Dec 26, 2007

How To Make Singapore Look More Tech-Savvy Than It Really Is

Basically all you have to do is make the wild claim that every grandmother, grandfather, uncle and auntie who has a phone in his/her home is also an Internet user.

Alas, the truth eventually emerges, as it usually will. And it's a rather embarrassing truth:

ST Dec 25, 2007
End of free Net access to spell 1m dip in user figures
That's because IDA counts all SingTel home phone customers as subscribers of mysingtel service, which will be withdrawn in April
By Irene Tham

THIS is not an early April Fool's joke. On April 1 next year, close to one million Internet dial-up subscribtions in Singapore could 'disappear'.

It raises a poser about one set of figures Singapore has used in claiming to be among the world's most wired cities, although this claim holds, thanks to other criteria and widespread broadband penetration here.

SingTel, which owns most residential phone lines here, ends its free Web access service, available to all these customers, on April 1.

Called mysingtel, the dial-up service was launched in early 2000, before broadband really caught on. It meant that every residential phone line could be connected to the Net, for the price of a local phone call - provided everyone signed up for mysingtel.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has, in fact, been including every residential phone line in its 'dial-up Internet subscription' figures, The Straits Times understands.

It now seems that even non-users of mysingtel were counted in: Internet subscription figures reflected anyone with a residential phone line.

Hence, Singapore's dial-up base almost tripled in two months from December 1999, after mysingtel's launch. In February 2000, IDA recorded about 1.7 million dial-up subscribers islandwide, or a population penetration rate of 52 per cent.

And let's take a look at how the IDA used such data to toot its own horn:
............ IDA started to publish broadband subscription data on its website only in January 2003, and continued to use the dial-up subscription figures to show how wired Singapore was.

The numbers were published in IDA's annual reports that highlight key national infocomm developments. Dial-up figures were also quoted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in its Economic Survey of Singapore 2002 and 2003 reports.

Come April 1, SingTel's 938,000 fixed-line residential customers, of whom only 7,000 are active mysingtel users, will have to be excluded from IDA's dial-up subscription figures.

A few views from industry observers:
.............. Mr Jonathan Coham, a consumer group analyst at British-based research firm Ovum, said that counting non-users 'will artificially inflate numbers'.

Mr Tim Johnson, chief analyst at British-based research and consultancy firm Point Topic, said: 'This conceals the fact that many people in Singapore may not be using the Internet.'
The moral of the story? The next time you hear the Singapore government make any grand claims - "world's best public transport"; "world's least corrupt government"; "world's most efficient public service"; "world's leading hub in X, Y or Z" - scrutinise the data. Or at least take the claim with a big pinch of salt.

Dec 23, 2007

The Silent Singaporean

Elia Diodati takes a look at the Malaysian political blogosphere and is impressed by its lively, vibrant nature. He wonders why Singaporeans, in comparison, don't seem to speak up very much on important national issues. There are, of course, various reasons and here's one which Elia offers:
"..... Singaporeans simply work insane hours. If we can’t even get Singaporeans to procreate, despite tax incentives and other carrots, what more to get them to clear out several hours at a time to sit down and write coherent, thoughtful blog posts? Think of the vocal blogs you know of that have suddenly veered into neglected quiescence. I’d bet you that many of them were written by students who have since graduated, gotten sucked into the work-marry-birth-nurture dogma and suddenly find that there is no time or place for that mouthpiece."
Well, I work. I'm married. I have two kids whom I nurture a lot (I plan to turn them into little geniuses). Apart from all that, I not only blog a lot, but still find time to pursue several other interests quite seriously.

My secret is really no secret. If you wander into the 'Self-Improvement' section of the bookstore and pick up a book on time management, you'll know the secret too. But since many of you wouldn't be caught dead in that part of the bookstore, that's pretty much all I'll say about it for now.

For Singaporeans who want to blog more about national issues but feel that they suffer from a lack of time, the alternative strategy would be selective about your topics. Focus on the themes and topics that you already know very well, so that you can complete your posts in minimal time.

"But I don't really know any topics that well." Actually, yes you do. You just don't know it, that's all. Once you start to see that the events and circumstances in your personal life are often just reflections of the broader society in which you live, you will rarely find yourself short of topics to write about.

Angry Doctor is a doctor - he blogs a lot about healthcare issues in Singapore. Stressed Teacher is a teacher - he blogs a lot about education issues in Singapore. Cherian George is an ex-journalist - he blogs a lot about the mass media in Singapore. Yawning Bread is a gay man - he blogs a lot about gay issues in Singapore.

These are examples of bloggers who have converted the very stuff of their daily life experiences into blogging material. Well, actually all bloggers do that - but to go beyond the mundane level of introspective navel-gazing, you'll just have to take one step further. And that is to explore the wider social, political or economic issues behind your daily life experiences.

Do you use public transport every day in Singapore? Are you an SAF NSman? Do you study in a local university or polytechnic? Are you a financial planner who helps clients to plan for their retirement? Do you keenly follow the local sports or arts scene? Are you a working mother busily juggling career and family? Do you regularly volunteer with a charitable organisation such as Mendaki or Action for AIDS? Does your job involve ensuring corporate governance? Do you set PSLE exams?

A positive answer to any of the above makes you potentially an expert blogger in at least one distinct area. If you take that extra step ....

Dec 22, 2007

Mr Wang Becomes A National Resource

I exaggerate. What I've really become is a National Library resource:
Dear Mr Wang,

Notification of Website Archiving – Mr Wang Says So

The National Library Board (NLB) is traditionally known to collect published materials for preservation as the nation's published heritage. This includes online and electronic publications of lasting national, historical, research and cultural values. NLB has embarked on a web-archiving project, with the long-term goal of building a comprehensive collection of Singapore-related websites and publications to ensure that Singaporeans have access to their documentary heritage now and in the future.

NLB has deemed both your current website (URL: and former website (URL: to be an important part of Singapore’s documentary heritage and would like them to remain available to researchers and generations of Singaporeans in the future. Hence NLB will be taking snapshots of your websites under the appended terms .........

Yours sincerely
Anne Claudine Tan
For Director (Digital Resources & Services)
National Library Board
Well, the next time that Leslie Fong says that blogs are garbage, you know what to do. Tell him that the National Library Board considers Mr Wang's blog to be an electronic publication of "lasting national, historical, research and cultural values". Oh, and I'm sure mine is not the only blog included in this NLB project.

Incidentally, for those of you who only started reading my blog this year, I have an older blog which ran from May 2005 to December 2006 (this is the "former website" which NLB is referring to in its email above). The former blog - Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma - is
here. A quick selection of old posts, for your reading pleasure:

01. Elections are Over. Time to Raise Ministers' Salaries!
02. Rethinking NS - Part 1
03. Pulling a Fast One
04. Oh Dear. I Feel Worried For PM Lee
05. Open Society. Ha.
06. Who Says Singaporeans Aren't Creative?
07. Party Political Films - Leong Ching Just Doesn't Get It.

Dec 19, 2007

PSLE Results and the Colour of Your Skin

If you've been reading the newspapers lately, you might have noticed that this year's top PSLE student was Malay. Natasha Nabila not only topped the 2007 exams, but also set a record for the highest results ever attained in the PSLE exams.

