30 June 2006

The Michael McCrea Case

I have not closely followed the Michael McCrea story, but I know my criminal law. So I am a bit startled to see the following ST article. I suspect that the journalist may not really understand how the criminal legal system works.
ST June 30, 2006
Prosecution gets what it asked for in McCrea case

By Chong Chee Kin

THE Michael McCrea case is special, almost as special as the relationship he shared with the man he killed.

First, the Australian government asked the Singapore Government to promise it will not execute McCrea if he is extradited. Then it became apparent that he would not have faced the gallows anyway, since the charges brought against him would not have led to an execution on conviction.

Duh. Well, of course if the Singapore government had promised not to execute McCrea, then the prosecution would have brought lesser charges. You wouldn't proceed on murder, if you had already told the Australian government that McCrea wouldn't be hanged, right?

The prosecution IS part of the government, after all, and is directly involved in the extradition process. Furthermore the Constitution vests the prosecution with the power and discretion to decide what charges it wants to bring.
McCrea's lawyer Kelvin Lim dismissed the suggestion that the charges were reduced because of the Government's promise to Australia. He insists that the facts support his argument that McCrea did not commit murder.

'It's quite clear that it is not murder. How can it be murder when there was a sudden and grave provocation from the victims? McCrea was attacked and hit back in self-defence,' he said.
Heheh. If it was so obviously NOT murder, why would the Australian government bother to ask the Singapore government to promise not to execute McCrea? If it was so obviously NOT murder, McCrea couldn't possibly hang anyway.

And how would McCrea's lawyer Kelvin Lim know why the prosecution reduced the charges? Did the prosecution explain to Kelvin its choice of charges? (No, the prosecution's practice is to be silent on its prosecutorial decisions).

Did Kelvin attend any of those top-secret meetings between our Foreign Affairs officers and the Australian diplomats? (No, that's all top secret as well).

Did the prosecution say that it reduced the charges NOT because of the Government's promise to Australia? (No, it was McCrea's lawyer who said so.)

As for these assertions by McCrea's lawyer:
He insists that the facts support his argument that McCrea did not commit murder.

'It's quite clear that it is not murder. How can it be murder when there was a sudden and grave provocation from the victims? McCrea was attacked and hit back in self-defence,'
.... well, these are what we call questions of fact, in the courtroom. Kelvin Lim's statements may be true, or they may not be true, or they may be partially true, but the point is that questions like these:

(1) was there really provocation from the victims?
(2) was it "sudden" or "grave"?
(3) was McCrea really attacked at all?
(4) did he really act in self-defence?
(5) etc etc

... are all questions not to be answered by McCrea's lawyers, but to be determined and decided by the judge, based on available evidence presented in court.

Provided that - the prosecution proceeds on murder charges.

And - if the accused claims trial.

And - if the defence raises the defence of sudden and grave provocation.

But none of this really matters, if the prosecution just proceeds on non-murder charges, and the accused just pleads guilty straightaway.

That is, we'll never know whether McCrea committed "murder" or not, because there never was a murder trial.

And there was never a murder trial, because the prosecution didn't proceed on a murder charge.

And the prosecution would never have proceeded on a murder charge, because the Singapore government had agreed that McCrea must not hang.

And if the Singapore government had never agreed to this, well, the Australian government just wouldn't have sent McCrea back to Singapore.

There. Hope it's all clear now.

Anyway, I think that this was a good result, all things considered. If the Singapore government had not entered into those arrangements with the Australian government, McCrea would never have been brought here and convicted at all.

Also, I'm not a fan of the death sentence, so I'm actually quite happy that McCrea did not have to die.

Reading my karmic tea leaves today, I sense also that in some strange way, the death of Australian Nguyen Tuong Van had helped to save the life of Michael McCrea. Certainly, the diplomatic fallout from Nguyen Tuong Van's case would have induced the Singapore authorities to move more carefully in this case.

"Please don't be sorry but instead celebrate the life
God has made possible through his love ...
Be of great faith; of greater courage and firm heart."
- Nguyen's last diary entry (written two hours before his execution).

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28 June 2006

The Students' Notebook

"We refer to the letter 'Bloggers should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make and not hide under the cloak of anonymity' by Lionel de Souza (ST, June 22). We believe that Mr de Souza's claim that bloggers usually hide under the cloak to rant against the government and others is seriously misguided.

Most bloggers reveal their real identities, as we can see from people such as Mr Lee Kin Mun (mrbrown) and Mr Benjamin Lee (Mr Mayagi).

Bloggers' critical commentaries that are logical and backed by facts play a part to better shape our country politically, as we can see from Gayle Goh's (i-speak) recent postings that prompted Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to respond.

Despite the use of pseudonyms by some bloggers, views that are coherent and sound have been considered by the media, as The Straits Times did for Mr Wang's views in the original report 'Divided views over police checks on blogger' (The Sunday Times, June 18) ....."

Click here to read more about the views of En & Hou, two student bloggers who also run a cartoon blog called the Students' Sketchpad.

This Lionel de Souza person, by the way, is the same Lionel de Souza that I had previously mentioned here in my post about the gay doctor entrapped by the police.

See also Mr Wang's old post on the topic of the supposed anonymity of prominent bloggers in Singapore.

The world's most famous secret identity.

27 June 2006

If It Wasn't So Sad, It Would Be Funny

One of my readers pointed this out to me. Thank you, Chiok Wee. In the Straits Times Forum today, we have this letter:
ST Forum, June 27, 2006
Hindi movie gives negative impression of Singapore

This is regarding the newly released Hindi movie, Krissh, which was shot mostly in Singapore.

In fact in the credits, it thanks the Singapore Tourism Board. But it is sad to see that Singapore is portrayed in a bad light.

When the hero lands in Singapore, he is standing outside Changi Airport when two bikers come along and try to snatch his bag away.

Having lived in Singapore for 10 years I know such things never ever happen here.

But those who have never visited the country would have a false and negative impression of it after seeing the movie.

Nafisa Quresh Bengali (Ms)

Alas, also in the Straits Times today, we have the following article:
ST June 27, 2006
Frustrated snatch thief bashes woman's head
Even after she fell, 65-year-old held onto bag seized by man
By Leong Su-Lin

WHEN a motorcycle pillion rider got off his vehicle and made a grab for Madam Tam Pow Choi's handbag in Jurong late on Sunday night, the feisty 65-year-old refused to let go.

She held onto her bag even as she fell onto the pavement and was dragged along.

Frustrated, the thief removed his helmet and bashed her head with it.

It was only then that she let go of her bag, she said, recalling that 'everything went dark and I almost fainted'. She came to in time to see him making his getaway on the motorcycle with her bag.


About 150 elderly people fell victim to robberies and snatch thefts last year. In 2004, 153 cases were reported.

Police spokesman Victor Keong urged victims not to resist their attackers if confronted but should take note of the culprit's appearance.

Witnesses to this snatch theft should call the police on 1800-255-0000.

"But I don't like reality TV shows."

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On the GRC System

June 27, 2006
GRCs make it easier to find top talent: SM
Without good chance of winning at polls, they might not be willing to risk careers for politics

By Li Xueying

SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday gave a new take on the role of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) in Singapore politics.

Their role is not just to ensure minorities are adequately represented in Parliament, he said. They also contribute to Singapore's political stability, by 'helping us to recruit younger and capable candidates with the potential to become ministers'.

'Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics,' Mr Goh said at an event marking the appointment of members to the South East Community Development Council (CDC).

'Why should they when they are on the way up in the civil service, the SAF, and in the professions or the corporate world?'
First, let's consider the title - GRCs make it easier to find top talent. Really? That can't be right. Surely the PAP must already know who you are - your background, your credentials, and so on - before they ask you to run for elections. That's completely irrespective of whether they want you to run in a GRC or a Single Member Constituency. So contrary to the title of the article, GRCs really have nothing to do with helping the PAP to find top talent.

