30 December 2005

May Day, May Day

"What, no parachute? Too bad."

Today the Straits Times has three separate articles about SIA and the airline industry. If you use your head and put two and two together, it's quite easy to predict what's coming soon for SIA staff.

The first article tells us that MM Lee thinks that SIA pilots are overpaid and we need some new clever ways to slash their pay without appearing to slash their pay:
Pilots 'must be flexible with pay'

PILOTS are a 'special' breed, but like the rest of Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees, they must also keep up with changing times and be flexible when it comes to deciding their pay package, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew advised the pilots' union yesterday.

This will ensure that the airline survives in the face of intense competition, he said at a dialogue yesterday with SIA management and representatives from five unions, including the Airline Pilots Association Singapore (Alpa-S).

In general, he said, SIA would pay competitive wages, but wages must be more flexible.

'Salary increments should not be locked into basic pay and make costs inflexible when in downturns. Instead, more payments should be in allowances varying with profits,' he said.
In the second article, MM Lee talks about "hiving off" some SIA units. Which basically means "restructuring". Which in turn basically means "downsizing" and "retrenching".
MM's verdict: Airline labour-management relations have improved
SIA urged to hive off some units

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is persuaded that once-rocky relations between the five unions and management of Singapore Airlines (SIA) have improved, but he wants them to keep at it.

More adjustments will be needed to meet growing competition and one key step will be to hive off some parts of the business, he said.

He singled out SIA's catering and engineering subsidiaries as requiring hiving off 'sooner rather than later'.

Singapore Airport Terminal Services (Sats) and Singapore Airlines Engineering Company (Siaec) must become separate companies and compete with other players entering these two sectors, he said.
In the 3rd article, we learn that Mr Koh Boon Hwee, SIA Chairman, is stepping down and getting replaced by Mr Stephen Lee. MM Lee says some very nice things about Stephen Lee, which gives you an idea of why Stephen Lee has been chosen to be the new SIA Chairman. Basically Stephen has a proven track record (from his work at PSA International). He is very effective at managing unhappy, retrenched employees.

New chairman has special touch: MM Lee

MR STEPHEN Lee's journey from ports to planes received a vote of confidence yesterday from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who praised the former PSA International chairman for having a 'special touch'.


Under Mr Stephen Lee, 58, PSA successfully restructured its labour-management relations despite having to retrench staff and restructure operations amid intense competition. It was an achievement MM Lee had noted in November last year.

Now, he wants SIA to take the PSA route. 'SIA is going to go through a similar process, like PSA,' he said. 'It was not painless. But morale must not go down. So we mustn't go back and say the case is lost, we're finished. We're not finished, just as PSA was not finished.'

The key is for the troops to rally around their new general, he said, as he urged SIA employees to support Mr Stephen Lee whom, he added, was chosen because of his 'touch' at PSA.

Draw your own conclusions. Mr Wang is glad that he is not working for SIA.

17 December 2005

Cute Little Ducklings

ST Dec 16, 2005
China's new rich flaunt their brood
One-child policy is no deterrent to those who can pay the hefty fine

BEIJING - CHINA'S 'nouveaux riches' are not just competing with each other to buy grandiose mansions, private jets and fast, expensive cars - their latest status symbol is a brood of children.

The rich are finding a number of ways to get around the one-child policy adopted in 1979 to curb a huge population explosion in the world's most populous country.

Many business tycoons and celebrities are increasingly flouting the policy simply paying 'social maintenance fee', which can be as high as 150,000 yuan (S$31,000) per extra child for urban dwellers or as low as 7,000 yuan for rural residents.

Some wealthy people are even emigrating abroad for the sole purpose of having a second or third child whom they bring back to raise in China.
Singapore's position is opposite from China's - here the government keeps trying (and failing) to encourage more Singaporeans to have children. Nevertheless Mr Wang notes an interesting parallel.

Mr Wang has no official figures, but from personal observation, he notes that in Singapore, the people who choose to have three or more children are increasingly the richer folks. That's because they can afford it. In contrast, the "middles" tend to avoid having children, and even the poor, who used to have more children than they could afford, now seem to know better.

So the parallel between Singapore and China is that in both countries, the rich are the ones who end up having the most children.

15 December 2005

More on Marriage, Money and the Quality of Life

See my previous post on marriage. It turns out that on 12 December, the Straits Times had a third article on marriage, also by a young person. This young person is Christopher Choo, himself a blogger. Chris considered the topic of marriage from a financial perspective.
Dec 12, 2005
Marriage? Not if it lowers quality of life
By Christopher Choo

GETTING married here costs an arm and a leg. Doing so without adequate financial planning is foolish, in my view.

Take this for example: An HDB flat today is likely to keep a couple in debt for more than 10 years. An extravagant wedding dinner and an exotic honeymoon will sink them further in the red.

The situation deteriorates when children come into the picture.

There is the notion that children complete a family: Complete? Yes, complete chaos.

Usually, the family income is insufficient to allow one parent to stay at home.

So when the do-it-yourself method is not economically viable, Singaporeans choose the second-best course of action - outsourcing. And so Junior goes to childcare and families employ maids. And a car becomes an attractive option.

The couple remains in debt for the next decade because their assets are locked in what they own. This is why marriage is a roller-coaster ride that goes beyond glitter and romance, down into the dungeons of financial distress.

Whether couples can navigate the financial labyrinth and emerge stronger is questionable, and the proportion of divorces attributed to financial problems is evidence of this difficulty. Why lead a married life fraught with financial worries if it means giving up the carefree life of a bachelor?

Until this problem is addressed, many would rightfully defer marriage because it risks lowering their quality of life.
There are many things that Mr Wang would disagree with in the above article. Where should Mr Wang start?

Firstly, the high cost of housing in Singapore is precisely that - it is the cost of housing. It is not the cost of getting married. Everyone, married or single, needs a roof over his head, unless he or she wants to live out in the streets.

In Singapore, many adult single persons continue to stay with their parents even when the single person has started work and draws a stable income. Lest you be mistaken, the cost of housing still remains high. It is just that you make your parents pay for it. Naturally, it also means that you get less space. Physically, and mentally.

Single persons may also want to purchase their own apartment. For many years in Singapore, this wasn't much of an option due to HDB rules. Now those rules are being relaxed, to the great happiness of many singles. However, this simply means that flat-buying singles will now also similarly have to pay for the high cost of housing. It's just that unlike married couples, the single person will not have a spouse to help him or her meet the mortgage payments.

Christopher's next point is about children. This is somewhat a non-point for me because marriage does not necessarily mean children. In fact there are many married couples who do not want to have children. Leave it sufficiently late, and they wouldn't be able anyway, even if they wanted to. Infertility rates in Singapore are extremely high.

Nevertheless, let's consider the young married couple with children and a mortgage and a maid and childcare and a car and _______ and ______. Certainly, some married people handle their finances rather badly. However, the perspective I offer you is that some single people handle their finances just as badly. Many single persons go bankrupt, for example, because of their credit card addictions. In the end, Mr Wang thinks that your financial stability or otherwise depends much more on your attitude towards money, than on your marital status.

Marriage, in fact, can offer a kind of financial stability which singlehood cannot. Suppose for instance, that Mr Wang is suddenly retrenched - he can depend on Mrs Wang to support him. Now if Mr Wang were a bachelor, it is unlikely that he would obtain such support. Unless he was an extremely charming Romeo with many rich girlfriends.

At a more philosophical level, Mr Wang suspects that he thinks quite differently from Chris, on several fundamental points. Firstly, Mr Wang sees money as a tool, as a means to your ends, whatever your ends may be, rather than an end in itself. Money is to be used to achieve what you want. Thus, to Mr Wang, it is sensible to say, "I intend to save $500 a month, to fund my children's future education." It is not sensible to say, "I shall not have children, so that I need not save $500 a month to fund their future education."

To put it another way, if you choose not to raise a family because you do not wish to spend money raising a family, then you are being silly - unless you know very well what other purpose you want to spend your money on, or save it for. Singles who spend their money on frivolous things and unnecessary luxuries and then say, "I cannot afford to get married" sound rather strange to Mr Wang.

Mr Wang is also a little startled when he reads these words by Chris Choo:
... many would rightfully defer marriage because it risks lowering their quality of life.
This makes Mr Wang feel a little dumbfounded. Personally, however, marriage does not put Mr Wang's quality of life at risk - marriage CONTRIBUTES, and greatly, to Mr Wang's quality of life. And I believe that this applies generally to the human race. Here are the studies to back me up:

Better Financial Picture

The old saying "Two can live as cheaply as one" isn't exactly true. Two do appear to be able to live as cheaply as one and a half persons, though. That means sharing furniture, food, insurance benefits, a car, etc.... And, when one person becomes ill, loses his or her job, or needs emotional support due to stressors, the spouse is there to help. This is cheaper too, as in home nurses, credit card debt, and therapists cost more.

