30 May 2005

Virginity in the Ever-Changing Times

"Well, how good did you expect me to be? It's my first time, you know!"

Sex is interesting.

Not just for the obvious reasons. But also because the topic provides endless insights into the way society influences and conditions people into thinking the way they do.

The additional complication is that society itself is dynamic. Society keeps changing, but the thoughts, morals and beliefs of those who had been previously conditioned don't always evolve at equal speed.

Today, we have a 2nd-year NUS economics student writing in the Straits Times about the merits of virginity. Let's just take a quick look.

May 30, 2005 - A shame that virginity has gone the way of the dodo.
By Lee Wan Yi

Whatever has happened to saving one's virginity till after marriage?

Lest I am labelled a prude, let me say that I have no problem with people who have pre-marital sex. It's their choice, just as it's mine not to indulge in it.

I am neither conservative nor repressed - I simply know what I value. Virginity is the best gift a woman can present to her husband.
The important question for Lee Wan Yi is -

what if the man doesn't mind? I think that today, many men, when choosing a bride, would not regard the virginity or otherwise of the potential candidate as an important criterion. The woman's virginity thus may not be much of a gift for these men.

The other interesting question is -

if virginity is the best gift a woman can give her husband, is virginity also the best gift that a man can give his wife? If not, why not? The answer probably has something to do with old-fashioned notions pre-dating feminism. You know. The days when women were ... not equal.

I also wonder whether Wan Yi is aware that female virgins command a much higher price in the prostitution trade. (To such extent that some unscrupulous pimps have the hymens of their women restitched again and again, so that they can pass off as virgins and fetch more money).

Why do virgins command a higher price? Ummm. I hate to be crude. But I think it is at least partly to do with the customer's anticipated greater satisfaction. A virgin's vaginal passage is tighter and will therefore be more pleasurable to the man.

If Wan Yi realised that the value of a woman's virginity lies at least partly in this lusty idea, then I think she might (rightfully, as a female) feel more than a little revolted. And she might think less of the merits of virginity as a gift to her future husband.

27 May 2005

Integrated Resorts, Human Rights and Happy Banks

The casinos are coming to Singapore. And in the ST today, journalist M Nirmala wrote about how the CID is gearing up to make sure that the casinos stay relatively crime-free.

May 27, 2005
CID gears up to keep casinos crime-free. One new unit to regulate casinos, another will tackle loan sharks
By M. Nirmala

EVEN before the first building stone is laid for any casino here, regulators are gearing up for the challenge in a big way.

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) will set up two new units specially targeted at busting casino-related crimes, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told The Straits Times in an interview.

I was particularly interested in the part about the loan sharks. Here's more of what Nirmala wrote:

Mr Wong served notice that the police will be tough on all those involved in the loan shark business, from the 'runner' to the boss.

'Now we are going to target every level of the chain, from the runner all the way to the top man,' he said.

'So a person may claim that he is an innocent person because he was forced into becoming a loan shark runner. Well, he will be considered to be involved in illegal moneylending activities because he is now abetting an offence. And if he harasses people and he is arrested, he will be dealt with according to the law.'

The more senior the person is in the syndicate, the more culpable he is, and the heavier will be the penalty, he added. In fact, the government won't hesitate to use the toughest laws at loan sharks.

So the government will be getting very tough on loan sharks. But wait, there's more:

Said Mr Wong: 'If necessary, we will even use the criminal law temporary provision, as we've done for drug syndicates and gangsters.'

This law has helped nail masterminds and syndicate leaders. When victims or accomplices refuse to testify in court, the law allows for their statements, oral or written, to be used against such offenders. It is used in hearings held by advisory committees which make recommendations to the President on all detention orders.

In case you didn't know it, our friend Wong Kan Seng was referring to the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, Chapter 67 of Singapore. This is one of those laws that throw up a rash of human rights issues.

Traditionally, the CLTPA has been used on secret society members. Essentially, if a bunch of government officials (such as the Minister, his advisory committee and the President) think:

(a) that you're associated with "activities of a criminal nature"; and
(b) that it's a good idea to detain you in the "interests of public safety, peace and good order",

then they can make an order to get the police to detain you.