So the issue is not with finding top talent, but with persuading top talent to join the PAP. Why does this difficulty exist? According to SM Goh, this is because:
'Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics."
A startling admission. I would have though that this is one of those Kinds of Truths Which Must Remain Unspoken. Here SM Goh is openly admitting that the GRC system artificially boosts the chances of the PAP's new candidates. Their election successes cannot be solely attributed to their talent, or their capability, or their rapport with the people or whatever. According to SM Goh, it is the GRC system that gives them "some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election".

Wow - what is SM Goh trying to do here, embarrass MM Lee? When the GRC system was first implemented, I remember MM Lee making all those grand statements in Parliament about how we must ensure that the minority races in Singapore must be protected, and adequately represented in Parliament, and that's why the GRC system is so essential etc. Funny, I really don't remember MM Lee saying anything like this:
"We want to make some huge changes to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore. The electoral system has to be altered so as to enable my political party, the PAP, to have an easier time recruiting younger and capable candidates. Without the GRC system to give them some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, they may not want to risk their careers to join my party."
But of course MM Lee didn't say it. Changing the Constitution of a nation so as to facilitate the recruitment strategies of one particular political party just doesn't sound right.

It's also very interesting to see that SM Goh says that his candidates would be risking their careers to enter politics. Bear in mind that if his candidates lose in the election, then basically all they have lost is their time & energy in 9 days of active election campaigning, and perhaps a lot of intensive preparatory work in the preceding two months. There is no risk to their careers. They simply go back to their day jobs after the elections are over. Their greatest loss is probably that they used up all their annual leave for the year.

What if SM Goh's candidates win, whether in an actual electoral contest or by walkover? Well, they become MPs. They do not have to give up their careers. They continue with their usual jobs (doctors, lawyers, businessmen, accountants etc), they are Members of Parliament on top of that (it's not a full-time job) and they are paid an additional - what is it now? - about $14,000 per month to compensate them for their trouble.

So where is the risk to their careers?

I have some thoughts on that, but first I'd like to hear what you readers have to say.

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26 June 2006

More on Hiring "Native Speakers"

For background, click here. This is about the Education Ministry's plan to hire large numbers of angmo "native speakers" from overseas to teach English and other subjects in Singapore schools.

Today, the TODAY newspaper has a thoughtful article pointing out the cons of this approach. Click here for the full article. What do I want to highlight? How about this:
LAST December, I was at the Sydney Opera house to witness my 17-year-old daughter, Amali, born and raised in Australia, receiving the prize for topping the English class in her final year at one of the top state schools in Sydney.

In a grade of some 250 students (mostly Caucasian), the top three students were all of Asian descent: My daughter of Sri Lankan descent, another with Burmese parents, while the third had an Indian father and a Filipino mother.

I told Amali after the presentation that if she applied to teach English (after completing a degree) in East Asia, she is very likely to be rejected when they see her picture, because she will be deemed not to be a "native speaker" of English.
Heheh. As I had pointed out in the Comment section of my previous post, there are plenty of non-white "native speakers" of English in countries such as India, the Philippines and Malaysia. Why is our Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam so keen to hire angmos from the UK? What does this show about Tharman's thinking?

Interestingly, it transpires that many Thai parents think like Tharman. I guess that shows that Tharman is approximately as clever as they are:
Last year, it was reported that a deal, struck by the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a visit to India to bring South Asian English teachers to help Thai schools improve English teaching standards, was coming unstuck because Thai parents wanted their children to be taught by "native speakers".

Meanwhile, it was revealed in the British parliament around the same time that nearly 16 million adults in Britain are unable to read and write properly in English.

More interestingly, the TODAY article gives us some indication of one kind of UK native speaker who would probably be very interested in responding to Tharman's recruitment ad:
Recently, I picked up a book at a Bangkok airport bookshop titled, Road Rash: Western Tourists and Expatriates at Play in Asia's Global Village written by a Canadian who has taught English in Asia for many years. In it he says:
    "Many of these English teachers are exiled from affluent countries by debt and student loans. Others have been downsized from corporate jobs, trapped by temporary employment agencies, or locked into dead-end minimum wage jobs … the mass migration of English teachers points to an interesting dynamic in the global village; affluent and wealthy countries are now exporting their unemployable, over-educated, surplus population into less-developed nations as labourers."

    Thus, English teaching in Asia has become a lifeline for these unemployed "native speakers".
Aren't they lucky? Unemployed and overeducated in the UK. Zero experience in teaching (see Tharman's ad - "Newly qualified teachers are encouraged to apply"). But once they get here, they'll be treated as "foreign talent" and their kids won't even have to do NS.

(Oh, in case you're wondering, these native speakers might be broke but they CAN afford to send their kids over. Tharman is offering them "free economy air passage for candidate, spouse and 2 children below the age of 18 to Singapore").

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Much Ado

Remember this old discussion on Mr Wang's blog? About the possibility of schools starting a little later (for example, at 8:00 am or 8:30 am instead of 7:30 am), so that students can get a little more sleep.

Surprisingly (surprising to me, at least), there was some fierce resistance to that idea (see comments on my old post). The basis for such resistance? Allowing students to come to school later than 7:30 am would somehow deny them of character-building opportunities and cause them to degenerate into ill-disciplined hooligans.

Well, some schools have nonethless gone ahead with the idea (with some variations). And when you actually read about the idea being implemented, it doesn't sound so very shocking, does it? No, I really don't think Singapore's juvenile delinquency rates are going to shoot up because of this.

A 9am wish come true
More sleep and flexibility for Kuo Chuan students thanks to launch of 'Manic Mondays'

TODAY • June 26, 2006

Lee U-Wen

AT 9am on Monday mornings, most school students are well into their first — or even second — lesson of the day. But life is more leisurely for 15-year-old Rosazlin Rosli, who just about begins her day around this time.

She is not being tardy. She is just celebrating her family life and thanking her school.

Under an initiative launched by Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary at the start of the year, some 1,150 students — from Secondary 1 to Secondary 5 — can start school at 9am. They call it "Manic Monday".

Kuo Chuan Presbyterian is one of the few schools — but the number is growing, it seems — that are becoming more flexible with their school hours.

One could put it down to greater autonomy for schools, the five-day work week effect, the Teach Less, Learn More slogan by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and, yes, the long-standing calls from parents.

Last year, some parents had written to this newspaper to complain that in some cases, their children had to wake up before sunrise to make it to school by 7.10am.

There was another series of letters to the media earlier this year, in which parents claimed that their children were being deprived of a good night's sleep, and their families, of sufficient time together.

These days, with schools gaining autonomy on many fronts, the 9am wish of some parents is coming true.

"Even if it's once or twice a week, it's a change, and it means a little bit more sleep. And that's something most parents would want for their children," said Dr Mary Lai, whose son is in Primary 6.

"Manic Monday" at Kuo Chuan Presbyterian came about after its management took a look last year at its school hours. Despite starting school later, students do not have to stay back to make up for the lost time.

Vice-principal Grace Chua, 38, said: "We restructured the timetable, but not by extending the day. We had to take away two periods, one from Mother Tongue and the other from English. And even after doing so, the number of periods left was still well within Ministry of Education guidelines."

While her students have the luxury of strolling in at 9am, her team of 57 teachers, however, continue to report in by 7.30am.

Not necessarily to mark assignments, though. They use the time to interact, play games, tuck into a catered breakfast and even exercise together at the nearby Bishan Park.

"It's always hard for everyone to meet as a big group because of various commitments. But now, we have this one-and-a-half hour window for bond-building. And it's on a Monday morning when very few people have commitments," said Ms Chua ...

