29 April 2006

Send Our Old Folks Away to Bintan & Johor

Mr Wang missed this particular piece of news when it was reported about two weeks ago. Some of his readers kindly drew it to his attention. Now Mr Wang feels his heart sinking. He truly feels it sinking. A slow, awful, physical sensation in his chest.

What a cruel government we have. What a very cruel, cruel government. Here's the CNA report:
Government shortlists potential sites to build retirement village
17th April 2006

SINGAPORE : The government has shortlisted a few potential sites for the construction of a retirement village, and the National Development Ministry is currently studying the details.

The sites are on a 30-year land lease.

And one of them will be picked to test market demand for such villages.

In an exclusive interview with MediaCorp's Channel 8, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in the past, the idea of building retirement villages was put on the back burner as Singapore's problem of an ageing population was not as serious as that in Europe and America.

The Singapore market was also too small for retirement villages to be commercially viable.

But the prospects have since changed.

With a rapidly ageing Singapore population, Mr Khaw said in five years' time, retirement villages will become economically viable.

One obstacle is the high costs of land in Singapore.

"My personal view is, our land is expensive. But we have nearby neighbours in Johore, Batam and Bintan. The elderly want to reach their doctors within half to one hour. So retirement villages in neighbouring countries is possible, barring the cross-border hassle. It is best to find cheap land on short leases," said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
- CNA /ls

Let me explain what the government is thinking. Thanks to Singapore's unique way of getting citizens to finance their own housing through the mandatory savings scheme known as CPF, the percentage of Singaporeans who own their own homes has become very high.

In fact, even if you look at the poorest 20 per cent of HDB families, you find that nearly nine out of 10 of them own the roof over their heads. The fact that so few Singaporeans are homeless is something which the government has endlessly bragged about for decades.

The problem is that the government's schemes have made many older Singaporeans asset rich but cash poor. Every month, a big part of their monthly salary is compulsorily deducted for their CPF account, and then, if they have a HDB mortgage, the CPF account is deducted to pay for the mortgage.

As time goes by, the result is an entire nation of people who conscientiously pay up for their homes, month after month, year after year. Therefore even the poor own homes.

An impressive result. Until you realise that the poor don't have any money left over to pay for anything else.

That's why in the last economic downturn, we saw Singaporeans who owned apartments worth $100,000 to $200,000, but who lived without electricity and water in those apartments (they couldn't pay their utilities bill) and had to scrounge for leftover scraps in rubbish bins and hawker centres.

The solution seems obvious. Sell the flat, collect the $200,000, pay off the remaining mortgage, downgrade to a cheaper home, and live on the excess cash.

The problem is that in land-scarce Singapore, there are no cheaper homes to downgrade to.

And now we have an aging population, an increasing percentage of old folks who can't work anymore even if jobs were available. Since they can't work, they can't support themselves. They have homes, but they can't support themselves.

The Singapore government has always prided itself on the economic prosperity that it creates for this country. Wouldn't it be sooooo embarrassing, if poor old people started appearing on the streets everywhere, begging for food and money?

Khaw Boon Wan's brainchild - build retirement villages in Bintan and Johor. Cheap, abundant land! The old & poor can sell their HDB flats, use the money to buy an inexpensive home in Bintan, and live on the leftover cash.

In other words, export our senior citizens. Send them away when their economic productivity has come to an end.

Anyone remember Boxer, the workhorse, from George Orwell's novel Animal Farm?

For years, Boxer worked so hard for the farm, selflessly giving all his strength to his work. When finally he grew old and weak, Napoleon sent him away from the farm, the only home that Boxer had ever known.

Napoleon told everyone that Boxer was going to a hospital for medical care. Later he told everyone that Boxer had died in hospital.

In truth, Boxer was sold to a butcher.

And became horsemeat.

Metaphorically speaking, any one of the above
could be your grandmother in Bintan.

The government is sickening.

I can't express how disgusted I feel. This is OBVIOUSLY a scheme to get rid of old and poor Singaporeans.

Do you imagine that Lee Kuan Yew would retire to Bintan? Or Goh Chok Tong?

It's like, everything is just a matter of dollars and cents to this government. Everything. Including poor old people.

The Adventures of James Gomez

Channel NewsAsia
Saturday April 29, 6:17 AM
Elections Dept releases CCTV pictures on encounter with James Gomez

SINGAPORE : Did Workers' Party candidate James Gomez submit his minority certificate application form on April 24?

He claims he did, but according to the Elections Department, he did not.

The department felt it had to put the record straight, and has released a copy of the security camera recording and the transcript of a telephone conversation of what had transpired between Mr Gomez and the department's staff.

The department says this has to be done to leave no doubt in the minds of voters about the integrity of Singapore's electoral process.

On April 26, Mr Gomez went to the Elections Department and spoke to its staff Ricky Tan to enquire about his minority certificate.

Mr Gomez claimed he had submitted an application for the certificate two days earlier.

After checking, the department's staff informed Mr Gomez that he had not done so. But the Workers' Party candidate insisted he had filled the form and handed it over to Mr Tan, and demanded he checked again.

Mr Gomez then warned Mr Tan of the consequences and left his mobile phone number behind, asking that he be informed before lunch.

At 1pm the same day, Ms Florence Tan, another official of the department, called Mr Gomez.

In the telephone transcript, Ms Tan says: "Actually according to our CCTV, you did not submit the application form for the Indian and other minorities."

Ms Tan also told Mr Gomez that the security camera recording showed him filling up the minority certificate form.

But he kept it in his bag and went off for an interview.

When he returned to the counter, he did not take out the form and then left with a lady colleague.

Upon hearing this, Mr Gomez immediately abandoned his original account of what had happened.

In a telephone transcript with an official of the Elections Department, Mr Gomez says: "Oh I see, I'm very happy to hear your version of the story. I will just go back and check my bag because I'm outside now. I'm dealing with the administrative part. If there's any further information or if I need some information, I'll get back to you."

The official says: "But I have to let you know that the application for this certificate closed on Monday."

Mr Gomez says: "Yeah, yeah, of course. I'm very well (aware) on that. That's not a problem."
The official says: "Okay?"

Mr Gomez says: "Yeah, that's not a problem. Don't worry."

To date, Mr Gomez has yet to call back, according to the Elections Department.
Hmmm. Not sure what this is really all about. Is Gomez trying to play some funny games here? Most other Singaporeans might have short memories, but I still remember how Gomez's team effectively self-sabotaged themselves on Nomination Day in the last elections and disqualified themselves. Intentionally? That's what the conspiracy theorist in me suspected the last time round. Now it seems that we might be looking at a repeat kind of incident.

Still I can't help thinking that Singapore is an over-stickler for rules. All too frequently, the Singapore authorities fuss so much over the technicalities of rules and completely miss the real substance.

Remember when Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries for press freedom? Our ministers harped over the detailed mechanics of the rankings methodology as if Singapore was ranked No. 2 or 3 and they felt that Singapore deserved to be ranked No. 1. Please lah, 140th place is already in the bottom boondocks; even if the researchers changed their methodology the way you wanted and Singapore moved up 20 spots to 120th position, you still won't be winning any prizes.

Now the same kind of over-stickling is probably about to occur in James Gomez's case. Okay, he was supposed to file some application form to prove that he belongs to a minority race. Can't the Election Department just check his NRIC? Take note of his surname? Or maybe look at the colour of his skin, and his face? Do you really need a certificate to know that this man:

....... is not Chinese? Duh.

28 April 2006

Excellent Strategy By Workers' Party

On this blog, I frequently criticise the PAP and I rarely praise the Opposition. That's because in my view, the former often deserves criticism and the latter rarely deserves praise.

Today however I read the newspapers about who's contesting which constituency. And when I took note of Ang Mo Kio GRC, my eyes opened a little wider and I said to myself, "Wow, what's happening here?". When I finished thinking about this, I felt thoroughly impressed. This is a brilliant piece of political strategy by the Workers Party.

The Workers Party is fielding a complete team of first-timers against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's team. Furthermore the Workers Party's team is the youngest GRC team in the entire elections. Four of them are below 30 years old, and one of them is just 31.

