal grouses heard in Singapore. The MPs, the blogs and the press. And it appears that the government is quite responsive to these complaints. Take that very unpopular stop-only-at-taxi-stands policy enacted a little more than 2 weeks ago. Now the government has promised to take the scheme back to their drawing boards. Hopefully, they will tweak it enough to satisfy most, if not all, stakeholders in this hasty policy enactment. Yeah, we don't like it when the government shoves the thing right down our throats, but we cannot say that the government is not listening and acting on the complaints.

But if all this is meant for foreign consumption, then I cannot but condemn his attempt to use outside parties, pressure groups, etc., to hurt Singapore and Singaporeans. We don't need others to help settle our differences, and certainly we do not need any pressure to be put on us to change one policy or another, or for that matter, even the government. That's for Singaporeans to decide on their own. If this is what Dr Chee had intended, then he is being unpatriotic and disloyal to the people for whom he claims to be standing up for.

So it appears that Dr Chee has lost the plot and the sentiments of the people. He just must stop wasting everybody's time with his demos and the states' money in policing this nonsense, which serves not an iota of benefit to the people for whom he claims he is championing. There are more ways than one to help the people. His one dimensional approach has already condemned him to irrelevance and worst - ridicule. And for a some time politician, that is worse than death itself.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Give me my money

There have been calls in Parliament to reverse the increase in the GST rate from 7% back to the 5%. It would be good news for the people if this were done at all, but I suspect it wouldn't make much of a difference to the prices of goods and services. Prices have already gone up and they wouldn't come down even if the GST is rolled backed, especially where product prices are inclusive of GST. In these cases, businesses will save the two percentage cut in the CPF but those savings will likely NOT be passed this back to the consumer. So the net gain for the man in the street is absolutely zero, zilch. As the saying goes, 'its too little too late'. Prices have gone up not just because of GST, although that is one contributory factor. Other more 'sticky' factors continue to play a part in forcing prices northwards - e.g. the price of oil and raw materials that even the Finance Minister has no control over.

Yes, some people think of subsidizing these cost increases from government money, like what our neighbour to the north is doing. But even there, those subsidies are proving difficult to sustain in the long run and quite simply distorts the market terribly, to their detriment. If Singapore were to do the same, it would be nothing short of disaster.

Instead, I rather like the way the government has been giving cash back to the people lately. People get to spend the money, or not, on things they fancy. There is no distortion of the market. The government just encashed my Economic Restructuring Shares (ERS) by sending more than a thousand dollars into my bank account (mind you, not my CPF account, which makes all the difference). Additionally, it just gave out cash in the latest budget, though I didn't get the lion's share. The government has also just slashed my income tax bill for last year and told me I needn't file my income tax this year (well, I am one of the 300,000 or so salaryman given this 'privilege'). So really, I can't fault the government, except for the truism that the PAP government is very fond of giving away and taking back. There has always been this love-hate relationship for as long as they have been in power.

Now, the PM has expressed his fear that Singaporeans are beginning to view handouts as a matter of course - something that will happen every year come budget time. I empathise with him. Although there was a short-lived recession in 2004, for the most part of this decade, Singapore has seen wealth and prosperity. A generation is growing up never having tasted times of impoverishment. I blame the government. They are doing too good a job as far as the economy is concerned, surprising even themselves when they total up the tax receipts last year. Another way of looking at this surprising outcome is that all the government-sponsored PhD's still in government can't count very well. But its a happy problem, so nobody is being sacked for failing his/her maths. Lesson: never under-estimate.

But who can you blame when the government keeps on exceeding people's expectations? The government doesn't believe a lot in subsidies, more cash to the people is their way. Who doesn't want cold hard cash? And so long as the government feeds this 'fetish' for cash every year, Singaporeans will develop a dependency - something which may return to haunt it when times turn bad, as it will in any capitalist economy.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Image source:  Author: Jane M. Sawyer

Friday, March 14, 2008

Top-down vs Bottom-up

A compulsory annuity come 2013. The last time the compulsory annuity proposal was foisted on Singaporeans, it was very unpopular, and frankly, half-baked (there's that word again). People primarily objected to the possibility that they may be funding/subsidizing somebody else's longevity, somebody whom they are not related to at the expense of their loved ones who may also outlive them. Why should my hard earned money, money earned and accumulated over a lifetime, be left to somebody else other than my family? Call it selfishness if you want, but that's very human, very natural, to take care of my own first before somebody else.