Married men are more successful in work as well, getting promoted more often and receiving higher performance appraisals. They also miss work or arrive late less often (Kostiuk and Follman, 1989, and Shaw, 1987). As for women, white married women (without children) earn 4% more and black married women earn 10% more than their single peers (Waite, 1995). While some point out that house work for married women (37 hours per week) is greater than that of single women (25 hours), half of that is due to having children (South and Spitze, 1994).

Longer Life

Married people live longer as well. Single men have mortality rates that are 250% higher than married men. Single women have mortality rates that are 50% higher than married women (Ross et all, 1990). Having a spouse can decrease your risk for dying from cancer as much as knocking ten years off your life. Single people spend longer in the hospital, and have a greater risk of dying after surgery (Goodwin et al, 1987).

Married women are 30% more likely to rate their health as excellent or very good compared to single women, and 40% less likely to rate their health as only fair or poor compared to single women. Based on life expectancies, nine of ten married men and women alive at age 48 are alive at 65, while only six of ten single men and eight of ten single women make it to 65. Married men may have better immune systems as well, either from support or from nagging to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, etc... and may be at less risk to catch colds (Cohen et al, 1997)

Better Mental Health

Married men are half as likely to commit suicide as single men, and one third as likely as divorced men. Widowed men under 45 are nine times more likely to commit suicide as married men (Smith, Mercy, and Conn, 1988). Married people report lower levels of depression and distress, and 40% say they are very happy with their lives, compared to about 25% in single people. Married people were half as likely to say they were unhappy with their lives.

Single men drink twice as much as married men, and one out of four says his drinking causes problems for him. Only one of seven married men says the same. One out of six single men abstains from alcohol, but one in four married men do (Miller-Tutzauer et al, 1991).

Better Sex

About 40% of married people have sex twice a week, compared to 20-25% of single and cohabitating men and women. Over 40% of married women said their sex life was emotionally and physically satisfying, compared to about 30% of single women. For men, it's 50% of married men are physically and emotionally content versus 38% of cohabitating men."

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12 December 2005

On Marriage

"Honey, we're still underaged."

The Straits Times has a number of articles today where young people write about why they would rather not get married. Interesting, interesting. Let's take a look, first, at the article by one Goh Wen Zhong:
If my immediate future is not secure, the thought of marriage, or even emotional attachment, does not cross my mind. It is not born out of a selfish desire of self-advancement, but for practical reasons.
The funny thing about practical problems is that if you look hard enough, you can usually find practical solutions. And Mr Wang is such a practical guy. So let's take a look at Wen Zhong's practical problems.
I want to be able to afford a wedding ceremony befitting the significance of the occasion.
This is dumb. A wedding ceremony is a one-day event. A marriage is a lifetime project. Now if you and your partner really want to undertake a lifetime project, you should never let a one-day event stand in the way. It would be as absurd as saying, "I really want to go to university, but it's just too difficult to get the application form and fill up so many blanks."

Dear Wen Zhong, if the wedding ceremony is really such a big problem for you, I suggest you just skip it. Seriously. If you have a limited budget, spend on a nice honeymoon in an exotic place, rather than on a 75-table wedding dinner where half the guests are there only because they feel socially obliged to be there. I can't even remember half the things that happened on my wedding ceremony day. But the honeymoon, heheheh, I remember. Next problem, please:
I want my wife to have the freedom to choose whether to work or be a homemaker.
Mr Wang says: that's not an immediate problem. When you've just gotten married, you don't have kids (hopefully). When you don't have kids, your wife will be bored stiff staying at home playing homemaker. So she should go to work. What do you want her to do - stay at home and mop the floor all day? As for kids, you can defer them until you and your wife feel willing or able.
I want my marriage to be a genuine joy to my parents, and not a burden.
Frankly I think it's none of their business, but if you ask me, most parents are happy to see their kids get married, and most parents are even happier to become grandparents. And why should your marriage be a burden to your parents?
I want to be the best husband and father I can be.
That's nice. That's also impossible as long as you stay single. The first step to becoming the best husband and father around is, of course, to become a husband and father. Funny, this Wen Zhong fella. His aspiration sabotages itself.
The peripheral thoughts are mind-boggling: Financial stability is a must.
Good point. So save your money. Set some financial goals. Educate yourself on financial planning. Which you should do anyway, Wen Zhong, regardless of whether you get married or not. Contrary to what you seem to be thinking, Wen Zhong, singlehood doesn't make you rich. And actually, Wen Zhong, marrying a rich lady could be your fastest way to get rich (not that Mr Wang advocates marrying rich ladies for no other reason than their being rich).

The next writer is Chen Wei Li, a recent graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. He wrote:
On a more pragmatic note, I simply want to spend more time doing things without the obligation of answering to a family.

I would love to go backpacking in Europe or run a business or throw all my money on a new car.
So the argument goes like this: "I don't want to get married because I want to do other things first like ... A, B, C." The questions are then (a) what are your ABCs; (b) do you really want to do them; (c) are you taking positive steps or making some definite plans for your ABCs, (d) are they just idle daydreams that will last even when you're 60 years old and still single; (e) does marriage really stand in the way of these ABCs; (f) if the right person comes along, will your ABCs still be overwhelmingly important.

I know many people who would say, "I don't want to get married now because I want to focus on my career and succeed in my job." Now I can respect this kind of argument very much - if the person is indeed passionate about his job; works very hard at excelling in it and so on.

Question these people further, and you find, more often than not, that they don't particularly love their job (they may even hate it), they aren't facing any particularly exciting work challenges, and they are approximately as lackadaisical as the average other employee (married or not) in their organisation.

If you look at Wei Li's ABCs, you may begin to see some likely false dilemmas. For example, if you want to go backpacking in Europe, just go. It's only one month, maybe two months of your life. How does it stop you from getting married? Heck, get married and go backpacking with your spouse in Europe.

Wei Li's second ABC - running a business. Curiously, if you stop to think about it, most of the SME-type of businessmen you know are probably married. Furthermore, their wives probably play a big role in helping to run the business.

Wei Li's 3rd ABC is ... a bit sad, in my view, but to each his own. If the romantic interest in your life is someone to whom you're willing to say, "I won't marry you because I prefer to own a car instead", well, chances are, she's not someone you genuinely love anyway.

More thoughts later ...

10 December 2005

Mr Wang Speaks

An interesting development - Mr Wang has received an invitation to be a guest panelist and speaker at a students' event. To be held in the first quarter of 2006, the students' event focuses on current affairs and national issues in Singapore. Mr Wang has been asked to speak on the topic of youth, society and politics. 200 students from various educational institutions in Singapore are expected to attend. This will be rather unusual, because Mr Wang will probably be the first person ever to speak at such an event while using a pseudonym like "Mr Wang Says So".

Still thinking about it, but am likely to go.

08 December 2005

Ex-President Devan Nair

So ex-President Devan Nair has passed away. Customarily we say only nice things about dead people. And in Singapore, nice things generally mean things that are nice according to the establishment, the ruling party, the Powers That Be. This confuses Mr Wang somewhat because ex-President Devan Nair, in more recent years, has himself said many things which the establishment wouldn't think of as very nice. For example, Devan Nair spoke loudly in support of certain well-known opposition figures. Even bumbling idiots like Chee Soon Juan, whom Mr Wang detests.

Well, Mr Wang doesn't really know what else to say. So perhaps I'll just show you a couple of things that Devan Nair himself wrote. And after reading what Devan has to say, you might want to guess why ex-President Devan Nair and his wife left Singapore and went far, far away, to live out their twilight years and die in another country. Click here, or see below:

--Devan Nair speaks out
March 26, 1999

A serious threat of closure faces the Worker's Party led by Mr. J. B. Jeyaretnam because of failure to pay the forbidding damages awarded against the Party by a court in Singapore. One hopes against hope that this might be avoided at the last minute. It is a slim hope. The world has come to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the political tactics used by the PAP against opposition politicians have for some time come to include suing their pants off, forcing them into bankruptcy and losing their seats in parliament as a result. Now the same device is resorted to against opposition political parties themselves, as registered institutions. The onus of proof is on the government of Singapore, not on global public opinion.

Nothing that smacks of opposition seems safe in Singapore any longer. Singaporeans must sooner or later come to realise the harsh truth that nobody in Singapore is truly saved unless all are seen to be saved. The post of no return has long passed for Singaporeans, and one fears they will perforce learn this lesson the hard way. In the ultimate analysis, this is probably best. The more painful the price paid to learn basic human lessons, the more firmly might they become embedded in the national fibre. A free Singapore will arise and justify the sacrifices and efforts of undaunted Singaporeans, now including the courageous Chee Soon Juan, who had immolated themselves on the altar of freedom. Phoenix-like, their dreams will rise once again from their ashes. Were this process not true, the world would have come to an end long ago.