This would have surprised many people, because historically Malays in Singapore have done badly in school (relative to the other racial groups). Initially I thought that Natasha's success might be a positive sign of a trend that the Malays are finally catching up.

However, the statistics don't bear this out. This MOE chart breaks down PSLE pass rates by race, over a 10-year period. We see that as a group, Malays still lag behind, and the gap isn't closing. So Natasha is an exception to the rule, rather than an indicator of a trend.

The blogger over here (Both Sides of the Johor Straits) notes, however, that in recent years, the minority races (Malays and Indians) seem to be statistically overrepresented among the very top PSLE performers. For example, the top PSLE student in 2005 was Malay. The top performer in 2006 was Indian. The top performer in 2007 was Malay.

This is interesting, because statistically, even if Malays, Indians and Chinese were academically equal (and they're not - as a group, the Chinese do better than the rest), the probability is that the top performer would be Chinese (as the Chinese are numerically, and by far, the biggest group).

So the blogger has a conspiracy theory. He thinks that the MOE is "cheating" to ensure that the top student is non-Chinese. MOE's rationale would be to raise the morale of the minority races and to provide a positive role model (bearing in mind that each year, the top PSLE student receives abundant publicity in the media):
All credits due to our top non-Chinese PSLE students, but I think that the recent trend in top non-Chinese PSLE students may indicate some backroom number-shuffling at MOE. Even though statistics & probability year-on-year predict that non-Chinese students do not fare as well at PSLE, I’ll not be surprised that the people at MOE have ways of ensuring a feel-good factor for all ethnic groups in Singapore (keeping in mind that PSLE exams scripts are marked in secret, the papers are not returned to students, the grades are not contestable and even the full-marks for each exam-topic are not revealed).

Assuming that the top students in 2007 scored full-marks for the Maths and Science papers (which is possible), Natasha must have scored nearly full-marks for English language and Malay language (full-marks in these papers are impossible), as she stood clear above her peers in terms of total marks for all papers. Having said that, a top Malay PSLE student as announced by MOE can do much to lift the spirits of the Malay community in terms of ethnic pride and reinforcing MOE’s ‘educational meritocracy’ policy.

Well, who knows. It's a possible theory, I suppose. However, I have a simpler alternative explanation.

In each year, all the PSLE students take exactly the same exams (English, Maths and Science) - except for the 2nd language paper. Here the Chinese take the Chinese Language paper; the Malays take the Malay Language paper; and the Indians take Tamil Language).

At the top end of the curve, the very best students are all striving to achieve marks as close to perfect as possible. For English, Maths, Science, they all take the same paper, so the same ultimate obstacles to a perfect or almost-perfect score apply to all.

However, if the Chinese Language paper is marked more rigorously than the other Language papers, then there would be a good probability that non-Chinese students would be statistically overrepresented at the very top end of the curve (where everyone is striving for perfect or almost-perfect marks).

It's not necessarily a deliberate attempt by the Education Ministry to engineer a non-Chinese top PSLE student. It may simply be that the Chinese Language exam is marked more rigorously, because that's the way the Chinese Language markers are. The glass ceiling would emerge in those sections of the paper which require the marker's subjective assessment.

For example, if there is an essay section worth 40 marks, and if in practice the Chinese marker is willing to give a maximum 35 marks for an absolutely brilliant Chinese essay, well, there's your glass ceiling.

On the other hand, If the Malay/Tamil marker has no qualms about giving 39 or 40 out of 40 marks for an absolutely brilliant Malay/Tamil essay, then simple probability tells us that there's a good chance that the overall top PSLE student could be non-Chinese.

This differential is too small to have any measurable effect of the respective PSLE performance of the racial groups, when we view them as a group. But this differential matters, when it comes to identifying the very best few students (eg the top 10) in the entire nation.

It's like Matt Biondi in the 1992 Olympics commenting that if he had grown his fingernails a little longer, he could have won the 100m men's butterfly gold medal. With short fingernails, he touched home one hundredth of a second slower than the winner, and had to settle for the silver medal.

By analogy, Singaporeans taking the PSLE Chinese paper could be swimming with short fingernails. Of course, for the vast majority of students, this is a non-issue. They don't swim fast enough for the length of their fingernails to matter.

"My fingernails are too short.
That must be why I coudn't qualify for the Olympics."

Dec 17, 2007

The Annual Life Audit

Haven't been posting much lately, as I've been working on various projects. One project has me busily drawing and redrawing plenty of mindmaps and flowcharts, complete with arrows, squiggles, asterixes, question marks and symbolic doodles.

I'm auditing my life.

I do this a couple of times per year, but the end-of-the-year season feels like a particularly appropriate time to do it. Basically I take time out to reflect on the past 12 months, and all the major events that happened in my life during that time. I also start thinking about my goals and plans for next year (2008).

There isn't any fixed formula for performing a life audit, but obviously it should cover all the major areas of your life. You would want to analyse your successes as well as failures, and the lessons learned. You would identify the things you did well, and think about how you could have done them better.

You would consider all the different aspects of your life. These would include your career/studies; your family and friends; your health; your finances; your spiritual growth / religious life; your relationships; your passions and interests.

You would identify the biggest personal issues that bug you, and think of ways and ideas to address them. You would set some personal goals for next year, and why you're setting them, and you'd create a plan of action for each of those goals.

And within each plan, you would include little sub-targets and benchmarks and milestones to meet along the way (so that you can tell if you're still on track).

I imagine that performing a life audit could be a somewhat frightening experience for some people. That's because the vast majority of people on Planet Earth don't live anywhere as optimally as they potentially can. And a sizeable percentage of people, even by their own personal standards, probably live badly-managed lives.

And so they would rather avoid having to face up to those standards. If you're an obese chain-smoker with young children, it's not nice to consider the possibility that you might drop dead from a heart attack sometime soon and your kids will be orphaned.

If you're an angry, frustrated youth who doesn't know what he really wants out of life, it's not nice to consider the possibility that before long, you might be an angry, frustrated adult who still doesn't know he wants out of life.

If you've been stuck in a job that is meaningless and painful to you, it's not nice to realise that unless you take some concrete action to change things, you could continue to be stuck in a meaningless, painful job for a long time.

If you've had a lifelong dream which you still aren't pursuing, it's not nice to consider the possibility that it might one day transpire to be no more than a lifelong daydream.

And so on.

I suppose that's why many people would hesitate to perform a life audit. You would have to step back and take a good hard look at yourself, the warts included. That could be somewhat painful, sometimes.

One thing to remember is that your current situation, whether good or bad, didn't develop overnight. It took you your entire life, to get to where you are and who you are today. And you still have the rest of your life, to try to get to where and who you'd rather be.

The time will pass anyway. What have you got to lose?

Dec 11, 2007

More on Town Councils & Their Sinking Funds

I just received an email from an SPH journalist who wished to interview me about town councils and their gigantic sinking funds.

She says that her likely angle will be about netizens expressing their unhappiness about how town councils are using the conservancy and service charges paid by Singaporeans.