Unfortunately, the highly paid scholar-administrators in the Civil Service couldn't see this simple point. They handed Mr Lee Hsien Loong such a raw idea for him to pronounced in a very public National Day Rally speech last year. Well, the government can pride itself on making unpopular policies accepted, but it can't ride roughshod (again) over people's money, as it soon found out. To its credit, it didn't press the matter, but instead sent the matter back to a committee to have a re-look. Well, the proposals are out now, and it all seem to be much fairer this time around. The question is not how fair it is now. Rather the question is why this wasn't thought of first before the PM went on National TV to announce it?

You wonder now how well ANY public policy is thought through? So far, it seems that we have been making the right decisions most of the time, if a booming economy and mega-projects in the pipeline are any indication of measures that would have been taken in a slowing economy. Add to this the billions of dollars committed to the expansion of expressways and subway lines on the island and you have the classic recipe of governmental pumb-priming in a slowing economy over the next few years. That's the hidden writing on the wall.

Beyond the short term moneys, is the IR good for us in the long term? Is this push for the tourism industry lasting? I am old enough to know that tourism was an important part of the economy back in the 1970s. It slowed in the latter part of the 1980s into the 1990s until it was re-discovered just recently. The fact is that the island is so small that sustaining visitor numbers is not viable perpetually. We are now just profiting from the global terrorism phenomena that has made neighbouring destinations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and even the Philippines less than desirable. There are also the positives. The China Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Continental Indians, etc. are traveling like never before for leisure and entertainment. The next time you are out and about, try to listen in on what others are saying. No, I don't mean be a busybody. Listen to what they are saying, or rather, the language they are using. Increasingly, the language you hear spoken won't just be English or Singapore-accented Mandarin, but China-accented ones and tongues that sound Indian and Chinese - Indochinese. Yes, you've just met our guests from China and Vietnam.

I recall the last major boom in visitor arrivals, and that was in the 1970s when the Japanese swarmed in to buy up whatever Singapore had to offer because of the comparative cheapness of the goods. Many Singapore companies grew rich from this. I personally know of a company which grew from a cottage industry to a branded chain today because of this influx of tourists from Japan. It is happening again now, this time with another group of travelers.

Of course, we will not know for sure now, but my sense is that it cannot last - I mean the tourism thing. We don't have to discuss resorts because we don't really have any to start off with. And the island is so small, you'd need at most 2 days to look at everything that is worth looking at. But this is a subject for another time...

Image source: Author:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Raw deal

The LTA just won't give up, would they? In its latest response to the many and varied complaints from the public, but locals and foreigners, about the ill-conceived stop-and-pickup-at-taxi-stands only policy concerning taxi services in the Central Business District (CBD) or downtown, it is just sticking to its guns and proposing to build more waiting lots (at the same number of taxi stands) and improve signages to guide people to these same taxi stands.

Granted, these will go some way in easing people's compliance with the new rules. But they do not address the problems that have been aired so far. Is the LTA serious about helping or hindering the wheels of business in the BUSINESS district? The problems highlighted by many have not been addressed at all. If the LTA still doesn't want to budge, may I suggest some solutions:

No. The Problem My Humble Solution
1 The Rain Build covered walkways.
2 The Heat of the midday sun Build covered walkways that link directly to every building. Alternatively, take a taxi only during the early morning or late late afternoon. Disadvantage: Commuters will have to pay Peak hour surcharges.
3 The spoilage of the pretty make-up of (mostly women) from the 'elements'.
Cover the covered walkways and air-condition them end-to-end.
4 Budget Hotels with no grand entrance (so taxis can stop or pick up passengers there).
Acquire the land, close the hotel and build a taxi stand over it.
5 The heavy luggage. Build 2-way carousels under the covered walkways, from the buildings to the taxi stands.
6 First time visitors who may not be able to read nor understand our signs. Tell them to take the next taxi to Changi Airport and come back when they can read English. There is no guarantee that the signs will be written in the 4 official languages of this island republic.
7 People who have no sense of directions. Send them to the Institute of Mental Health to see a shrink who can straighten them out.
8 The handicapped and other physically challenged people. Sorry, the CBD is for the able-bodied. The Singapore General Hospital is just down the road, though.