Suicide? Hardly. This shows a Workers Party team that is already planning for the future.

Any Opposition team that takes on PM Lee in Ang Mo Kio will lose. That's a given. So the Workers Party is fielding their freshest, youngest faces here. When they lose, it will be no disgrace. If they fumble and bumble, the public will say, "Oh well, they ARE so young, after all, and they are up against the PM himself." But what they will gain is valuable experience - and since they are so young, they potentially have many elections ahead of them (unlike, say Chiam or LKY) where that experience will come in useful.

Furthermore this team of young upstarts will get media exposure. These new faces - the future hope of the Workers Party - will get plenty of media exposure because the media cannot help but feature the Opposition team contesting against the PM himself. This is their chance to make themselves known to the public. Not for the sake of this election, but for the sake of future elections.

Also, simply by running in Ang Mo Kio, this team of Workers Party candidates will create a highly effective gauge of PM Lee's true popularity. These newbies are complete unknowns (unlike say James Gomez or Low Thia Kiang) and are therefore neither loved nor hated by the public at the present time. Votes for PM Lee are likely to be true votes for PM Lee (and not votes against the Opposition), while votes for the Opposition are likely to be really votes against PM Lee, rather than votes for the Opposition.

So PM Lee has nothing much to gain. If he wins by a landslide, people will yawn and say, "Well, he should. He IS the PM after all, and he was contesting against a bunch of kids."

And if PM Lee wins by anything less than a landslide, he will be publicly embarrassed.

By a bunch of kids.

Opposition candidates team in Mordor GRC.

Mr Wang is Highly Displeased

This time it is the Land Transport Authority that offends me. I sent them the following email this morning:

Dear Sir

I refer to the recent media reports about LTA requiring Crime Library Singapore to remove its "missing persons" posters at bus stops and pedestrian walkways.

As a member of the general public, I am writing to register my strong displeasure and disapproval with the way LTA is behaving. I urge LTA to stop obstructing the highly laudable efforts of kind-hearted and well-intentioned volunteers. They are only trying to help solve crimes and reunite families with their missing loved ones.

Even if you have no compassion, please exercise a little common sense and be more flexible with your rules. Why do you wish to inflict a PR disaster on yourself?

Click here if you also wish to give feedback to the LTA. I shall also be calling the LTA public hotline to give them a good scolding. Call this number 1800 - 2255 582 if you want to scold them too.

This ST article provides the background:

April 28, 2006
Remove missing persons' posters: LTA Crime Library not budging; LTA warns it could be fined
By Khushwant Singh

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) has ordered Crime Library Singapore to remove the thousands of missing persons' posters that its volunteers put up at bus stops and pedestrian walkways.

However, the Crime Library said it would not be taking the posters down. When contacted on Tuesday, the charity's founder, Mr Joseph Tan, 40, said: 'They are not advertisements but are notices seeking information on missing persons.

'We are performing a public service and it would be disheartening to get our volunteers to remove the notices they so painstakingly put up.'

He stressed that the volunteers often paid for printing costs out of their own pockets and that the notices have proved to be very effective. Since last December, the posters had helped locate about 110 of the 143 missing persons reported to the Crime Library.

In a letter to Mr Tan's organisation dated April 19, the LTA said it had found a Crime Library advertisement affixed to a bus stop column along Dunearn Road two days earlier.

LTA said: 'You are to refrain from displaying such advertisements on public streets, road structures and road-related facilities. Please also remove all other banners and posters that you may displayed without approval at other locations immediately.'

It warned the Crime Library that offenders could be fined up to $2,000 and in the case of a continuing offence, a further fine of up to $100 a day may be levied.

Mr Tan could not say how many posters have been put up but estimated that his 230 volunteers had pasted them at over 3,000 venues, including bus stops.

He set up Crime Library Singapore in 2002 as a free service to help with unsolved crimes and disappearances.

It was registered as a charity with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore last September. At the same time, it was accepted as a member of the National Council of Social Service.

Its website features 36 missing persons, including 14-year-old student Wong Yu Ting, who has not been seen since Feb 24.

The Straits Times talked to the girl's 43-year-old father, who wanted to be known only as Mr Wong.

He said: 'The Crime Library is doing a good deed ... 'I would feel terrible if it got into trouble by helping people like me.'

I remember watching a TV programme about Joseph Tan. What made him start the Crime Library? Years ago, one of his loved ones (his brother?) was kidnapped in another country. Ransom negotiations with the kidnappers failed, and the brother was murdered. The body was never found. The kidnappers were never caught.

This traumatic incident led to Joseph founding Crime Library Singapore, a group which helps to solve unsolved crimes by publicising missing persons and asking the public to provide information if they have any. Last year, Joseph Tan also coordinated a massive island-wide search with his volunteers in an effort to help find the missing little girl Huang Na (murder victim of Took Leng How).

Look at LTA's very poor explanation of why they are doing what they are doing to Crime Library Singapore:

In reply to queries from The Straits Times, an LTA spokesman said that the indiscriminate display of advertisements mars the streetscape and causes damage to roadside railings, bus stops, pedestrian bridges and lamp posts.

She added: 'The illegal advertisements may also obstruct passersby or distract drivers and pose a safety hazard.'

Then take a look at this picture of what Crime Library is actually doing:

Those three little A4-sized posters - do they mar the streetscape? Damage roadside railings or bus stops? Destroy pedestrian bridges and lamp posts? Obstruct passersby? Distract drivers? Pose safety hazards?

Mr Wang applauds and celebrates Joseph's fighting spirit in standing up to the authorities. Strangely, Joseph's resistance reminds me of my previous post on how to deal with traditional authorities if you need to do great things.

As for LTA - Mr Wang spits on LTA. So should the parents of all the missing children whom Crime Library is working hard every day to find.

27 April 2006

Should NS be Counted As Working Experience?

For background, read this letter first.

The question is whether a Singaporean male's NS years should be considered as "working experience", for purposes such as applications for jobs, MBA programmes, scholarships etc.

Let's begin with an example. Major Tan is a 28-year-old SAF commando officer, a regular serviceman. When you ask him how much working experience he has had, he replies, "Ten years of working experience. I have been with the SAF for ten years."

Next we have LTA Lim, a 20-year-old SAF commando officer, an NSF who's just about to complete his full-time NS. When you ask him how much working experience he has had, LTA Lim replies, "Two years of working experience. I have been with the SAF for two years."

No one would seriously dispute the fact that Major Tan does have 10 years of working experience. However, as Gary Chong's case shows (see previous post), it is quite likely that many Singapore employers would regard LTA Lim as having zero years of working experience.

Yet the lack of logic, I would think, is apparent.

In their respective years with the SAF, LTA Lim and Major Tan probably did lots of similar things. In fact, the first two years of Major Tan's SAF career may be almost indistinguishable from LTA Lim's two years, in terms of the training they underwent.

If we regard Major Tan as having 10 years of working experience, why do we not regard LTA Lim as having two years of working experience?

Personally, I agree with Gary Chong. Those two years should be regarded as working experience.

Note, of course, that the question of whether the NS years should be treated as working experience is different from the question of the value and relevance of the NS years (if they are viewed as working experience).

The value and relevance would depend on what you actually did during your NS, and its connection to whatever it is you want to do now.

Firstly, there are the "soft skills" and "character-building" kind of arguments ("I learned to lead people during my NS", "I learned to work as part of a team during my OCS days", "My combat engineer days taught me determination and perseverance").

Apart from that, I can imagine scenarios where NSFs do pick up experience during their NS years which is directly or closely related to what they do for a living, outside the SAF.

For example, there must be NSFs who were Physical Training Instructors, who went on to be personal fitness coaches or P.E teachers. There must be NSFs who were medics, who went on to become doctors or nurses or some other kind of healthcare workers. There must be NSFs who first learnt about ships and the sea in the Navy, and then went on to jobs as civilian sailors or port operators or whatever.

Personally, Mr Wang enjoyed a rather unusual NS. A non-white horse, he nevertheless resourcefully manoeuvred himself into the Ministry of Defence's Public Affairs Division. Mr Wang's vocation was "Staff Writer" and his job was essentially to be a professional spin doctor for the SAF.