I still do interviews with
non-mainstream publications, academic researchers, foreign university students etc. But it has been my personal policy for quite some time now to avoid contact with the mainstream media. So I will decline this interview.

However, if any of you netizens out there feel strongly about this matter and are interested in speaking to this journalist, please email me ( or leave your contact details in the comment section below. And I will ask the journalist if she would be interested in getting in touch with you.

A reader by the name of Coder had earlier left many detailed comments on my town council post and has obviously done some good research into the matter. Coder, it might be particularly interesting for you to speak to the SPH journalist - do consider.

And thanks for your earlier comments.

Dec 2, 2007

You Give Your Money To Your Town Council So That It Can Play The Stock Market

ST Dec 2, 2007
New rule to safeguard council funds
By Tan Hui Yee & Mavis Toh

TOWN councils tempted to play the stock market to increase the returns on their sinking funds will now have to meet a new rule that caps how much they can put into higher-risk investments.

Councils, which have had some leeway when investing their cash, must limit their investments in non-government stocks, funds or securities to 35 per cent of the sinking fund.

This new rule, which kicked in yesterday, applies to more than $1 billion in sinking funds managed by the 16 town councils in Singapore.

The money is collected through monthly service and conservancy charges and government grants and is used for cyclical repairs, such as re-painting or re-roofing.

The Ministry of National Development brought the rule in to strike a balance between councils trying to get good returns on their funds and not taking undue risks with residents' money.

Some council cash has been going into shares and corporate bonds, which are considered riskier than government ones.

The president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals Leong Sze Hian said: 'Corporate bonds are only as good as the company can pay. The risk of a company running out of money is higher than that of the Government.'

Before the new rule, council investments were governed by the Trustees Act, which placed restrictions on some instruments. The new 35 per cent cap is seen as stricter, but no council contacted by The Sunday Times said it would have trouble complying.

The Hong Kah Town Council has about $150 million in its sinking fund, with one-third invested in government bonds returning 2 to 3 per cent. Another third is in short-term fixed deposits with returns of 1.5 to 3 per cent, with the rest handled by fund managers.

The investments can include corporate bonds and stocks, which are riskier. But this portion, handled by fund managers, nets about 8 to 10 per cent in returns a year, said council chairman Ang Mong Seng.

Sinking funds are typically parked in safe investment instruments, such as government bonds and fixed deposits. But a few years ago, many councils felt that they could do better by investing in other instruments, such as shares.

Many then let fund managers invest a bigger portion of their cash and reap better returns.

Something has gone seriously wrong somewhere.

Remember why we pay service and conservancy charges to our town councils every month? So that they can provide public services in our constituencies.

You know, things like getting cleaners to sweep your HDB block; planting trees around your neighbourhood; building a few sheltered walkways; upgrading the children's playground; and renovating the public toilets in your town centre.

Obviously, we have been paying too much.

Why else would the town councils be sitting on more than $1,000,000,000 in excess cash!

And now we see what their big concerns are. Things like how to invest all that money; how much should they dabble in the stock market; how much should be used to purchase bonds; how much should be placed in fixed deposits.

It's as if the town council were a fund manager or a unit trust. Except that you as customer are never going to get a cent back.

They took your cash, and used some of it to maintain the physical facilities of your neighbourhood ... and the rest of your money is for the town council to go and play with, according to their own rules!

And you still have to pay them. Every month.

Nov 22, 2007

Cluelessness in Full Flight

ST Nov 21, 2007
Rapping MDA officers cause mixed feelings over video
Innovative, funny or just silly? MDA's rap video is getting people talking
By Eddino Abdul Hadi

A FOUR-MINUTE video showing the head honchos of the Media Development Authority (MDA) rapping while selling its message to get Singapore creative and connected has got some media industry players tickled and others bewildered.

While some laud its effort to reach out, others say the video is forced and makes the civil servants look even a little silly.

Called the Senior Management Rap, it was featured in the MDA's interactive annual report 2006/7 released last month. The video is now available on the MDA website.

The report comes in a thumbdrive which includes its annual corporate review in video and an interactive showcase of MDA's services.

In a video attachment, CEO Christopher Chia, who is wearing a suit, is seen dancing and rapping to phrases like: 'They call me CEO, hear me out everyone.'

Deputy CEO Michael Yap goes one better. Dressed in hip-hop gear of sunglasses, cap tweaked backwards, 'bling' necklace and baggy clothes, his lines include 'experimentation is my cup of tea' ...

I have no mixed feelings about this. It sucks.

Here is a review by blogger Gabriel Seah - "Oh gods. My eyes. And ears."

I attribute this fiasco to the negative influence of the PAP's "let's be hip and happening" campaign. I was also reminded of Yawning Bread's essay on our hip-hopping PAP MPs at this year's Chingay parade:
Twelve members of parliament from the People's Action Party are going to do a 1-minute hip hop dance segment next February as part of the Chingay parade. These are 12 of the 13 born after 1965, the year that Singapore became independent [See addendum 1].

It's part of the party's attempt to ditch its stuffy, authoritarian image, and connect better with younger voters.

Most people I've spoken to about this have found themselves at a loss for words. They typically shake their heads, sigh and say something to the effect that it's all quite silly. The PAP's problem is really its own closed organisational culture, its unshakeable belief that only they know what's best for Singapore, and the way its policies grate on so many people. Image makeover,
people tend to say, doesn't address any of these problems ....

... However, what is more appalling to me, is not so much the hip hop, but that 12 of them will be doing it. Are we to believe that except for one [See addendum 1] all the members of parliament who were born post-1965 agreed that hip hop dancing down Orchard Road is a fantastic idea?

If we took a control sample of 13 ordinary citizens with matching demographic, professional and socio-economic profiles as these 13, and asked them if hip-hopping down the main shopping street is good for their image, what is the likelihood that we'd get a 12 of them saying "yes"?

I'd say, as likely as launching a paper aeroplane and expecting it to reach the moon.

Yet these 12 PAP MPs agreed. What does that tell you about what goes on within the PAP? It certainly suggests to me that at least some are doing it against their better judgement.

Yet, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said a number of times that he does not want yes-men in his party. He has said that PAP MPs are free to voice alternative, even dissenting opinions and that the party is big enough to accommodate them. This claim is usually made to buttress the argument that Singaporeans do not need to vote for opposition parties for alternative voices
to be heard.

Now we are witnesses to this strange scheme that 12 post-1965 MPs have signed on to, even though nearly everyone I've spoken with think it's a cockamamie idea. Did only one of the 13 post-1965 MPs demur? Did no one else think a dissenting thought? If they did, could they not find the courage to say, no, I won't participate?

It points exactly to something I have criticised again and again: Our political and bureaucratic culture is much too deferential to people in authority. Instead of dissenting, subordinates tend to go along with whatever whims higher-ups have. Enormous resources are thrown at all sorts of pet projects, efforts that ultimately go to waste, because these pet projects are ill-conceived, and seldom critically debated.

One can imagine some higher-up in the PAP directing the younger MPs to do something to "connect" with younger voters, and then musing that perhaps a bit of hip hop would do the trick. And pronto, the great majority fall into line. Yes, sir, it's a fantastic idea. Let's do it!

