Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fighting fire

I spoke to a few teenagers the other day about Sam Bacile's "Innocence of Muslims" and the widespead violent response to it. Imagine my surprise when they asked me what it was all about. With this news hogging headlines in every print and internet publication, it was incredible these youth of the internet generation were not all that aware of what was going on. I can understand it if they didn't know about the Chinese and Japanese tussling over an island somewhere between China and Japan. It is between 2 close neighbours who have had a long history of conflict. This latest demonstration over a amateur movie has been widely publicized and correspondingly vilified by adherents to the Islamic faith. Google has reportedly blocked the video to countries such as Libya, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia - countries with large numbers of Muslims. Although Muslims in Singapore do not form the majority, the government has also asked for it to be blocked and Google has reportedly obliged. Or has it?

There are now many versions of the movie. So much so that the movie, in part or in whole, is still accessible in Singapore. This goes to show that it is very hard to censor anything on the internet. Even countries which block access to Facebook, like China, fight a losing battle. It is relatively easy to bypass the restrictions with counter technologies. That's why I think that the best way to fight fire is with fire. This is what some Muslims have done, by putting up videos that counter the message of the "Innocence of Muslims". In my opinion, this is a far more rational and effective way of responding to something you don't agree with and not by staging violent and deadly demonstrations all over the world. These demonstrations only serve to prove that Islam is a certain type of religion, justifying the very accusations made of it.

But the mob is often unreasonable and, frankly, ignorant. Ask how many of those demonstrating have actually seen the movie and I will wager that not one of them has seen it. They may have heard about it, perhaps from many quarters. It is typical of people to exaggerate as they denigrate others. It works both ways. Sadly the net result is the death of Muslims rather than a real chastisement of the perpetrators of the video in question.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yes to dress

I rarely, well come to think of it, never, comment on fashion, and especially the way women dress. I'll make an exception because, like many, I am impressed with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's dress sense when she visited Singapore between 11 and 13 September 2012. The press and fashion people noticed and were generally full of praise for the dresses she wore on the many occasions she was in Singapore. I must admit, I was mesmerized. Sure those dresses would have cost quite a sum of money, but simple well designed ones can be quite affordable, especially in affluent Singapore. How do I know? When you have to accompany your wife out, you inevitably end up looking at dresses. Not that I care, i.e. But it did lead me to thinking how dressed down Singapore women are. I mean, its really boring.

The standard tog? Short shorts that expose the entire thigh. Period. Hello, doesn't anyone of you have anything else in the wardrobe? It's getting a bit boring, you know. Sexy yes, but boring nonetheless. Women 'throwing' their breast out in extreme figure hugging Ts swing heads, yes, but ultimately boring. They a dime a dozen nowadays. And don't start down the path of putting on less. It becomes slutty looking.

Singapore women have forgotten how to dress. They have forgotten the dress. And I don't mean mini dresses. One piece full length (down to the knees) type. Whether it is flared out A-lined or cheong-sum tube. Truth be told I have seen some women in beautiful dresses in the subways. They really are head turners, well at least mine, because they look so elegant and beautiful in their dresses. And knee length dresses are escalator-friendly too.

Say what you will, when you have the figure, a dress will accentuate it and put you in the best possible light. Over time, shorts just makes you look like a stick. The difference is whether your are a thick stick or a think stick. Heck sometimes the look is so androgynous.

Girls have the best figure when they are in their teens and into their twenties. No matter how much they eat, they'll maintain that figure. Its biological, really. Metabolism and all that. That's when they should put on dresses, and not wait until their inevitable pounds (its biological again, really) distort the body as they push into their 30's and beyond.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Educating the parent

The Ministry of Education (MOE) didn't disappoint. Apparently it heard from the ground about some of the grouses about the way children are taught in schools and the school system itself. So in its last policy revision, it is no longer ranking (banding is the word used by the MOE) schools. Indeed it now says that all schools are good schools, whatever that means. We know this is not true, but it doesn't harm to be ambiguous, does it? I suppose not. The MOE says that academic results is not the be all and end all of learning. I will agree wholeheartedly with them, except...