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25 June 2006

Goodbye, Arthur


Singaporean poet Arthur Yap died last week of throat cancer. Arthur has had the distinction of being listed in the encyclopaedic Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry. Thus, in the opinion of Oxford academics, Arthur counts as one of the world's most significant poets to have lived anytime in the past 100 years.

Still there are folks who believe that nothing in Singapore literature is worth teaching in our schools. How foolish.

Personally, I can't say that Arthur Yap is among my favourite poets. Technically, I find his poems very impressive. Emotionally, I find them difficult to love. I've reproduced one of his old poems below that perhaps illustrates what I mean. But perhaps it will be loved by those who have recently been insisting that our schools must return to a serious teaching of the rules of grammar.

      the grammar of a dinner

      let's have chicken for dinner.

      somewhere else, someone else utters:
      let's have john for dinner.
      we are alarmed by the latter
      but a dinner, too, has its own grammar
      & we are assured by grammarians
      both utterances are in order.

      john, + animate, + human,
      couldn't be passed off as repast.
      chicken is + animate, - human,
      & can end up in any oven.
      if we combine the items of grammar
      the way things in cooking are,
      we would then have:
      let's have chicken for john for dinner,
      let's have chicken for dinner for john,
      let's have for john chicken for dinner,
      let's have for dinner for john chicken;
      but probably not:
      let's have john for chicken for dinner,
      let's have for dinner john for chicken.

      john is a noun holding knife & fork.
      chicken collocates with the verb eat.
      grammarians favour such words
      as delicious & john eats happily,
      but in a gastronomic dinner
      taxonomic john isn't to eat deliciously.

That is an intensely rigorous poem, the kind that takes a few very basic, everyday words - "john", "chicken", "dinner", "eat", "delicious" - turns them inside out and extracts the maximum from them. Janadas Devan, writing for the Sunday Times, descibes this as Arthur's "extraordinary focus on the innards of language ... Nobody has come close to commanding the technical skills Yap possessed to be able to dig through words to reveal, like X-ray photographs, their skeletal structures."

June 25, 2006
Pared down poet
By Janadas Devan

ONE of Singapore's most significant artists died last week. Few Singaporeans would have noticed. Arthur Yap was a considerable painter, a gifted poet, a rare talent, but he was virtually unknown beyond the small circle of his admirers. 'For poetry makes nothing happen,' as W.H. Auden wrote on the occasion of the death of W.B Yeats. That is true everywhere, of course, but nowhere more true than in Singapore - and among Singaporean writers, more true of Yap than of any other writer.

He was the most unpoetical poet imaginable, both in his person as well as in his work. He was certainly the neatest poet I have ever met, the least emphatic, the most deliberately unlyrical. Everything about him was pared down: Physically, he was excruciatingly thin; his clothes were so understated they seemed designed, not to clothe him, but to ensure his invisibility; his gestures were algebraic equations. 'Beauty is subtraction' - one sensed this abstractionist motto served as both his personal as well as aesthetic credo.

Take this poem, 'until', on the death of his brother Anthony:

until anthony passed away
i never saw cheeriest optimism
a person leaving hospital,
family carrying bags & he himself.

What extraordinary emotion, bitterness even, lies below the surface of those lines. And yet the emotion is barely alluded to. What we are offered instead is a startling definition of optimism: A person leaving hospital, his family carrying his bags, and he carrying himself, unaided.

'Not 'until' Anthony died,' Arthur says here, 'did that image occur to me as a definition of optimism.' And that is all he chooses to say - not an iota more.

Or take this, from 'event':

a little combed & frilled girl,
smile older,
at her wedding, the aunt's.
combed & frail,
smile smaller, the bride's teeth
stuck to her gums.
the occasion gave it beauty.

There is satire here, certainly - the bride's 'small' smile, the teeth sticking to her gums - but it is understated. There is irony - 'the occasion gave it beauty' - but it is glancing. The satire and the irony are contained in the sharply observed scene. Like a photographer, Yap judiciously records the scene, and fastidiously refrains from adding to it.

This kind of thing is far harder to do than it appears. Take that 'smile older'. As one critic of Yap's work, Geraldine Heng, has noted, a lesser poet would have said 'a little combed & frilled girl, with an old smile' or 'with a smile older than her years'. Only Yap would choose to say 'smile older', subtracting two to five unnecessary words.

This insistence on stripping things down to their bare essence, this refusal to be poetic, has made Yap a particularly difficult poet. I know of no one who has spontaneously quoted from his work to mark an occasion, illustrate a point, clinch an argument or move an audience. His poetry does not lend itself to such uses.

There is little lyricism in it, of the kind one finds in Edwin Thumboo's work ('If I should sleep and never wake/ What rib of earth, gift of you/ Will the angels let me take?'); no acute registration of shifting inner landscapes, as in Lee Tzu Pheng's ('When I look out and think I see day coming,/ Then, turn me from the dark heart of the sun'); no eloquence, as in Alfian Sa'at's ('When the blind are lonely do we lend them our mirrors?').

Yap's work has none of the qualities one usually finds in poetry. What it does have, what it offers - and in offering, demands from its readers - is an extraordinary focus on the innards of language. Nobody writing in English in Singapore has come close to producing such bare bones poetry, with no hint of fat. Nobody has come close to commanding the technical skills Yap possessed to be able to dig through words to reveal, like X-ray photographs, their skeletal structures.


My wife once gave a copy of one of his collections of poems to A.R. Ammons, the distinguished American poet. Ammons was struck by their distinction, surprised he had never heard of Yap. He read the collection from cover to cover, pointing at different lines, repeating 'this is good, this is very good'.

It is absurd that we are still debating whether writers like Yap should be read in our schools. Here is a Singaporean; he did these astonishing things with the English language; surely, that is a fact worth remarking.

I will leave it at that. Arthur Yap wouldn't have approved of anything more emphatic. Less is best, he would have said. And the rest is silence.

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23 June 2006

Party Political Films

ST June 23, 2006
When it comes to political films, there's nothing to fear but fear itself
By Ken Kwek

'VIDEO is to be feared.'

This ominous pronouncement was made by research fellow Tan Tarn How at a recent forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.

He was responding to a participant's question on how the increasing ubiquity of video images on the Internet could affect politics in Singapore and what the Government might do to control this avenue of political expression and discussion among the masses.

Mr Tan's point was that if a picture speaks a thousand words, then a moving image has the power to sway a thousand minds. By extension, a political video - manipulated by clever editing and released at a critical juncture, say during elections - has the potential to influence a thousand voters.

'Yes, video is to be feared. That's why we have the Films Act,' he said, referring to the Government's ban on 'party political films', or work that 'contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter, including a current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore'.

Mr Tan cited Singapore Rebel, a banned documentary about Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Chee Soon Juan, as a case in point.

Made by local film-maker Martyn See last year, the gritty 26-minute film chronicles Dr Chee's arrest in 2002 for trying to hold an illegal rally outside the Istana. More significantly, it contains 'softer' images of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children.

'A lot of people have told me that, after watching the film, they have a different impression of Dr Chee,' said Mr Tan, explaining that Singaporeans who relied solely on the mainstream media for news would see only the SDP chief's altercations with People's Action Party (PAP) politicians, not his more personal, human side.

Might the film's portrayal of a more personable Dr Chee with his family - cut against striking images of a dozen or so police officers deployed to apprehend him outside the Istana - lead to a significant clutch of sympathy votes for his party's candidates during elections?

Perhaps not.

But I reckon that may well be one element the Government is concerned about, and the reason why it has hitherto not taken any chances. The Films Act ensures that videos like Singapore Rebel will remain largely unseen by the population at large.