And so at Chingay, we may see their arms and legs moving to hip hop, but many of us will be able to discern that their brains are in lockstep, or goose-step perhaps. And that's why it's scary.

The Disadvantages of a Pink NRIC

This article illustrates another curious paradox in Singapore, on how citizens are disadvantaged vis-a-viz foreigners.

ST Nov 22, 2007
Jump in locals enrolling in international schools here
Smaller class sizes, less focus on exams and special needs teachers attract Singaporeans
By Sandra Davie

THERE has been a nearly fivefold increase in the number of Singaporean students in international schools here since 2002.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said 975 Singaporeans are currently enrolled in some of the 40 international schools here, a big jump from the reported figure of 200 five years ago.

Their parents pay as much as $2,000 a month.

This growing number does not include Singaporeans attending the international arm of three local schools - Anglo-Chinese School (International), Hwa Chong International and St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International.

The attraction of the international schools, which cater mainly to children of expatriates, includes smaller class sizes, the broad-based International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, less emphasis on examinations and wider choice of second-language subjects.

Some parents whose children have special learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, also opt for international schools as they have teachers trained in dealing with special needs children.

However, parents have to seek the MOE's nod to enrol their children in international schools. Approval is given only for exceptional reasons, such as when the child has lived abroad for a long time ...
It is entirely possible for foreigners to enrol in local schools in Singapore - in fact, foreigners now constitute an ever-growing percentage of the student population in our primary schools, secondary schools, junior colleges and universities.

However, Singaporean citizens are not allowed to enroll in international schools in Singapore unless the MOE gives approval. And the MOE gives approval only for "exceptional reasons".

In other words, even if you are very rich and can easily afford the cost of sending your children to an international school in Singapore, you generally won't be allowed to do so.... if you hold a pink NRIC.

Such are the disadvantages of the pink NRIC.
.... the MOE stressed that the Government prefers Singaporeans to attend local schools for the purpose of building a national identity.

'Singaporean children should be educated in an environment that embraces the history and culture of Singapore, in particular, the multi-racial and multi-religious characteristics of Singapore,' said an MOE spokesman, who added that despite the increase, Singaporeans make up only 4 per cent of the total enrolment at international schools.

Nov 17, 2007

A New Record for Singapore?

Singapore could be the world's most vocal advocate for the death penalty.
ST Nov 17, 2007
UN resolution calls for capital punishment to be suspended
Singapore leads the charge against non-binding resolution that polarises members

UNITED NATIONS - A UNITED Nations General Assembly committee has passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with the ultimate goal of abolishing the practice.

The non-binding resolution was given the green light on Thursday after two days of fractious and often bad-tempered debate - with Italy leading the anti-execution camp and Singapore heading the charge for the other side.

The draft proposal was introduced by 87 countries, including 27 European Union (EU) states.

In the end, 99 countries voted for a suspension of capital punishment worldwide, 52 voted against and 33 abstained.

In arguing against the resolution, Singapore said capital punishment is a criminal law issue which should be left to countries to decide.

Singapore's permanent representative to the UN, Mr Vanu Gopala Menon, said ahead of the vote that the EU co-sponsors were trying 'to impose a particular set of beliefs on everyone else'.

'How else can this behaviour be described other than as sanctimonious, hypocritical and intolerant,' he said.
"You are so intolerant!" Mr Menon cries out to 99 countries in the world. "Why won't you let me kill people just the way I please." No doubt Mr Menon would think that I am sanctimonious, hypocritical and intolerant too. After all, I am against the death penalty.

There are so many worthy causes in the world that Singapore could potentially champion. Singapore could, for example, use the United Nations to lobby for more coordinated international action to deal with global warming - this is very relevant for us, since rising sea levels pose a threat especially to small island states.

Instead we go to the United Nations, and we forcefully devote our energies into arguing for our sovereign right to kill people. How shameful - and stupid.

Nov 13, 2007

Perhaps the Minister is a Little Confused

Either that, or he is engaging in obfuscatory political doublespeak:

ST Nov 13, 2007
Inflation could hit 5% early next year, then taper off
By Li Xueying

AS CONSUMER prices continue to rise, inflation in Singapore will likely surge to 4 or 5 per cent in the first quarter of next year.

But it should taper off by the second half of the year to 'more normal conditions', said Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang yesterday.

The average rate for next year should be around 3 per cent.

Fuelled mainly by rising global oil and food prices, inflation recorded a 13-year high of 2.9 per cent in August. It is expected to dip to 2.7 per cent in the last quarter, Mr Lim told Parliament.

Citigroup economist Chua Hak Bin said that the 5 per cent rate predicted would be a 'historic high' in the 25 years since 1983. The previous high was in July 1991, when it hit 4 per cent.

Most economies, including Singapore's size up inflation by tracking the Consumer Price Index, or CPI. The CPI measures the cost of a basket of goods and services consumed by most households.

Yesterday, Mr Lim cautioned against 'interpreting a rise in the headline CPI as necessarily reflecting an increase in the cost of living'.

It depends on the individual household's spending. 'Switching to cheaper products can reduce the cost of living despite a rise in the CPI,' he added.

But of course a rise in the CPI reflects an increase in the cost of living. After all, the CPI is meant to track the cost of living. If the CPI does not track the cost of living, then what would you want it for?

As for individual households switching to cheaper products, well, in fact, they have to. That’s the effect of inflation - your dollar has less purchasing power. Therefore with the same amount of dollars, you can only buy cheaper products.

Minister Lim must be confusing “cost of living” with “standard of living”. Cost of living means the cost of maintaining a certain standard of living. In turn, standard of living refers to the quality and quantity of goods and services generally available to a certain class of people (for example, average Singaporeans).

Instead of saying that “switching to cheaper products can reduce the cost of living”, Minister Lim would have been more accurate to say, “switching to cheaper products can lower the standard of living”. For example, instead of living in a 5-room HDB flat, you can live in a 1-room HDB flat (a cheaper product). Instead of having chicken rice and vegetables for lunch, you can just eat plain porridge (a cheaper product).

Living in a 1-room HDB flat and eating plain porridge constitutes a lower standard of living. So yes, by switching to cheaper products, you can lower your standard of living. And a lower standard of living does cost less to maintain.

In summary, what is Minister Lim's advice to you? To deal with inflation, lower your standard of living.

Wow, and for telling you that, he even gets a world-class ministerial salary. I bet inflation doesn't bother him much.

Nov 11, 2007

Hopping As a Survival Strategy (And I Don't Just Mean Frogs)

For the past five years or so, headhunters have been calling me quite regularly.

Typically, they begin by introducing themselves and their search firm. They then ask if this is a convenient time to talk (they know that you might be in your office area with your boss or colleagues nearby).

If convenient, they say that they have an interesting job opportunity and could they please have a minute to tell you about it.

Next comes a quick rundown on the JD ("job description") - the role, the responsibilities, the required experience, the reporting line and so on.

At this stage, they won't reveal their client's name, but they will give a general description - for example, "one of the biggest UK banks" - which, coupled with the JD, is often enough for you to make a good guess.