Why is it that I am beginning to feel that the LTA isn't a very business friendly, taxi friendly, visitor-friendly, handicapped-friendly, women-friendly and tourist-friendly organisation? And we thought that the people running these government agencies are civil servants! Well, civil they don't appear to be and servants they certainly are not!

Why don't they admit they have not cooked the broth sufficiently? Instead they propose to throw in more of the same stuff into the pot without cooking it properly again!

Image source: Author: Kevin Rossel

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

T1 T2 T3 T4

What's the big hoo-haa over plans for the new Terminal 4 at Changi Airport? The Singapore government has been known to plan for future way ahead of time. I remember when I was in school back in 1981, I had a teacher whose husband was a civil engineer working on Singapore's then spanking new airport to replace Paya Lebar Airport. She let out what her husband had told her that even as T1 was about to be opened for business, T3 was already on the drawing board. Changi Airport started operations in 1982. Well, T3 was only opened this year, on 9 January 2008, some 27 years after I first heard of it.

Maybe the timescale has shifted and T4 might become a reality earlier, but it certainly won't be in this decade or the next. So any talk of it now, how it will look like, how big it is going to be, how it would be necessary in the light of the competition, etc., etc. is premature. Things will definitely be different, say, in 20 years' time. Then we will know if our assumptions today 'hold any water'. Certainly there will be things we never expect today. The economic environment may have changed. Will Asia's attractiveness be in decline? Will South America become the world's engine of growth, taking over from the US what it is today? Perhaps some things never change - the greed, the enmity and age-old wars and conflicts. But flash points will change.

Will air travel even be relevant given the pace at which technology advances. Today, we can tele-conference with people half way across the world. Add in virtual reality and you can probably also shake your counterparts' virtual hands, and virtually feel it. Is there even a need to meet face to face? Is there a need to fly? Sure, some people travel on business not just for business alone but throw in the pleasure along the way, like visiting casinos. But in time to come, you wouldn't even need to visit Las Vegas for that roll of the dice - gambling would have gone high-tech and virtual by then.

I am sure somebody is analyzing these scenarios to predict and prepare for the future. T4 is just one of the imaginary models in these analyses. There is still time - at least 20 years of it. T4 blueprints will certainly morph on the drawing board over time. How it morphs remains to be seen.

Image source: Author: Scott Liddell

Friday, March 07, 2008

Conspiracy Theories

As the search for Mas Selamat enters its 9th day, with no sight even of his underwear (which must smell terribly by now), many conspiracy theories are beginning to float around. One has it that Mas Selamat is actually quite dead, not in the forests near the Whitley Detention Centre, but in Whitley Detention Centre itself. According to this conspiracy theory, Mas Selamat died of some cause in the Centre for reasons yet unknown but it was decided to put on a show that he had 'escaped'. Did anybody see him running away? No. He just disappeared, right? Right! News of his faux escape was intentionally let out in order to draw out his remaining accomplices on the island, and even those outside it in order to wipe out the JI once and for all. Why did you think Interpol was notified anyway? Better to use a dead man while, err...he is dead, to get the rest of his gang. That'll be an inspired move.

Another conspiracy theory has it that an important person's son/daughter had been kidnapped by the JI. In order to secure his/her release, a secret agreement was reached to let Mas Selamat go. But since hostage swapping is not the Singapore way, the next best thing was decided on - let him 'escape'. It was all assisted. So the great toilet escape/break is not so great after all. It is more like the great toilet flush. Is it any wonder that he is still not found?

Yet another conspiracy theory has him unknowingly tagged (electronically) and allowed to escape so that he can eventually lead the police and the international community to his mother-of-all lairs. This way, his whole gang can be eliminated in one fell swoop. Of course, a variation of this theory is that his accomplices will find out that he has led the police to them so they will kill Mas Selamat for betrayal of the highest order. This is an old Chinese strategy - borrow one's knife to kill.