Or will it?
The rest of the article goes on to argue that while the Singapore government can ban political video clips etc, the actual enforcement of these laws is very difficult since the banned materials can be circulated around the Internet. The writer also says that the government should educate, not shield, the public about political films.

What strikes me, however, is this part of the article, about the Singapore Rebel movie:
More significantly, it contains 'softer' images of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children.

'A lot of people have told me that, after watching the film, they have a different impression of Dr Chee,' said Mr Tan, explaining that Singaporeans who relied solely on the mainstream media for news would see only the SDP chief's altercations with People's Action Party (PAP) politicians, not his more personal, human side.
. Heheh. Well, foolish me. Here I was, stupidly thinking that the terrible danger of party political films is that Opposition candidates might use them to spread sensational lies and seditious deceit and inflammatory falsehoods about our beloved Singapore government and thereby incite Singaporeans into forming furious, protesting mobs in public places.

Instead, it transpires that the most "frightening" part of the Singapore Rebel movie, according to Tan Tarn How, is that:
"... it contains 'softer' images of the politician at home, interacting with his wife and children."
Well, well. That doesn't exactly sound like a major threat to our national security, does it? I mean, seriously lah. Even Saddam Hussein or Lee Kuan Yew would have a "softer side" when interacting with their loved ones. Why should a film about Chee Soon Juan be regarded as dangerous because it shows a softer side to Chee Soon Juan?

Tell you what lah, PAP, in the next General Elections, why don't you just ban TCS from showing any images of politicians kissing babies or shaking hands with the public. Such images of their "softer side" must be "dangerous".


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Backgrounders: Singapore Rebel investigation.

21 June 2006

SAF Death

ST June 21, 2006
Commando dies during pool training

A SINGAPORE Armed Forces Commando officer died while undergoing training at the swimming pool in Hendon Camp yesterday afternoon.

According to a statement released late last night by the Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant Lionel Lin Shi Guan, 24, a regular, encountered difficulties during training in the pool.

An instructor assigned to him immediately passed him a float and instructed him to swim to the edge. But, while swimming towards the edge of the pool, Lt Lin went under.

He was brought back up by an instructor who was next to him in the water, brought to the pool's edge and given immediate medical attention, the statement said. But he began vomiting and passed out.

Lt Lin was rushed to the Hendon Medical Centre at 4.05pm, where two doctors attempted to resuscitate him. At 4.10pm, he was taken to Changi General Hospital, but was pronounced dead about 50 minutes later.

An inquiry will be conducted into the circumstances of Lt Lin's death. The ministry and SAF have extended their deepest condolences to his family.
Mr Wang will await news of further developments before commenting.

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Past Musings: Ong Jia Hui's Death.

20 June 2006

Oh Look, Mr Wang is Mentioned in the Press Again

ST June 18, 2006
Divided views over police checks on blogger
Netizens question need to apply the law in resolving 'offensive pictures' case; religious leaders want strong message sent about respect for other faiths

By Zakir Hussain

NETIZENS have condemned the man who complained to the police about a 21-year-old blogger who had posted pictures of Jesus Christ online that he deemed offensive.

They would rather Singaporeans resolve the matter by other means, such as letting other Internet users condemn the content online.

Many shared the view of blogger 'Mr Wang', a Singapore lawyer in his 30s.

'I am not saying that it's fine to go around offending people's race or religion,' he said. 'But when such incidents happen, it is not necessarily the case that the best response lies in the law or its instruments.'

Taaa-daa, there I am. (Aiyoh, so childish.)

Since I'd already said quite a lot about Char's case earlier, I'm going to comment just a little more today. First, the rest of the article:

But others outside the Net disagreed, and sanctioned the use of the law as a strong reminder to Singaporeans that online comment had its limits.

Religious leaders and social observers interviewed believe the law has a role to play in teaching people about the need to balance the right to free expression with the need to respect another's faith.

'The right to free speech stops when it begins to hurt the religious sensitivities of others,' said Father John-Paul Tan, parish priest of the Church of St Mary of the Angels in Bukit Batok.

'That's when sometimes the law needs to come in to educate people.'

These opposing reactions to the ongoing investigation of the blogger, who calls himself Char online, stem from four images he had published earlier this year which were thought to be disrespectful of Jesus Christ.

They attracted complaints from one netizen, and in March, police started investigating his alleged flouting of the Sedition Act.


Law professor Thio Li-Ann from the National University of Singapore said that in investigating the matter, the Government was being even-handed and recognising respect for religious faiths as a key principle here.

She added: 'Given that 80 per cent of Singaporeans subscribe to some kind of religious faith, it is not conducive to denigrate any faith.'

Supporting the use of law, Anglican Bishop John Chew noted that disrespect of any religion or religious figure could result in ill will.

Said the vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore: 'We cannot say that just because the West has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should accept them.'

Agreeing, chairman of the Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies Ridzuan Wu called for society to take a consistent position when any religious figure is mocked.

'Muslims feel it is offensive to deride the Prophet, and it is offensive to do so to Jesus Christ and other religious figures,' he said ...

I'm just going to pose a couple of questions for you to consider.

How many of the above persons - Father John-Paul Tan, Thio Li-Ann, Ridzuan Wu etc - do you think actually saw the cartoons, before they commented?

If they had not even seen the cartoons in question, how much weight should you give to their views?

Next, let's look at this Business Times article about an Indian spiritual teacher who recently visited Singapore:

Business Times - 17 Jun 2006
Master of the art of living
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder and head of the Art of Living Foundation, explains to VIKRAM KHANNA why he believes there is nothing inconsistent between business and spirituality.

ON THE evening of April 15, the cavernous sixth-floor auditorium at Suntec City was packed to capacity. The crowd numbered a couple of thousand at least - grey-haired grandparents, teenagers, young married couples with babes in arms, people of multiple ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. They had come for the same reason: to spend an evening in the company of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Some consider him their spiritual guru. Others see him as a teacher of high wisdom. Still others came out of sheer curiosity. Revered by millions around the world - including some heads of government - photographed with luminaries like the Dalai Lama, US President George Bush and Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, written about and interviewed extensively, this diminutive 50-year-old is a phenomenon. He has commanded crowds of, literally, millions of people (as during his foundation's 25th anniversary in Bangalore in February, for which three million turned up). He has addressed parliaments and even the UN General Assembly and appeared on countless talk shows.

Many people know him best for the easy-to-follow system of breathing exercises called 'sudarshan kriya' (loosely translated as 'proper vision practice') that he has developed and packaged. At least a million people around the world are believed to practise them, and many swear to have benefited dramatically. Medical studies have demonstrated that the exercises do indeed reduce physical and mental stress.

Less well known is the fact that Sri Sri is the founder and head of what is said to be the biggest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the world, the Art of Living Foundation. Started in 1982 and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, it has spread to 144 countries. It offers stress relief programmes and is involved in thousands of charitable public service projects in areas as diverse as reforming and rehabilitating prison inmates, training villagers in management skills, promoting organic farming, providing trauma relief to victims of natural disasters, helping people with Aids and even resolving national conflicts.

Brief note - Sri Sri, however, has also been described as a cult leader. See for example this article: Catholics Concerned over Cult Leader Appearing at Canada's Foremost Catholic Shrine. Back to the BT article:

But back to the event at Suntec. Sri Sri, as he is commonly referred to, is seated on an ornate chair on a stage adorned with images of Buddha, Jesus Christ and a Hindu deity - no doubt to underline that his message cuts across all religions and cultures. The evening begins with a lion dance, followed by a performance on the quzheng, a Chinese harp. An Indian flute trio comes next, and then a Malay orchestra and chorus.

After the music and applause die down, Sri Sri smiles, stands up and walks slowly towards the audience. 'When sound is in harmony, it is music, otherwise it is noise,' he says. 'It is the same with the body, mind and spirit ....'

