Feb 28, 2007

Mr Wang's Baby No. 3

Well, not exactly. This is Mr Wang's Baby No. 2, and it's an old photo - she's grown up quite a lot since then. Now she's running, climbing and talking ... a lot.

I decided to post this little baby photo, because my wife and I have recently been talking about the possibility of having another little baby. No, we have not actually decided. We're just discussing.

The discussion is important, because either way, this should be a deliberate, considered decision. I think that very often, many Singaporeans don't realise that not having a child is a decision as much as having a child.

I make this point, because I've just read Kitana's post entitled
"Why Should Singaporeans Have Kids?". Kitana has heard all the usual reasons why Singaporeans don't want kids, and now she's trying to figure out the other side of the story - why Singaporeans should have kids.

In real life, I think that many Singaporeans fail to give the matter much thought, until it's too late. The matter is what Stephen Covey would call a 2nd Quadrant matter - it's important, but not urgent. All too often, human nature is to neglect tasks that are important, but not urgent.

Right now, you and your spouse are busy - with this, and that, and this. What about kids? Well, well, that's possible, but let's think about it later. Maybe next year. Next year comes around, and once again you're busy. Umm, this baby stuff is not urgent, let's think about it another time.

Well, unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn't give you forever to think about it. Wait too long, and you may never get another chance - as these Singaporeans are
discovering. There's a very strong correlation between infertility and the woman's age; this is a well-known fact that non-doctors (that is, most of us) often fail to appreciate.

Note - Mr Wang isn't saying that you should rush off and have a kid now. Mr Wang is saying that there's a natural time bar for such decisions. If you want kids, then choose when. If you don't want kids, then let that be your considered decision. And be aware that there may be no turning back.

Don't just keep taking a wishy-washy, we'll-think-about-it-later attitude. Before you know, you may hit the age when the ovaries won't stick and the sperm cells start swimming funny. No, IVF does not work all the time -
far from it.

Debating the Dinosaurs

I was watching TV last night. Well, no, I was actually playing dinosaurs with my kids (as usual, I get to be Tyrannosaurus Rex, heheh) but the TV was on. Suddenly I caught these words being spoken on TV, with great emphasis:

" There are SO many radical blogs out there, like Mr Brown and Mr Wang Says So."

Turns out that a debating competition was being televised. It was between Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Junior College. The motion was "Are young Singaporeans politically apathetic?".

I think that the Hwa Chong guy was trying to argue that that since "there are SO many radical blogs out there, like Mr Brown and Mr Wang Says So", this proves the motion that young Singaporeans are not politically apathetic.

This is flattering - I'm still young. Not such a dinosaur, after all. Even more flatteringly, Mr Brown is also young. What really makes me laugh is that Mr Brown and I are being described on national television as "radical". Well, I suppose that Singaporeans with strong opinions are still quite rare. Maybe that makes us "radical". But if we do represent the cutting edge of free speech in Singapore, that's a rather sad reflection on our society, actually.

In the past few days, I've been reading a couple of draft essays, meant to be compiled and published as a book by the Institute of Policy Studies later this year. They are not my essays - I've just been invited to read them and give some comments. The book is about digital freedom of speech in Singapore (oh yes, various bloggers are mentioned, including Mr Brown and me). To give you a flavour, here's the opening paragraph of the essay by Tang Hang Wu, an associate professor at the Faculty of Law:
"In 2003, Gary Rodan argued that although there are social groups in Singapore attempting to negotiate `new political spaces for expression on the Internet', these efforts `have generally been modest in their scale and impact'. Randolph Kluver, writing in 2004, took a similar view. Kluver concluded that during the 2001 Singapore General Elections, in terms of a means of outreach, the Internet has not been deployed effectively by the [political] parties in Singapore. However, we know that two to three years are a long time in Internet terms; Rodan's and Kluver's analysis may no longer be accurate to describe the state of digital speech in Singapore. In this paper, I argue that the 2006 Singapore General Election ("2006 GE") demonstrated that the Internet, due to its evolving architecture, has an impact on the laws and norms governing free expression in Singapore."
Somewhere in this essay, I get mentioned for my "intelligent and incisive critique of government policies". Interestingly, I am mentioned right next to Sammyboy, Rockson and Talking Cock. Hey, didn't you know, radicals tend to come in motley crews.

Tell you more next time, about this book and its essays. Mr Wang the Radical Young Dinosaur needs to go brush his teeth, shave and go to work now.

Feb 27, 2007

Duh. My Head Hurts.

Today we look at the first three paragraphs of a letter to the Straits Times Forum.
ST Forum Feb 27, 2007

I found PM Lee's Chinese New Year message very timely and meaningful.

