Apr 25, 2009

AWARE - And Why You Should Cancel Your DBS Credit Cards

April 25, 2009
Aware saga
Disagree? Form own group

Founders say those who disagree with Aware's issues should form own group
By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

FOUNDERS and longtime members of the Association of Women for Action and Research on Friday slammed the new women in charge for the way they seized power on March 28.

Founder member and former nominated member of parliament Kanwaljit Soin said: 'It is not just a women's issue but the whole issue of how civil society actors behave in Singapore.

'If the new members do not agree with Aware's issues, then they should not join. There is plenty of room to start another organisation.'

In a statement, the old guard attacked the way in which a group of unknown new members showed up at the annual general meeting and put a set of new faces in charge.

If they were unhappy with Aware, they could have complained, invited Aware to a seminar to discuss its programmes, or even written to the media.

'Instead, these women joined Aware in the few months before the AGM and then voted their representatives into the executive committee - without giving any indication that they were acting together. They continued with this stance until Thursday when they told the truth.

'This cannot be the way forward for Singapore. We cannot have people acting like moral vigilantes running around and taking over established organisations.'

...... The old guard said: 'If Dr Thio and her mentees feel that Aware has strayed from its original aims, or that some of the programmes are unsuitable, then go ahead and criticise Aware, but do so openly.

'Better still, form their own association to offer parallel programmes with what they see as the right messages, and let the public choose which they prefer. Their motives and actions will then be visible to all, there will be transparency and accountability.'

I have a lot of respect for Kanwaljit Soin. Through the years, time and time again, I've come across her views on a variety of social issues. And I find that she speaks with a lot of clarity, conviction and good sense. In fact, when I was still a law student, I even had to study Kanwaljit's views. Her speeches and articles formed part of the Family Law syllabus at the NUS Law Faculty.

Today, Kanwaljit is once again her usual self. She slices through all the distracting smoke and fluff around the Aware saga, and gets straight to the heart of the matter. I agree fully with her. In my opinion, the new Aware ExCo has no credibility. They deserve no respect.

Yes, the new ExCo team employed a certain strategy and they won the Aware election. And yes, their strategy was constitutional and legally "correct". But it merely reminds me of the PAP's gerrymandering tactics - the way they brazenly redrew the maps, changed the electoral boundaries to their own advantage, and forced their way to election victories.

Those PAP tactics were also constitutional and legally "correct". But those tactics carry no sense of integrity and deserve no respect. At any rate, they won't gain my respect.

I feel exactly the same way about how the new ExCo members have invaded Aware. Their tactics are as honorable as a terrorist attack.

As you probably know by now, the new ExCo chairperson is Josie Lau. She works at DBS, marketing credit cards. Today, for what it's worth, I am going to make a small, symbolic gesture as a DBS customer.

I will call DBS and terminate my credit cards. The DBS person on the line will ask me why (they always ask for that kind of customer feedback). And I will say that it's because of their Head of Marketing, Josie Lau.

I will say that I have a very poor opinion of her behaviour in the Aware saga, and that for that reason, I have decided to stop using DBS credit cards. Furthermore I will request for my feedback to be given to DBS's senior management.

It's a matter of principle. I am only one customer. But I will do what I think is right.

I hope that those of you who share my views about the new Aware ExCo, and who happen to be DBS customers, will do the same. In addition, I hope that you will forward my blog post to your friends and colleagues, and urge them to do the same too.

Apr 20, 2009

Learn from the Regrets of the Flatulence Analyst

Any job should do ...
Flexibility will impress future employers, Gan tells youth who raise discrimination concerns
Monday • April 20, 2009
By Esther Ng

AS A fresh graduate, do I really have to accept a blue-collar job?

This plaintive question — sent via SMS by a participant in the audience, who worried that it would affect one’s shot at a PMET job after the economy recovers — drew some laughter as it was read aloud.

But Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong was in earnest as he advised this participant, and the other 80 or so youthful participants at the dialogue session with Young NTUC, to be flexible when job-hunting in a downturn. He urged them to “take up any job that is available”, as there would always be “opportunities to upgrade later on”.

Say an employer asks why you’ve not been working for the past one year — do you answer that there were “no jobs available”?

“Employers will not believe because there are always jobs available,” said Mr Gan. “Employers will think ... if in a crisis situation you’re willing to sit at home and do nothing, it means that you’re not flexible.”

Any job should do? Gosh, that's such shockingly bad advice. It could only have come from a politician with a vested interest in being able to report lower unemployment figures.

The government may like to treat you as a digit, but you don't have to treat yourself like that. Please give your own future a little more tender loving care.