For the purposes of this post, I wanted to draw your attention to this:
".... stage adorned with images of Buddha, Jesus Christ and a Hindu deity - no doubt to underline that his message cuts across all religions and cultures.

I'm going to ask you to consider this scenario. Imagine that Mr Wang is a Catholic. Mr Wang reads this BT article. Mr Wang is horrified and deeply offended that at a public event in Singapore, images of Jesus have been juxtaposed with images of religious figures from other religions.

"These are all false idols!" cries Mr Wang. "How can they place Jesus together with these false idols!" (After all, in Christianity there is only one true God, and the rest are false idols - don't accuse me of being seditious now, I'm just telling you what the Bible says).

Being a good Catholic, Mr Wang immediately picks up the phone and calls the police to say, "I demand that you impound Sri Sri's passport and investigate him for deeply offensive offences under the Sedition Act!". And the dutiful police proceed to do so.

Think about it. Is this a possible scenario? Of course. What could happen next? I leave it to your imagination. Play out the permutations. Make them dramatic - since we're all just imagining.

Imagine bewildered Sri Sri followers; angry Hindus (how come their deity is "false"?); offended Catholics; offended Buddhists ("what's so wrong about putting up a picture of the Buddha?"); and Falungong followers going, "See? See? The Singapore authorities are crazy! Even breathing exercises are not allowed!"

Then ask yourself - did things really work out better for Singapore ... because Mr Wang made that phone call to the police? And whatever your answer may be - isn't that the kind of society that we now seem to be drifting towards?

I'll let Sri Sri have the last word:

'We need to look at life with a broader vision. When we adopt this broader vision and perspective, our attitude changes. When a person looks at things in a holistic way, the greed in the person dissipates and compassion rises, and ethics becomes a way of life." - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, as quoted in the Business Times.

19 June 2006

Mr Wang's Not Stomping

So the Straits Times' new online portal, STOMP, has launched, together with a Star Blog. Reviews, however, seem to be unanimously poor. Just as well, I suppose, that I had declined the Straits Times' invitation a couple of weeks ago to get involved with STOMP.

Something is just not right with the STOMP Star Blog concept. I'm not sure if I can put my finger exactly on it - but I think it's got to do with the fact that STOMP's "star bloggers" just can't be themselves if they have to subject themselves to the editorial directions and marketing approach of a corporate organisation like the Singapore Press Holdings.

The X-factor behind any highly popular blog lies in the individuality of the blogger. And a blogger's individuality kinda gets suppressed, if the editor says, "This week all of you have to blog about this topic, next week all of you have to blog about that topic," - which is what's happening over at STOMP.

Look at poor old Xiaxue over here, for example, struggling with this week's STOMP assignment - the ethical issues of police entrapment. Come on, this is not a Xiaxue kind of topic. She can write entertainingly, yes - but not on a topic like this.

"For our next trick, we will try stomping
on an entrapped gay doctor while he's high on drugs.
Any volunteers?"

Julia Gabriel Writes

The teaching of English in Singapore has recently been a hot topic in the media, with the Education Ministry expressing concerns about deteriorating standards in our schools and announcing its plan to hire en masse native English-speaking teachers from abroad.

Public response to the Education Ministry's plan has generally been negative. Many Singaporeans have pointed out that there are other, more effective ways to improve English standards in Singapore (not that the Education Ministry really cares about your feedback).

Anyway, today we have someone, Julia Gabriel, writing to the ST Forum to share her two cents worth. Julia Gabriel's two cents are actually worth a lot more than two cents, because she is a very experienced specialist in the area of teaching language:

ST June 19, 2006
Start from preschool with parents chipping in

MS SHERI Kristen Goh Kwee Hwa's letter, 'Reconsider move to hire native English speakers' (ST, June 14), highlights the value of reading and prompts further discussion about nurturing children's language development.

Ms Goh's voracious reading and love of writing have undoubtedly contributed to her high standard of spoken and written English. Credit for this must go to her parents who provided the conditions for her language to reach its full potential: a home where empathic family members made time to talk together in Standard English, listen responsively, and share an interest in books and reading.

There is a wide body of research on language development showing that reading alone is not enough. Neither is exposure to good models of language. To engage with language fully, children need opportunities to talk, practise and use it, making mistakes and approximations, especially in the preschool years when they are most able to hear and 'catch' the language around them.

The fixed roles of teacher and student, in the more controlled environment of school, can encourage passive learning, in contrast to the active learning styles children are used to at home.

Ms Rosemary Sage's research, in Britain, shows that three-year-old children utter around 40,000 words a day, diminishing to roughly 20,000 a day, the number expected of a two-year-old, when they enter school and 'teacher talk' takes over.

Ms Goh's suggestion that Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and the Ministry of Education reconsider importing 'native-speaking' teachers and learn from the experience of those who are able English speakers here is surely worth considering, but emphasis on the nationality of teachers alone is not enough.

Our teaching service is already well supplied with highly educated, accomplished speakers, and writers, of Standard English. They need to ensure they engage students in rich whole language, creating Standard English-only environments in our schools, and reach out to parents to do the same at home. Compulsory English literature in secondary schools would be laudable, but too late to create a reading culture for most.

The time to nurture this is in preschool, with parents and teachers working in a supportive partnership, continuing throughout primary and secondary education. Parents are an important part of an active school community that involves, and helps, families to foster children's potential.

In the early 1980s, a large cohort of native English speakers was hired from Britain to teach English in schools here. Some of their students must now be teaching and better equipped than their foreign counterparts to understand the particular needs of the children they mentor. Many of these teachers will also be 'native' speakers, having grown up in homes where English is a first language.

There is a popular belief that foreign Caucasians speak Standard English by virtue of their birth. The fact is that many of these so-called 'native speakers' have strong regional accents, acquired in the homes they grew up in, where they learnt non-standard regional phonemes, idioms and grammar.

Everyone speaks with an accent of some sort. More important by far is children's need to express themselves fully and individually, using clear diction and pronunciation, accurate speech rhythm, Standard English construction and a wide range of vocabulary. These are fostered in homes and schools that, together, provide a foundation for global language.

Julia Gabriel (Mrs)
I'm amused. Julia Gabriel says that "emphasis on the nationality of teachers alone is not enough" and that hiring foreign Caucasians is probably not the answer, because many of them will have "strong regional accents, acquired in the homes they grew up in, where they learnt non-standard regional phonemes, idioms and grammar." Julia Gabriel also points out that many local teachers are also 'native' speakers, having grown up in homes where English is a first language.

So an angmo teacher is herself telling us, very honestly, that angmo teachers are not the solution. But our good friend, Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, can't seem to see that. Very sad.

"'Allo me old china - wot say we pop round the Jack.
I'll stand you a pig and you can rabbit on about your teapots.
We can 'ave some loop and tommy and be off
before the dickory hits twelve."

- What is this native speaker of English saying?
here for the translation.

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16 June 2006

Looks Like Singapore Is Going To Raise the Retirement Age. So?

Singaporeans want later retirement age: Survey
Poll shows 41% ready to work past age of 62

TODAY, June 16, 2006
Sheralyn Tay

Singaporeans are ready and willing to retire past the current retirement age of 62, if the results from a study are anything to go by.

The findings of the retirement study, released yesterday at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, revealed that 41 per cent of the 1,000 Singaporeans polled want the Government to increase the retirement age.

Among the men, a majority of 29 per cent wanted to retire between 65 and 69 years of age.

Dr Sarah Harper, director of the United Kingdom's Oxford Institute of Ageing, which conducted the survey, said: "The message that is coming out of Singaporean people and the Singaporean employer is that we value older workers and we want to work longer."