It is just as well that I release this Requiem now. If not timely yet, it will be soon enough. Here goes, for good or ill to myself.

Some months after I was kicked upstairs to the presidency of the republic of Singapore in October 1981, there was a by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Anson, which I had held prior to my ill-fated elevation. I had won that seat with a comfortable majority of some 80 percent of the votes cast. My opponent was the Worker's Party leader J.B. Jeyaretnam.

Today, looking back, I realise that it was not the PAP that had won that seat with such a thumping majority, but I myself who had won it almost entirely in my personal capacity as the unchallenged leader of the free trade union movement in Singapore (no longer free). True, I had persuaded the trade unions to cooperate with the government in its attempts to ensure that the economy of Singapore was kept on an even keel. They overwhelmingly voted their approval, because I had successfully convinced them that the organised greed and reckless disregard for the social good represented by British style trade unionism of the day would clearly not do for a small island state like Singapore with absolutely no natural resources of any kind to boast of apart from God's own fresh air. In doing so, my members knew that I had not surrendered an iota of the institutional independence of the NTUC (National Trade Union Congress). Indeed they knew that at every Delegates Conference of the NTUC they had unanimously endorsed a firmly worded resolution I had introduced from the platform reiterating what they most highly valued - the institutional independence of the labour movement.

These days, you won't find a single reference in any of the resolutions passed by the NTUC to the priceless oath of institutional independence a few colleagues and I had entrenched in our founding constitution. Let me make it clear. The PAP had no hand in the founding of the NTUC.

Be that as it may, a by-election had to be called in Anson. The PAP's candidate was a faceless civil service appointee of Lee Kuan Yew who had been seconded for service to the NTUC, while the Workers Party put up J.B Jeyaretnam. To the consternation of the PAP, Jeyaretnam won.

The day after the by-election verdict was declared, I had lunch with the Prime Minister (Lee Kuan Yew). I was amazed at how he fretted and fumed like a caged fury. As I saw it, Jeyaretnam constituted no threat at all to the PAP whether in parliament or outside it. For one thing, despite Jeya's courage, he displayed a woeful lack of economics. He clearly never knew at any point of time how Singapore clicked economically. And it was as plain as a pikestaff to me that in five years of free performance in parliament against the likes of Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Lim Kim San et al, he would stand exposed in public for his abysmal ignorance of economics.

In truth, if I had to cope with J.B Jeyaretnam as a hostile delegate at regular NTUC Delegates Conferences, I would have given him all the rope and more he wanted to hang himself with. And after free and open arguments over three days of conferencing, I would have beaten him hands down at the ballot box. I knew this, as did the workers. For they knew that in the colonial days, Jeyaretnam had never stood on a picket line. I had, not once but several times, not only stood on picket lines, but also bedded down for the night on the gravel with the workers whom I led.

I told all this to Kuan Yew. Nothing I said sank in. He fretted about a potential critical percentage drop in PAP votes across all the constituencies that could eventually bring the PAP government down, and he wouldn't stand for it. Only later did I realise that this was the moment that started his formidable brain box ticking away furiously at the fecund gerrymandering schemes he was to introduce later to ensure that all opposition parties would be put in a Gordion bind that would make it impossible for them to ever achieve control of parliament, unless an Alexander came along. Such a possibility appears impossible now, unless it takes the awesome shape of shattering geo-political circumstances already building up around Singapore.

Immediately, however, Kuan Yew's attention was concentrated on how he would deal with J.B Jeyaretnam in parliament. I was quite alarmed at some of the things he told me at that lunch. "Look," he said, "Jeyaretnam can't win the infighting. I'll tell you why. We are in charge. Every government Ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time." And I will never forget his last words. "I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy."

Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff. To his eternal credit he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy. And it is to Lee Kuan Yew's eternal shame that Jeyaretnam will leave the political scene with his head held high, enjoying a martyrdom conferred on him by Lee. Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that Jeya more than deserves the crown of the martyr for his indomitable courage and dignity in the face of the vilest persecution.

Even greater human spirits than Jeyaretnam had refused to bend their knees to Lee Kuan Yew. It is my considered view that the greatest human being living in Singapore today is one who declined to surrender to the intimidation of prolonged incarceration and restrictions imposed on him without trial for a total period which exceeds that suffered by Nelson Mandela. And here was the mark of true greatness. He emerged from the experience like a god unembittered. His name is Chia Thye Poh. And it is Lee Kuan Yew who emerged from the episode as the knave and fool of his own mindless vindictiveness, while the real conqueror smiles benignly - unnoted, of course, by the local media. For only sound waves from the Istana Annexe are picked up and regurgitated by His Master's Voice.

There is no political justification for obliging the Workers Party to close down. And not a shred of moral justification. What lies behind the move is among the most brazen vindictiveness ever shown in the political life of Singapore. It merely adds one more nail in the coffin of the PAP's reputation when the true history of the party will be exposed to the world, as it surely will be one day in the coming decades of the third millennium. As mankind accelerates to the abyss, the shining memories of the past will certainly not include Lee Kuan Yew and the department store dummies he boasts today as his acolytes. He clearly does not possess the foresight to avoid such a fate.

I gladly salute J.B. Jeyaretnam and the Worker's Party at this highly deserved requiem, even if I never once had shared their platform.

Please note that the above views are Devan Nair's, not mine. I don't necessarily agree with all or any of his points. I even disagree with some of his points. So please do not sue me for citing his views. After all, Devan Nair is a national hero, a founding father of Singapore. That's my general impression anyway, based on what our dear leader PM Lee Hsien Loong wrote about Devan Nair in the Straits Times today:
Mr Nair made substantial contributions to Singapore. During the formative years of our nation, he served with courage and commitment, and played a significant part in building modern Singapore ... Singaporeans will remember Mr Nair for his many years of service to our nation. He belongs to the generation of founding fathers who made Singapore what it is today. His passing is a loss to us all.'
And what could be so wrong about quoting a national hero? A founding father of our dear nation? His passing is a loss to us all.

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06 December 2005

Look Who's Getting Married!

None other than Elton John himself. I used to love his music back in my younger days (oh yes, that was quite some time ago). Nowadays Elton has gone pretty crappy, singing dumb songs for cartoons like "The Lion King", but there was a time when Elton was really, really cool and successfully combined his vocal artistry with powerful songwriting.

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about is Elton's wedding. Gee, a gay wedding. Here's a news report:
Eight months after the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles married at Windsor's Guildhall, the venue will witness another high profile union - the gay "wedding" between Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Sir Elton and Mr Furnish yesterday joined hundreds of other same-sex couples across the country by officially registering their civil partnership ceremony on the first available date.

The formal notice announcing the event, which will be held on Dec 21 after a mandatory 15-day waiting period, was put on public display at Maidenhead Town Hall in Berkshire.

The couple listed their address as Windsor and Maidenhead alongside their dates of birth and a description of their occupations, musician and filmmaker.
What's all this about? Well, the Civil Partnership Bill just came into effect in the UK. Read more about it here. Essentially, civil partnerships are legally recognised unions between two people of the same sex. Couples who enter into such partnerships are granted almost all the same legal rights as married couples. Like marriages, they can only be dissolved by a court.

Well, now. Isn't that nice? I kinda think that if society chooses to create and recognise an institution like a "civil partnership", then among other things, it helps to provide some kind of structure to gay relationships. That in turn may encourage gays to stay in a committed relationship (much as the institution of a heterosexual marriage encourages husband and wife to stay faithful to each other). In turn the AIDS problem amaong gays would probably lessen (note that Mr Wang is NOT saying that AIDS is an exclusively gay problem - of course it is not).

Speaking of gays and AIDS, the Straits Times has a remarkably lousy article today. It is so ambiguous that if I were the editor, I wouldn't have published the article. Instead I would've told the journalist - "No, no. You gotta do more homework. Go back to the relevant people, ask more questions, get more information, get clearer answers. What you have here is just not good enough to be printed. It's a non-story."

Of course, we can't seriously expect the Straits Times to share Mr Wang's high standards. So instead we get a lousy piece of reporting like this:

Dec 6, 2005
1 in 25 gay men here may have HIV

ABOUT one in 25 gay men in Singapore is HIV-positive, said Dr Balaji Sadasivan yesterday. Researchers came to that conclusion based on the data gleaned from the anonymous human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing clinic at Kelantan Lane.

However, the Senior Minister of State for Health was quick to point out that the data used to come up with the figure is far from perfect.

Dr Balaji explained: 'There are many, many questions about this data.

'Is this representative of all gays? Or is it representative of a sample of gays? We can't answer this question unless we do more detailed studies which may invade into people's privacy.'

Action for Aids (AFA), a non-governmental organisation which runs the anonymous testing clinic, also has no idea how accurate the figure cited by Dr Balaji may be.