A fourth conspiracy theory goes like this. With more poor and needy people in Singapore nowadays, it just isn't morally right to keep giving Mas Selamat a free roof over his head, with free valet, cooks and guards to tend to him, notwithstanding the unexpectedly huge government surplus last year, right? Like the great General Douglas 'I will Return' MacArthur said in his brilliant leap-frogging strategy in the Pacific War, 'Let's ignore these enemy soldiers that remain on the islands, let the jungles eat/kill/finish them for us'. He can only run into the nearby forest which he can never hope to leave because his face will be plastered everywhere. The police will put on a show of searching for him for as long as it takes for the jungle to kill him. It is likely that he will be dead in a week, at most. Thank you, General MacArthur (and the military historians from the National University of Singapore, who suggested this).

A fifth theory has it that the US is secretly putting pressure on Singapore to dump its Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial, though they conveniently overlook Guantanamo Bay in their own backyard. In order to appease a great ally, Mas Selamat was allowed to escape so that he will either lead the police to his accomplices, die in the jungle, or any variations of the above theories.

All these account for the question on everyone's lips when the press went to town only 4 hours after his actual escape to report on the event: how can anyone escape from Singapore's prison? Easy - he was intentionally let out. That 4 hours was necessary to cover any tracks and destroy incriminating evidence of a conspiracy.

Have you heard of any other conspiracy theory?

Image source: Author: Michael Ponton

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Battering Ram

Another instance of the LTA pushing out a half-baked initiative the high-handed way? Well, it has got both taxi drivers and passengers fuming mad, though it may have cheered up car and bus drivers. Of course, I am referring to the latest traffic rule that taxis can only stop at and pick up passengers within the CBD area at designated taxi stands. The LTA reportedly built 10 more taxi stands within this area so that it can claim that there is a taxi stand every 300 m.

But you know, taxi commuters are already paying more for a ride, and now to have to tell them they can't stop right in front of their destination is adding oil to fire. But such high-handedness from government agencies such as the LTA is nothing new. It has been practising this for umpteen years, implementing its policies by forcing rules down people's throat. For most times, Singaporeans have swallowed the thing down - hook, line and sinker, so to speak - albeit often grudgingly, but swallow they have done. The consequence of violating this latest rule is to be out-of-pocket by several hundred dollars and/or some demerits - for the taxi drivers. Well, I am not questioning that the government has to take draconian measures to ensure order and bring about a desired outcome. Having to face the electorate at some point to report not having resolved one thing or other is equally, if not worse.

But this latest taxi-taking policy does not appear to have been well thought through, as many letter writers to the newspapers have pointed out. LTA claims to have thought about them, but chose to view these as bearable problems (the people must be resilient). But what happens during a monsoonal downpour? You'd have to make your way to the taxi stand some hundreds of metres away in the pouring rain? As somebody has pointed out, the policy makers probably have never experienced this before, and so cannot imagine the great discomfort and inconvenience of it all. Fortunately, I do not work in the CBD area anymore, so this policy is of no consequence to me. But it is the manner in which government continues to set and implement rules that disturbs me. Given this patently half-baked policy, I would expect some reversal of sorts some time later. If so, what a waste of public funds in building those spanking new white elephants taxi-stands.

Before that happens, taxi drivers and their passengers will be mightily unhappy with each other - the passenger would be angry because the taxi driver would not bring them right to his doorstep, and the taxi driver would curse the government because it prevents them from giving good service to their customers, besides facing their wrath. Granted some taxi drivers have swerved in and out of traffic to catch that waving arm, thus potentially causing accidents, but there must be a better way of resolving this problem? The government must be more creative and less draconian. This would be in line with our becoming a nation with 'innovation' as its middle name.

Image source: Author: featherwolf

Saturday, March 01, 2008





(Worth more than a Pot of Gold)
(Even at the Price of Gold today)

(Somebody mentioned S$50,000 - S$100,000 as a likely sum for a reward in order to hasten Mas' re-capture. But what profiteth a man if he gains the whole world but loses his life at the hands of this terrorist? (Adapted))