Some 900,000 Singaporeans are expected to be over 65 by 2030.

While the mandatory retirement age has not been officially raised, measures are in place to let the older Singaporean work longer if he wishes to.

Recently, the age limit for taxi drivers was raised from 70 to 73.

The labour movement is also working on combining job recreation with skill redevelopment to help workers stay employed longer.

Speaking to reporters at another event, NTUC deputy secretary-general Lim Swee Say said: "Some of the statutory boards started a scheme where workers reaching the age of 62 are allowed to go on a yearly extension, on the condition that they remain healthy and the job performance remains good.

"I think this is the way to go. I think we can go one step further, not just in allowing the daily-rated to continue working upon reaching the retirement age, but to find ways and means to re-create the job so that, as they continue to work, they can be rewarded in a more attractive manner."

Frankly I am not very sure what is the significance of the government raising or not raising the retirement age.

If you need the money, you will want to work. If you like to work, you will also want to work. If you don't need the money and don't like to work, then you won't work.

All of the above holds true, whether you are 45 or 62 or 75 years old.

As for employers, they will employ or offer to employ whoever they think they need, at whatever cost they think they can afford, and at whatever salary they think the employee is worth.

That also holds true - whether the employee is 45 or 62 or 75 years old.

So I have difficulty understanding the significance of the official retirement age. It doesn't really influence the question of whether you can or cannot work. Nor does it necessarily have any effect on an employer's decision as to whether it wishes to employ you or not.

And it is not as if the Singapore government actually starts providing you with any pension or other special benefits when you reach the official retirement age. Only a very small number of Singaporeans (including PAP ministers) actually have any pension rights.

So, as I said, what is the significance of the official retirement age?

Is there anything noteworthy in the Retirement Age Act? Let's see. Section 5 says:

(2) Where a retirement age higher than 60 years is prescribed under section 4 (1), an employer may, from time to time and in accordance with this section, reduce the wages of any of his older employees on or at any time after the employee attains 60 years of age.

(3) An employer who intends to reduce the wages of any of his older employees under this section shall, before the older employee concerned attains 60 years of age or other higher age, as the case may be, give reasonable prior notice in writing to the older employee of his intention to reduce his wages, stating the amount of such reduction and the effective date of such reduction, and giving him a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

(4) If an older employee does not agree with any proposed reduction in his wages, he may either retire or be retired by his employer on or after attaining 60 years of age notwithstanding any of the provisions of this Act.
Frankly, I don't see much practical use in the above provisions. It gives employers the right to reduce older employees' salaries. However, whether an employee is young or old, his employer is always free to say, "Hey, I plan to cut your salary". The reason for the proposed cut? Well, the company may not be doing well, or the employee may not be performing well, or perhaps the company just thinks it's overpaying that employee.

Section 5(3) above says that if the older employee is not happy with the pay cut, he can retire. Well, thank you very much. But if a person is not happy with his job, then whatever age he may be, he always has the right to quit anyway. So Section 5(3) doesn't really give the older employee any rights that he doesn't already have.

The Retirement Age Act supposedly protects older employees from unfair dismissal. If the older employee thinks he's been unfairly dismissed, he can complain to the Minister

Where any employee below 60 years of age or the prescribed retirement age considers that he has been unlawfully dismissed on the ground of age, he may, within one month of the dismissal, make representations in writing to the Minister to be reinstated in his former employment.

(2) The Minister may, before making a decision on any such representations, direct an investigating officer in writing to investigate and report whether in his opinion the employee has been unlawfully dismissed on the ground of age.

As I see it, these provisions are also of very limited effect. If you're old but competent and useful, the company will want to keep you anyway. If you're old and incompetent or useless, the company will dismiss you for being incompetent, or because it doesn't need you. And dismissing an incompetent or redundant employee is not an offence.

In the end, I think that the government is just trying to effect a change in mindset. They want to change Singaporeans' perceptions about when is the appropriate age to stop working. They would like to encourage more Singaporeans to retire later.

But really, the truth is that if you are working, you can stop working whenever you can afford to stop working. That could be at the age of 35, or 50, or 65 or 73, or 85, or never.

Conversely, raising the official retirement age doesn't necessarily mean that you will have a job at age 62 or 65 or 70. In fact, nowadays, there's no guarantee that you will have a job, at any age.

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More on Char's Case

I do not personally know Char, the blogger of Zombie Christ notoriety. But anyway he put me in the bcc: list of an email that he sent to Zakir Hussain, the ST journalist who wrote about his case. The email is here and gives some insight into Char's side of the story.

14 June 2006

Another Blogging Case Under the Sedition Act

June 14, 2006
Blogger who posted cartoons of Christ online being investigated

By Zakir Hussain

A 21-YEAR-OLD accounts assistant is being investigated for allegedly flouting the Sedition Act by publishing pictures on his blog that were thought to depict Jesus Christ in an offensive manner.

The blogger, who used the online moniker Char, had found the cartoons on the Internet and began posting them in January.

He told The Straits Times last week that he was called in by the police for questioning in March, after they received a complaint.

Yesterday, the police confirmed they are investigating the matter but declined to give details as 'investigations are still ongoing'.

News of the investigation was announced online by Char himself last week when he sent an e-mail to a mailing list of more than 300 young Singaporeans. He told them of his experience and how it came about. He removed the cartoons from his blog after he was questioned.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Char asked that he not be identified for he fears he may lose his job, which he wants to keep before entering a local university in August.

Describing himself as a free thinker, he said he had posted a cartoon that depicted Jesus as a zombie biting a boy's head in January.

The following month, he received an online message asking him to remove the image. It came amid the global furore over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by several newspapers.

Char did not reply to the message but chose to irk the person instead. He searched the Internet for more pictures depicting Jesus and published three of them on his blog.

Looking back, he felt he made an 'unwise' move. 'I never thought anyone would complain to the police because the pictures were not insidious,' he said.

Question for the day - what would Jesus say to Char, about this matter? What would Christians say to Char, about this matter? If there is a difference - why?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , .

Relevant Past Musings by Mr Wang: The 1st 2 Sedition Cases, Seditious Blogger No. 3 and his punishment, Judge Magnus on sedition offences.

10 June 2006

An Interesting Case

The Straits Times has recently reported a very interesting criminal case. The story has several newsworthy elements which are quite distinct and separate. Depending on which elements the journalist chooses to emphasise, the story can come across sounding very different even though it's based on the same facts.

Let Mr Wang play journalist and demonstrate one possible way the story could have been written:
Karma Times, June 8, 2006
Lawyers express concerns over police methods

By Mr Wang

A Central Narcotics Bureau officer, whose name cannot be disclosed, spent time lurking in Internet chatrooms, chatting up strangers and making offers to meet up for sex and drugs.

It was a police tactic. On 1 April 2006 this year, he successfully used this method to lure 26-year-old Adrian Yeo to meet up for sex at Bencoolen Street Hotel.

Adrian Yeo was then promptly arrested for possession of a packet of 0.16g of methamphetamine or Ice. He has been sentenced to eight months' imprisonment.

Lawyers have expressed concerns about the entrapment methods employed by the CNB in this case ...

Now Mr Wang will play journalist again and demonstrate a second way to write the story:
Karma Times, June 8, 2006
By Mr Wang

A young doctor was jailed for eight months yesterday for possession of a packet of 0.16g of methamphetamine or Ice at the Bencoolen Street hotel room on April 1.

26-year-old Adrian Yeo was a former student at top schools such as The Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College. After completing his national service, he trained to become a doctor at the National University of Singapore.

His bright future came to an abrupt end on 1 April 2006, when he went to Bencoolen Street Hotel to meet an acquaintance he had made over the Internet. They had arranged to meet for sex and the acquaintance had also asked if Adrian had any drugs to share.