As a humble little NSF, Mr Wang earned a humble few hundred bucks each month for doing exactly the same job as a number of regular NUSAF officers who were paid thousands of dollars. However, Mr Wang will tell you with a straight, honest face that even at that young age, he did his job better than most of them did theirs.

If Mr Wang were in the media/public relations industry today, why shouldn't his NS years count as working experience? I can see no reason.

The question is theoretical, of course, since Mr Wang is not actually in the media/public relations industry today. These days, the only real value of Mr Wang's NS experience is that every day when he reads the newspapers, he can easily tell fact from fiction, and truth from illusion, and point out all the bullshit.

But that's why you come here to read my blog. Right?

"Last time I do my NS in Music & Drama Company.
Eh, very good experience, best in Singapore, you know!"

Do Our Local Universities Really Know Which Singaporeans To Reject?

A reader, commenting on my previous post, quoted the following letter to the media:
April 26, 2006
Why doesn't NUS Business School consider National Service as working experience?

I refer to the letter 'Why NUS, NTU require GMAT?' (ST, April 21). I appreciate NUS's and NTU's stringent student selection criteria by requiring GMAT. But I would like to share another side of the story in this regard.

I am an executive pursuing a banking career in Singapore. I am the head of a team responsible for developing risk management policies and methodologies for a banking group and I am currently pursuing an Executive MBA (EMBA) programme.

In 2005, I approached three renowned institutions offering EMBA programmes in Singapore, namely the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (GSB) - EMBA; Insead - EMBA; and NUS Business School - APEX MBA.

In a recent global MBA ranking 2006 by Financial Times, Chicago GSB is ranked 6th, Insead 8th and NUS Business School 92nd. All three programmes have stringent admission requirement of which one is for a period of working experience.

Chicago GSB, Insead and NUS require a minimum of 10 years' full-time work experience and a candidate must hold a senior position or have the potential to assume senior managerial positions.

Special consideration is given to candidates with eight to nine years' experience on a case-by-case basis. I have clocked eight years including two-plus years' National Service.

I applied to Chicago GSB and have been accepted in the EMBA programme. The distinct impression I got from Chicago GSB and Insead is that they are dynamic, open-minded and they consider candidates on their credentials and potential for growth.

They also give due credit to the two-plus years of National Service and consider it as workking experience. When I approached NUS Business School as a possible alternative and appealed to the programme's manager for special consideration on grounds of my credentials and acceptance in Chicago GSB, I was told that "National Service does not count as working experience and I am surprised that you even got into Chicago GSB."

As a result of that episode in 2005, I think that contrary to the recent advertisements of NUS Business School that describe it as 'The right answer to business education', in my humble opinion, I think it is the wrong answer to business education.

Gary Chong Pooi Lon

This letter reminds me of one of my own comments on my preceding post. There, I had written:
"The irony is that I think most of us will know (or even ourselves be) Singaporeans who could not make it to NUS/NTU/SMU, but made it to some quite reputable overseas university (ironically, often ranked higher than NUS, NTU or SMU itself) and proceeded to get a degree there, often scoring well."
Gary Chong's case somewhat illustrates this. He applies to do his MBA. NUS Business School - APEX MBA (ranked world no. 92) rejects Gary. But the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (GSB) - EMBA (ranked world no. 6) accepts Gary.

With great enthusiasm, our local universities welcome "high-quality foreign students" and (necessarily) reject some Singaporeans in order to make way for those "high-quality foreign students". However, many of those rejected Singaporeans are not inherently incapable or stupid or dumb. In fact, some of them, like Gary CHong, are outstanding enough to qualify for foreign universities far, far superior to NUS, NTU or SMU.

Cases like Gary's immediately cast doubt on the ability of our local universities to attract or identify foreign students who are really of such "high quality" that our own Singaporean citizens ought to be displaced.

26 April 2006

Stupid Title

The ST Forum has a letter from the Ministry of Education which tries rather unconvincingly to argue that foreign students in our local universities do not actually displace any Singaporeans.

Regrettably, the title of the letter - "Varsity Place for Every Singaporean Who Qualifies" is already stupid. If you cannot see the circularity of the statement, just compare it to phrases such as "Vitamin C for Everyone Who Eats an Orange" or "Death for Everyone Who is Hanged" or "Child For Woman Who Gives Birth".

OF COURSE every Singaporean who qualifies for a varsity place will get a varsity place. The question is - who should qualify? What is the criteria? How many varsity places are there? How many of those varsity places go to foreign students? How many varsity places are left for Singaporeans to qualify for?

I don't know why it is so difficult for them to admit that every place that went to a foreign student could have instead gone to a local student. Why can't they just admit that, and say that nonetheless they want to admit a certain percentage of foreign students per year, because there are certain benefits blah blah blah.

Instead they keep making statements like:

However, [the local universities] must continue to attract high-quality foreign students, while providing places for every Singaporean who qualifies for admission.
... statements which implicitly, stubbornly and stupidly deny the plain, obvious fact that:

(1) the number of Singaporeans who can qualify for admission

is directly affected by

(2) the number of varsity places actually available to Singaporeans

which is directly affected by

(3) the number of varsity places given to "high-quality foreign students".

Full text of the letter below:

April 26, 2006
Varsity places for every S'porean who qualifies
I REFER to Mr Tan Thiam Chye's letter, 'Varsities: Talent-centred or citizen-centred?' (ST, April 24).

Our universities are Singaporean institutions whose objective is to serve Singaporeans. The Government's first priority in university education is to provide an affordable, top-quality education to citizens.

The three universities - National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University - are already admitting one in every five local students to their undergraduate programmes. We are committed to increasing this to one in every four local students in a few years' time.

We are also significantly increasing bursaries and study loans to Singaporean students who need financial assistance.

Our universities are reviewing their tuition fees for future batches of foreign students, with a view to widening the gap between local- and foreign-student tuition fees.

However, they must continue to attract high-quality foreign students, while providing places for every Singaporean who qualifies for admission.

Good international students create vibrancy and diversity that will benefit and spur on our own students, and ensure that they receive a quality university experience.

Likewise, the universities must attract the best faculty they can get, Singaporean and foreign.

Without this international orientation, our universities cannot be the first-class institutions that Singaporeans deserve.

Lim Chee Hwee
Higher Education Ministry of Education

25 April 2006

How To Read A Politician's Words

Mr Wang is somewhat busy today, so he has to content himself with a short little post. Take a look at this Straits Times article today:

April 25, 2006
Youth here better educated than those abroad
By Tracy Quek

YOUNG Singaporeans are the best educated when compared to their peers elsewhere in the world and this is one reason Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is optimistic about Singapore's future.

But they lack an 'exposure to life' and a certain resilience that can come only from experiencing hard knocks.

It is no one's fault that they have turned out this way, said PM Lee yesterday, attributing it to the peaceful environment in which they have grown up.

'We, the older generation, worked very hard to make sure there was a peaceful environment in which we can bring up children. But as a result, we tend to forget how unique and how precious this is. It's normal.'

In his wide-ranging interview with The Straits Times, PM Lee also stressed the importance for Singapore's top schools to produce students with a heart and 'be more than a machine for Oxbridge and Ivy League'.

He noted in Singapore, more than 80 per cent of the population can receive a post-secondary education in institutions such as first-class universities.

Nowhere else in the world is this possible, he said ...

If you had only quickly perused the above article, then the following sentence may have given you a very erroneous impression:
He noted in Singapore, more than 80 per cent of the population can receive a post-secondary education in institutions such as first-class universities.

This sentence seems to suggest that many young Singaporeans get to go to university. If you are careless, you may even believe that many young Singaporeans get to go to first-class universities.

However, if you take a second look, you will realise that this statement merely tells you that more than 80 per cent of the population get to receive a post-secondary education. Period. We cannot actually tell what percentage of those blessed, lucky, "more-than-80%" Singaporeans will receive their post-secondary education at:

(1) a "first-class" university
(2) a non-"first class" university
(3) a polytechnic
(4) an Institute of Technical Education (ITE)
(5) some other kind of institution, eg Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

To get a rough idea of how many Singaporeans actually get to go to university (never mind whether the university is "first class" or not), I googled around a little and found this press release by the Ministry of Education in May 2003.