He wisely reminded Singaporeans that they should work hard to keep the family unit strong and healthy. I cannot agree more. Through the family, we find love, support and fulfilment. When we face difficult times, it is the family that we turn to for comfort.

I am happy that PM Lee has pledged that the government will continue to do its best to foster strong family ties ........

Benson Lim Yin San
Stop right there and think. Think of all the family members you love most. Your mother. Your father. Your spouse. Your children. Your siblings. Your grandparents, aunties, uncles etc.

Now, Mr Wang invites you to answer the following questions.

What has the Singapore government EVER done to "foster strong family ties" between you and your mother? You and your father? How about your spouse, your children, your siblings ...?

The Straits Times publishes very strange letters.

But then, we have a Prime Minister who
claims that if he gave money to your family, it would break down. Suddenly, you would divorce your wife, disown your parents or something like that.

Ah, the mysteries of life in Singapore.

Feb 25, 2007

On Being Here, and Not Being Here

Vincent is a final-year student at NUS. He's doing a research project on "socio-political blogging". Sounds like a really fun piece of homework.

Anyway, he recently sent me a long list of interview questions. A few questions related to foreign talent, globalisation and the job market in Singapore. One question he had - how was I personally affected.

Well, the truth is, I haven't been adversely affected. If anything, I have benefited.

My job scope is Asia ex-Japan. I'm physically based in Singapore, but I work on projects and transactions across Asia - for instance, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Jobs like mine exist because the government has, for a long time, been encouraging big corporations to set up their regional HQs in Singapore.

In a sense, I don't even have to be in Singapore. I could be anywhere. Most of my work is done through emails and conference calls anyway - with people in half a dozen different countries.

Globalisation means that my economic fortunes are not tied exclusively, or even primarily, to the economic fortunes of Singapore. It would be more accurate to say that they are tied to the economic fortunes of Asia as a whole. This diversifies my risks (a good thing). In any given year, Singapore could sink, but I could still have a bumper year if a few big Asian markets like China, India and Korea do well.

The foreign talent policy hasn't hurt me either. I just happen to be working in an area where the relevant skills are scarce worldwide - and not easily replaceable, say, by a large pool of cheap labour from China or India. I do have foreign "competitors" from places like London and Hong Kong, but I think I can hold my own (anyway, they definitely lack the competitive advantage of being cheap).

So the general themes of my blogging don't necessarily reflect my personal life. I am writing for a wider audience, I am concerned about broader issues for Singaporeans. That's what this blog is about, anyway. It's not so much about me.

Every now and then, when I criticise some policy or new development in Singapore, I get some un-intelligent reader commenting, "Oh, if you are so unhappy with Singapore, why don't you emigrate then." How inane. I'm quite happy here, thank you very much. With a little good luck here and there, I've figured out ways to live my life it roughly along the lines of what I'd like it to be.

That doesn't mean that things are perfect for everyone else on this island - far from it.
Some people are really hurting. You just have to open your eyes, to see.

Feb 19, 2007

Thoughts on Foreign Talent

This man is Darrell Metzger. He's the CEO of the Sentosa Leisure Group. When he first came to Singapore in 2002, he was a poster boy for Singapore's foreign talent policy - see how Contact Singapore featured him here and here.

Darrell was an excellent choice for a poster boy, because in several ways, he exemplified the kind of foreign talent which Singapore should aim to be getting (if we were implementing our foreign talent policy properly).

Firstly, Darrell had a proven track record in his area of work. Secondly, few or no Singaporeans had comparable expertise in that area of work. Thirdly, it was an area of work where we clearly needed expertise.

Darrell's mandate was to revive Sentosa - to transform it from a rundown, half-dead, half-forgotten theme park into a lively, vibrant tourist attraction again. Darrell had experience in developing resorts all over the world (including Disneyland in L.A., Disneyland in Tokyo and Ocean Park in Hong Kong) and looked very much like the right guy for the job.

Indeed, he proved his worth. In my opinion, Sentosa has vastly improved since 2002. If you haven't been there for the past five years or so, you really should. In the past, I regarded as Sentosa as a trap for unsuspecting tourists; nowadays, I always enjoy taking my kids there for some fun over the weekend.

However, the problem with foreign talent, even when it's genuine foreign talent, is that it's foreign. It's international, it's mobile, it has no natural roots here, and you never know when it's just going to pack up and leave:

ST Feb 18, 2007
Sentosa chief quits for Dubai in surprise move
Tourism industry stunned by his announcement midway through 8-year masterplan; search on for new head
By Krist Boo

THE man largely credited with transforming Sentosa from rundown flop to booming pleasure isle has quit, midway through the eight-year masterplan he helped engineer.