When Adrian Yeo arrived at the hotel, he was promptly arrested by undercover officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau ....

Now let's look at the way the Straits Times reported the story:
June 8, 2006
Young doctor jailed eight months for possessing Ice
Downward spiral began when he experimented with gay sex and drugs

By Elena Chong

TAXI driver's son Adrian Yeo See Seng had a bright future as a doctor but the 27-year-old threw it all away when he experimented with sex and drugs.

A district court heard yesterday that he spiralled downwards after he started engaging in homosexual sex with strangers he met over the Internet, and taking drugs.

He was caught when a man he chatted with online invited him for a sex session with a third man at a Bencoolen Street hotel.

But the two strangers turned out to be undercover anti-narcotics officers who found drugs on Yeo when he arrived, and arrested him .....

How the story is written ultimately reflects the journalist's (or his editor's) sense of what is most significant and newsworthy in that story.

When would Version 1 be preferred? Probably if the newspaper saw this as the most newsworthy feature:-

That this case raised serious issues relating to police ethics, and possibly even to constitutional rights. The main focus is that the police had deliberately enticed a citizen to commit a crime and then promptly arrested him for it.

When would Version 2 be preferred? Probably if the newspaper saw this as the most newsworthy feature - the "human interest" angle in that a young promising doctor, a member of a highly respectable profession, had just ruined his own future through his own acts of folly.

When would Version 3 be preferred? Probably if the newspaper saw, as the most newsworthy feature, the fact that a young promising doctor, a member of a highly respectable profession, could have engaged in such terrible evils - drugs AND gay sex.

What is your own reaction to this case? It may already have been tainted by your having read the article as reported in the mainstream media. Pause now, and analyse. What would have been your reaction if the events had happened differently, in any of the following ways?

1. Adrian Yeo was not gay. He had been lured to the hotel by an undercover CNB officer calling herself "Josephine".

2. Adrian Yeo was not a doctor. He was a secondary school dropout working as a Pizza Hut delivery man.

3. Adrian Yeo had never bought illegal drugs in his life. It was the police officer, "Joe", who told him where and how to buy it, and who told him to bring the drugs to the hotel.

4. Adrian Yeo showed up at the hotel without drugs (he has never had anything to do with illegal drugs). He started to have gay sex with the undercover police officer, and was then arrested for an attempted offence under Section 377 of the Penal Code (unnatural sex).

Your responses will reveal your own values, on a range of issues. See below, for example, for a Forum letter where the writer exposes his own biases and prejudices, not at the start of the article, not in the middle, but right at the very end:
June 10, 2006
Entrapment of doctor legal and ethical

I REFER to the article, 'Entrapment' (ST, June 9), and the comments of some lawyers regarding the conviction of Adrian Yeo for possession of a controlled drug (methamphetamine or Ice) at a Bencoolen Street hotel on April 1 this year.

Going by the facts reported a day earlier, I agree fully with District Judge Wong Keen Onn's ruling out placing Yeo on probation. He rightly pointed out that the trainee doctor was a mature adult who was not suffering from any mental disorder.

The judge made this comment to counter Yeo's counsel's objection to the manner in which he was lured and arrested.

I believe that the learned defence counsel's objection was on the grounds that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) undercover agents had acted as 'agent provocateurs' by luring his client into committing the offence of drug possession.

In case the objection causes confusion in the minds of the man in the street that Yeo had been subjected to a great injustice in a pantomime written and directed by the CNB agents, I wish to differentiate between the use of an agent provocateur and an entrapment (sting operation).

An agent provocateur is one who suggests the commission of a crime to another in the hope that the individual would go along with the suggestion.

On the other hand, an entrapment usually takes place after due investigation of information, such as that an individual is engaged in nefarious activities like trafficking or abusing controlled drugs.

After being satisfied with the authenticity of the information, and if the enforcement officers conclude that a sting operation is needed so as to catch the culprit red-handed with incriminating evidence, it would then be perfectly legal and ethical to resort to entrapment.

This was what happened to Yeo when he turned up for a gay-sex session at the Bencoolen Street hotel.

Undoubtedly, the CNB undercover agents had done their homework well. They found out about the doctor's gay-sex preference that included him consuming drugs to boost his libido.

Hence, there was definitely no breach of the doctor's constitutional rights in the entrapment exercise.

Having said that, it causes me great concern to know that a doctor did not only abuse drugs but also indulged in gay sex with partners he met over the Internet.

Lionel De Souza

Let's take a look at that relevant paragraph again:
it causes me great concern to know that a doctor did not only abuse drugs but also indulged in gay sex with partners he met over the Internet.

Just a little something to ponder -

how would Lionel have felt about this case, if Adrian had indulged in heterosexual sex with partners he met over the Internet?

Or if Adrian had a steady, committed boyfriend?

Or if Adrian was a gay virgin, but the CNB officer named 'Joe' had tried very, very hard to tempt Adrian, and had succeeded in tempting Adrian, into showing up at the hotel for his first gay sexual experience ever?

In any of the above three situations, would Lionel still be so keen to defend the police methods in this case?

It's always fascinating to Mr Wang - to consider our own programmings, conditionings and values. Lionel looks quite clear to Mr Wang - this sentence showed it:
"They found out about the doctor's gay-sex preference that included him consuming drugs to boost his libido."
Methamphetamine or Ice is not Viagra. It doesn't boost your libido. In fact, if Adrian Yeo had showed up at the hotel with Viagra, there wouldn't have been a case for the police to arrest him at all.

".... and then, this cop – well, I didn't know he was a cop
at the time obviously – he started playing this game.
I think it's called ‘I'll show you mine, you show me yours,
and then when you show me yours, I'm gonna nick you!'"
- George Michael, gay victim of police entrapment in 1998.

06 June 2006

Killer Whales, Here I Come

The Sentosa Leisure Group is joining the Tourism Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) scheme, in order to train its employees to raise their service standards. It's part of an $8-billion revamp to woo eight million visitors by 2010.

Today the Straits Times has an article about this. Well, we already know that it's not unusual for our nation-building press to screw up its reporting. What's unusual is to screw up so directly, in the very first paragraphs of a newspaper article. I had a good laugh.
June 6, 2006
Sentosa staff to be trained under new tourism skills scheme
Certification system aims to boost professionalism in local service industry

By Marcel Lee Pereira

DOLPHIN trainer Ravan Tan, 25, performs with the mammals at Sentosa's Dolphin Lagoon every day and dreams of working in one of Hawaii's marine theme parks, handling killer whales and sea lions. His dream may just come true.

All he needs to do is prove that he can handle the creatures well for his skills to be recognised under Singapore's first formal qualification system for tourism-sector workers.
Somehow I don't think that the Sentosa Leisure Group will be very happy to hear that one of their employees is upgrading his skills so that he can quit, emigrate and go work for one of Hawaii's marine theme parks.

Anyway, here's the rest of the article:
He is one of the 3,000 staff on Sentosa being trained under the Tourism Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) scheme developed by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the industry.

Mr Tan, an O-levels holder, has already done two modules - on feeding and handling the animals. He has set his sights on a diploma.

The WSQ scheme, a nationally recognised framework, will uplift the professionalism of the industry and spur workers to attain professional qualifications and so raise their productivity, said Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen at its launch yesterday.

He added: 'Even if they have somehow missed out on formal education, or need to change industry because of economic restructuring, the pathways to acquire new skills and find new jobs will be there.'

Sentosa has counted itself in on the scheme, which will help raise service standards as part of its $8-billion revamp to woo eight million visitors by 2010.

Sentosa Leisure Group chief executive Darrell Metzger said: 'We need a system that helps guarantee some consistency in our standards.'

"Look, Ted, I'm serious. No more dolphin tricks
for you, until you get yourself WSQ-certified,
you understand?"