According to this press release, in 2003 the percentage of Singaporeans who get to study in one of Singapore's universities (that is, NUS, NTU or SMU) was about 21%. The government planned to raise this percentage to around 25% by the year 2010.

21 - 25% is an extremely looooong way off from the figure that PM Lee mentioned - "more than 80%". Which is why one must be careful when considering a politician's words. Technically speaking, he might not be lying. You might be deceived nonetheless.

"I did NOT smoke marijuana.
I only sucked the smoke into my mouth, held it there
& blew out again." - Bill Clinton

23 April 2006

One Example of an Empowered Youth

There are many ways to be an empowered youth, and there are many different kinds of great things to achieve in the world. Here's one example I want to share with you (but I emphasise again that it's just one example - everyone has to find his own path in life).

I feel honoured and deeply privileged to have had the opportunity to know this young man, Rhordan Wicks, during the time when we were both university students. He was a very special human being, I knew it then, and I said so then, and I'll say it again.

What was so special about Rhordan? I think he was an empowered youth. What empowered him? I think it was his Christian faith. I am not a Christian myself, but I knew Rhordan well, and I knew he was a staunch Christian. The effect of his faith was that he gave himself wholeheartedly, unselfishly, to whatever he was doing, believing that it was all somehow not for himself, but for a higher purpose he called God.

In terms of formal, tangible achievements, Rhordan had more than his fair share. He played hockey for varsity and hostel. He also played hockey for Singapore. A talented pianist and singer, he performed regularly as a member of a rock band (I swear that if he was the kind inclined to take part in Singapore Idol, he would make it at least to the final eight). He also acted and sang in musicals and plays. He was a good student, a scholar and when he graduated, he was the class valedictorian for the Arts Faculty.

Those are formal, tangible achievements. Actually, the formal, tangible achievements don't impress Mr Wang that much because Mr Wang has plenty of formal, tangible achievements himself. What impressed Mr Wang deeply was the way Rhordan gave himself 100% to everything he chose to do.

Rhordan really cared about people. When he captained a hockey team, the members became friends, good friends, people who grew together through the love and discipline of their sport, who came to realise that this was about teamwork and character and not about ECA points or winning or losing (usually they won anyway). When he performed musically, it wasn't about solo glory - it was about guiding everyone to experience the joy of music and teaching people how to put your heart and soul into song and make it come alive (and I personally gained a lot musically, from Rhordan - how much, he'll never know).

Whenever people got involved with Rhordan - whether it was to play hockey, sing acapella or act in a play - they came away with the feeling that they'd just had a life-changing experience. Rhordan was inspiring. One year, a bunch of girls even started a Rhordan Fan Club and printed their own T-shirts with his name on it. Needless to say, each year he collected university awards for being "Sports Captain of the Year", "Arts & Culture Person of the Year" etc. None of this mattered very much to him, because that really wasn't the point.

The point was that Rhordan loved life, he loved people, and he treated everyone as a special, unique human being. He wanted everyone to grow, to share, to be proud of their own gifts and talents. I perceived it then, I read it in his heart and soul, and I told myself then - "It is my privilege in life to have met Rhordan, I am enriched by my knowing him, he is a very special human being." Rhordan constantly touched the lives of people around him, how much, I think he himself does not know.

I lost touch with Rhordan after we graduated. In fact, I have not met him more than once or twice in the many years since then. I know that he became a teacher, but apart from that I don't know what happened to him.

This morning, out of curiosity, I googled for Rhordan's name on the Internet. Guess what I found?
Winner of the National Youth Council's Outstanding Youth in Education Award 2002. -

"Rhordan Wickramasinghe, English Language and Literature teacher at Loyang Secondary School, inspires his students to believe in themselves and to be confident in their own abilities. Always calm and approachable, Rhordan spends time listening to his students patiently and often stays back in school to help them resolve personal and academic problems. Through his constant support and untiring efforts, Rhordan has succeeded in turning low achievers and difficult students around. His students regard him as a mentor, role model and friend ...." [Click on link to read more]

Rhordan had received the award in 2002 from RADM Teo Chee Hean, basically for being Singapore's most inspiring young teacher.

Sometimes I doubt the value of medals, awards etc. These are tangible things which can't really describe the intangibles, which are the most important things in life. But because I personally knew Rhordan, I can make a pretty good guess about Rhordan's intangible achievements. If there was a bright, idealistic student, Rhordan is the kind of teacher who would give him the courage to chase his dream. If there was a suicidal, depressed student, Rhordan is the kind of teacher who would know, and who would know how to reach out and save his life. Rhordan was (is) that kind of person.

Teo Chee Hean's award can't tell you that. But I, Mr Wang, know that much about Rhordan. And if somehow, Mr Rhordan Wicks, you find my way to this blog and read this, I want to tell that you are a very special human being, you bring light to people's lives and I hope that your God helps you to shine on and on.

22 April 2006

On Youth Empowerment

I have decided to write a little more about the student conference.

My own speech was on youth empowerment. It wasn't a topic that I'd chosen - it was something that the organisers had asked me to speak on. In a nutshell, my basic message was that:

    (1) youths in Singapore can achieve great things of their own choice; and

    (2) to do that, they must learn to disbelieve and distrust all those forces in society which tell them that they can't.

And as examples of such forces, I cited their parents, their teachers, their principals, their future bosses, and the government.

I further argued that none of these forces necessarily knew anything better than the youths themselves. That's because the wisdom of these forces is based on experience, and experience is always based on the past, but past experience doesn't necessarily count for that much in a world that is always rapidly changing, always rapidly evolving.

(Any sensible person who has ever had to work for a stupid, older boss will instantly know what I mean.)

"No one has all the answers," I boldly declared. The implication being that since no one has all the answers anyway, youths should feel entitled to jump into the deep end, innovate and do things their own way.

I might be wrong, but I sensed that the reactions from the audience were quite mixed. Some of them were fascinated and inspired by this Mr Wang fellow on stage who confirmed their long-held suspicion that indeed, they were cleverer than their parents and teachers.

Others however looked somewhat dismayed and shocked by the suggestion that their beloved parents and teachers could be stupider than themselves, and that the traditional, conventional ways of doing things might not be the best.

And there were yet other students who simply didn't seem to believe that they, mere youths, could actually be capable of great things. It was with this third category of students that I felt a sense of disappointment.

Today, thinking about my speech again, I realised that if it had failed in some way, then a good explanation for its failure lies, once again, in Myers-Briggs (it's uncanny the number of things Myers-Briggs can explain things).

Under the Myer-Briggs classification of human personality types, I am an INTJ. And my speech turned out to be a classic reflection of the INTJ's thinking patterns. Click on the hyperlink and in the very paragraph, you'll see that they say this about INTJs:
"People with INTJ preferences are relentless innovators in thought as well as action. They trust their intuitive insights into the true relationships and meanings of things, regardless of established authority or popularly accepted beliefs. Their faith in their inner vision can move mountains. Problems only stimulate them--the impossible takes a little longer, but not much."
Because I am a "relentless innovator", the past experience of more-senior persons does not impress me much. I'm not interested in the past, I'm interested in the present and the future, and how to find new ways to make things better.

And because I have such deep "faith in my inner vision", I have little difficulty rejecting "established authority" or "popularly accepted beliefs". In other words, I easily recognise stupid ideas for what they are, even if they come from supposedly "respectable" sources like parents, teachers, government etc.

Furthermore, as an INTJ, my tendency is not merely to believe that it is possible to achieve great things. As an INTJ, I constantly expect great things to be achieved:
They place a high value on competence--their own and others'. Being sure of the worth of their inspirations, INTJs want to see them worked out in practice, applied and accepted by the rest of the world; they are willing to spend any time and effort to that end. They have determination, perseverance, and will drive others almost as hard as they drive themselves ....