If you say you're not interested, they'll ask you why. If your reason is not particularly compelling, they'll persuade you to reconsider.

If your reason is compelling, and furthermore conveyed in a firm, no-nonsense tone, they will say,''Okay, fine then. But do you happen to know anyone else who might be suitable for the role?".

Here you have a choice. Either you can curtly say, 'No, I do not' and hang up, or you can try to be helpful. I always opt to be helpful. If I know of people whom I think could be suitable and interested, I pass their names on to the headhunter.

It is a good idea to be nice to headhunters, because you never know when you might want or need their help in finding a new job.

Just last Friday I had lunch with a headhunter. We have lunch every few months or so.

We have known each other from uni days, so we are also old friends. However, I shall be frank - if I were not currently in the banking sector, and he were not currently a banking headhunter, we would not have bothered to keep in touch with each other.

As usual, our lunchtime conversation was mostly me telling him what I know about who works where now doing what kind of work, and him telling me which kind of banks are interested in hiring what kind of people in the foreseeable future.

It is important for me to get regular updates on such market conditions. If there are really significantly superior opportunities elsewhere, it would be foolish not to try for them.

By "superior opportunities", I don't mean just money (although that is definitely very important) but the total package of all relevant factors.
For example, these factors would include the opportunity to learn new skills, join a top brand name, move up the management ladder, join a place with better working culture, and so on.

Contrary to what Minister Lim Swee Say recently said, job-hopping is neither necessarily greedy nor necessarily short-sighted. In fact, it is the far-sighted people who would regularly review their career plans, options and strategies.

Many parts of the banking industry have done very well in the past few years. However, some parts of the banking industry have been doing very badly in the past few months. That's all thanks to the US subprime crisis, and the spillover effects.

As a result, a significant number of very high-flying banking professionals overseas have suddenly lost their jobs. They include no less than Chuck Prince and Stan O'Neal, the now ex-Chief Executives of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch respectively.

And of course, many others lower down the food chain.

So the question is how long the subprime crisis will last; how bad the spillover effects will be; and how severely Asia will be affected.

And whether, say, sometime in 2008, banking professionals in Singapore specialising in certain types of banking work (CDOs; structured finance; credit derivatives; debt capital markets; perhaps even IPO work) will also start losing their jobs or suffering drastic pay cuts.

Of course I hope the answer is no, but at this point in time, well, who can say for sure. So I'm looking ahead, getting news from my headhunter friend, finding out the trends in the banks' hiring plans for 2008.

If I suddenly have to move, at least I have a few backup ideas and I have got some sense of which areas still have demand and where I can quickly try to move to.
In other words, I won't be caught off-guard and wrong-footed.

Nov 7, 2007

Realities of the Working World

ST Nov 7, 2007
Labour chief calls job-hopping, poaching short-sighted
By Marcel Lee Pereira

NO SOONER had Mr Kalaichellvan Krishna been crowned the service 'superstar' of the restaurant sector than new job offers began trickling in.

Minutes after the 26-year-old, who works for the Jack's Place steakhouse chain, was given the SuperStar Award at the Excellent Service Award (Exsa) ceremony held at the Raffles City Convention Centre yesterday, the poachers pounced.

They offered him jobs at other restaurants and hotels, but he turned them down politely.

His reason? His first loyalty is to his customers.

'They know me. Without them, I couldn't have won this award,' said Mr Kalaichellvan, an assistant manager at the chain's West Coast Recreation Centre outlet.

This business of loyalty and poaching of staff is something that concerns many employers these days.

The red-hot job market - figures announced last week put the jobless rate at 1.7 per cent, a 10-year low - is causing a scramble for talent and pushing up wages, and some companies are finding it hard to hold on to workers like Mr Kalaichellvan.

The problem is serious enough that Minister Lim Swee Say, from the Prime Minister's Office, who gave out awards to 10 winners in different sectors yesterday, touched on it during his speech at the ceremony.

Warning that the labour market is set to get tighter as major events such as the Formula One race come to Singapore, the labour chief urged service staff not to job-hop, and told employers to refrain from poaching.

'For workers to job-hop for a few dollars more during good times is a very short-sighted move, because the journey towards excellence is a long one,' he said

……… Turning to employers, he said: 'Every time we give out the awards, when the superstars appear in the newspapers, many employers will want to take a short cut and go after the winners, ask them what is their pay now, offer another 20 per cent.

'I think it's a very short-sighted move on the part of employers, and I hope that the Exsa superstars today, no matter how hard your competitors try to poach you, say no to them,' he added, to applause.
Isn’t this ironic? Minister Lim Swee Say tells you that it is very short-sighted to change jobs for the sake of earning more money. But for years and years, the PAP has been saying that if we don’t pay our ministers the world’s highest ministerial salaries (and give them further increases after that), then they’re all going to run away to join the oh-so-lucrative private sector.

If PAP ministers can’t be expected to serve out of a sense of loyalty to the nation, why would we expect people like Mr Kalaichellvan to serve out of a sense of loyalty to a steak restaurant.

But what do I know. Maybe loyalty to restaurants gets you further than loyalty to the nation these days. See how the Singapore Armed Forces discarded this old soldier (and he isn’t even that old):

ST Nov 6, 2007
Warrant officer asked to retire 5 years earlier

I WAS a regular serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). I served a total of 32 years, comprising full-time national service, reservist and regular service, from 1974-2006.

I was one of more than 200 regular servicemen and women in the Army who were notified in May last year that we would be given Special Early Transition. Some of the reasons cited included difficulty in offering us 'suitable jobs' in the long run, restructuring and possible 'stagnation'. We were given only six months to transit.

Having attained the rank of a warrant officer in 2001, it meant that I was able to serve till the compulsory retirement age (CRA) of 55. I transitted last November after just turning 50, five years short of the CRA.

The Control of Personnel Centre announced that we were not under-performers. I was still PES 'B' and I received my performance bonuses annually without fail. I had also met all other requirements, i.e., Individual Physical Proficiency Tests, Annual Trainfire Programme, Body Mass Index, and Annual Proficiency Knowledge Test.

I also did not have any discipline or medical problems. The latter meant that I was still combat fit and still deployable. There are some who have not conformed to one or more of these requirements and yet are still serving in the organisation.

Till today, I am still somewhat in a state of depression at how the organisation had overlooked all my years of loyal and dedicated service.

The SAF Management Philosophy states:

'The SAF is concerned with the well-being of its people and their families, the SAF values its people, looks after them and their families so that they can give wholehearted attention to their assigned duties.'

The Defence Minister himself said last year:

'Every soldier is precious to us. Every national serviceman, every operationally ready national serviceman, every regular who serves with us is a precious and valuable person.'

The organisation failed to honour its word to allow me and many others to serve till the CRA of 55. I have a wife and two young children still attending school.

Second Warrant Officer (Retired)
Henry Minjoot
“Special Early Transition”, ha. Sounds more like “Extended Notice Period” to me.

Dear Henry, I am sorry for you. There is an important lesson to learn here, and this is it – Singapore doesn’t really care about you. You have to care about you. And your family.