AFA's programme manager Abdul Hamid Hassan said the figure could be an overestimate, or an underestimate.

As I read this article, many questions pop up in my mind. Let's take a look. Balaji tells us that 1 in 25 gay men in Singapore has AIDS. We are told that this is the "conclusion" of researchers at the Kelantan testing clinic. However, Action for AIDS, which itself runs the clinic, then says that it has "no idea" how accurate Balaji's figure is. And the Straits Times tells nothing about what kind of research was done, or how the figure was derived.

What kind of reporting is this? The Straits Times might as well report that in Mr Wang's view, approximately 3 in 2,775 gay men in Singapore have AIDS. Mr Wang arrived at this opinion using his amazing extrasensory powers of perception and other methods of special research which shall not be reported. Mr Wang then explained: "There are many, many questions about this figure. Is this representative of all gays? Or is it representative of a sample of gays? I can't answer this question unless I use my extrasensory perception and special research methods a few more times." And then Action for AIDS could say, "We have no idea how accurate the figure cited by Mr Wang may be. Our programme manager Abdul Hamid Hassan feels that Mr Wang's figure could be an overestimate, or an underestimate."

Fat lot of good such an article would be.

05 December 2005

Woof Woof

Some lingering thoughts on the Nguyen Van Tuong case. Much earlier I had convincingly argued (Mr Wang is always convincing to himself) that the death sentence is no powerful than life imprisonment as a deterrent. If you cannot scare off a drug trafficker with a life sentence, you cannot scare him off with the death sentence either. The blogger known as Gilbert Koh expresses a similar view in the comments section of this Singabloodypore post and offers us a colourful illustration:

Actually I think life imprisonment is as strong or even stronger a deterrent than the death sentence. For all practical purposes, if a person cannot be deterred by the idea of being locked up for the rest of his life, I don't think he would be deterred by the idea of being hanged either.

It is like a devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation. Both are qualitatively very different, but both are also very extreme.

It is like telling a person "If you commit this crime, I will dig out both your eyes";

or proposing an alternative:

"If you commit this crime, I will cut off your testicles."

Both are qualitatively quite different - they lead to quite different consequences - but if one does not deter a particular person, the other is also unlikely to deter.

By the way, Whineeey, assuming you are male and have been convicted of the relevant crime, which form of punishment would you prefer?
Whineeey had no answer. But Mr Wang does have a further insight to offer on this matter. Here it is - the severity of the potential punishment matters less than the likelihood of being caught.

To elaborate, assume that a drug trafficker knows very well that Singapore has the death penalty (or for that matter, life imprisonment) for drug traffickers. He believes however that he has a 90% chance of successfully passing through Customs without getting caught. The potential for the death penalty (or life imprisonment) would not deter him if he is prepared to bet on his 90% chance.

Assume conversely that Singapore has much more lenient laws on drug trafficking (eg a maximum of 10 years in jail). However, also assume that the authorities are much more vigilant at the immigration checkpoints. Thus the drug trafficker believes that there is a 90% chance of being caught at Customs.

Mr Wang is very certain that in the 2nd scenario, many more drug traffickers would be deterred than in the 1st scenario, from attempting to pass through the immigration checkpoints with their illegal merchandise.

Thus one wonders why the Singapore government doesn't simply step up measures at the immigration checkpoints. For example, train 100 new sniffer dogs and plant them all over Changi Airport. Surely this would be (a) very useful in catching traffickers who still dare to come, (b) very effective in deterring traffickers from planning to come, (c) very useful in reducing the future risks of damaging foreign relations with another nation over the death penalty, and (d) coincidentally useful in thwarting the terrorist threat.

Who needs the death penalty?

Rover will do just fine.

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NKF Woes

The Straits Times constantly amazes me with the vigorous spins and warped angles it places on its reports.
Dec 5, 2005
New donations spell hope for NKF
50 donors sign up for Lifedrops scheme; 3 others have rejoined

By Lee Hui Chieh
DESPITE the controversy over how its funds were used, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) has managed to attract 50 new individual donors - as well as three who have returned.

In the past four months, 50 new donors have signed up for the NKF's Lifedrops programme, pledging a small sum of money each month through Giro or credit card deductions.

Three others who had earlier quit the programme have since rejoined.

The Lifedrops programme used to have between 2,500 and 3,000 new donors every month. Since mid-July, when the scandal broke, about 50,000 people have dropped out, taking with them about $400,000 worth of donations.
50,000 regular donors quit, and 3 of them later rejoined. That's a recovery rate of 0.006%. And for the title of its article, the Straits Times says "New Donations Spell Hope"?!? Mr Wang suggests to you that more appropriate titles would be "Deep Shit Continues for NKF" or "Thank Goodness for the Reserves".

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02 December 2005

Government Press Release

Singapore Government Press Release
Media Relations Division, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
MICA Building, 140 Hill Street, 2nd Storey, Singapore 179369
Tel: 6837-9666


Nguyen Tuong Van was charged for importation of 396.2 grams of diamorphine or pure heroin into Singapore, under Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Chapter 185), which carries the death penalty. Mr Nguyen was convicted as charged and sentenced to death. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides that the death penalty is mandatory if the amount of diamorphine or pure heroin imported exceeds 15g. Mr Nguyen unlawfully brought into Singapore almost 400 grams of diamorphine, enough to supply 26,000 doses of heroin to drug addicts. The street value of the heroin was worth an estimated S$1.3m. Mr Nguyen failed in his appeals to the Court of Appeal and to the President for clemency. The sentence was carried out this morning at Changi Prison.

Ministry of Home Affairs
2 Dec 05

More on Death

Nguyen Van Tuong, the Australian drug trafficker, is dead. He was hanged this morning. Peace to your soul, Nguyen. In the grand design of the universe, everything happens for a reason. Perhaps your death will help Singapore take a few small steps towards the eventual abolition of the death sentence. Or at least save the life of some young foolish Australian somewhere who had been contemplating the same crimes as you did.

Meanwhile an even more dramatic case continues to unfold on the other side of the world. Stanley Tookie Williams, a five-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is scheduled to be executed on 13 December 2005, and people are campaigning for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare him. Here's a news report:

Rallies plead for Tookie's life
Protesters in Fremont decry nation's 1,000th execution
By Josh Richman

SAN FRANCISCO — Elected officials, clergy and others rallied on City Hall's steps Wednesday to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare the life of condemned murderer and activist Stanley Tookie Williams.

The rally was among at least a dozen events held in Fremont and elsewhere throughout the state Wednesday — with scores more staged nationally and around the world — in opposition to the death penalty in general and Williams' execution in particular.

A group of local protesters gathered on the steps of Mission San Jose on Wednesday morning to oppose the country's 1,000th execution since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

An execution was scheduled to take place late Wednesday, but the governor of Virginia granted clemency to the inmate. The next execution is scheduled to take place at 11 p.m. PST today in North Carolina.

The "day of action" coincided with the state Supreme Court's rejection of Williams' lawyers' last-ditch challenge to ballistics evidence and other factors underlying his conviction; only a federal court or the governor can intervene now.

Schwarzenegger will hold a closed-door clemency hearing with Williams' attorneys and prosecutors Dec. 8; Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 13.

"Become 'The Redeemer,' not 'The Terminator,'" San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano urged the governor Wednesday.

"There is no human being who is created without an aim and a purpose," said Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad of San Francisco, adding that Williams has now found that purpose: to help young men ask and answer the same tough questions of themselves that he has of himself.

"Killing will never bring peace, killing will never bring closure — not once. It is a spiritual impossibility," said Rabbi Alan Lew of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom. "Life is a sacred gift. All life. Every life."

Others speaking to scores of activists and a media crush in San Francisco included the most Rev. John Wester, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco; United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta; and Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Wednesday's events came two days after human rights watchdog Amnesty International and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued their own calls for Williams' life to be spared.

Williams, now 51, was convicted of murdering four people in two separate robberies in 1979; he has continued to claim his innocence of those crimes, but state and federal courts have upheld his convictions at every turn. He's also the co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang, which spread from Los Angeles to cities throughout the nation and world, wreaking violence upon communities.

But since emerging from solitary confinement in 1994, he has become known as an anti-gang activist and author who directly or indirectly has inspired uncounted youths to straighten out their lives. He's been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize — once by a Swiss lawmaker and four times by a group of American college faculty led by a professor at Belmont's Notre Dame de Namur University.

Stanley Tookie Williams is a fascinating character. Read more about him on Wikipedia. Once a violent criminal, he is now an anti-gang activist who reaches out to young, troubled people in jail and inspires them to turn their lives around.

Picture on the left shows Tookie in his (much) younger days.

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01 December 2005

What's Mr Wang Doing For Lunch Today?

He's meeting a student from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Communication. Apparently this student is a student of Professor Randy Kluver, and this student is doing a school project on bloggers in Singapore. Yes the student would like to interview Mr Wang, although Mr Wang doesn't know yet about what exactly.