... INTJs have an inner world rich with endless possibilities that, when combined with their Thinking-Judging preferences, gives them a drive toward constant improvement of everything. Indeed, these are the "better idea" people of the typological world. Everything--words, plans, designs, ideas, even people--has room for improvement. In the INTJ's eyes, even the best can be made better.
Alas, in making my speech, I forgot one very basic thing. Not everyone is an INTJ.

In fact, INTJs are statistically the rarest kind of human being in the Myer-Briggs system. So most of the students in that lecture theatre would not have been INTJs or even one of the more closely-related types like INTPs or ENTJs (all relatively rare as well).

No winder there seemed to be students who seemed sceptical when I told them that they could achieve great things.

Damn. If I'd realised this earlier, maybe I could have found some other way to package the message.

Please, folks. Don't sell yourselves short. All of us are capable of great things. All of us have so much potential that most of it will remain untapped for our entire lifetimes. The only real question is - how much of YOUR potential do you want to try to tap?

You're 17, 18, 19 years old. At your age, there are already people in the world who have won Olympic medals; obtained their university degrees; graduated as doctors; written award-winning books; made millions as top fashion models; played in the World Cup finals; or become the Dalai Lama.

"17, 18 years old .... so long??
I was a millionaire by my 10th birthday."

You may never go that far in life, but couldn't you go half as far? Or a quarter as far? Maybe one-eighth or one-sixteenth?

Don't be mediocre. You've got one life - since you're going to be here and the time will pass anyway, why not DO something with your life?

21 April 2006

The Students Conference

I thought that on the whole, the event went well. Alex Au (Yawning Bread) spoke, and then I spoke, and then we had a Q&A session. Judging from the questions asked, I think that the students had found our speeches quite thought-provoking. Questions came thick and fast, with students actually having to form a queue at the mike to get their chance to ask a question.

For me, one memorable part of the session was when a Malay student stepped forward and asked us whether we thought racism is a serious problem in Singapore. This led to a lively discussion with other Malay, Indian and Chinese students coming forward to ask more questions and relate their personal experiences in multiracial Singapore. They spoke with a lot of frankness and honesty and at the end of this, I could not help wondering whether the government has done the right thing in making race & religion such a taboo topic in Singapore. Maybe what we really need is more open, frank engagement and discussion on race and religion.

I kept my main speech quite safe, but during the Q&A session, could not suppress my true self and my mouth kept opening to utter politically incorrect things. Someone asked, "Do you think that Singapore's youth are adequately represented in Parliament?" and I replied, "How can that be, Parliament doesn't even adequately represent the people of Singapore." The student then said, "But isn't it important for the government to take note of youth issues?" and I replied, "Yes, but Parliament isn't really "government". Parliament is just a collection of 84 people in a room, and most of whom are there by walkovers."

Heheh, I really know how to amuse myself. If no one else.

I hope everyone had plenty of food of thought, because I myself certainly did. Not just about the actual subject-matter of discussion. After the event, I found my mind drifting into more philosophical kinds of questions as well. In a very odd way, I suddenly felt more sympathetic to Lee Kuan Yew. The generation gap is not an imaginary thing, it is very real, and sometimes you really have to make some major leaps inside your head to see things the way another generation sees them.

Lee Kuan Yew tried, he failed, he's out of touch, and maybe we shouldn't blame him. If anything, blame it on Father Time. It's tough. I had some problems today myself, and unlike LKY, I don't even have any personal or party ideology to defend.

Oh, it was fun meeting Alex Au. Based on his blog, I'd expected to see someone a little aggressive, a little forceful, a "no nonsense" sort of personality. In fact, the real Alex is warm, friendly, humorous, humble, genuinely nice, no airs. Oh, and articulate, intelligent, very knowledgeable, but that much you can tell from his blog already.

Might blog more about this event later .... or I might not. That's it for today. See ya!

Update: Alex Au blogs in detail about his own speech.

Offline With Mr Wang

In a couple of hours' time, I will be addressing 200 young Singaporeans on the topic of youth empowerment. I kinda know what I want to say - I've been mulling over the key points in my head for the past week - but I guess I'd better sit down and write out some kind of outline now.
I never like to have a speech too thoroughly prepared - the tendency would then be you get a bit boring, a bit too scripted, not very spontaneous, you know, like a government minister.

Oooh, the infamously famous blogger known as Yawning Bread is going to be there at the event too. He will speak on the topic of "Singapore - Our Home?". Note the question mark, heheh. This should be fun. This is my first time meeting Yawning Bread.

After that, Yawning Bread & Mr Wang are going to have a Q&A session with the 200 young Singaporeans. That's scheduled for one full hour. Quick, place your bets now - do you think we'll connect with young Singaporeans better or worse than MM Lee recently did on TV?

20 April 2006

Here Comes The Damage Control

April 20, 2006
Not all young people think like those at forum, says MM
By Lydia Lim
Senior Political Correspondent

THE man in the middle of the controversy that followed his televised forum with a group of young Singaporeans has said he is not surprised by the polarised reactions.

But Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says he would be wary of believing that the views of the 10 young people he met represent those of their generation.

All 10 who took part in the one-hour forum televised last week, were graduates aged 30 or younger.

Seven were journalists, two were Singapore Management University undergraduates and one was a publications manager in the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Lee told The Straits Times yesterday that he believes, over time, these 'radical English-educated young' will re-order their priorities.

'They will realise that a large majority of Singaporeans are steeped in their respective Asian cultures, whose core values will not be easily displaced,' he said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

Mr Wang cannot help but chuckle at MM Lee's remarks about "these radical English-educated young". Because Mr Wang cannot help but think of MM Lee's own background.

Lee Kuan Yew may be old now, but once upon a time, he was young too. And when he was young, he left Singapore to study law in England. At Cambridge University, no less. And collected Double 1st Class Honours in English law. How much more "English-educated" can you get?

"Your MM has one of these funny wigs too, you know."

In contrast, at least two of our young TV show participants are studying at Singapore Management University, right here at Bras Basah Road. And before that, they probably had to sit through a few years of the Ministry of Education's compulsory National Education talks during their secondary/JC days.

Who's the "English-educated" one here?

Read also Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs about his own university days. Note when he first started messing around in politics. No, not in Singapore. He started messing around in political activities when he was in England. Which was not even his own country.

A young foreigner. A student. Messing around in the politics of another country. The homeground of his colonial masters, no less.

And he has the cheek to say that our young TV show participants are "radical".

18 April 2006

Terrorists in Parliament

April 18, 2006
Wrong to take progress and peace for granted

AFTER watching the dialogue between Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and a group of post-65 Singaporeans, I fear for Singapore's future if their views are representative of the younger generation. Many of them take Singapore's progress, stability and security for granted. They want 'a level playing field', 'alternative views' and even suggested that it would do Singapore good if MM Lee were to quit the Cabinet and 'not to pull strings from behind'.

When I see letters like this in the ST Forum, I really worry for Singapore. IMHO, it shows a severe lack of critical thinking, which really can't be good for the nation whether you're pro-PAP or not.

It's really absurd how they keep suggesting that progress, stability and security will be destroyed if you vote for the opposition. It's as if the opposition members are from Al-Queda or something, constantly plotting to blow up a few key installations.

Frankly, if I were an MP in Parliament and for some reason, the devil is in my heart and I have a clear, outright intention to destroy the progress, stability and security of Singapore, I really wouldn't know how to go about it. How would YOU go about it? Would YOU have any ideas?

"Oh, I'm sure I could think of something, Mr Wang."

Does any MP in Parliament, Opposition or not, REALLY have the capability to cause racial riots, start a cult, build a bomb? Do you think that by standing up in Parliament and making a speech or asking some questions, you can take even a quarter of a point off the year's economic growth; cause the unemployment rate to rise; dissipate our foreign reserves? Do you think that as an MP, you could have any adverse effect on private sector companies' productivity and determination to keep on making money?

Count yourself lucky, if you can get just ONE lousy white elephant of a Buangkok MRT station to open on time.

(Which, by the way, I do not regard as a small achievement).