Next time – if there’s a next time – keep your eyes wide open for a good job opportunity. And as soon as it comes along, hop. Make it an IPPT gold-star award-winning Standing Broad Jump.

Regardless of what Lim Swee Say has got to say.

Nov 3, 2007

So Mixed-Race Marriages Are Approximately As Bad As Homosexuality

ST Nov 3, 2007
Chinese least open to mixed marriage
Survey finds that race matters more in marriage, less in public sphere
By Jeremy Au Yong

MIXED-race couples may be an increasingly common sight in Singapore, but a new survey shows many are still firmly against it.

According to a study on race and religious relations released yesterday, such marriages continued to be the stickiest point for each racial group.

While nearly everyone was fine with having someone of a different race as their teacher, doctor, boss, co-worker or employee, those willing to marry outside their race were a minority.

And it was the Chinese, according to the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies survey, that were the least open to the idea.

Only 31 per cent, or fewer than one in three, said they would marry a Malay or an Indian. Also, about a quarter would mind their siblings having a Malay or Indian spouse.

Oh, look. The percentage of Chinese who would not marry a Malay or an Indian is almost exactly the same percentage of Singaporeans who do not approve of homosexuality (according to this NTU survey).

Well, interracial couples in Singapore have it lucky. The Chinese may frown on them, just as much as the general public frowns on homosexuals. But unlike the case of the homosexuals, at least no one is arguing that based on the survey, interracial marriage should be criminalised and all the relevant husbands and wives should be thrown in jail.

Duh. Sometimes the world really tires me. So much low-IQ prejudice, everywhere I look.

Oct 30, 2007

Dr Thio Li Ann's Infamous Speech

Recently, NMP Thio Li-Ann received what she described as "hate mail". Personally I would describe it as karma.

Looking around the Internet, it appears that a great number of Singaporeans do find Thio Li-Ann's own behaviour quite hateful. Click
here, here, here, here, here and here, for a few examples.

What happened? Last week Thio Li-Ann had gone to Parliament on a mission to attack the rights of gay people. I believe that she set a new national record. Her now-infamous speech has probably made her the most intensely disliked NMP in the entire history of Singapore. Among gays and straights.

I am quite serious. Which other Nominated Member of Parliament, past or present, has ever attracted such a storm of angry, negative comments from the general public of Singapore? You tell me.

Even the respectable, gentlemanly Dr Cherian George from NTU (also Stanford, Columbia and Cambridge University) could not find a single good thing to say about Thio Li-Ann's speech. Here's Cherian, in his own
" .... more distressing than the final result of the debate was the retrogressive speech by the high-flying legal scholar Thio Li-Ann. Her convoluted, caricatured rendering of political philosophy and comparative politics needed to be corrected by good political science, but she got away with it in Parliament. Her theories about what constitutes a minority could have been debunked by any graduate student of sociology or anthropology, but this did not stop her.

Then there was Thio’s tasteless digs at homosexual sex, which some of her comrades considered witty, but really deserved no place in the highest forum in the land. Thio has been celebrated for supposedly speaking up for the silent majority. This is an insult to the majority, most of whom have the basic decency to know the difference between what should be uttered in public and what should be confined to close friends or private blogs.

Thio also did a disservice to the majority of God-fearing Singaporeans – we who would like to believe that our faiths are ultimately about compassion, not the hateful, hurtful cheap shots that Thio felt compelled to deliver on our behalf. How I wished a theology professor or other religious scholar would have stepped into the debate at that point, to show how it might be possible to express a faith-based objection to homosexuality – minus the hate speech .
"Hate speech". Wow, wow. Isn't that a rather harsh sin for one distinguished professor to accuse another distinguished professor of? I wish I could say that Cherian was exaggerating. Unfortunately I think that Cherian was just being his usual self. That is to say - very perceptive, very accurate and very precise with his choice of words.

See for yourself what hate speech
means. Note how the term is legally defined under the laws of Ireland, Canada, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway - "... publicly making statements that threaten, ridicule or hold in contempt a group due to race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation" etc.

Then ask yourself whether Thio Li-Ann's parliamentary speech would have constituted a criminal offence, if she had made that speech in any of those countries. Although I, as an ex-Deputy Public Prosecutor, have prosecuted crimes only in Singapore, and not in any of those other countries, I personally think that the chances would be ... high!

And so this is a rather sad moment in the history of Singapore. Hate speech has made its own way into Parliament. For so many years, Singapore has placed significant restraints on the freedom of speech, supposedly as a trade-off for ensuring the greater good of social harmony and peace. Yet hate speech has managed to make its own way into Parliament.

And according to reports, it even gained the noisy, boisterous support of some chair-thumping PAP Members of Parliament.

What happened? Where did we go wrong? What a sad moment this is, for Singapore. Prime Minister Lee, you should consider reviewing the selection process for NMPs.

Oct 27, 2007

Two Men and a Hypothetical Woman in a Public Place

Just three days ago, PAP MP Charles Chong suggested in Parliament that the laws in the Penal Code should be drafted in a more gender-neutral manner. A quote from the ST report:
"TAKING a swipe at what he considered anachronistic differentiations between the sexes in the Penal Code, MP Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said the law seems to consider men 'less modest' than women.

Arguing for gender neutrality in the way statutes are framed, he noted that under criminal law, a woman's modesty can be insulted by words, sounds, gestures or objects, but a man does not seem to have modesty enough to be outraged, he said in a speech peppered with the glib humour that has become his trademark."
For example, if a man enters the ladies' changing room at a public swimming pool, strips himself naked, peeks into a cubicle where a woman is changing and then masturbates himself in front of her, this would be an offence under section 509:
Word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman.
509. Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
However, the victim must always be a woman. If the victim is a man, then there is no offence under Section 509.

Today, it so happens that the Straits Times reports such an incident - except that it takes place in the men's changing room and the victim is a man. Therefore Section 509 cannot apply:
ST Oct 26, 2007
Man fined for exposing himself in changing room

A 39-YEAR-OLD man was fined $500 on Friday for exposing himself to a swimming instructor at a male changing room.

Chur Kim Guan, unemployed, admitted to the obscene act in the changing room of the public swimming pool on April 23.

The 27-year-old instructor was whistling while changing into his swimming trunks when Chur peeped out of the cubicle he was in.

Shortly later, Chur stepped out and used his right hand to masturbate himself in front of the victim, who shouted at him and threatened to call the police.

Chur dashed out and was detained by a lifeguard who heard the commotion.

His lawyer said he committed the offence due to his mental illness. Since 2000, Chur had been in and out of the Institute of Mental Health after a relapse.
The ST article says that Chur was fined, but it does not specify which specific provision of the law was used. From the wording of the first sentence of the article - "fined for exposing himself to a swimming instructor at a male changing room" - my guess would be that the prosecution used section 27A of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act:
Appearing nude in public or private place
27A. —(1) Any person who appears nude —

(a) in a public place; ....

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to both.
The men's changing room of a public swimming pool is still a public place (any man can walk in, and in fact as far as I'm aware, it wouldn't be illegal for a woman to walk in either). In our case, section 27A does get the job done, in the sense that Chur the offender still gets convicted and receives a punishment.