29 November 2005

More on the Melyvn Tan case

So today the ST Forum has another reader writing in on the Melyvn Tan case. An interesting letter:

Nov 29, 2005
Moral of story behind Mindef reply on NS case

I REFER to Mr Ben Nadarajan's commentary, '$5,000 fine for skipping NS? That's just not fine' (The Sunday Times, Nov 27), and the numerous articles and letters which have expressed indignation and unhappiness over the fact that pianist Melvyn Tan was slapped with only a fine of at most $5,000 for skipping national service.

It seems that the main point of contention is that given the market rate of time in the detention barracks (DB) for full-time national servicemen who go absent without official leave (AWOL), the imposition of only a fine on Mr Tan seems completely unfair. Or is it?

Mindef tried to explain the sense in this madness in the letter, 'Pianist dealt with, though he's no longer a citizen' (ST, Nov 24), but it seems that some people didn't get it, so I thought I would attempt to paraphrase its reply for their benefit.

Consider the following scenario: Suppose Mr Tan were born in the United States and he held dual citizenship up until he was 18. If so, he would have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, gone on to become a famous pianist, and he would not have to pay the fine today. It so happens that he probably did not have dual citizenship 31 years ago and hence he did not have the option of doing what I described above (and finally renounced his citizenship only 27 years ago).

NSmen who go AWOL may get time in DB, but they also get to keep their citizenship and will enjoy government subsidies for secondary and tertiary education, HDB concession loans, IPPT monetary awards and New Singapore Shares. Mr Tan would probably have received only some educational and maybe health subsidies until he was 12, and none of the above.

This is the crux of the matter: $5,000 is neither the price of national service nor the price of citizenship. It really is the fee for renouncing Singaporean citizenship if you happen to be born to Singaporean parents in Singapore and delay renouncing your citizenship for four years - and, yes, you also have to throw in another 37 years of self-imposed exile to top it off.

This is the moral of the story: if you are a guy, get your parents to have you delivered in the US. Then, if you should later decide to renounce your Singapore citizenship just before the national-service call-up, you can save yourself $5,000 and a whole lot of hassle.

Ben Leong Wing Lup
Massachusetts, USA

Heheh. Funny and sharp, this Ben Leong person. However, he also missed an important point. Read this part of his letter carefully:

Consider the following scenario: Suppose Mr Tan were born in the United States and he held dual citizenship up until he was 18. If so, he would have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, gone on to become a famous pianist, and he would not have to pay the fine today. It so happens that he probably did not have dual citizenship 31 years ago and hence he did not have the option of doing what I described above (and finally renounced his citizenship only 27 years ago).
The scenario which Ben describes is actually impossible. The sneaky Singapore government is too sneaky for that. See my comments in the comments section of my previous post about the Singapore constitution. The pianist Melvyn Tan could not have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, because the Singapore government does not allow male Singaporeans below 18 to renounce their citizenship. At best Melvyn Tan could have tried to renounce his Singapore citizenship at age 21 (which the government may or may not allow, in the case of male Singaporeans who have not done their NS). If you do some calculations, you'll find that Melvyn indeed renounced his Singapore citizenship approximately as soon as he legally could try to do so. He probably initiated the process 28 years ago, upon turning 21. And the paperwork was probably successfully completed one year later (27 years ago) when he turned 22.

Also Singapore does not allow you to hold dual citizenship. You can have PR status in another country, but you cannot have dual citizenship. Article 134 of the Singapore Constitution says so. So that's another reason why Ben Leong's scenario could not possibly have happened.

Aren't you people glad that you have Mr Wang's blog to read? You learn so many things here that you would never learn from reading the Straits Times.

Mr Wang's Unusual Views

Earlier I had commented on this case from the legal perspective. Now I will consider it from a more personal point of view.

And I say this - I am happy for Melvyn Tan.

My opinion - and I fully acknowledge that others will have different opinions - is this:

What is good for the system is often bad for the individual. And while NS may be good or necessary for the state of Singapore, it is generally a waste of time and a lot of suffering for the individual male citizen. If Melvyn successfully escaped the system, then I, as an individual, am happy for Melvyn, as an individual.

I know that many people will disagree with my philosophy. Most of us Singaporean men know from experience that the poor souls who got abused and bullied the most in the army will often become abusive and cruel themselves. When they finish their training and graduate from their course and rise in rank to become instructors, they start to abuse new recruits and trainees the same exact way they were once abused - the same exact way they once found so utterly unacceptable and wrong. A sadistic streak suddenly manifests in their hearts, when they get a little bit of power in their hands. They derive some perverted sense of vindication and revenge in seeing the newbies suffer.

Mr Wang does not subscribe to this kind of philosophy. Just because you have suffered and been abused does not make it a good thing for other people to suffer and be abused as well. Extending this line of thinking a little further - Mr Wang does not think that just because the average male Singaporean has had the terrible misfortune of wasting two years of his life in NS, he has any real justification to get angry and jealous that another male Singaporean, namely Melvyn Tan, managed to "beat the system" and avoid that terrible misfortune. If every single person, without exception, suffers a terrible misfortune, no single person benefits anyway. The collective amount of misfortune simply grows bigger.

There are a few other things about Mr Wang, an INTJ, that you might not know. Mr Wang loves to see people beat the system. Mr Wang loves to see people chase their dreams. Mr Wang loves people who dare to shine. Mr Wang does not love the SAF. Mr Wang does not love conformists. Mr Wang does not believe in herd instinct. Mr Wang does not believe in wasting talent. In other words, Mr Wang is a classic INTJ. His personality profile is such that he cannot help but love the Melvyn Tan story. Well done, Melvyn, and congrats!

Go forth, Melvyn Tan, shine for the rest of your musical career, and do Singapore proud. You do Singapore a lot more good as a world-famous musician, than you could ever have done as just another faceless SAF cook / clerk / driver / rifleman / storeman / PTI / medic / GD man / lobo / tankee / RP /fatal-statistic-in-yet-another-ROC-training-accident.

Statistically, INTJs form less than 1.5% of the human race and Mr Wang is well aware that the more-common personality types in the male Singapore population will probably disagree with his views as expressed above.

28 November 2005

Healthcare Issues

Alas, Mr Wang's family is still not in the best of health. The little girl has recovered and she is happily overdosing on her usual diet of cartoon VCDs (see pix). But the little boy has indeed fallen ill and has been quite ill for the past few days. His diarrhoea and vomiting has subsided but he still has zero appetite and he consumed almost nothing on Saturday and Sunday. Last night he drank a decent amount of milk and then promptly puked it all over Mr Wang's sofa.

Mr Wang has again taken urgent leave from work to watch over his little family. He has been making tiny quantities of soy-based, lactose-free formula milk for the little boy, and trying to persuade the boy to take 30 ml every hour. Normally the boy will drink 240 ml at one go, not to mention taking a big bowl of porridge, all in one morning. This morning the boy took 30 ml every hour till he hit 120 ml, and now he has again lost all interest in food.

If the Singapore government really wants to be pro-family, one of the best things it can do is to encourage employers to grant extra days of leave to employees who have kids, say, under the age of 12.

25 November 2005

The NS-Defaulting Pianist

So some famous pianist defaulted on his NS obligations decades ago. Recently he came back to Singapore and was fined $5000 for the offence. Mr Wang has learned that some Singaporeans have gotten into a tizzy about the sentence, believing it to be too lenient. Takchek was hoping that I would comment on this case, so I will. First, the ST report:
Nov 20, 2005
Pianist pays NS dues - 28 years later
He is fined for defaulting on his NS after he decides to return, as his aged parents are finding it difficult to visit him in London

By Kristina Tom

AFTER staying away from Singapore for nearly 30 years because he defaulted on his national service, pianist Melvyn Tan has finally paid his dues.

The 49-year-old, who has lived in the United Kingdom for the last 37 years, has paid a fine for not fulfilling his national service duty and will be performing at the Esplanade next month.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, a visibly relieved Mr Tan said that he is glad to have put the past behind him.

He has not stepped onto Singapore soil all these years because he had feared that he would be arrested and thrown into jail.

But his 86-year-old father and 80-year-old mother are getting too old to make the regular trips to London to visit him at his home in Notting Hill, London.

So he decided to take a 'risk'. After informing the authorities of his intention to return, he came home in April for a court hearing.

The hearing lasted 30 minutes but he had never been so nervous in his life. 'It was very, very nerve-wracking,' he said.

To his relief, he was asked only to pay a fine.

He claims that he cannot remember the amount.

Under the Enlistment Act, those who evade national service can be fined up to $5,000 or sent to jail for up to three years, or both.

Although Mr Tan became a British citizen in 1978, he was still a Singapore citizen when he failed to fulfil his NS duties, making him answerable for the offence in a Singapore court.