While times are bad in general, they are not equally bad for everyone. If you are really having serious financial difficulties, then Gan could be right. You might have to grab whatever job you can find (for example, I hear that MacDonalds still needs waiters). However, if you aren't that desperate, then do consider proceeding less hastily.

Fresh graduates may not realise it yet, but an impressive c.v, (and that means one which has been carefully built over the years) is one of the most important assets you can ever have for your career. And among other things, an impressive c.v. should reflect a clear sense of direction and purpose, with a consistent positive theme running through it.

For example, an impressive c.v. should show how the candidate had carefully chosen each role, had gained good experience in it, and had then used this experience to progress to his next, higher value-added role. The c.v. should show how the candidate consistently secured jobs with the most reputable companies in each field. The job history should demonstrate that the candidate really has the kind of skills, strengths and interests that he claims to have.

In contrast, a poor, "patchwork" c.v. would show a candidate moving from job to job, without any obvious strategy or plan. After all, he's there just for the sake of having a job, not because he's genuinely interested in it. And his jobs don't build on each other in a helpful way. One year he's a MacDonalds waiter; next year he's a primary school relief teacher; after that he joins the SAF; two years later, he's selling insurance.

Gan calls this "flexibility". But sorry, such a c.v. is not impressive to me at all. It is merely what happens when you take the"any job should do" attitude to your own career.

Now, if you're not that desperate for money, I suggest you consider being more patient with your job search. While you're still searching, use your personal time constructively. Read and self-learn; or take short career-related courses like these or those (whatever's relevant for you).

And take some time to chill out and relax too. Tough times won't last forever. After all, as the ever-astute Buddha had pointed out - nothing is permanent.

Apr 14, 2009

Aren't They Quick to Change Their Headlines?

Around 7:30 am I was reading the Straits Times online and came across the following article:

Home > Breaking News > Singapore > Story
April 13, 2009
S'poreans will get most IR jobs
By Lee Wei Chean

TWO reports circulating on the Internet that half of the 10,000 jobs at Sentosa's upcoming integrated resort (IR) have been set aside for foreigners have created a furore among some Singaporeans.

Two publications in the Philippines - the Manila Standard Today and the Philippine Star - on April 4 quoted the country's President Gloria Arroyo as saying she has secured 5,000 positions at the casino-resort - opening next year - for Filipinos.

She was quoted as saying she had sent a delegation to Singapore last month to explore job opportunities for Filipino nationals here, and added that Labour Secretary Marianito Roque met Resorts World at Sentosa chief executive officer Tan Hee Teck to talk about opportunities for Filipinos.

Read the full story in Tuesday's edition of The Straits Times.

I found it somewhat suspicious that an article should be entitled "Singaporeans Will Get Most IR Jobs" when in fact, there's absolutely zero content in the article which tells you that this is so.

I got the feeling that the title reflected the conclusion that our obedient, nation-building press had already decided to convey. It was just that the unfortunate journalist just hadn't yet been able to find any facts to substantiate such a conclusion. I quickly saved a screenshot:

Fifteen minutes later, I checked the ST website again and I found that the title had suddenly changed.

Evidently the journalist gave up. He obviously couldn't find any real facts to substantiate the conclusion that "Singaporeans Will Get Most IR Jobs". So now the title had changed to "IR Jobs for Foreigners?".

The best thing the journalist could do was stick in a carefully-posed photo of three very Singaporean-looking Singaporeans. Then he added a caption to say that these are three Singaporeans that Resorts World has hired.

LOL. That's media for you - it's all about creating impressions. Well, I guess some readers will be fooled.

April 14, 2009
IR jobs for foreigners?
Resorts World reassures S'poreans that bulk of the jobs will go to them
By Lim Wei Chean

TWO reports circulating on the Internet that half of the 10,000 jobs at Sentosa's upcoming integrated resort (IR) have been set aside for foreigners have created a furore among some Singaporeans.

Two publications in the Philippines - the Manila Standard Today and the Philippine Star - on April 4 quoted the country's President Gloria Arroyo as saying she has secured 5,000 positions at the casino-resort - opening next year - for Filipinos.

She was quoted as saying she had sent a delegation to Singapore last month to explore job opportunities for Filipino nationals here, and added that Labour Secretary Marianito Roque met Resorts World at Sentosa chief executive officer Tan Hee Teck to talk about opportunities for Filipinos.

Manila Standard Today also quoted administrator Jennifer Manalili of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration as saying: 'They are expanding and there will be openings for workers for hotels, casinos and performers.'

Ms Manalili, who was part of the delegation here last month, added: 'Universal Studios will also have a theme park so they told us they want to hire Filipino talent and performers...They might come here to conduct auditions either next month or in June.'

She also told the Manila Standard Today the government will send another team here next month to 'finalise discussions and requirements for Filipino workers'.