However, the section 27A charge is conceptually unsatisfactory given the facts of the case. In fact it would be quite displeasing to those lawyers who desire as a general principle that the law reflects clearly what a person is being punished for.

After all, men are always walking around nude in men's changing rooms, in full view of one another, and no one ordinarily gets prosecuted for that.

In Chur's case, the offence really lies in the masturbatory display. The section 27A charge would have failed to reflect that, for section 27A merely talks about appearing nude in a public place. Section 509 of the Penal Code would have worked very well to capture the essence of the crime, except that section 509 doesn't work where the victim, as in our present case, is a man.

One significant point is that while the same act may theoretically be prosecuted as different offences, the sentencing options available differ from offence to offence. For example, all robbery is theft (but not all theft is robbery); and all rape is also outrage of modesty (but not all outrage of modesty is rape). Yet we wouldn't expect robbers to be punished merely as thieves, or rapists to be punished merely as molesters.

Of course, Chur is mentally ill, and a regular IMH patient - another important factor in the overall sentencing considerations.

Oct 26, 2007

The Right to Use a Condom

So the Christians spoke loudly against homosexuality, and Parliament decided to retain section 377A of the Penal Code, a law that can put homosexuals in jail.

Religion is part of society, and it is inevitable that the very existence of different religions in Singapore - whether Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or whatever else - will influence the way Singapore is run. However, it is interesting to consider how each religious group may seek to influence society according to its own beliefs.

We know for instance that the Catholic Church is strongly against the use of contraceptives. But we also know that the Ministry of Health provides health advice like
this, on its official website:
Persons who engage in high-risk behaviour i.e. multiple sexual partners, casual sex or sex with prostitutes, are strongly advised to use condoms to reduce their risk of HIV infection. Condoms should be used consistently during every sexual encounter ..... Persons who have unprotected sex while engaging in high-risk behaviour have a higher risk of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).
What if tomorrow you opened your newspaper, and found that the Catholics in Singapore are now loudly telling Parliament that the Ministry of Health should remove such advice from its website? That such health advice (to use condoms) offends their religion and is immoral like homosexuality? That Singapore is "not ready" for such health advice to be stated in a public manner?

Does this scenario sound absurd or unlikely to you? Perhaps it is. Yet the Ministry of Health's advice is against Catholic teachings - quite unmistakeably so. In Catholic thinking, the use of contraceptives is wrong, even if by a married couple. Contraceptives are regarded as part of the
Culture of Death - a term coined by Pope John Paul II. Wikipedia tells us that the term:
"...... is used in contemporary political discourse in many countries, including the United States and Poland, to describe supportive positions on certain subjects, such as abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, poverty and capital punishment which adherents of opposing positions deem to be inconsistent with their concept of a "culture of life". Some commentators would add to that list homosexuality, contraception and other phenomena perceived to attack marriage and the family."
See what many Americans are worried about in the US right now - "Bush Family Planning Appointee Called Contraceptives Part Of The ‘Culture Of Death’".

What are the possible implications of the Catholic Church being against the use of contraceptives? We don't have to use our imagination here, for real-life examples are readily available. See this article from the
Guardian, which provides a somewhat international perspective "across four continents":
Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids
Steve Bradshaw, The Guardian
Thursday October 9, 2003

The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.

The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to HIV.

A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue.

.... The WHO has condemned the Vatican's views, saying: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million."

The organisation says "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90%. There may be breakage or slippage of condoms - but not, the WHO says, holes through which the virus can pass .

Thank goodness the World Health Organisation is doing what it can to correct this misinformation. Still it is a tough battle. From the Guardian article, we get a sense of the actual, day-to-day difficulties of combating such misinformation.

For example, the article relates how the director of an Aids testing centre was prevented from distributing condoms, because of church opposition.

A video produced by the Catholic Church (presumably an "educational" video) shows a nun advising her choirmaster (who was already infected with HIV) not to use condoms with his own wife because "the virus can pass through".

According to the Guardian article, the Church has been reiterating these sorts of claims (that condoms don't help to prevent AIDS) .... across "four continents", and "as far as apart as Asia and Latin America".

I don't know if such claims are being made here in Singapore, and if they are, to what extent. But if they are being made in Singapore, then this, in my opinion, would constitute a public health hazard.

Of course, the problem is that if you spoke up publicly on this issue, some Catholics might well say that you're being religiously offensive. But think of it this way - if you spoke up publicly on this issue and raised awareness of the importance of using condoms, you would be saving lives.

As opposed to contributing to death. I mean that literally .... I'm not just referring to the "culture" of it.

Oct 24, 2007

Sexual Discriminations in the Law

ST Oct 24, 2007
Men have modesty too, so make laws gender neutral

TAKING a swipe at what he considered anachronistic differentiations between the sexes in the Penal Code, MP Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said the law seems to consider men 'less modest' than women.

Arguing for gender neutrality in the way statutes are framed, he noted that under criminal law, a woman's modesty can be insulted by words, sounds, gestures or objects, but a man does not seem to have modesty enough to be outraged, he said in a speech peppered with the glib humour that has become his trademark. He acknowledged that there have been improvements - now the law recognises that a minor can be assaulted by a male or female predator, for instance - but still much more could be done, he noted.

For instance, he said that under Section 493, a man can be charged with deceiving a woman into believing she is married to him - so she would cohabit with him and have sex with him.

But it was not 'completely outrageous' that a woman could also similarly cheat a man in similar circumstances.

'The law seems to suggest that only women can be duped while men cannot be duped. This seems to underestimate women while it gives too much credit to men!' he said, to guffaws in the House.

........ In response, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law Ho Peng Kee noted, with a smile, that archaic terms and gender neutrality were some of Mr Chong's 'favourite themes'.

Associate Professor Ho said that, in the Government's view, not all crimes should or could be gender neutral. There are 'logical and physiological differences' between men and women, he said.

Rape cannot be gender neutral, and the provision to stop rape in marriages in some circumstances also cannot be applied equally to men and women, he said.

Ho Peng Kee is wrong, of course. It is quite possible to draft all sexual offences in a completely gender-neutral way. Australia did this long ago.

How do you do it? Well, basically, instead of saying "Any man who does X is guilty of an offence," you simply say, "Any person who does X is guilty of an offence."

Instead of describing the victim as a "woman" or "man", you simply describe the victim as a "person".

For offences involving victims who are minors, instead of using words like "boy under 16 years of age" or "girl under 16 years of age", you simply use a term like "minor", and define "minor" as "person under 16 years of age". And so on.

This is not merely about political correctness or linguistic games. Such changes lead to very definite changes in the effects of the law. In fact, Singapore's laws against family violence (found in the Women's Charter) are already drafted in a gender-neutral manner - thus protecting not just abused wives, but also abused husbands, for example.

One example of how gender-neutral termininology in sexual offences would work is that the same legal protection will be extended to young boys and young girls alike. Women can also become guilty of sexual assault. You may, at this point in time, be reminded of an incident in Singapore whereby the members of a female teen gang assaulted a female teenager - stripping her naked, forcing objects up her vagina etc. With gender-neutral laws, such acts could then be dealt with as sexual offences.