American Darrell Metzger announced his resignation yesterday, stunning tourism industry players.

He had been widely expected to stay to see the last and biggest piece of the plan - Genting International's integrated resort and Universal Studios theme park - fall into place in 2009.

In a statement, Sentosa said Mr Metzger is heading for Dubai, where he will join a company that builds big leisure projects in the Middle East.

A global hunt for the 59-year-old's replacement will begin straight away and is likely to take three to six months.

Mr Metzger, who flies off on holiday today, declined to be interviewed.
I don't think that Singapore got a raw deal here. Yes, Darrell's departure is Singapore's loss, and some people are probably moaning and groaning right now about how on earth are they going to manage the IR projects without Darrell's guidance. But at least Darrell gave good value during his time here.

The problem is not so much with the likes of Darrell - who come with a proven track record, to fulfill a specific need which Singaporeans cannot. The problem, as I see it, lies elsewhere. Here's an
25 'O' level students share top spot with 9 A1s

SINGAPORE: More neighbourhood schools are producing top O-level students, especially with the likes of Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution offering the integrated programme whereby students skip the GCE 'O' level examinations and go straight on to do their A-level.

Although no student scored 10 A1s at one sitting for the 2006 GCE 'O' level exams, 25 students shared the top spot with nine A1s.

Three of them came from Xinmin Secondary.

One of them is Ru Mohan, a Chinese national who came to Singapore two years ago.

"Coming from China, my foundation of the English language was not that strong, so it took me a little bit more effort than the local Singaporeans to catch up with my English. I stayed in a boarding school and my roommate was from India. He spoke perfect English, so during my pastime, I practised speaking English with him," he said.

His roommate was Mehul Gopal Mangalvedhekar, one of the top Indian students.
If one imports a foreign talent like Darrell Metzger, with three decades of relevant experience, to meet a specific need in Singapore (like, revamping Sentosa), I have no argument with that.

But I have real difficulty in understanding why Singapore bothers to import foreign teenagers and pre-puberty kids to study in our primary and secondary schools. I don't believe that at that age, they have any special expertise, work experience or skills that Singapore needs.

The foreign kids we import may be very bright kids (well, at any rate, I seriously, seriously hope we don't import foreign dumb kids). I don't think that their brightness justifies bringing them here. If academic excellence is really what we want to see, then we should focus on improving the quality of education for Singaporeans, so that more Singaporeans will be academically excellent.

Otherwise we will just be wasting a lot of taxpayers' money. After enjoying their education subsidies here in Singapore, many of these foreign kids are just going to pack up and leave for their next spot on the world map. Remember - just like Darrell, they weren't born here and they have no roots here.

And unlike Darrell, they may not even contribute anything vaguely significant to Singapore, before they pack up and leave.

Feb 17, 2007

Political Sleight of Hand

A quick dash of illusion to kick off the Chinese New Year and subliminally hypnotise the unwary masses. Pay attention to the last sentence quoted:
ST Feb 17, 2007
Keep family unit strong and healthy, PM urges
In CNY message, he cites trend of more elderly people living on their own
By Li Xueying

AS FAMILIES gather tonight for their reunion dinners, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to keep the family unit strong and healthy.

It was not an unusual theme for the Prime Minister to refer to in his traditional Chinese New Year message. But what was unusual this year was that he devoted almost his entire message to how important that was.

There was one disturbing trend which he had observed which might account for this, and which made this year's message more pressing: more elderly Singaporeans living on their own ............

'let us never undermine the traditional responsibilities of the family, especially in looking after the elderly,' he said.

Singapore must avoid the pitfalls of Western-style welfare, where generous state benefits for the jobless and elderly have weakened the family unit, he added.
Awww. PM Lee is so kind and compassionate. He really, really cares for the happiness of your family, and that's why he won't give you any welfare benefits.

Sing me another song, birdie.

Feb 10, 2007

What Madonna Can Teach Singapore

When I first heard Madonna's songs, I was in primary school. Now I'm a father with two kids. And Madonna is still going strong. Looking at the picture on the left, it's hard to believe that she will soon be 50 years old.

Singaporeans are
talking about Madonna again because she just got banned here. Ironically, Madonna probably does not care. She may not even know. She's the highest earning female singer of all time. Last year her concert tour sold out in Europe, Japan, the US and Canada and grossed US$260 million. Conquering a little red dot like Singapore can't be high on her list of commercial priorities.

