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.