And really, what is so wrong about the suggestion that MM Lee quit the Cabinet and 'not to pull strings from behind'? MM Lee himself talked about the need for leadership self-renewal waaaaaaaay back in 1990, when he voluntarily stepped down as Prime Minister (**sincere applause to him for that**). How bad an idea can that really be, if HE thought of it himself.

Now it's 2006, SIXTEEN YEARS later, and Lee Kuan Yew is still in the picture. Maybe he needs a gentle reminder of HIS own wise words?

14 April 2006

And Now For Spirituality

This post may not be particularly coherent or organised. It is now 1:00 am and Mr Wang does want to switch off his computer soon and hop into bed. However, he also wants to continue from exactly where he left off in the preceding post. Which means that Mr Wang will now proceed to yak about spirituality.

Firstly, let me say something very obvious. Being spiritual is not the same as being religious. Being religious is not the same as being spiritual. The two are very different things. If you cannot instantly see that for yourself, I'm not going to explain it to you. Leave now, go evolve, and in your next life, try reading Mr Wang's blog again.

Oh. You're still here. Okay, you passed the basic test. Read on.

Since you agree that being spiritual and being religious are two different things, let us examine the implications:

1. You can be religious AND spiritual.
2. You can be religious but not spiritual.
3. You can be neither religious nor spiritual.

And finally -

4. You can be spiritual and NOT religious.

Today Mr Wang is going to walk you through Point 4. It has two levels of meaning.

Level 1 is obvious. Imagine for example a Catholic who never bothers to go to church; does use condoms; thinks that the Pope is not to be trusted; believes that homosexuality is just an amoral genetic disposition; and never bothered with the rosary. In other words, this Catholic is not religious. Despite all this, however, he carries on a constant inner dialogue with his God, prays a lot in private to Jesus, and has a very heightened awareness of His presence in his everyday life, and in fact believes completely that God is his source of strength. So he is spiritual.

The second level of meaning is less obvious. Imagine for example a person who is spiritual, but does not believe in any religion at all. Imagine for example a spiritual atheist.

Am I bending your mind yet? Hang on tight.

For the sake of discussion, let's make three assumptions:

1. God exists.
2. God is omnipotent.
3. God is omnipresent.

If God is omnipresent, this means He is present everywhere. If he is present everywhere, he must be present in all our lives. If he is present in all our lives, then he is present in the lives of believers AND non-believers.

It cannot be otherwise. For example, suppose God is present in a believer's life. This believer shares his life with a non-believer (for example, they are married). If God is present in the believer's life, then he must be present in the non-believer's life. If God is present in the believer's house, then He must be present in the non-believer's house.

It's the same house after all.

And after all, God is everywhere.

Now, if God is everywhere, the question is whether you can sense Him. For the sake of further discussion, let's adopt a simple working definition of "being spiritual". Let's say that being spiritual means you can sense the presence of God. And the more spiritual you are, the more easily you can sense the presence of God.

The thing is this - Mr Wang doesn't see any reason to believe that only believers can sense God, while non-believers are disqualified.

Let me explain. Firstly, be aware that we have moved out of the realm of intellectual constructs or formal beliefs, into the experiential realm.

For example, suppose that Tan knows what a sitar is, and Lim does not. Then suppose a sitar is playing softly somewhere in the background. Tan hears it and Lim hears it. Tan knows what it is, and Lim does not. BUT this does not mean that Lim did not hear it; he did hear it too.

In fact, if Tan's ears are not sharp, and Lim's ears are, it could well the case that Tan is the one who hears nothing, while Lim hears quite distinctly the sound of a sitar (even though he does not know what it is).

In the same way, a non-believer may well sense the presence of God, but simply not name it as such. In fact, the non-believer may well sense God's presence frequently, and easily, far more than many other believers, and he may even reach the stage of even being able to communicate and interact directly with the presence of God - without knowing that this is God, or believing in such a notion.

In other words, he would be a highly spiritual atheist.

Did Mr Wang just bend your mind? That's all for tonight.

Sleep tight, and good karma to you.

12 April 2006

Mr Wang on Religion and Other Miscellaneous Items

I'd earlier said that I need to stop yakking so much on politics and current affairs. So that's my excuse to yak about other things. This IS my personal blog, after all. Even though journalists, civil servants and approximately other 12,000 people read it every month.

So today I feel like yakking about God, religion, spirituality etc.

Actually I'm very much into this topic. I should say - it is one of the passions of my life. I don't blog about it very much and in real life, I don't even talk to many people about it. Firstly because I view it as an intensely personal matter - everyone's spiritual life is his own, unique, and so is mine. Secondly, because I would creep many people out if they knew how deeply I have been, and still am, into this sort of stuff.

Let's put it this way - I'm not into religion/spirituality in what would normally be regarded as a conventional manner.

But don't worry. On this blog, I won't be creeping you out. I'll be selective about what I choose to say.

Anyway ... where shall I start?

I'll start by saying this - I think that most disputes about religion are started by small minds. Minds which are too tiny to comprehend the words that their mouths utter. (By the way, I'm no guru myself, but size is relative, and some minds are definitely smaller than others).

The problem, as I see it, is that the human mind is unwilling to accept uncertainty. This isn't just a matter of thinking about religion. It's a fundamental problem with the human mind, whatever it is thinking about (science, politics, world peace or the question of where to go for lunch).

Because the individual human mind cannot tolerate uncertainty, it creates constructs for itself. Every day, week, month and year, it takes idea and idea and idea, and it links them up and builds a mental framework around them. This happens over time. This is how the human mind establishes certainty - it builds its own concepts and understanding of what the world is, and then it tells itself, "THIS is how the world is, THIS is how the world works, THIS is how things are."

The framework is never completely static. As the individual goes through life, he encounters new experiences and new ideas, and the new ideas are all absorbed, assimilated and built into the existing framework. This however takes time, effort and energy. So much is invested into building a framework.

Then once in a while, the individual encounters a radically different idea. The idea is so radically different that it cannot easily be absorbed into the framework (for example, the idea that "the earth is not flat, it's round and it revolves around the sun"). The Radical Idea just doesn't fit. For its absorption to take place, huge chunks of the existing framework must be torn down and redesigned. Either that, or the Radical Idea has to be completely rejected (Copernicus, who dared suggest that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the other way around, was burned to death for that).

The tearing-down and the re-design is painful. So much has already been invested in building the existing framework. So much psychological energy would be wasted. So many minds would choose to reject the new idea, the one that can't fit into their existing framework.

And that's what I mean by the problem of the small mind.

Consider any real-life, heated argument. Very often, both parties have already made up their minds. They may believe that they are "discussing", but each of them, applying his own mental framework, has already reached his own conclusion and is merely trying to impose his framework on the other.

The alternative is too painful - to acknowledge that you could be wrong, to reexamine your ideas, beliefs, values and preconceptions, to tear down your framework and rebuild from scratch. It hurts too much.

Some people would rather die (literally) than to give up on their framework. Others would go to war for their framework.

For example, if their established framework tells them, "It's an honour to die for your own country" - it could be too psychologically painful for them to consider the alternative idea that "A country is a rather stupid thing to die for."

Alternatively, if their established framework tells them, "It's an honour to die for your religion" - it could be too psychologically painful for them to consider the alternative idea that "Your religion possibly has no need for you to die for it."

This idea of frameworks is not a Mr Wang original. It has been described and discussed in different ways, in different forms, from different perspectives. One example is in psychiatrist/Christian writer Scott M Peck's book "The Road Less Travelled".

Now, religion (any religion) is a particularly intricate framework. Firstly, there are all the teachings, handed down through the ages. Secondly, there are all the traditional practices in the temple/church/mosque/synagogue. Thirdly, all the teachings shape the individual's mental framework on a whole range of matters. Including society, morals, marriage, sex, money, death, life, afterlife, capital punishment, homosexuality, abortion, the rightness or wrongness of using a condom, what he can or cannot eat, and the creation of the universe.

So the average individual who staunchly follows a religion (any religion) ends up investing a lot of psychological energy building his framework.

And that's why he can get so flustered and angry if you challenge his framework with what, to him, is a Radical Idea. Eg "Your God is false. Mine's the real one." Or "Science says that THIS is how the universe was created. So your religion is wrong." Or "Maybe your Holy Scriptures are slightly wrong about this issue."