Although Madonna does not need Singapore, I daresay that in some ways, Singapore needs Madonna. You may or may not like her music. But her life story holds, in many different ways, the lessons that Singapore, and Singaporeans, need to learn. I'll just highlight five:

Madonna as the Outstanding All-Round Student

Many young Singaporeans study too hard. They may have a passion for non-scholastic pursuits, but they don't know how to achieve the balance. Consequently, all-rounded Singaporeans are rare. Instead we often meet parents who have barred their children from taking part in sports or cultural activities, so that they can spend more time studying.

In her teenage years, Madonna spent a lot of time on ballet lessons. She even hung out at gay discotheques with her ballet teacher. But she was no dumb blonde. Despite all the time she spent on dance, she was a straight-A student in high school. In fact, she did so well that she won a scholarship to enter a top US university - the University of Michigan.

University of Michigan counts 25 Rhodes scholars and seven Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. It's currently ranked the 11th best university in the world. That's 25 places above NUS, and 60 places above NTU.

Madonna and the Courage to Take Risks

In recent years, the Singapore government has been saying that Singaporeans are too risk-adverse. We stick too closely to the standard paths. We place too much faith in paper qualifications. We define success too narrowly. We need risk-takers, we need dreamers, we need people who dare to veer off the trodden paths.

Like Madonna. Having entered a top university on a scholarship, she proceeded to do the Bill Gates thing. She quit without graduating. Like Bill Gates, she had a dream and she was going to pursue it. She would go to New York City and become a top professional dancer. She describes the pursuit of her dream here:
"When I came to New York it was the first time I'd ever taken a plane, the first time I'd ever gotten a taxi-cab, the first time for everything. And I came here with 35 dollars in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I'd ever done."
35 dollars was all she had then. She took a risk. Today, her personal net worth is estimated at USD 325,000,000.

Madonna as Entrepreneur

Singapore wants entrepreneurs. Singapore needs entrepreneurs. Singapore has been desperately trying to breed entrepreneurs, but after all these years, Singapore is still down to the same few poster boys & girls of entrepreneurship -
Ron Sim of OSIM, Olivia Lum of Hyflux, Sim Wong Hoo of Creative Technology.

Madonna is also an entrepreneur. Her product is herself. She is well-known to be a very serious businesswoman. In fact, the very staid, very serious financial magazine Forbes once
suggested on its front cover that Madonna was "America's Smartest Business Woman".

And guess what? With a net worth of USD 325 million, Madonna is richer than Ron Sim. She is richer than Olivia Lum. She is richer than Sim Wong Hoo. The next time Singapore wants a new model example on how to get rich via entrepreneurship, we should study Madonna's business strategies. Singapore wants its companies to go global, but Madonna was already a global brand 20 years ago.

Madonna As The Almost-Senior Citizen

Approaching their 50s, most Singaporeans start dreaming about collecting their CPF money and enjoying their sedate retirement years. Many Singaporeans were aghast by the government's decision to
raise the official retirement age to 62. This is despite the fact that many Singaporeans will probably not have enough money to support themselves comfortably in their old age.

Madonna obviously does not need more money. Furthermore she is almost 50. But she shows no sign of stopping. She doesn't even show any sign of slowing down. This year, she'll be making a
new movie. Last year, she did her sell-out concert tour around the world. Reports say that she worked on her dance routines 13 hours a day. This is the same woman who sustained three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken hand, in a horseback riding accident as recently as August 2005.

If Singapore's rapidly ageing population needs some inspiration on how to live life with more enthusiasm, Madonna could be their role model.

Madonna & Free Speech

Singapore has a poor reputation for free speech. Many Singaporeans are afraid to speak up. As recently as last Saturday, Dr Cherian George and I were at an
NUS seminar trying to convince the audience that such fears are largely groundless, that Singaporeans can speak up openly. Alas, later that day, I learned that even members of the ruling political party have adopted a strategy of making anonymous postings on the Internet.

Madonna has much more testicular fortitude (to steal a phrase from Cherian). She's not afraid to push the borders in her music. Throughout her career, she has repeatedly used political, sexual and religious themes and imagery in her work. The only time she ever really backed down was in relation to her ninth album, American Life. The video for the single was filmed in the run up to the second Iraq War, and its content was deemed "unpatriotic" by early reports. She withdrew the video, saying:
"I have decided not to release my new video. It was filmed before the war started and I do not believe it is appropriate to air it at this time. Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video."

The album did badly in the US but according to Wikipedia, did better in countries which did not support the Iraq war. In France, the album reached No. 1 and sold more than 500,000 copies. One major reason for her great success in France was the large anti-war community and their pleasure at seeing an American artist that opposed the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

Wikipedia tells us that Madonna does not support US President George Bush. She endorsed Wesley Clark's Democratic nomination for the 2004 United States presidential election, in an impassioned letter to her fans, saying that "the future I wish for my children is at risk." In the autumn of 2006, she expressed her support for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election. She also urged her fans to see Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. She is a person who is unafraid to speak up for her political beliefs.