In general, gender-neutral terminology simply removes a lot of unfairness and discrimination from the law. Men and women, whether they are the criminal or victim, are treated with equality. For example, if we treat soliciting in public places as an offence, then we treat soliciting in public places as an offence, regardless of whether the prostitute is male or female.

We also avoid absurd situations where the laws say it may be okay for you to penetrate an anus, but that it really depends on the gender of the person whose anus is being referred to. Similarly, we avoid absurd situations where the laws say it may be okay for you to suck a penis or kiss a vagina, but that it really depends on whether you yourself have a penis or a vagina.

Oh wait. My absurd examples just described Singapore, as it has just become. No wonder Ho Peng Kee doesn't want gender-neutral legislation:

Anal Sex Now Legal for Heterosexuals But Not Homosexuals in Singapore
Short News - 23 October 2007

Singapore: Parliament has repealed a law criminalising "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" thus making oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples legal. New laws were enacted to deal with sex tourism and child prostitution.

The parliament declined, however, to repeal a section which makes sex between men an offence punishable by up to two years in jail. The decision to keep the seldom enforced law came after spirited debate which included the presentation of a petition.

"They [homosexuals] live their lives, that's their personal space. But the tone of the overall society, I think, it remains conventional, it remains straight and we want it to remain so," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Oct 23, 2007

Revisiting the City of Sodom

As a non-Christian, it may seem strange for me to post a long post about the Bible. But sometimes I am really astounded by what I personally perceive to be a very shallow understanding, on the part of (some) Christians, of their own holy book. And so I would really like to get this off my chest.

Last month I posted this post -
Honest Words from a Local Christian Boy on Singapore's Gay Issue - featuring a letter from a reader. That post continued to attract other readers' comments even after it was no longer on my main page. One such reader insisted in telling me in great detail about Sodom (a city which, according to the Bible, God got very angry with and promptly destroyed).

Anyway, the reader's comment (with a lot of Biblical verse interspersed) went as follows:
Have you heard of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible? These were 2 cities that had reached the point where homosexuality was rampant.

When angels came in the form of men to visit Lot (who lived in Sodom). He brought them into his house. Men came from all over Sodom when they knew about Lot’s visitors.

Gen 19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

Gen 19:5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know (have sexual relations with) them.

Gen 19:6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

Gen 19:7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Gen 19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Gen 19:9 And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.

Lot, in desperation to protect his guests, even tried to offer his daughters to the homosexual men, but to no avail.

Gen 19:13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.

The angels later told Lot that God had sent them to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

Gen 19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; Gen 19:25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

This is how the term “sodomize” came about. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wish for Singapore to end up in the state of depravity that Sodom and Gomorrah was. When Man is left to his own devices, ignoring God-given laws, there is nothing to stop him from propelling to that state of depravity. We have to draw the line clearly, or else, a hundred years later, what’s stopping me from marrying my pet cat whom I adore so much?
The Cat Welfare Society or the SPCA, I hope, but that's not the point.

The point is that it is by no means clear that homosexuality was the sole reason, or even the main reason, or even a reason at all, why God destroyed Sodom. Sodom was well-known to be a bad, bad place for a wide variety of different reasons, including its ill-treatment of the poor and needy. See Ezekiel 16:49-50 -
"Now this was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
So they were proud, arrogant and unkind to the poor and needy. They showed no concern for others. Furthermore, the people of Sodom was also known to regularly perpetrate violence and torture on strangers and visitors to Sodom - to the extent of sexual assault and rape - and do all sorts of other nasty things. The classical Jewish texts even describe the case of a young girl in Sodom who gave some bread to a poor man. When the townspeople discovered this act of kindness, they smeared her body with honey and hung her from the city wall until bees stung her to death.

In another case, another young girl by the name of Paltith performed a similar act of kindness. She was burned to death for it. You get the general idea now, don't you. You might even feel like zapping the city of Sodom into instant ashes yourself.

Back to Lot's story (which my reader had referred to). Lot, a relatively good, kind Sodomite compared to his townsfolk, had warmly received two men as guests into his home. Except that these "men" only appeared to be "men" - in fact, they were angels in disguise, sent by God on a mission.

When the men of Sodom saw these two "men" hiding in Lot's house, they wanted to capture and sexually assault them (oh yeah, nothing personal, just the Sodomites' usual bad behaviour to strangers). Of course the Sodomites didn't succeed (you guessed it, God made a direct intervention right around then, struck the bad guys with blindness, and shortly after, destroyed the entire city of Sodom with fire, brimstone etc).

The point to note here is that those men of Sodom were out to rape the two angels. What is the real evil here? The violent, non-consensual aspect of the intended act .... or the fact that it would have been between members of the same sex? To me, the answer is very clear. It is the former.

I mean, suppose the two angels had decided to appear at Lot's house as "women", instead of as "men". And suppose the two angels still got the same bad treatment - in other words, suppose the Sodomites still sought to sexually assault them.

Would it have been okay then? Would God have said, "Oh never mind, it's just heterosexual violence after all. Let the angels be raped."

Of course not!

The wrong, the real wrong, lies in the violent, non-consensual, gang-rape aspect of the intended act. Whether it was heterosexual or homosexual is really not the point!

Bird Talk

I don't really care. It's a non-issue to me personally, since I don't drive. Still I found this quite hilarious.
ST Oct 22, 2007
ERP helps more S'poreans to own cars: Minister

THE use of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) has made it possible for more Singaporeans to own cars.

Responding to a question for written reply in Parliament on Monday, Transport Minister Raymond Lim said this is reflected in the growth of Singapore's car population from 680,000 in 1997 to 800,000 in 2006.
[So according to Raymond, the government implemented ERP, therefore more people bought cars. Muahaha, what nonsense.]
Dr Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC, had asked the Minister if the ERP scheme has met the objectives that it was meant to achieve and if it has improved the traffic flow on expressways especially during peak hours.

In his reply, Mr Lim said since its implementation in 1998, ERP has been effective in maintaining average travel speeds on priced roads within the optimal speed range through regular reviews and rate adjustments. For example, average speeds on the expressways have remained at above 45km/h during peak hours.
Read that again. Slowly. What Raymond is really saying is that since ERP was implemented in 1998, average travel speeds on priced roads have stayed the same. Despite regular increases in ERP charges and the number of ERP gantries, there has been no improvement whatsoever in the average travel speed.
"The use of ERP to manage traffic has made it possible for more Singaporeans to own cars than we otherwise could, and our vehicle population has grown from 680,000 in 1997 to 800,000 in 2006," he added.

"It has also allowed the Government to rely more on car usage charges and less on car ownership taxes to manage traffic demand, and as a result, vehicle ownership taxes have been reduced."
So instead of paying more money to own a vehicle, you pay more money to use it. Is that a real difference? The last time I checked, money is money - even if the government modifies the way it takes the money from you.

Incidentally the increase from 680,000 to 800,000 cars over nine years works out to a per annum rate of less than 2 per cent. This is probably a lot lower than the growth of Singapore's resident population over the same period (don't forget the huge increase in the number of foreigners coming to work and live in Singapore, over that period).

That's actually quite positive news, from the environmental perspective.