In 1994, The Straits Times quoted a lawyer who said that one of his clients, a 39-year-old French citizen, was arrested at the airport on arrival, fined and made to complete nine months of training.

Mr Tan, who has an elder sister, was studying at Anglo-Chinese School when he left Singapore to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Sussex. He was then 12 years old.

After he finished his course, he stayed on in England to study at the Royal College of Music instead of coming home to serve national service in 1977.

He said: 'When I was at the Royal College and I got my final call-up, I was just on the brink of starting a career. I thought about it and thought about it and realised that I was not going to get this chance again.

'So I made that very difficult decision to not return. It meant I could never come back.'

Mr Tan first made his mark in the classical world with his performances on the 19th-century fortepiano, the precursor to the modern concert grand.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he produced a series of recordings that popularised the early music movement, regarded as a slightly eccentric niche within the music world.

He has about 30 recordings to his name and a regular touring schedule in Europe.

Along with Seow Yit Kin and Margaret Leng Tan, he has helped Singapore to gain recognition on the global piano scene.

The pianist is wasting no time in reconnecting with the Singapore music scene.

He goes back to England tomorrow, but will return early next month to sit on the jury of the National Arts Council's biennial National Piano and Violin Competition, which starts Dec 7 and ends Dec 18.

He said that he is getting to know Singapore, which he describes as 'unrecognisable', all over again. And, of course, he has been feasting on his favourite foods such as popiah.

But the best part about being able to come home as a free man was showing up at his mother's 80th birthday party on Thursday.

His parents still live in his childhood home in Lengkok Angsa, off Paterson Road. 'There were a few tears,' he said. 'She was just delighted. It was the best birthday present she's ever had.'
Mr Wang will state his personal opinion straightaway - I think this was a reasonable sentence. If I were the judge, I would have probably imposed a similar sentence. At most, I think I would have given a few days of imprisonment.

There are plenty of grounds to justify such a sentence. Firstly Melvyn Tan had voluntarily surrendered himself to the authorities and then pleaded guilty in court. Now as a legal principle of sentencing, criminals who voluntarily surrender and then plead guilty in court generally get a lighter sentence. Melvyn chose to surrender and plead guilty in a situation where he could very easily have evaded arrest forever (by simply not returning to Singapore). So in his case, his voluntary surrender and guilty plea count as particularly significant mitigating factors.

Secondly, the reason why he chose to surrender (so as to be able to be with his aged parents) also deserves some sympathy. Mr Wang has a heart even if Mr Miyagi doesn't.

Thirdly, the fact that the offence was committed such a long time ago also, in my view, is another reason to impose a less-severe sentence. For an offence like this, I am not very convinced that there is that much purpose in punishing an almost-senior citizen for something he did more than half his lifetime ago, when he was a teenager.

Fourthly, one should consider the sentencing considerations that would typically apply to a case of an NS defaulter. The primary sentencing consideration would be the need for general deterrence - that is to say, if the court imposed a severe sentence, it would do so primarily with the intention of deterring other Singaporeans from committing the same kind of offence. However, Melvyn Tan's case is probably quite different from what the average NS defaulter's case would be, so there can't be that much deterrent value in imposing a heavier sentence in this particular case. I don't think that Melvyn's case is likely to persuade the average 14-year-old or 15-year-old male Singaporean today to start hatching any escape plans.

The fifth point to note is that your average NS defaulter, with no special mitigating factors at all, is probably not going to get more than six months' imprisonment anyway. So don't let the three years' maximum sentence possible under the law deceive you. As I've previously explained, the maximum possible sentences for most crimes are hardly ever imposed - the practical reality is that the average sentence imposed in the average case for most offences is well below the legal maximum.

A sixth point is a particular kind of argument that defence lawyers frequently raise, in one form or another, in different kinds of criminal cases. Personally, I don't particularly buy this particular kind of argument, but it's pretty common anyway, and I am quite sure that Melvyn's lawyer would have raised it as well. The general idea is that the criminal's own act had in itself caused him some suffering, so would the judge please take this consideration, since the accused has in effect already punished himself to some degree. In Melvyn's case, the argument would go something like this - for all these long years, poor old Melvyn has been unable to come to Singapore to visit his dear parents, relatives etc, and this in itself is already a kind of punishment, so would the judge please take this into consideration and impose a lesser kind of sentence. Not particularly convincing to me, but as I said, a fairly common kind of argument raised by defence lawyers.

There are a couple of other points that Mr Wang can see - relating to the circumstances under which Melvyn Tan committed the offence. But perhaps more later, Mr Wang needs to go check on his little children now. Bye ...

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What other bloggers are saying: Steph's Blog, Zuco's Blog, Cheeky By Nature, The Vacant Lot.

3rd Seditious Blogger

Heheh. So my old boss, Bala Reddy, does not disappoint. He comes up with some innovative ideas for sentencing for the third seditious blogger, Gan Huai Shi.

ST 24 Nov 2005
Not jail, but immersion in Malay community
'This will allow him opportunities to have positive interaction with the Malay community.'
DISTRICT JUDGE BALA REDDY, in sentencing Gan to community work

By Chong Chee Kin
RACIST blogger Gan Huai Shi, 17, is not going to jail. But he will be getting an instant immersion into the Malay community instead.

Yesterday, District Judge Bala Reddy had some unusual recommendations to help correct Gan's 'misguided dislike for the Malay community' when he sentenced the student, the third such blogger convicted so far.

Unlike the first two, who were jailed for their seditious comments, Gan has been placed on probation for two years and ordered to do community service.

And the judge suggested Gan's probation officer should be a Malay who can 'act as a positive Malay role model' for the youth.

His 180 hours of community work should also take place at Malay welfare organisations such as the Jamiyah Home for the Aged, Pertapis Children's Home and Muhammadiyah Health and Day Care Centre for the Aged.

'This will allow him opportunities to have positive interaction with the Malay community... All these activities will act as an eye-opener for him when he participates in such activities of the Malay community,' the judge said.
In case you hadn't been following closely, this is what made Gan's case somewhat different from that of the other two seditious bloggers - his animosity towards Malays had been formed by a traumatic experience in his boyhood days:

Mr Pereira told the court the youth's animosity towards Malays stemmed from the traumatic death of his baby brother 10 years ago.

Gan, then seven, was with his mother trying to get a cab to rush his one-month-old brother to hospital. They failed to persuade a Malay couple to give up a taxi which had stopped for them. It took another 20 minutes before they flagged down another taxi. The baby was pronounced dead on arrival.

Yesterday, the judge ordered Gan to undergo counselling and psychiatric evaluation to help him come to terms with the death.
Good for you, Bala. Mr Wang awards you 10 bonus karma points.

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What other bloggers are saying: Chemical Generation Singapore.

21 November 2005

Credit Card Safety

Nov 21, 2005
Identity theft cases here likely to rise
Credit bureau: 'One or two' reports so far.
Many not reported due to lack of awareness

By Alfred Siew
WHEN insurance agent Kelvin Khoo, 33, checked his credit card bills recently, he was surprised to find several charges incurred in Turkish lira.

He had never been to Turkey, and certainly never bought anything there. But three of his credit cards - which he had used to buy tech gadgets over the Internet - showed the same suspicious charges from a Turkish company.

A call to the banks confirmed his fears: he had been hit by identity theft. Someone, he suspects, had stolen his card details online and signed up for insurance policies in his name.

'I told the banks I can show my passport to prove I've never been to Turkey,' he told The Straits Times. 'And I work in an insurance company, so why would I buy policies from overseas?'

With a clear-cut case, he got the charges cleared. Other victims, part of a worrying trend of identity fraud, may have to prove they are indeed hit by a scam.

Thieves can now use a copy of a victim's identity card to sign up for a credit card, for example. They have also been known to buy credit card numbers from dishonest storekeepers, who keep the receipts bearing customers' card details.
Here come some shocking statistics:
A recent report in Newsweek magazine said 50 million Americans have recently had their personal data exposed, and a quarter of Britons - around 15 million people - know someone whose identity has been stolen.

A couple of ideas occurred to me a long time ago but I never got around to executing them. I guess I really should - and so should you.

1. Reduce your number of credit cards. That makes it easier to monitor your usage and detect any suspicious activity. You also get less of a headache if you ever lose your wallet or purse.

2. Use one card and one card only for Internet purchases and payments. Furthermore call your bank and ask for a reduced limit on that card to no more than what you expect to need. For example, ask for a cap of $2,000 if you don't expect to ever spend more than that over the Internet in one month. That way, the amount of money a fraudster can ever run up on your card is also limited.

Incidentally, platinum just isn't what platinum used to be. Wasn't there a time when you needed to earn something like $200,000 a year to qualify? But recently I picked up a DBS brochure that stated the qualifying annual income for a DBS platinum card is $50,000. That's four times less exclusive than it used to be.