Today, Singapore has banned Madonna. The grounds are that her latest Confession performances contain scenes that are religiously impermissible in Singapore. The decision could be right. Madonna has a lot to teach Singapore - but perhaps we're just not ready.

Feb 9, 2007

The Great Squeeze

Singapore continues its determined march towards a new and unenviable world record. We're already the 2nd most densely populated country in the world. How long will it take before we occupy the top spot?

2001 wasn't that long ago. Back then, our population was expected to stabilise around 5.5 million in the long term. Now it's 2007, barely six years later, and the URA has to bump up that projection to 6.5 million.

Why? Not because Singaporeans have been making plenty of babies - in fact, our birth rates are
dismal. Clearly, the main driver is the huge influx of foreigners into Singapore.
ST Feb 9, 2007
S'pore sets new population planning figure at 6.5 million
By STI senior correspondent, Clarence Chang

SINGAPORE has raised its long-term population parameter to 6.5 million - up from the current figure of 5.5 million - following a mid-term review that takes into account recent trends in population and economic growth, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said on Friday.

The earlier figure had been decided in 2001 when the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) released its last once-every-ten-years Concept Plan - a map of the Government's strategic plans for land use and transport for the next four to five decades.

'Bear in mind this is not a a target population figure. It is a planning parameter,' Mr Mah said, 'which takes into account current demographic trends and population policy'.

'It is a realistic number for the planners to base their projections and their planning methodology on, to ensure that we are ready for future growth opportunities.'

Feb 8, 2007

Leaks & Squealers

So many things to blog about. Where shall I start?

PJ is an NUS student who recently interviewed me for her thesis. Among many other questions, she asked me if I would ever enter politics. I laughed and said no.

One reason I gave is that entering politics means you have to be partisan. Once the party has decided on a particular stance on a key issue, you have to abide by it (publicly, at least). Internally you can bicker and argue, but to the public, party members must present a consistent, unified position. That's in the interest of the party.

This is very unappealing to me. I prefer to be true to myself.

Recently, the PAP had a
leak (or so it would appear). Someone - and the best guess is that it must have been an insider - leaked some info to the press, which placed the PAP in a most embarrassing position. Serious damage has been done to a key item on the PAP's agenda - their cyberspace communication strategy.

And lest anyone be in doubt, the PAP's cyberspace communication strategy is definitely a key item on their agenda. Otherwise PM Lee wouldn't have talked so much about the Internet in his National Day Rally Speech last year. And the PAP wouldn't have placed a heavyweight minister like Dr Ng Eng Hen as chairman of their "New Media" committee.

How did the Great Leak happen? We don't know for sure, but my guess is that the "leaker" was someone in the PAP. It could have been a member of the rank and file - who disagreed in principle with the "anonymous poster" tactics that the PAP had decided to employ. He felt so strongly about it that he decided to do a very non-partisan thing - secretly tell the Straits Times about it.

And now, we might also guess that there will be a hunt through the party ranks, to find out the person behind the Great Leak. Of course, even assuming that they do find him, dealing with him may be a delicate matter. Firstly, there may be other members who also disagreed with the "anonymous poster" tactics. Secondly, the squealer is unfairly treated, he will be tempted to make new, even louder squeals to the press.

We mustn't presume that every PAP member really has that much to lose, if the party severely reprimands him. Or that every PAP member even wants to be a member forever. Don't forget people like Chia Ti Lik - who left the Young PAP to join the Workers' Party and run in the 2006 Elections.

On a separate point, it's now Day Six since the Great Leak, and we note that the
P65 bloggers are still completely silent on the matter. The P65 Blog was conceived as a key PAP tool in communicating with the public in cyberspace, and one might expect that the P65 Blog would be the very first place where the PAP would respond to the story of the Great Leak.

Well, it appears that this expectation is wrong. Maybe the Great Leak has made the P65 bloggers speechless and they just don't know what to say. Maybe they're still working out their next corporate communications step. Or maybe they have decided to stay absolutely silent and hope that this thing will blow over and be forgotten.

If so, then they will learn that the blogosphere does not forget so easily. Unlike yesterday's newspapers, every blog post stays online forever unless the blogger decides to delete them. Years from now, whenever it's relevant to bring it up again, all it takes is a hyperlink to remind readers of the story of the
Great Leak.

Feb 7, 2007

Big Bazaar at SMU

Lots of food, and also clothes and other merchandise flown in from Thailand, Korea and Japan. It's for a good cause, hence I'm publicising it.