He cannot accept such a Radical Idea - never mind whether the idea is true or false or partially true or partially false - the psychological damage to his framework is just too great. Potentially he would have to readjust and revise everything he thinks and believes about society, morals, marriage, sex, money, death, life, afterlife, capital punishment, homosexuality, abortion, the rightness or wrongness of using a condom, what he can or cannot eat, and the creation of the universe.

He may rather prefer to kill you.

That's why I distrust religion. That's why religion is dangerous. There are too many small minds in the world which are unwilling or unable to revise their frameworks.

Now spirituality - as opposed to organised religion - that's another story.

Another story, for another day.

Good karma to you.

LKY Praises Americans For Setting Up Their Own School in Singapore

April 12, 2006
American school a lesson in self-help
MM Lee pays tribute to can-do spirit of US expatriates who set up own school 50 years ago

By Leslie Koh
WHEN American residents came here to work in the 1950s and wanted to educate their children, they set up their own school.

But when Singaporeans went abroad to work many years later, they looked to the Government at home to set up schools for their children overseas.

That difference was a lesson to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who yesterday praised Americans for their culture of self-help that led to the setting up of the Singapore American School (SAS) here.

'Singaporeans must learn to emulate this American can-do spirit,' he said to 800 people gathered for the 50th anniversary of the school in Woodlands.

'It's your cultural forte, it has made you great entrepreneurs with the verve, vitality and vigour to keep adapting and changing your businesses.'

Set up in 1956 by American businessmen and their spouses, the school started out with just 105 students and 10 teachers in a seven-bedroom colonial house in Tanglin.
What kind of nonsense is this? The year is 1956, you're an American in a God-forsaken corner of Southeast Asia, and you expect the US government to help you set up a school for American kids here?

By the time you write a letter to the US government about it and the postal service delivers the letter by sea mail to the US government, it'd probably be 1958. By the time you receive their reply, it'd probably be 1960.

Assuming that none of the letters get lost along the way. And that the ships don't sink or get hijacked by pirates in the Straits of Malacca.

So if you're an American here in Singapore in 1956, of course you'd have to set up a school yourself. I mean, SURELY you wouldn't send your American kids to a local school and mingle with the shoeless Asian kids, would you? It's 1956, mind you. Asians are dirt. Their gods are pagan. Beware of Maria Hertogh. Better just build your own school.

Now, as for Singaporeans going overseas these days - of course things are different. Why SHOULDN'T you expect the Singapore government to help you set up a Singapore-style school overseas? After all, you pay the government ministers the world's highest ministerial salaries.

Besides, if you were still in Singapore, the government WOULDN'T allow you to send your kids to any of the international schools. No, no, no, they would make it compulsory for you to send your kids to attend a Singapore school. So that your child can be subject to their National Education, their bilingual policy etc etc.

Since a Singapore-style education, with syllabi and content and policies all controlled and set by the Ministry of Education, is oh so very, very, VERY important - why shouldn't overseas Singaporeans expect MOE to help set up a Singapore-style school overseas? Surely you can't expect an overseas Singapore kid to attend a real British / US / Australian school. Why, they might actually become creative and absorb deviant ideas like democracy and freedom.

11 April 2006

Judas Iscariot

Zuco has an interesting post about whether Judas Iscariot was really a traitor. Apparently an ancient gospel, missing for 1,700 years, has showed up casting a new light on the old story.

I remember reading Nikos Kazantzakis's novel "The Last Temptation" years ago, during my junior college days. (Yeah, Mr Wang was very much into illegal merchandise in those days). Nikos also had the same theory that Judas's "betrayal" was all part of the game plan.

In other words, Judas didn't do what he did for 30 pieces of silver. He did what he did, so that Jesus could be arrested and crucified and all of mankind could be saved.

What did you really think - that Judas was THAT stupid? 30 lousy pieces of silver, or everlasting life in paradise? The choice would be clear, even to a little kid.

People Like Us

There's this chap I know. Let's call him DL. I wouldn't say that he's a friend, more like a acquaintance, but I do also know a couple of things about his background.

DL's story represents the Conventional Singapore Success Story. In fact it's so conventionally successful that it's stereotypical. DL went to a top junior college, bagged his straight A's, obtained a PSC scholarship, went to NS, became an SAF officer in a "prestigious" combat unit, disrupted his NS, went to a brand-name UK university, bagged his 1st Class honours, came back to Singapore, completed his NS, joined the civil service as a teacher, rose meteorically through the ranks (as government scholars do), and at an early age, became a vice-principal.

In other words, DL typified the kind of Singaporean that the Singapore government would love all Singaporeans to be, or at least aspire to be.

I didn't hear anything from or about DL for a couple of years. Then I heard from a mutual acquaintance that he'd left Singapore for good. Emigrated to somewhere in the United States.

To me, this seemed to be a slightly odd case at that time because DL's profile didn't fit any of the typical profiles of Singaporeans who emigrate (another time, I may elaborate on the typical profiles). But I didn't give it much thought.

As chance would have it, a series of recent coincidences led me to discover his blog in the US. Where he writes freely about his new life in his new country.

Turns out that DL is gay.

And didn't think that it was feasible in Singapore to be gay. So he left.

And won't be coming back.

Well, I know that there are plenty of Singaporeans in our society who would say, "Good riddance." We're pretty backward that way. Still, what a pity, what a waste - thinking of DL from the government perspective.

I don't know how many other DLs there have been, and how many there will be. But certainly he won't be the only one.

Thinking about DL made me think of the gay group in Singapore "People Like Us". Actually it is a very interesting name. The name has at least three different interpretations.
1. "Like" as a verb. That is - "We Gays Are Nice, Normal People After All, So People Do Like Us, We're Likeable."

2. "Us" meaning the gays. As in "We Are Gay, And We Represent People Like Us, In Other Words, Our Group Represents the Gay Community".

3. "Us" meaning the whole of Singapore society. As in "Just Remember This, Gays Are People Too, They are People just like you and me and him and her and the man next door."

I think DL would have liked Interpretation 3 to have been true. I guess it didn't work out for him in Singapore. Anyway, I wish him all the best.

09 April 2006

Mr Wang Reads Lots of Books

... of many different kinds. Today he came across the following picture in a book and it tickled him. Somehow this reminds Mr Wang of the Singapore government and bloggers in Singapore, and a possible strategy for bloggers to deal with the government.

Click on pix for bigger image.

Just think of the ladies as the Media Authority Development, and the professor as a blogger.

07 April 2006

Mr Wang Has Psychic Powers

Nah. He just has a highly developed sense for detecting danger. Like Spiderman.

Mr Wang's sixth sense tells him that he's been writing just a little too much about politics recently. This being Singapore, Mr Wang has decided that for the next few weeks, his choice of topics here on the Good Karma blog must be more Obviously Non-Political in Nature.

Some regular readers may be disappointed. Well, apologies.

I have not yet decided what else to blog about. But I expect to write about some of my interests outside the sphere of Singapore politics and current affairs.

"I'm very disappointed, Mr Wang. Obviously you don't trust me,
even though I'd said in 2004 that one of my goals as PM
is to make Singapore an open society."

06 April 2006

What The Numbers Don't Say

Flashback: the US Presidential Elections 2004.

Contestants: George Bush (pro-Iraq war; anti-gay marriage) versus John Kerry (anti-Iraq war; pro-gay marriage).

Result: George Bush won.

In the aftermath, what happened?

(1) When Americans discussed the Iraq war, a line often heard was "The election results show that the majority of the people of America support the US invading Iraq."

(2) When Americans discussed gay issues, a line often heard was "The election results show that the majority of people of America are against gay marriages."

Back then, Mr Wang was pretty amazed to hear such arguments coming from people who apparently even seemed intelligent. The arguments, of course, are flawed and illogical.

For example, some voters would have been pro-Iraq war but also pro-gay marriage. Other voters would have been anti-Iraq war but also anti-gay marriage. Yet other voters would have felt very strongly (one way or the other) about the Iraqi war, but were ambivalent or undecided about gay marriage. Yet other voters would have felt very strongly (one way or the other) about gay marriage, but were ambivalent or undecided about the Iraqi war.