But I wonder if parents who still have school-going kids and who still face 2 major national exams - the PSLE and the GCE 'O' Levels, think they can go along, even against their best wishes? Look, so long as these exams exist in their present form and purpose, parents will still engage tutors, send their children for enrichment classes, and God knows what else, to give their children that extra edge. These latest initiatives will mean little. As they say, the devil is in the details. How will this policy be implemented? How extensive will be be? Will the MOE implement communist-style uniformity? What do we mean by unique programmes? Do they matter when its comes to these major exams? After all, the Education Minister didn't say that these national exams will be reformed. The PSLE, we can control and dictate. But we are apparently not touching. The GCE - well you have to call London.

So while I congratulate the MOE for admitting it had been wrong all along, it hasn't gone far enough for these changes to make any significant difference. If I were a private tutor today, I wouldn't worry about my rice bowl a single moment.

But we, the parents, should also do some deep reflecting. Because a large part of the blame for how we educate our children goes to us.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Wayang wayang

There was reportedly another wayang going on in Queenstown yesterday. For those who do not already know, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, was in town the last couple of days. One of their stops was in Queenstown where some shows were put up for them. mrbrown suggested that this was, well, a shallow show put up to, I suppose, rub someone's behind.

Well, even if this is wayang, it is good wayang. Don't tell me that when your aunt or uncle or brother, or even a friend visit, you don't try to be a good host? At least you would offer them a cup of water? Some would normally offer more. How much more? It depends. Some will even cook up a storm to entertain the guests. Apparently, mrbrown appears not to believe in hospitality.

It appears that online views and comments are taking on an increasing vitriol to the extent that the good, the bad and the ugly are all treated with equal disdain and ridicule, especially when it has got to do with the PAP government.. And it is sad that mrbrown has stooped to this level. How does he know that the people who lined the path that Prince William took were planted there to appear to welcome him? Hasn't it occurred to him that these people are genuinely interested and came of their own accord?

I have always enjoyed his humour, but when it goes off, it really isn't funny. Its rude to refer to your countrymen as actors and they could just as likely be there because they want to be there. If we blame the government for painting a version of the truth, aren't we also equally guilty with our own version?

Friday, September 14, 2012

What is the Point?

I cannot agree more with letter writer, Mr Nick McHugh, when he asked if it was odd that the government's response to incidences of death by cycling in Singapore is to increase penalties on cyclists (Stiffer penalties for cyclists do not solve the problem). I for one agree with him that this makes no sense. I sometimes, no, often, wonder, if our highly paid civil servants and political appointees are worth the money the state (read "tax payers") pays them.

There appears to be have been an increase in cycling accidents on Singapore's roads. Motorists and cyclists have weighed in on the case, each blaming the other. I do not drive nor own a bicycle. But I seriously doubt if another increased fine solves any problem at all except enrich the government coffers.

Right now, the Transport Ministry appears to be doing all it can to relieve the strained capacity on our public transport systems and roads. S$1.1billion has been set aside for buying buses over the next 10 years. Taxpayers are footing the bill for new buses for a profit making public-listed company. Steve Jobs would have said, "Amazing". COE's are at historically sky high levels. And we are even building another expressway for motor vehicles that will cut through and remove parts of Bukit Brown and several houses along the way. Several buildings, including Chinatown's Pearl Centre will be demolished to make way for the building of yet another subway line - the Thomson line. All these cost lots and lots of money Yet when it comes to putting bicycle lanes on our roads, government officials appear to have dismissed it outright, saying that it is going to be very expensive to retrofit our roads with bicycle lanes. Well, obviously our government does not believe in cycling or cyclists. It does not believe in saving the environment and the planet. Cycling is not only clean (as in not polluting), it is a good form of exercise. If we become a cycling nation, we can probably reduce our Health budgets substantially in the long run. But no, motorists, including some well paid government officials who cannot do without their cars, want to keep cyclists off the roads. Not even that, throw the book at any cyclist who misbehave, it says. As far as they are concerned, cyclists belong in the public parks or the road connectors. Perhaps best if they keep their cycling to the gym. Don't be seen and don't be heard, they seem to be saying. The roads - well we paid thousands of dollars every year to use them, isn't where minions on bicycles belong. Talk of elitism. Some government officials betray their stripes when they speak.