There will be 200 vendors, and 58 booths are given to social service organisations to sell their stuff. Net profits all go to charity.

Some charities involved include Bethesda Care & Counselling Services Centre; Focus on the Family; Handicaps Welfare Association; Migrant Voices; Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore); NTU Welfare Service Club; and the SMU Red Cross Chapter.

The event starts this Friday and ends on Sunday. For more details, click

I might go myself. I still haven't ever walked around on the SMU campus. It looks pretty good, from the outside.

Feb 4, 2007

Playing With Fire

To tell you the truth, I am deeply Singaporean. I can be very kiasu. I can even be very kiasi. Especially when there is a genuine risk of danger to life and limb. Then I would say, "Oh, we must definitely take all necessary action to prevent a disaster."

Race & religion have long been taboo subjects in Singapore. Why? You already know - it's in our
history. Singapore places such a premium on public order and security that it will suppress free speech and other civil rights in order to ensure that we never ever have problems like racial riots again.

In principle, it's a justifiable trade-off. I would agree with it. It's just a matter of balance. In actual practice today (as opposed to, say, the 1960s or 70s), I think that the suppression of free speech is often carried out to an unnecessary degree.

In my opinion, Singaporeans today have become a highly docile, peaceful lot. We're like poodles or goldfish. Or chickens. Violence has already been removed from our genes. We're so apathetic that the only thing that could get us on a rampage is the Great Robinsons Sale .

What about inappropriate racial/religious remarks being posted online? Certainly such remarks will annoy, shock or strongly offend many Singaporeans. And from past experience, we know that the authorities will
take a serious view. But I really doubt that nowadays those kinds of remarks would lead to any actual physical violence. The risk seems largely imaginary.

A likely profile of the perpetrator would be a pimply-faced, nerdy, techie-geek of a
teenager. Yes, he may run loose for some time secretly posting racist remarks on the Internet. Don't worry too much. When exam time comes, his mama will take out her cane, turn off his computer and make him sit down to do his 10-year series.

This is not to say that Singaporeans will never be at risk of mass violence. It could still happen. In fact, the threat is very real. I am quite worried that it may happen tonight. I'm referring to the Thailand-Singapore soccer match in Bangkok.
Reports like this disturb me:
    ST Feb 3, 2007
    Tight security for Asean football grudge match against S'pore

    BANGKOK - Police will be on high alert on Sunday at Thailand's Asean football final with Singapore, fearing recently fanned sporting and political rivalries between the two countries could erupt into violence.

    The possibility that tensions could boil over at the deciding Asean Football Championship final was underlined on Saturday when disgruntled Thai fans raucously protested a shortage of tickets after lining up for hours.

    Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised fans attending the match to stick together in groups and to keep alert and calm at all times.

    The Bangkok game turned into a grudge match after Singapore scored a 2-1 home victory against Thailand in the first leg of the final thanks to a disputed penalty.

    In an unusual action, widely criticised outside Thailand as bad sportsmanship, the Thai team stormed off the pitch for 15 minutes to protest the referee's controversial decision to award the 83rd minute penalty to Singapore.

    Underlying the tension is anti-Singapore sentiment fanned in recent weeks by the Thai media and military, which have accused the island-nation of seeking to spy on Thailand's military communications.

    The accusations came soon after a strain in diplomatic relations caused when Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister received Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as Thailand's prime minister in a coup last September. The Thai government was offended that a figure they regard as in disgrace was accorded such an official audience. Singapore has maintained that the meeting was completely unofficial and between two 'old friends'.
My fear is that Singaporean supporters travelling to Bangkok for the match are going to get bashed by the Thai soccer fans. The Thai authorities have said that they will step up security. But I am not reassured. Recent events in Thailand like military coups and bomb blasts do not give me any confidence that this is a country that has public safety and security under control.

If I were the Singapore government, or the FAS President (ahhh,
one and the same), I would have asked for this soccer match to be postponed. For a week or so. To give the Thais some time for simmering emotions to cool. That would greatly reduce the risks of soccer violence.

I hope things turn out okay tonight. It doesn't matter to me whether our national team wins or loses. In fact, if winning would endanger their safety, then I hope they lose. Perhaps I am too kiasi. But then I am Singaporean. And I think I see clear and imminent danger. I don't like violence.

And this time, I don't think the risk is imaginary.

Feb 3, 2007

Boxing with the Shadows

A startling article from the Straits Times. All bloggers must read.
    ST Feb 3, 2007
    PAP moves to counter criticism of party, Govt in cyberspace
    By Li Xueying

    THE People's Action Party (PAP) is mounting a quiet counter-insurgency against its online critics.