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18 November 2005

Yes, Teacher

So I want to highlight this interesting blog where a teacher has turned blogging into homework for her students. That's right, I am talking about Madam Sng Loves to Blog. Now her students are all getting into a flurry because they have a deadline - 20 November - to set up their own blogs and start writing. Yes, yes, Madam Sng has high hopes for her students from the class of F41:
Not too long ago, certain students in other schools have been chastised by their school for flaming their teachers in their blogs. I would like to believe that my students are above such juvenile antics. Hence I would like you to take the time to write meaningful entries in your blog. What you write reflects the kind of person you are. So you are the best person to decide how you want people to see you.
Boy, if only school was this fun when I was a student. I swear I could've scored 1st Class Honours in Blogging. Then again XiaXue probably would have gotten herself a PhD.

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Club Rainbow

Today my lunchtime wanderings brought me to Bras Basah Complex, that old sentimental haunt of book lovers, where I encountered large numbers of beautifully illustrated children's books selling at ridiculously low prices (like, four or five dollars). I promptly picked out six or seven titles for my own two children and spent $35 without thinking.

On the way back to office, I met some fundraising volunteers from Club Rainbow, which helps children suffering from serious chronic illnesses. The volunteers were standing in a public place accosting passers-by, mostly without success.

Normally, if I meet charity flagsellers, I'm happy to hand over my loose change. However, this time, the volunteer asked me to sign up to donate via credit card on a monthly or quarterly basis. And the least amount of donation this particular scheme permitted was $30 every month, or $120 every quarter.

Four years ago, I would have sidestepped this volunteer without a second thought. Today, however, I am the proud father of two little happy, healthy kids. And my heart turned a little soft and weepy at the thought that there are kids who weren't so lucky as to be born healthy as my own two kids.

And I thought about the $35 I'd just spent, without a second thought, on my kids' books, which were in a plastic bag that I was holding. That $35 could have gone further if it had gone to help some poor kid somewhere suffering from spina bifida or thalassaemia major.

Duly chastened by my conscience, I signed up to be a regular donor to Club Rainbow. Hope I get some karma points for my next life.

If you would like to donate or be a volunteer with Club Rainbow, click here for more info.

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Speak Mandarin Campaign

Once again, the Speak Mandarin campaign is here. Mr Wang wrote a post in early September, where Mr Wang said that he would be interested in learning (or rather, relearning) the Mandarin language, but only for career-related reasons. Mr Wang had stated that he didn't see how learning the language would, for himself personally, have anything to do with being more "Chinese" or appreciating Chinese culture more deeply.

Today the Straits Times Forum has a letter which fortifies Mr Wang's conclusions, although ironically that would not have been the letter-writer's intentions.
Nov 18, 2005
He regrets he doesn't speak Mandarin

IT IS strange that younger English-speaking Singaporeans have been targeted in this year's Speak Mandarin Campaign. Being products of a bilingual education, surely there is an implicit tendency to speak the language without the need for exhortation. It is not a question of being Chinese but a matter of 'use it or lose it'. They are fortunate to be bilingual.

Hailing from the earliest baby-boomer generation, the second language was not a compulsory subject for my contemporaries and me and we were not exhorted to learn it. As a result, we missed out on many opportunities and, worse, were subjected to embarrassment in many situations.

I was in Beijing in the mid-1990s to set up my company's China office. Throughout my time there I had an interpreter and it was very awkward, especially when the Chinese knew I was from Singapore where it is a given that you are bilingual. I must admit I felt ashamed.

Then, there was the holiday trip to Guilin. I was the only person in the group of 26 that could not understand the tour guide and missed out on all the great stories he told.

At home, though I watch Channel 8, I had to develop a quick eye to read the English subtitles to understand the story. I would have enjoyed the shows much more if only I could understand and speak Mandarin.

So, to the younger English-speaking Singaporeans, here is my advice: do not do away with Mandarin, speak it as often as possible. Do not let your language ability atrophy, or you will feel the loss. However, do not put down people who cannot speak and understand Mandarin.

Harry Chia Kim Seng
The writer has offered three examples of situations where he felt disadvantaged or embarrassed due to his lack of ability in the Mandarin language. Mr Wang will now briefly comment on these three examples.

The Holiday Trip to Guilin.. The writer forgot to inform you that you could just as well take a holiday to Thailand, France or Japan. In those cases, you would suffer similar disadvantages due to your not knowing Thai, French or Japanese. On the other hand, none of us have the time to learn all the many different useful languages in the world.

The Channel 8 TV shows. Mr Wang will only say that you're not missing much. If you do not watch these shows at all, Mr Wang doubts that your quality of life has suffered to any significant extent.

Setting up the China office. Mr Wang agrees that for career reasons, it may be useful to learn Mandarin. See Mr Wang's earlier post. That, however, is to Mr Wang the only really compelling reason for considering making the effort to learn (or relearn) Mandarin.

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16 November 2005

CJ Yong Pung How Gains Enlightenment

So you see - things do change for the better. Mr Wang had previously written about the plight of criminals who suffer from mental illnesses, and how they are misunderstood within our criminal legal system. See here and here for Mr Wang's past musings. This was a topic which had also recently been raised in Parliament.

Today the Straits Times reports how the Chief Justice of Singapore Yong Pung How is displaying a highly improved understanding of the underlying issues. Of course the Straits Times title is utterly irrelevant and misses the real significance of the case reported below.
Nov 16, 2005
CJ to kleptomaniac: 'You are just plain stupid'
She shoplifts while out on bail, but gets one more chance - and a scolding

By Elena Chong
SHE started shoplifting when she was nine and while she was out on bail last month, she could not help herself - and did it again.

Yesterday, [Convict's Name Removed By Mr Wang], who suffers from kleptomania - an impulse control disorder - came before the Chief Justice and got one more chance, and a scolding for good measure.

CJ Yong Pung How placed [XXX] on 24 months' supervised probation, and told her: 'Don't try and cure yourself. You are just plain stupid.'
The Straits Times, being what it is, has chosen to highlight the "you are just plain stupid" as the newsworthy element - see title of article. Of course the real significance in fact lies in the next paragraph:
He ordered her to perform 240 hours of community service, attend psychiatric and psychological treatment sessions and take her medication daily under her mother's supervision.
This is extremely rare. The woman is a repeat offender, exactly the kind of person that the Chief Justice normally likes to lock away in prison for a loooong time. In the present case, however, the Chief Justice not only chose her to spare her from imprisonment, but furthermore to order her to attend psychiatric and psychological treament. Mr Wang cannot help but be reminded of what Mr Wang himself wrote in one of his previous posts about another criminal, Iskandar Nordin:
Mr Wang believes that one day, we will become more enlightened about how criminals (or some kinds of criminals, at least) should be treated. Throwing people like Iskandar into jail and caning them does not necessarily serve any good purpose. Iskandar's kind of behaviour .... is highly indicative of the mental illnesses known as conduct disorder and ADHD (these two illnesses often coexist).

Incarceration cannot cure these mental conditions. Neither can caning. One day, Iskandar will walk out from prison again. If he still hasn't been properly treated of ADHD, then in all likelihood he will almost immediately do something stupid and criminal again. He can't help it. It's the conduct disorder, coupled with the impulsivity that comes with ADHD.

....... jail is the last place where people like Iskandar will get the professional help they need.
It seems that the Chief Justice now agrees with Mr Wang's views on the matter, hence his approach to the present case. The next few paragraphs of the Straits Times report also shows the Chief Justice's thought processes moving in the right direction:
The first thing he asked the 24-year-old former computer programmer with [YYYYYYYYY] at her appeal hearing yesterday was if she had been taking her medication daily, and where.

She said she took her pills every morning at home.

'Don't forget,' CJ Yong told her.
There are other interesting indications in the article of how CJ Yong's views seem to be changing. For example:
CJ Yong said it was very easy for him to 'bump' her into jail, but he felt she has a problem which 'cannot be resolved by this form of punishment'.

'So long as she continues to take her daily dose of medication, there is a possibility that she may be cured completely. It is a mental affliction.

'If we just say - let's bundle her to prison... she has had so many chances, I think you would have destroyed the very last hope.'

CJ Yong said he was 'absolutely certain' that if XXXX were imprisoned, it would 'destroy her finally'.

He reminded her again to take her medication daily, warning her she would be 'finished' if she stopped doing so.
There is a little side article by ST explaining kleptomania:
Why the impulse to steal

KLEPTOMANIA is an uncontrollable impulse to steal and items stolen are often of little value or use, said psychiatrist Tan Chue Tin.

Once the impulse strikes, Dr Tan explained, a kleptomaniac's mind becomes obsessed with a particular item.

If he does not steal that item, his level of anxiety shoots up and becomes unbearable.

The only way to reduce the anxiety and pain he feels is to steal the item.