They don't need to prove that you were really associated with criminal activities. They don't need to charge you with any offence. They don't need to go to court and show any evidence of any actual offence.

Yep, this is another version of "detention without trial" (the other version being the one under the Internal Security Act). And I think that smart loan sharks should stay far, far away from Sentosa.

Which led me to my next interesting thought. In the absence of loan sharks, where will gambling Singaporeans turn to next, for money?

In the past three or four years, banks in Singapore have been aggressively promoting a new type of product. It's called the personal line of credit. Essentially you get to borrow up to two times your monthly salary. No questions asked. (You pay interest, of course). You get some nifty features like a chequebook and access to the funds via ATM.

I've often suspected that the banks are not making much money from these personal lines of credit. I've had the feeling that most of the credit-line customers are like me. I sign up to collect the attractive free gift, but I never actually use the line. Annual fees are waived for the first year. Immediately after a year, I terminate the line, then sign up again to collect another free gift.

Right now, many Singaporeans just don't have a real use for personal lines of credit. See for example what Mr Brown has to say on the topic.

However, when the casinos arrive and the loan sharks get locked away, it may well be the banks which celebrate most exuberantly. Addicted Singaporeans will surely borrow. They can even borrow to pay the $100 casino entry fee. Remember - no questions asked. That's a basic characteristic of personal credit lines.

And with the serious competition - loan sharks - locked away in jail, it's the banks which will enjoy this exciting spin-off from our wonderful integrated resorts.

Some examples of personal lines of credit available in the Singapore market:

DBS Cashline
OCBC Prestige Credit
Maybank CreditAble
Standard Chartered Personal Credit
UOB CashPlus
HSBC Personal Line of Credit

26 May 2005

HDB Policy Change - One Fewer Reason To Be A Singapore Citizen

Years ago, the Singapore government threw its arms wide open to welcome foreign talent into Singapore. Life has never been the same again. The debate about foreign talent in Singapore has been loud and protracted, exploring many different perspectives and angles.

One aspect of the debate is whether Singapore citizens actually enjoy any advantages which foreigners and PRs in Singapore do not. It has been persuasively argued that in fact, it is highly disadvantageous to be a Singapore citizen in Singapore. For example, all male citizens are compelled to give up 2 years of their lives for full-time military service.

On the other hand, it has been pointed out that only Singapore citizens are eligible to buy new HDB flats. This is one of the rare advantages of being a Singapore citizen. Complete foreigners are not allowed to buy any kind of HDB flat, whereas PRs are only allowed to buy resale HDB flats.

However, it seems that this little benefit which citizens enjoy is also being eroded. The age-old HDB rules, once so sacrosanct, have changed. See the Straits Times article below.

For the first time ever, 100 new HDB flats have been offered for sale to PRs.

And who knows how many more new HDB flats will be offered to PRs in the months or years ahead? Don't forget - due to its previous miscalculations and highly flawed guesstimates, the HDB currently has a big glut of new flats on its hands.

What are the implications, if the HDB continues to ease its rules and offer more new HDB flats to PRs?

Firstly, due to the larger pool of eligible buyers (PRs as well as citizens), the price of new HDB flats may rise. Therefore Singaporeans may have to pay more for new HDB flats.

Secondly, if PRs are eligible for new HDB flats, fewer of them will be interested in resale HDB flats. If you are a Singaporean HDB flat owner, this means that the market value of your present home may fall. Especially if your present home is in the same areas where the HDB is handing out new HDB flats to PRs.

Either way, Singaporeans get poorer again.

You'll notice, of course, that the Straits Times largely skirted around the points I've discussed above. It is perhaps not very politically correct for the government-controlled Straits Times to mention that the new HDB policy benefits PRs at the expense of Singapore citizens.

But now you know why you must regularly come and read my blog, Commentary Singapore. It's because I read between the lines of the Straits Times. And I tell you the news - the way it really is.