    It has members going into Internet forums and blogs to rebut anti-establishment views and putting up postings anonymously.

    Sources told The Straits Times the initiative is driven by two sub-committees of the PAP's 'new media' committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Two big surprises, in the 1st three paragraphs.

The 1st surprise is that the PAP would resort to this strategy of covert operations on the Internet. It's very unlike the PAP. Certainly it's very unlike Lee Kuan Yew. LKY is the kind of leader who always does what he thinks is right, even when he knows it will be unpopular. Next he will come out into the open to robustly defend and argue his own position - and that's when we get to see his mighty intellect in full swing.

Through the years, that's how Lee Kuan Yew has traditionally tackled all his critics - whether they were foreign journalists, human rights groups, or local small fry like
Ken Kwek. If nothing else, you have to give LKY credit for the strength of his personal convictions.

And now ... the PAP is going to resort to anonymous postings? Oh dear. I don't think I am the only Singaporean who will find this a little sad. I wonder what LKY's personal opinion on this new strategy really is.

The 2nd surprise lies in these words: "Sources told the Straits Times ...". In mediaspeak, this means that someone leaked the information to the press, on condition that he not be named. The Straits Times, seeking independent verification, managed to get it. That's why the article refers to "sources" (the plural indicates at least two sources).

In the first place, only PAP members would know about this new strategy. So we can make a good guess that it must have been a PAP member who leaked the story. Why would he do so - what is his motivation? I could speculate, but let's not go that far.
    One sub-committee, co-headed by Minister of State (Education) Lui Tuck Yew and Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, strategises the campaign.

    The other is led by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Josephine Teo. Called the 'new media capabilities group', it executes the strategies.

    Both were set up after last year's General Election. Aside from politicians, some 20 IT-savvy party activists are also involved.

    When contacted, Mr Baey declined to give details of the group's activities, but he outlined the broad principles of the initiative.
Well, of course Mr Baey "declined to give details". It's supposed to be a secret strategy, remember? Alas, Mr Baey is also a member of the P65 blog. So far it has not really taken off, and now it probably never will.

After this ST article, the P65 blog will probably find itself endlessly dogged with conspiracy theories. Every time anyone says anything nice about P65, someone else will say: "Bah, it's probably a P65 member anonymously posting compliments about himself." Credibility destroyed.
    It was necessary for the PAP to have a voice in cyberspace as there were few in the online community who were pro-establishment, he said.

    As such, the committees aim to 'observe how new media is developing and see how we can use the new media as part of the overall media landscape', he added.

    'How do we facilitate views that are pro-party and propagate them through the Internet?'

    The approach reflects comments by Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui at the PAP's party conference in December. He called on younger activists to put up views 'to moderate the vitriol and balance the skewed comments' on the Internet.
Yes, the comments on the Internet are very skewed. PAP MP Denise Phua mentioned it before and I agreed with her. In fact, I had previously written a long post about it. An extract from that old post of mine:
    One point to note is that the Internet is accessible to everyone, regardless of his political inclinations. If you are pro-PAP, you can hop onto the Internet and write pro-PAP comments. If you are anti-PAP, you can also hop onto the Internet and write your anti-PAP comments (albeit with slightly higher risks of being monitored, prosecuted or sued for defamation).

    No one forces anyone to say any particular thing on the Internet. Thus what people say on the Internet tends to be what they really think - that is, they're expressing their honest personal views. It's truly the masses' media.

    Since the views that Singaporeans express on the Internet are their honest personal views, the PAP, acting sensibly, would probably want to give consideration to those views (the pro-PAP ones as well as the anti-PAP ones). Not to say that the PAP must agree with all of these views, but at the least, the PAP could get some quick, instant insights about what Singaporeans, or the Internet generation of Singaporeans, honestly think and feel about them.

    Alas, this won't happen. Why?
If you want to know, click on the link and read my old post. Moving on, let's look at the next part of the ST article:
    But this can only work if activists are not 'too obvious' about it, Mr Baey said yesterday. Otherwise it comes across as 'propaganda'.

    'The identity is not important. It is the message that is important,' he added.
Oh dear. It sounds like instead of getting mere "propaganda", we may soon be getting lots of "non-obvious propaganda". But I wonder whether the PAP will really be able to handle all these subtleties. So far their manoeuvres in cyberspace look singularly unsuccessful. For example, see here for a typical blogger's view on the Internet adventures of PAP Minister George Yeo. The general consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that they aren't doing well at all.