The reaction on online forums here to the reports has been furious. Some said setting aside so many jobs for foreigners amounted to 'betrayal'. A netizen going by the nickname likedatosocan wrote on one local forum: 'I am jobless now and Singaporean. Why am I not employed? I can go low as well, I mean on salary. I speak English without accent. Why not hire me?'

Others questioned whether the service provided by the growing number of Filipino service staff here is better than that provided by Singaporeans.

When asked about the Philippine media reports, Resorts World spokesman Robin Goh would only confirm a meeting had taken place. 'The Philippine Embassy requested a meeting with Resorts World at Sentosa, which Resorts World hosted. Jobs for Filipinos were discussed during the meeting, in which Resorts World stated our commitment to hire Singaporeans first, particularly in this recession.'

He added: 'Resorts World will offer 10,000 jobs when we open, and we expect the bulk of them to go to Singaporeans.' He said the resort currently has 500 employees, of whom 80 per cent are Singaporeans and residents here. The remaining 20 per cent hail from countries like Australia, Britain, Malaysia and the United States.

The critical points of the story were left unaddressed. And the critical points are, of course - Why did Arroyo say that 5,000 jobs at Resort World are going to Filipino citizens? How can this statement be reconciled with Robin Goh's statement that the "bulk" of the 10,000 jobs will go to Singaporeans"? How many jobs are REALLY going to Singaporeans?

If there are 10,000 available jobs, and 5,000 of them go to Filipinos, then at best 5,000 of them are left for Singaporeans. That's half. That's not the "bulk".

Is the Straits Times not going to probe deeper and investigate WHY this inconsistency has come about? Was Arroyo lying or misquoted in the Philippine press or did she somehow misunderstand what Resorts World and the Sentosa CEO had told the Philippine delegation?

Or is the truth of the matter just something that happens to be too inconvenient for the Straits Times to talk about?

Apr 11, 2009

Good Friday's Provocative Food For Thought

In Singapore, it can be dangerous to blog about religion. However, one safe way must be by reproducing an excerpt from a book which the authorities have already approved for sale in this country.

If they think that it's okay, they can't then think it's not okay, right?

So today I share with you a thought-provoking passage from The Third Jesus, a book by one of my favourite authors, Deepak Chopra. The book is available in all the usual places, like MPH, Times, Borders etc:
Jesus is in trouble. When people worship him today - or even speak his name - the object of their devotion is unlikely to be who they think he is. A mythical Jesus has grown up over time. He has served to divide peoples and nations. He has led to destructive wars in the name of religious fantasies. The legacy of love found in the New Testament has been tainted with the worst sort of intolerance and prejudice that would have appalled Jesus in life. Most troubling of all, his teachings have been hijacked by people who hate in the name of love.

"Sometimes I feel this social pressure to return to my faith," a lapsed Catholic told me recently, "but I'm too bitter. Can I love a religion that calls gays sinners but hides paedophiles in its clergy? Yesterday while I was driving to work, I heard a rock song that went, "Jesus walked on water when he should have surfed," and you know what? I burst out laughing. I would never have done that when I was younger. Now I feel only the smallest twinge of guilt."

No matter where you look, a cloud of confusion hangs over the message of Jesus. To cut through it we have to be specific about who we mean when we refer to Jesus. One Jesus is historical, and we know next to nothing about him. Another Jesus is the one appropriated by Christianity. He was created by the Church to fulfill its agenda. The third Jesus, the one this book is about, is as yet so unknown that even the most devout Christians don't suspect that he exists. Yet he is the Christ we cannot - and must not - ignore.

The first Jesus was a rabbi who wandered the shores of northern Galilee many centuries ago. This Jesus still feels close enough to touch. He appears in our mind's eye dressed in homespun but haloed in glory. He was kind, serene, peaceful, loving, and yet he was the keeper of deep mysteries.

The historical Jesus has been lost, however, swept away by history. He still lingers like a ghost, a projection of all the ideal qualities we wish for ourselves but so painfully lack. Why couldn't there be one person who was perfectly loving, perfectly compassionate, and perfectly humble? There can be if we call him Jesus and remove him to a time thousands of years in the past. (If you live in the East, his name might be Buddha, but the man is equally mythical and equally a projection of our own lack.)

The first Jesus is less than consistent, as a closer reading of the gospels will show. If Jesus was perfectly peaceful, why did he declare, 'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword"? (Matthew 10:34). If he was perfectly loving, why did he say, "Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"? (Matthew 25:30) (Sometimes the translation is even harsher, and Jesus commands "the worthless slave" to be consigned to hell.) If Jesus was humble, why did he claim to rule the earth beyond the power of any king? At the very least, the living Jesus was a man of baffling contradictions.