'They know stealing is wrong,' Dr Tan said. 'But the need to steal overpowers everything. They then feel guilty about stealing.'

UPDATE 28 August 2006: At the request of her friend, I have removed the name of the convicted person. I have also removed the reference to her ex-employer.

13 November 2005

Did Mr Wang Get Ripped Off?

On capital punishment again, many of my regular readers noted the extremely strong resemblances between my post on 5 November and the Straits Times article on 11 November. These readers either emailed me about this matter, or wrote about it on their blogs, or left comments on blogs that they know I frequent.

What were my readers' reactions? Well, some congratulated me, saying that I had written so well that the Straits Times felt compelled to say the same things as I did. Others were outraged that the Straits Times had apparently plagiarised me without giving me any credit whatsoever. Everyone's favourite cat, Molly Meek, wrote a long post on her own blog analysing the powerful similarities between my article and the ST article. Check it out.

I was not very perturbed by the matter, but a little curious. So I forwarded one of my regular readers' emails to the ST journalist, saying something like, "Oh, you would be surprised by the number of such emails I have been receiving."

The ST journalist replied to me very shortly thereafter. She sounded very concerned (nervous?) and took pains to explain that she had not plagiarised me - although she also noted that there were some uncanny resemblances - down to sentence structure and choice of words - between my post and her article. To give you an idea about how seriously she took this matter - she copied two of the Straits Times editors on the email and said that she was willing to submit to investigations on this matter. Here's an excerpt:
I realise that since your posting was published earlier, it is much more difficult to prove that I did not copy you. I fully understand that words alone may not suffice for explanations. If you wish to press for further verification, please contact me or my editors. I will be more than willing to submit to investigations. Because we view allegations of plagiarism with total seriousness, I have cced this letter to Deputy Political Editor Paul Jacob, who supervised and edited this particular column, as well as Senior Political Correspondent Chua Mui Hoong, who helps run the Post-65ers column series and with whom I discussed the column idea over the past week.
Well, as I had said earlier, this matter does not disturb me very much, so I replied again saying something to the effect, "Oh don't worry, I'll take your word for it, let's treat it as case closed." And it really does not matter to me, and I will take her word for it. It is quite possible that two minds could independently come up with precisely the same idea at the same time - after all, this has previously happened to Mr Wang and Lee Kuan Yew.

Although some will say that Mr Wang is very cocky for saying so, Mr Wang will say so anyway - it would in fact be a good thing for Singapore if local journalists plagiarised Mr Wang frequently, or at least cultivated the habit of regularly reading Mr Wang's blog. Then they would learn to write articles that are more thoughtful, more insightful, more logical - instead of articles like this, this, this, this, this, and this.

12 November 2005

On Unfair Practices - Banks & Insurance Companies

Today, we learn from the Straits Times that the Fair Trading Act will be extended to cover banks and insurers. What does this mean for you, a member of the general public? Well, essentially, you will get a new channel to take action against any bank or insurer whom you think has treated you in some unfair or unscrupulous way.

ST Nov 12, 2005
Fair Trading Act to cover banks and insurers too
Customers will have new recourse to action against unfair practices
By Lorna Tan

RIPPED-OFF bank and insurance customers are finally being given the teeth to take action against unscrupulous finance-industry bad boys.

Banks and insurers will soon come under the scope of the Consumer Protection Fair Trading Act (CPFTA) - despite initial resistance to the idea by the financial services sector, said sources.

The Act, introduced in March last year, cracks down on a range of unfair practices, ranging from dodgy second-hand car sellers and fly-by-night furniture retailers, to high-pressure sales tactics for boost-your-bust beauty products.

But until now, the likes of dishonest insurance agents, financial advisers flogging inappropriate unit trusts, and bank officers pushing unsuitable investments have usually only encountered their day of reckoning when disgruntled consumers took them to mediation panels.

However, sources said yesterday that the Act would shortly be expanded to include the banking and insurance sectors.

I am frankly a little surprised by this move, and I am not sure whether it is a good thing. You see, the financial services industry is a complex one, and it has always been highly regulated. Singapore already has several statutes which apply specifically to financial institutions. For example, there is the Insurance Act; the Banking Act; the Securities and Futures Act; and the Financial Advisers Act. Apart from these Acts, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has also created a huge body of regulations, notices and guidelines telling banks and insurers how to behave - see this and this and this, for example.

So I don't really see much advantage in imposing yet another layer of law onto the financial services industry. It's not as if it didn't already have several huge, thick layers. But here's what CASE thinks:

By including banks and insurers, consumers will have specific breaches of fair practice they can point to, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

It will give consumers a statutory right to take wrongdoers to court, by filing a civil suit.

It also means banks and insurers will feel the need to smarten up their act, to avoid such potentially costly and embarrassing disputes.

The move is a big victory for Case, which argues that financial institutions come under the Fair Trading Act - although insurers say there are already enough safeguards under present regulations, such as the Financial Advisers Act, and the Insurance Act.


But Case said more was needed, and pointed to the large number of complaints. It received a whopping 707 complaints against financial institutions - mostly involving insurers - for the first 10 months of this year. And for the whole of last year, it received 1,187 complaints.

These involved disputes over such matters as leaving out vital information about a financial product, pressure selling, and taking advantage of consumers such as the elderly, who have not understood the effect of a transaction.

Indeed, if financial institutions were included now, Case reckons they would catapult to be among the top 10 industries attracting complaints under the Act - rubbing shoulders with timeshare touts and beauty salon bunglers.
I do agree that if the Fair Trading Act is extended to banks and insurers, CASE will probably receive a huge number of complaints about banks and insurers. However, I actually think this is a bit sad and unfortunate, because it means that CASE will have much less time to devote to, say, the timeshare touts and the beauty salon bunglers - who are currently quite unregulated. Banks and insurers, on the other hand, are already regulated by MAS, which means that unhappy customers already have existing channels to file complaints.

But why does Singapore need Mr Wang to point that out? Didn't CASE already know about it? Let's take a look:
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said that including financial services would benefit consumers, as other financial Acts do not cover market conduct, such as the omission of material facts when promoting a product, or using undue pressure to persuade someone to sign on the dotted line.
Well, what Mr Seah says here is not quite right. In fact, the relevant laws and statutes specifically relating to the financial services industry already address these issues in detail. Here's just one example (section 25 of the Financial Advisers Act):
Obligation to disclose product information to clients
25. —(1) A licensee shall disclose, to every client and prospective client, all material information relating to any designated investment product that the licensee recommends to such person, including —

(a) the terms and conditions of the designated investment product;

(b) the benefits to be, or likely to be, derived from the designated investment product, and the risks that may arise from the designated investment product;

(c) the premium, costs, expenses, fees or other charges that may be imposed in respect of the designated investment product;

(d) where the designated investment product is a unit in a collective investment scheme, the name of the manager of the scheme and the relationship between the licensee and the manager;

(e) where the designated investment product is a life policy, the name of the registered insurer under the life policy and the relationship between the licensee and the insurer; and

(f) such other information as the Authority may prescribe.

(2) The Authority may specify, in written directions, the information required to be disclosed under subsection (1) (a), (b) or (c), and the form or manner in which information relating to any designated investment product may be disclosed to any client of a licensee.

(3) The Authority may, in writing, require a licensee to submit to it —

(a) all written communication which sets out information relating to any designated investment product for the time being in use by the licensee; and

(b) where any written communication referred to in paragraph (a) is not in English, a translation of such written communication in English.

(4) If it appears to the Authority, after affording the licensee an opportunity to make representations orally or in writing, that any written communication submitted under subsection (3) contravenes any provision of this Act, or is in any respect likely to mislead, the Authority may, in writing, direct the licensee to discontinue the use, in Singapore, of the written communication immediately or from a specified date.

(5) Any licensee who —

(a) contravenes subsection (1);

(b) fails to comply with a requirement imposed by the Authority under subsection (3); or

(c) fails to comply with a direction of the Authority under subsection (4),

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $25,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
But if we already have so many laws, regulations and guidelines for banks and insurers, then how come so many people are still complaining about their banks and insurers? Well, obviously, one reason is that there could be a significant gap between what these laws, regulations and guidelines say, and what bank employees and insurance agents actually do in practice with their customers.

And if there is a significant gap, then obviously we must take steps to address that gap. But I don't think that the gap will be addressed by adding yet another piece of law (the Fair Trading Act) to the already-huge body of law which governs financial institutions.

After all, the real issue is not that the necessary laws do not exist for banks and insurers - they already do exist - the real issue is more likely that these laws are not being sufficiently followed, and not being sufficiently enforced.

If I have described the situation correctly, then the logical next step is that MAS must do more monitoring and enforcing, rather than pass on that duty (or part of it) to CASE. And CASE should focus its efforts where its efforts are most needed - on people like the timeshare touts and the beauty saloon bunglers - people who currently aren't regulated by any government body or statutory board at all.