Yet in the end each voter in the above-mentioned categories only gets one vote, either for Bush or for Kerry. If a person votes for Bush, it doesn't necessarily mean that he supports the invasion - it may only mean that he is against gay marriage. If a person votes for Kerry, it doesn't necessarily mean that he is against the Iraq war - it may only mean that he is pro-gay marriage.

So it was certainly quite simplistic to conclude:

(1) "The election results show that the majority of the people of America support the US invading Iraq."; or

(2) "The election results show that the majority of people of America are against gay marriages."

Mr Wang brings this up now because of the interesting situation in Thailand. PM Thaksin faced a big protest in Bangkok, over the Shin Corporation matter. So he held elections. And he won the elections. And all around the world, winning elections traditionally means that you have the people's support, the mandate to govern.

And yet Thaksin has now stepped down.
Straits Times April 6, 2006
Thaksin steps aside, leaving his deputy in charge
By Nirmal Ghosh

BANGKOK - THAI Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra moved out of his government office, family photos in hand yesterday, leaving his trusted deputy Chidchai Vanasatidya in charge.

'These are pictures of my family that were on my desk. I'm taking them home. I want to rest now,' he told reporters, after chairing a Cabinet meeting at Government House.

'I will be around,' he added, indicating he may visit his hometown in Chiang Mai.

Mr Thaksin's spokesman, Dr Suraphong Suebwonglee, told The Straits Times: 'He will not be responsible for the job from now; he will be absent. If any laws or rules in the Constitution state that he has to come in for anything, to sign documents, he will do so. But if not he will not come here again.

'But he remains an MP, as well as Thai Rak Thai party leader,' Dr Suraphong added.

The move came as the Election Commission released an update on the results for the April 2 polls, showing that the Thai Rak Thai party won 55.8 per cent - or 16.2 million - of the popular vote. Turnout was 29.2 million out of an electorate of 45 million.

After claiming victory on Monday in the election, Mr Thaksin announced abruptly the next day, after an audience with the King, that he would not take up the premiership.

The decision followed weeks of street rallies demanding his ouster. It came after pressure groups, accusing him of abuse of power, cronyism and unethical business dealings, took him up on his offer to stop protesting if he quit.
This leads us to some interesting new grounds. The Thai situation is obviously somewhat anomalous. But what we can see is that the formal results of political elections (eg the number of seats a party holds in Parliament; the percentages of its election victories) don't necessarily lead to any obvious conclusions about how much trust the people have in a particular political leader or a particular political party or its approach to running the country.

Applying the above analysis to the Singapore context, what can Mr Wang say? Errrrr, too much of the politically incorrect sorts of things, probably. And Mr Wang has probably been treading on too much thin ice of late. So Mr Wang shall restrain himself and just give you a few brief questions to chew on:
1. If a Singaporean votes for the PAP, does it really mean that he thinks that the PAP is good? Or could it just be that he thinks that the PAP is bad, and the opposition even worse?

2. If the PAP succeeds in its goal in this coming election, and wins 84 seats out of 84 seats in Singapore, would it REALLY mean that the PAP now has more support from the people of Singapore than it's ever had since 1981?

4. If the PAP has so much support from Singaporeans, why is it that the PAP always has so much difficulty in recruiting capable, talented Singaporeans to join its ranks?
No answers from Mr Wang this time. Just questions. You think for yourself, okay?

05 April 2006

Bloggers & Podcasting

Mr Wang's Mini-Project to List Singapore's Best Blogs received some free publicity in Mr Miyagi's TODAY column today, but that wasn't the real point of Mr Miyagi's article. The real point was about the legality of podcasting during the upcoming elections.
What's all the podding fuss about?
It seems you can blog or podcast about the polls if it's not 'explicitly political' Chip off the Blog

Wednesday • April 5, 2006
Mr Miyagi

When you see a headline that goes "Podcasting is not allowed during elections", it's as good a time as any for this column to explain podcasts.

A podcast is essentially an audio or video file you download over the Internet and listen to on your own time, either on your computer or on your media playing device, such as an MP3 player.

Now, video and audio files have been around for a while. So, what is it about podcasting that makes it so new it's off the "positive list", as described by the Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan?

It's in the distribution. If you are a "podcaster", you would distribute your audio and video files by hosting it on an Internet server, where it is available for public consumption/download.

In addition, and here's the rub, the hosting of your media files can be configured such that the public can "subscribe" to your offerings and any new or updated item will be automatically downloaded into the recipient's computer or media device, using software such as Apple's iTunes.

In short, you could say "podcasting" is simply the distribution of audio and video content via subscription over the Internet.

Well, to summarise the above, if you aren't a state-controlled media organisation but you nevertheless have the ability to distribute audio and video messages to a large number of many Singaporeans, then the Singapore government thinks you're a potential troublemaker. If you can't distribute to more than a handful of your own friends and relatives, then the Singapore government doesn't care.
I wrote previously about SGRally (sgrally.blogspot.com), a site that invites readers to contribute videoclips of election rallies anonymously. Now, if videoclips were to be sent in and showcased during the election period, going by Dr Balaji's words, the site would be breaching the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act.

Currently, the site has two blog entries, with one video clip depicting the outside of the Elections Office on Prinsep Street, as if in indication of the submissions to come when polling actually starts.

I attempted to email the author(s) of the site at the address given but received no response.

This brings me to the next point: Anonymity.

The regulations, as clarified by Dr Balaji, are targeted at individuals who "persistently promote political views", and who are hence obliged to register their sites with the Media Development Authority.

While one might say this measure makes websites play by the rules of the political game, it will be interesting to see if the author of SGRally will register himself.
Hahahaa. Fat chance. Might as well give the government a rope and say "Hang me, please." Besides if the SG Rally guy would entertain the thought of registration at all, he wouldn't have been anonoymous to begin with.
Audio files and podcasts are mere extensions of text-based blogs, and there are several blogs that purport to talk about politics. One place to start looking would be the blog, Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma (commentarysingapore.blogspot.com), which recently started a "mini-project" to list blogs "that talk about serious matters", such as "politics, economics, social issues, law, government policy and current affairs".
Oooh. My free publicity. Hope I get more nominations for serious blogs. :)
Going by Dr Balaji's statements, it seems it is all right for individual bloggers and podcasters to talk about the elections if the streaming content isn't "explicitly political" or if they do not "advertise".

Blogger "Avalon" (takingavalonapart.blogspot.com) reveals a little anecdote about her parents' voting preferences at the last elections.

"I found out my parents used to support the Opposition only because they were one of the parties' printers. Shucks, I had thought they were renegade pai-kias (bad hats) but no ... "

Is Avalon's snippet "explicitly political" or election advertising? Your guess is as good as mine.
Frankly, Mr Wang is half-minded to commit a few offences this coming election season. By doing some loud, aggressive, unmistakeable political advertising on this blog. For the PAP.

Haaa. Just to see if I will actually get prosecuted for that.

01 April 2006

Mini Project

Mr Wang intends to create a Master List of the Best Singapore Blogs focusing on serious topics. It could be topics like politics, economics, social issues, law, government policy, current affairs etc.

So help Mr Wang. Nominate your favourite serious blogs. Leave a comment, yah?

Basic criteria:

1. The blog must have been in existence for at least 2 months.
2. It should be regularly updated.
3. Intelligent, perceptive writing on contemporary matters.
4. Main focus should be on Singapore-related issues.
5. I like reliable bloggers. You know, they habitually cite articles, state sources of information, provide relevant hyperlinks, or are themselves an authority on the topics they write about (eg teachers writing about education; doctors writing about healthcare; entrepreneurs writing about business matters etc).

Once my list is ready, well, you guys will enjoy a convenient collection of links to worthy blogs. Also, the next time some dumb mainstream journalist talks about the insipidity and unreliability of bloggers, all you have to do is refer the journalist to my Master List of the Best Singapore Blogs.

Oh, one more thing. Don't be shy, yah? If you think your own blog fits the bill, feel free to nominate yourself.