And yet the more contradictions we unearth, the less mythical this Jesus becomes. The flesh-and-blood man who is lost to history must have been extraordinarily human. To be divine, one must be rich in every human quality first. As one famous Indian spiritual teacher once said, "The measure of enlightenment is how comfortable you feel with your own contradictions."

Millions of people worship another Jesus, however, who never existed, who doesn't even lay claim to the fleeting substance of the first Jesus. This is the Jesus built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars. He is the Holy Ghost, the Three-in-One Christ, the source of sacraments and prayers that were unknown to the rabbi Jesus when he walked the earth. He is also the Prince of Peace over whom bloody wars have been fought. This second Jesus cannot be embraced without embracing theology first. Theology shifts with the tide of human affairs. Metaphysics itself is so complex that it contradicts the simplicity of Jesus's words. Would he have argued with learned divines over the meaning of the Eucharist? Would he have espoused a doctrine declaring that babies are damned until they are baptized?

The second Jesus leads us into the wilderness without a clear path out. He became the foundation of a religion that has proliferated into some twenty thousand sects. They argue endlessly over every thread in the garments of a ghost. But can any authority, however exalted, really inform us about what Jesus would have thought? Isn't it a direct contradiction to hold that Jesus was a unique creation - the one and only incarnation of God - while at the same time claiming to be able to read his mind on current affairs? Yet in his name Christianity pronounces on homosexuality, birth control and abortion ....

Apr 7, 2009

Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians Aged Over 40

Here is an interesting post from Lucky Singaporean:

"PMET is an abbreviation for professionals, managers, executives and technicians. The employment prospects for a PMET above 40 is poor during the good times....and worse than poor during the bad times. During the good times, the govt coined this euphemistic term "structural unemployment" to describe the problem.

The proposed govt solution has been the same in good times and bad- retraining, retraining, retraining. When retraining does not work, what does the govt propose? More retraining. Right now the govt is proposing to have more 40 conversion schemes for PMETs [Link].

Do you think they will solve the problem if they have 100 conversion schemes?... make that 200. The problem is not the skills but the age of these people and the ability of employers to practice age discrimination a.k.a ageism."

Lucky then goes on to point out what he thinks is the root cause of the problem. Do click on the earlier link.

Here's what I think is another cause of the problem. Traditionally, employees get a salary increment every year (barring exceptionally bad years). You get the annual salary increment just for being there (in contrast, promotions and bonuses are more directly linked to your actual work performance).

Over X years, an employee gets X years' worth of annual salary increments. When you're a junior member of the staff, this doesn't necessarily add up to much. However, the longer you work, the more expensive you become, as your salary is increasing year after year.

Then this becomes the key question. Is the value of your work contributions keeping pace with the small but steady increase in your salary, year after year after year? For many PMETs over 40, the answer is - apparently not.

In subsequent posts, I will discuss further.

Apr 5, 2009

Tuition As A Basic Necessity of Life in Singapore

In tough times, we expect the government to help poor families pay for some of the necessities of life. Not for the luxuries, not for the non-essentials, but for the necessities of life.

What then does the article below tell us? It tells us, of course, that tuition is a necessity of life. In Singapore, at any rate.

April 5, 2009
Tuition fee subsidies
From May, they can get up to 90% subsidy for classes at CCs and RCs
By Kor Kian Beng

STUDENTS from low-income homes will soon be eligible for cheaper tuition classes, under a new nationwide scheme spearheaded by the self-help groups.

They will also get to attend classes that are held nearer their homes.

From May 1, parents can sign up for subsidies when they send their children for tuition at selected grassroots organisations. These include classes run by residents' committees (RCs), community centres (CCs) and clubs.

As long as the family's monthly household income falls below $2,500 - or if their per capita income is below $650 a month - they can enjoy a subsidy of up to 90 per cent.

Singaporeans and permanent residents can apply for the Community Tuition Fee Subsidy Scheme.

Students in Singapore depend very heavily on private tuition outside official school hours. To me, this dependence is a reflection of something gone quite wrong with our education system.

One way to look at it is that the Singapore education system sets such impossibly high standards that students have no choice but to rely on external tuition, in order to meet those standards.

But this view might be a little too simplistic. I think that it's more likely that a self-reinforcing vicious cycle is at work here. It works like this:

(1) Students have extra tuition, so that they can meet expectations and attain the desired standards.

(2) Over time their improved average performance raises the overall school standards.

(3) Students can't meet those higher standards, unless they have more tuition.

(4) Back to (1) again.

We often hear the Singapore government say that our students have world-class standards in maths and science. Of course the Education Ministry would have you believe that this is due to our world-class education system.

But maybe we just have a world-class private tuition industry in Singapore.