What's that? A National Conversation? Who are you trying to kid? It is already dead on arrival. Like what some people are saying, its probably going to be one big fat but very expensive wayang. Somebody said that since this is a government initiative, a government that was voted in in the last general elections, we should logically participate in the whole thing. Well, I would agree if this is a bipartisan effort, a national effort. As it now stands, no political opposition figure is in the committee headed by Mr Heng Swee Keat. Lets not forget that the division of spoils in the last GE was 60% to the sitting (PAP) government, 40% anti-PAP. 4 in 10 did not not agree with the government. Go figure.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Minting myths

I am glad that the honourable Member for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and a Senior Counsel no less, has given voice to what many Singaporeans have been whispering about around the island about the education system in Singapore. Among them was the oft heard claim that teachers defer to private tutors to do the teaching ("teach less, learn more"), and even encouraging parents to engage private tutors for their weaker students, if they haven't already. I have even written about it recently, but not with as much authority and plain-ness as the good MP and Senior Counsel. You can't ignore such a person, can you?

Well. the  Education Ministry couldn't ignore him and did reply. This was reported by the newspapers. Among other remarks, it stated that

"Teachers should not recommend tuition to students or parents as a form of learning support..."

It was also reported that its teachers do put in the extra hours for weaker pupils, even on a personal level.

"Where helpful and necessary, teachers may also provide individual coaching to such students outside lessons..."

Yah, I cannot help hearing a couple of sniggers around the corner now. What does MOE mean by individual coaching? It is not unheard of that some full time paid MOE teachers moonlight as paid private tutors. And parents seek these people out because they know the syllabus intimately and are considered more able to provide their children with the "right" coaching. How many are there of these? I don't know. Of course I have no proof of this. It is hearsay, but it is powerful and persistent hearsay, as even Mr Hri Kumar has heard it and very appropriately, written about it. And even if I did have proof (and I don't), I cannot divulge it because some people's rice bowls may be broken. I am sure that if this moonlighting thing is true, it involves only a minority. But of course there are those who do this legally. They spend some years in the educational system as teachers, then resign to become private tutors, which is more lucrative. Some even go on to publish school assessment books which parents snap up, making them even more money from the royalties. But lets not go into this subject now. In the main, I believe MOE teachers are committed and hardworking within their schools for their students. But black sheeps give a black name, don't they?

As far as I feel, and probably most other parents do so too, the MOE's reply which denies these rumours or myths enumerated by Mr Kumar, isn't convincing at all. After all, what do you expect? That they will contritely state that they are guilty as charged? What is needed are not mere words but action that demonstrates unequivocally that these are indeed myths, or if they are not, to put their foot down and stop this shameful behaviour. It is going to be a real challenge. Myths don't go away easily. After all, some myths have lasted for centuries. And the reason for their longevity is that nobody has put the foot down authoritatively to debunk the stories, or admit that the myths are no myths but facts. Anyway, some myths add colour to life. The longer hearsay stories linger, the greater the possibility of them developing into ones of mythological proportions. Myths have a way of propagating themselves. People like a good story. They love myths, never mind if there isn't any truth in them, or not.

I thank Mr Hri Kumar for doing his part in helping parents and their children seek clarification.

The ball is on MOE's court now. But judging by its response so far, it is going to be a long night. True or false. The myth persists.

See also Todayonline report.