    May 26, 2005
    Singles, PRs can now buy older, unsold HDB flats
    By Tan Hui Yee

    SINGLES and permanent residents who could only purchase resale Housing Board flats, have been given the chance to buy older, unsold homes.

    They can now buy about 100 in Jurong West, Bukit Panjang and Sengkang for starters, under a scheme the Housing Board has introduced to clear some of its large stock of these units.

    Most have been vacant since they were built about four or so years ago.

    The flats, all five-room or executive units, are being put on the market as resale units after repeated attempts to find buyers for them failed.

    Other groups of property buyers also stand to benefit if they plump for one of the units, which are being marketed by HDB subsidiary EM Services.

    Those who currently own a flat they bought directly from the HDB will not have to pay a resale levy, while private property owners will be freed from having to wait 30 months after they sell their home.

    If the scheme proves successful, the HDB said it could offer more unsold units and appoint more marketing agents.

    At September last year, it reported a stock of 10,000 vacant flats.

    Some of the 100 units are going for about $50,000 less than other resale flats in the three areas.

    The Straits Times understands that one of these unrenovated, ninth-floor, five-room flats in Jurong West is being offered for about $210,000.

    Typical renovated resale homes there would cost around $260,000.

    Housing agents interviewed expressed concern that the lower prices will drag down the value of resale units in the area.

    The managing director of C&H Realty, Mr Albert Lu, pointed out: 'Anybody considering buying a five-room or executive flat there will definitely go for these units because they're so much cheaper.'

    But the HDB expects any impact on the resale market to be 'minimal' because of the small number of units involved.

    Asked how the flats' prices have been determined, it said these are based on 'market value', determined by qualified valuers.

    It stressed yesterday that its various measures to clear its stock of unsold flats, like allowing buyers to book a unit on the spot, have been 'generally effective'.

    The new scheme is to move those which have been turned down 'despite repeated sales offers'.

    Some of the units have been offered to private developers as well as Nanyang Technological University, and declined.

    Singles like Ms Jessica Lee, who is in the market for a resale four-room flat, said she is open to getting a bigger unit.

    'This new measure is good,' the personal assistant, who turns 35 in July, said.

    'A resale flat is so expensive.'

Alternative Living For Singaporeans

25 May 2005

Party Political Films - Leong Ching Just Doesn't Get It.

ST journalist Leong Ching's article on 22 May annoys me. She is simply missing the point. Deliberately or not, I do not know.

Let's recap. Film-maker Martyn See made a film about opposition figure Chee Soon Juan and landed himself in hot soup. Currently he is under police investigation for making a "party political film", a criminal offence under the Films Act. A group of film-makers then wrote to the ST Forum saying that the legal definition of "party political films" was too vague and requesting that the authorities clarify its scope.

Our dear Leong Ching starts making snide remarks about these film-makers. She suggests that they are either stupid, or trying to act stupid, and in any case, are simply not "savvy film-makers". After all, Leong Ching sniffs:

"When it comes to guidelines, there will always be room for
interpretation and manoeuvre by film-makers."

To prove the "cleverness" of her own point, she refers to two local films. "Tak Giu" and "I Not Stupid", she notes, poked fun at the Singapore authorities but escaped punishment:

The film, called Tak Giu (to 'kick ball' in Hokkien), records his attempts to find a public field where he and his friends can play football for free.

Many establishment figures, from town council officials to officious policemen, came in for a roasting.

The 22-minute film has achieved a cult following on the Internet. It was downloaded 1,500 times a day for three weeks.

Some people would say that this is a different kettle of fish, since Mr Tan's film is not about a political party or a politician.

But think of Jack Neo's film, I Not Stupid. Most people would agree it is 'political' because of the pointed comments it makes about the education system here. Like Mr Neo, Mr Tan also uses humour to make his points.

These two films show that savvy film-makers know how to work around the Films Act to make their point.
As I said earlier, Leong Ching simply misses the point. Tak Giu might very well have gotten into trouble for being a party political film. I Not Stupid might very well also have gotten into trouble too. Both film-makers took the chance and as it turned out, the gods were kind and luck was on their side. What Leong conveniently forgot is that when I Not Stupid was first released, Jack Neo himself said that he feared that he was going to run into serious trouble with the Singapore government.