04 June 2006

Singapore is "World-Class" Again

As I've mentioned several times, Singapore has a habit of making claims to be world-class or world-best in this and that and this and that ... when it really isn't.

Some past examples are available here. And here's a new one to add to my collection:

ST June 4, 2006
Net furore as critics call it unrealistic and embarrassing, but there are fans too
By Jeremy Au Yong

THE National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School's new television commercial has become something of a hot item on the Internet - but not for the reasons NUS might have hoped.

The advertisement in question shows a student in suburban America (it was actually filmed in Woodlands) leafing through letters from University of Pennsylvania's Wharton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan and University of Chicago's business schools before squealing in delight at an acceptance letter from NUS.

A voice-over then confidently proclaims NUS as 'preferred around the world by tomorrow's elites' before the clip ends with the student's mother joking that the boys in Singapore are 'way too cute'.

The commercial has been a talking point and many of the comments are far from complimentary .......

Critics cite two complaints: first, that it is unrealistic for NUS to compare itself with the top 10 ranked business schools. And second, that the 'cute boys' remark was embarrassing.

Said teacher Sam Ong, 35: 'Why were they playing up the cute factor? We have so many selling points, why pick that one?'

Advertising veteran Mark Fong, creative director at ad agency Young and Rubicam, also took a dim view of the ad. 'I doubt that even a top 10 business school would dare use such an unapologetically proud positioning,' he said.

Current international rankings do not flatter the school.

In The Financial Times' MBA programme rankings - the gold standard in business education rankings - NUS came in 92nd this year, while Wharton, University of Chicago and Sloan came in at first, sixth and 10th respectively.

In a previous post, I had commented as follows on Singapore's culture of unfounded self-praise: "The danger of such apparently harmless (if vain) utterances of admiration is that this country may begin to delude itself, in some ways at least, into believing that it is something we are not." The Straits Times article now provides an example:

The school is also standing firmly by its campaign.

The dean, Mr Christopher Earley, who came up with the concept for the ad, said that a lot of the criticism was a product of Singaporean modesty.

'I think all too often people here are too hard on themselves. They don't realise what an incredibly good university we have here.

'Our best students are every bit as smart as the students in the top schools. I'm absolutely convinced it sends the right message.'
Mr Earley, rankings are rankings. If you're ranked 92nd, you're ranked 92nd, and that's a very long way from the 1st, 6th and 10th places.

Also, you might be correct to say that the best students in NUS are as smart as the average students in the top schools. But that in itself explains why NUS is a long way off, from the top 10. When your average students are as smart as the average students in the top schools, well, that's when NUS will be a top school itself.

All in all, another rather embarrassing episode for Singapore, as the following interviewee correctly points out:
Though most agree that NUS' ad would not sway someone's choice of university, they still think it was a bad idea.

Said Mr Ong: 'People who see it are going to scoff at the ad. Any discerning student will know to check university rankings first.'

An interesting coincidence - Singapore is also ranked world no. 92 for something else - soccer. Applying the logic of the NUS advertisement, our national soccer team should consider itself comparable or better than Brazil (world no. 1); Spain and the US (joint 5th place in the world); and England (world no. 10).


"Singapore .... Errr, that's a province
in Southeast China, right?"

02 June 2006

The Miscellaneous Mr Wang

Received yet another invitation to be interviewed, this time from the Straits Times. Some kind of new multimedia portal, no less.
I'm XXXXXXXXX from STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print). We're a new online interactive portal geared for the teens and young working adults in Singapore. Our official launch is primed for 15 July, to coincide with the Straits Times' 161st Anniversary.

One of the features on our site is called STOMPcast, where a selection of e-flicks will be streamed for our viewers. Content will include press conferences, interviews, short films/animations, live performances etc.

While the arts and entertainment scene will be showcased, our priority is to provide our local community with a new platform to voice their thoughts.

We are currently putting together a video of interviews with prominent Singapore bloggers regarding Minister Lee Boon Yang's latest views aired about Blogging and the new leeway given to the blogging community for the next GE.

We'd love to get your thoughts on it, and would like to arrange a video interview with you at our News Centre ... [rest deleted]
Mr Wang had removed his "Mr Wang Says So" email address from his blog sidebar some time ago, but that didn't stop this intrepid ST journalist from tracking Mr Wang down anyway. Somehow she discovered one of Mr Wang's other personal email accounts, and emailed Mr Wang there. Oh, and she addressed Mr Wang by his real name too.

See, Mr Wang already told you months ago that the mainstream media knows quite well who he is. Seems like nowadays, they won't even pretend that they don't (unlike IPS).

Anyway, Mr Wang will skip this. His offline life is a little too packed, this week and next week.

Lee Hsien Loong Wins A New International Award

One might have thought that the award was just a joke. But apparently not. This is the London-based organisation that gave PM Lee the award.

"Damn it, they're in the UK.
I'll lose if I sue them for defamation."

01 June 2006

Boon Yang's Speech

Boon Yang made a speech and the Straits Times reported it at length. Pardon me - I'm going to zoom straight to the relevant part for me:
Straits Times, June 1, 2006
Bak Chor Mee was a clever and funny work. But...
Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, explained the Government's approach towards regulating the Internet in a speech at the annual PR Academy Conference yesterday. This is an excerpt from his speech.

....... A few of these blogs postings and podcasts became instant classics. An example is the Bak Chor Mee podcast by Mr Brown. I must congratulate Mr Brown who is present today for his clever and funny work. A friend sent it to me in the middle of my contest. I enjoyed it too and had a good laugh. However, my assessment is that this is symptomatic of the nature of the Internet. The root issue which was parodied in the podcast was actually a serious issue of intention and integrity. So, while podcasts can be very entertaining, it would be dangerous if important decisions such as electing representatives to Parliament were based on which side can make the most funny video or podcast.

It is good to have a sense of humour but we must take care not to allow humour or satire to mask the key issues. The bottom line is that a sense of humour is necessary but, more importantly, we must remember that elections and choice of leaders for the country are serious matters. Elections are certainly not laughing matters.

Boon Yang missed the point. Deliberately or not, I leave you to decide.

Against the Singapore government, humour is a key defence. Jack Neo used it in movies like "I Not Stupid". Mr Brown used the same defence in his Bak Chor Mee podcast.

The Singapore government would look ridiculous to the whole world if it took legal action against the likes of Jack Neo or Mr Brown. There is too much reputational risk involved in destroying comedians.

That is what both Jack Neo and Mr Brown are counting on, anyway.

Why do you think Mr Brown made podcasts entitled "The Persistently Non-Political Podcasts"? Obviously, to make it too embarrassing for the government to prosecute him under the Parliamentary Elections Act for making political podcasts. For how can a political podcast be a political podcast if it is a persistently non-political podcast?

"I must admit one thing, Mr Wang.
You Not Stupid Either."

In a freer society, such defences would be less necessary. Mr Brown and Jack Neo could still opt for comedy, but they would also have more room to opt for more-serious commentary, if they wanted to.

Naturally, despite the restrictive nature of Singapore society, Mr Brown and Jack Neo are both talented enough not to allow comedy to detract from their underlying message. Only fools and non-Singaporeans could miss Jack Neo's social criticisms in his comedy "I Not Stupid".

And only fools and non-Singaporeans could fail to realise the underlying message of Mr Brown's Bak Chor Mee podcast.

Yes, Boon Yang, the issue being parodied was indeed the issue of intention and integrity. And whose intention and integrity was in question then? Don't ask me. Don't ask Mr Brown. Don't even ask James Gomez. If you still haven't got the point yet, you probably never will.

Or maybe you need to listen to the Bak Chor Mee podcast another ten times. And then it might just sink in.