So far, the PAP's problem is that they simply has no instinct for making a statement, any statement, on the Internet. In the online world, they are clueless on how to engage; how to build an audience; how to persuade and convince; how to be interesting; how to demonstrate a personality. Xiaxue beats them hands down - and she doesn't even need brains to do it. Rockson beats them hands down - and he doesn't even need grammar. If only the PAP could hire the super-savvy Mr Brown as their Internet PR consultant, they would be instantly saved - but after the Bhavani incident, I don't think they can manage to pay him enough.

    One activist who is involved said that when posting comments on online forums and the feedback boxes of blogs, he does not identify himself as a PAP member.

    He tracks popular blogs and forums to 'see if there is anything we can clarify' on hot-button topics such as the impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax.

    But he added: 'We don't rebut everything. Sometimes, what is said is fair enough, and we send the feedback on to the committee.'
Better watch the activists you send to my blog, dear PAP. Mr Wang may end up persuading and convincing them, heheh.

In my opinion, bloggers (I mean real bloggers, not the anonymous PAP posters) should not be afraid, angry or alarmed by the PAP's new strategy. In fact, you can see this as your valuable opportunity to give feedback to the government via the Internet. You know - for sure, now - that they're lurking around, secretly reading your posts. So blog on, don't hold back.

Feb 2, 2007

A Small Kind of Joy

As some of you may know, Mr Wang was once a Deputy Public Prosecutor. Mr Wang wants to tell you that during his time as DPP, he never hanged anyone. Mr Wang handled many kinds of cases - sexual offences, corruption, family violence, drug consumption etc - but not murder and not drug trafficking.

Mr Wang, however, remembers one colleague who spent most of his time working on capital cases. In terms of actual numbers, there aren't that many capital cases, but each of them take a lot of preparation and analysis. So CY was always a busy man.

I noticed that CY had a certain habit. Once in a while, back from the courts in the evenings, he would close and lock his office door. Then, from inside, he would tape blank paper over the little glass panel on the door (so that no one could look in). This was a bit strange, but I never bothered to ask why he did it.

One evening, I had something to discuss with CY. I walked to his office. The door was closed and he had blocked out the glass panel. I didn't know what he was doing or how long he'd been inside, but I urgently needed to discuss my matter with him. So I raised my hand to knock.

Just then, another colleague, W, happened to walk by in the corridor. He shook his head and frowned. W said, "Don't disturb CY now."

I said, "I wonder what the hell he's doing inside?"

W gave me a strange look and said, "He's praying."

I said, "Huh?"

W said, "CY won his case today. So he needs ... well, you know, he needs to talk to God, lah."

Just then, the door opened and CY came out. He didn't say hi. He quickly walked past us. In that moment, I saw that his eyes were a little red and watery. It looked like CY, a big, grown man, had been crying, and he didn't want us to see.

That day I found out that CY was a Christian. And whenever he locked himself in his office, it meant that he had won a case. Someone had been sentenced to die. And so CY would pray.

For whose soul? My guess is - his own.


In the past week, Singapore's bloggers
have said so much about the execution of Amara Tochi. This time I myself have said nothing. What else can I say, that I have not already said before?

To me, every execution is a tragedy. But I do find a small kind of joy in the recent blogospheric debates. Some people care, after all. Who knows? Perhaps we are now taking our first baby steps towards a different kind of country. A different kind of Singapore - one with respect for human life.

That Family Ad Again

Anthony Yeo is a well-known family counsellor in Singapore with many years of experience. He must have seen the same TV ad as I did. To the ST Forum, he writes:
    ST Feb 2, 2007
    Ad on family life paints too rosy a picture

    I REFER to the advertisement, 'Chasing our dreams...' (The Sunday Times, Jan 28), by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports urging people to 'Go on, the happiness of a family awaits you'.

    The kind of family life depicted seems to be that of a highly middle-class, English-educated, Western-oriented family experiencing a lifestyle way beyond what the majority in Singapore are familiar with.

    While we may wish to encourage marriage and big families, one wonders whether we can be more down-to-earth in the way we depict family life.

    As a family therapist and family-life educator for 35 years, I am more familiar with the struggles of married people in coping with marital relationships. I am also familiar with parents struggling to bring up children and children having problems with their parents. ..........

    While I appreciate the ministry's intention in encouraging more marriages and children, the kind of family life depicted may cause many to be disillusioned should their married life differ.

    At the end of the day, instead of people thinking 'It wasn't as tough as we thought', as depicted in the advertisement, most would conclude that 'It's much tougher than we thought.'

    Anthony Yeo
    Consultant Therapist
    Counselling and Care Centre
Well, as I had said earlier, there's TV, and then there's real life. And when the TV content is a government ad, you'd better open your eyes and look more closely. Either that, or turn the TV off.