Like Tan and Jack Neo, Martyn See also took a chance. Luck, however, was not on Martyn's side. Right now the police are on his case (see here for the definitive story, and NO, this is not a link to the insipid Straits Times). This is the problem with the Films Act. It is too vague. The environment is impossible for film-makers if they have to be perpetually making guesses as to the authorities will or will not tolerate.

To her credit, Leong Ching does make one salient observation about permissible local films. On the makers of Tak Giu and I Not Stupid, Leong Ching notes:

"Like Mr Neo, Mr Tan also uses humour to make his points.

These two films show that savvy film-makers know how to work around the Films Act to make their point."

I feel that this is a pertinent observation. And I also feel that it is a very sad point. Leong Ching suggests that as long as your film stays comedic, cute and funny, you'll probably be permitted to comment on politics. However, the moment you try to make a serious film about politics - you've drastically increased your chances of being thrown into jail.

And that is sad. Even if Leong Ching still doesn't get it.


Arnold Schwarzenneger, US Politician and Governor of California.
"What do you mean, my film is banned in Singapore?"

24 May 2005

Gay Teen HIV Cases - Theresa Doesn't Know Her Maths

I stopped subscribing to the Straits Times a few years ago. It was only quite recently that I decided to start subscribing again (this time to the online version).

On 21 May, however, I was reminded of why I had stopped subscribing in the first place. Right on page one, the Straits Times published quite a stupid article by one Theresa Tan. Let's see why the article is stupid. Its title was:
I therefore expected to see an article producing statistics to demonstrate a significant upward trend in teen HIV cases. Instead I saw this:
"THREE teenagers caught the Aids virus last year ... The increase is likely to be the biggest in a year since 1985, when the virus first hit Singapore. Before last year, official figures show only one teen at most tested positive for HIV."
You don't need a degree in mathematics to know that an increase from one to three doesn't show any kind of trend. Let's say that in a school last month, one student had the common cold. This month, three students had the common cold. Would you describe it as a "worrying increase" of 200% in common cold cases in school? Of course not. Duh.

If 100 teens in Singapore had HIV last year and this year 300 students had HIV, then you could fairly say that there is a "worrying increase". But if the number increased from one to three, and you describe this as a "worrying increase", then you are just not very convincing.

Let's see how else the ST article was stupid:
"Another worrying change is that the infected teens in the past two years were gay. Previously, the three teens infected between 2000 and 2002 were heterosexual, the Health Ministry told The Straits Times."
This comment is dumb for a variety of reasons. So far we have learned that:

1. From 2000 to 2002, 3 teens were infected. All were heterosexual.

2. From 2003 t0 2004, 4 teens (3 in 2004 plus 1 in 2003 ) were infected. All were gay.

Again the numbers are too small to draw any statistically meaningful conclusion. It is highly misleading for the article to suggest that over the past two years, a significant trend of HIV cases has emerged among gay teens. Mathematically, there is no such trend. To suggest that there is such a trend would be as absurd as saying:
"Good news! Statistics show that AIDS is no longer an issue for heterosexual teens! There has been a 100% decline in the past two years!"
... even though it is true that the number of new heterosexual teen HIV cases has fallen from three to zero over the past 2 years.

Perhaps more importantly, the writer here seems to be some inherent prejudice against gays. Why is it a "worrying change" that the recently-infected teens are now gay, not straight? If instead they had been heterosexual, would the writer have said:
"Three new cases of teens with HIV. But it's fine, nothing to worry about, they are heterosexual. When straight people get AIDS, it's not a cause for concern."
Surely not. After all these years, it is sad that so much ignorance still persists in the media about AIDS. The disease is a public health issue for MANY categories of people, Ms Theresa Tan. It concerns the ah pek having sex in a Batam brothel as much as any promiscuous teen in Singapore. Gay OR straight.