30 July 2006

Money & Material Things

Sunday Times, July 30, 2006
Make more money by spending less

Michael Masterson, Author

CARLOS, one of my jiujitsu instructors, is living the American dream. He came to this country and earned his fortune as a champion fighter.

For the first three years of his time here, he managed to support himself and his wife on less than US$15,000 (S$23,850) a year.

Now he fights at the top level. His typical payday has gone from US$500 to US$25,000.

'The problem with making more money,' he told me, 'is that every time you make an extra dollar, you spend two'.

How true. The first couch I bought cost US$400. I remember thinking, 'It doesn't get any better than this.'

And it never did. The couches I buy today give me no more pleasure, comfort or space. Yet they cost much more.

What happened? The truth is that my own success victimised me. In earning more, I allowed myself to spend more on things like couches.

If I had gotten more out of it, that would have been fine. But I didn't. Master wealth builders understand a secret that took me years to learn: You have to keep your spending down while your income increases.

Why do we feel the need to spend more when we make more?

Here is what I think. When you are poor, you are surrounded by things you think you would like to own but cannot afford to buy.

After a while, you equate the feeling of unsatisfied desire with poverty.

If your idea of being wealthy is filled with images of mansions and sailboats and expensive watches, you are going to have a difficult time saving money.

And saving money is another one of the common habits of people who know how to build wealth.

You must teach yourself to feel the truth: that every time you buy a depreciating asset, you become poorer. Remind yourself that most of the junk you buy becomes unused after a few months and does not provide you with that much value anyway.

Heheh. People are often surprised to hear that I live in a HDB flat. They tend to have assumed that because I'm an investment banking lawyer, I must surely be living in some swanky condo.

They are even more surprised when I tell them that I travel by MRT and taxi (I don't own a car - I never have). These people then assume that I'm living thriftily because I'm the sole breadwinner and my wife stays at home to look after our kids.

Then they hear that my wife works too and she isn't exactly drawing a puny salary either. She's a lawyer too and she heads the legal department of one division of an MNC. She oversees that division's legal matters in Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Cameroon and Nigeria.

"But surely you must be planning to move to a condo sometime in the future, yes? And buy a nice car? Or even a not-so-nice-but-cheaper-and-still-decent one?" those people ask.

No, no and no, I answer.

Then they notice that I'm wearing a Casio watch, and that my handphone belongs to that long-gone era when handphones didn't have cameras in them ... and they start wondering whether it's true that lawyers earn a lot of money, or maybe my kind of job is at risk of being outsourced to India, or something like that ... because why else would I living the way I live?

Heheh. I don't bother to explain anything to them.

The simple, "nutshell" kind of answer is that I prefer to save my money and invest it (which is true - I am quite conscientious and disciplined about investing my money).

Going a little deeper, however, the reason why I'm such a disciplined investor is that it's such a waste of money to let it just sit idle. You should either spend it or invest it. And since I spend little of it, I end up, by default, investing a lot of it.

But that only brings us back to the question of why I spend so little of it, in the first place.

Right around here, I could launch into a long, rambling, philosophical discussion about money and life and happiness. But maybe I'll just refer to this old post of mine.

What do these two Masai people have to do
with Mr Wang's post? Click on image to find out.

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Banks Avoid Red Light District


We learn from the article below that banks do not like to grant housing loans for residential properties located in red-light districts.

The banks are concerned about the market value of the property in the future, in the event that the borrower fails to pay his monthly instalments on time and the bank seeks to enforce the mortgage. Residential properties in red-light properties will command a lower market price and the bank may not be able, by selling the property, to fully recover the monies owed.

Sunday Times, July 30, 2006
Red blight district
Family forfeits $22,000 in booking fees for condos in Geylang red-light area after banks reject loan application

By Sarah Ng

PROPERTY experts will tell you that one of the most important considerations when buying a piece of property is - location, location, location.

If that property you are eyeing happens to be in a red-light area, this cannot be more true.

And for good reason: You may well be unable to get a bank loan for it


Mr Lim, 30, his younger brother and their widowed father had intended to buy one unit each at the Atrium Residences condominium in Geylang Lorong 28 earlier this month.

To secure the three freehold units, they put down $91,000 collectively - or 5 per cent of the units' total selling price - as booking fees.

But Mr Lim started hitting brick walls when he approached banks for financing. He needed a 30-year loan of $400,000 on his unit but was turned down by no fewer than seven banks, including DBS Bank and Standard Chartered.

Only finance companies Hong Leong Finance and Sing Investments and Finance said yes.

This, despite Mr Lim earning more than $50,000 a year as a product manager with a publishing company and having a clean credit history, he said.

'I had no problem getting a car loan previously, so I didn't think that it would be a problem getting a housing loan from the banks. It never occurred to me that the location was the problem.'

He added that the condominium was located in the residential zone of Geylang, under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan 2003.


Banks contacted stopped short of admitting that they discriminate against any one location, saying only that the location of the property is among several factors they consider when reviewing mortgage loan applications.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said it does not intervene in banks' commercial decisions on lending, which are based on their own range of internal credit evaluation criteria.

But industry experts note that banks may also have concerns about selling off such properties in the event of customers defaulting on the loan, resulting in repossession by the bank.

Said DBS Bank: 'We do not offer financing for properties that are of potentially higher credit risks to us as the current and future value of the properties are subject to several other factors like the condition, type of business and location of the property and its surroundings.'


Generally, banks do not finance properties located in the even-numbered lorongs between Geylang Lorong 2 and 28, which is known as the red-light district, said lawyer Lie Chin Chin of Lie Kee Pong Partnership and Ms Angeline Lim, senior marketing director of realtor ERA.

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29 July 2006

Singapore Says No

As we know, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are soon coming to town for their annual meeting.

The IMF oversees the global financial system and aims to maintain financial stability, facilitate international trade and promote sustainable economic growth. The World Bank lends money to countries for purposes of economic development and poverty reduction, and aims to encourage international investment.

They have their fair share of critics. For example, the World Bank is often said to undermines the national sovereignty of recipient countries through various programs that pursue economic liberalization and de-emphasize the role of the state. Another criticism is that the World Bank is under the heavy political influence of countries such as the US which use the World Bank to advance their own interests.

Demonstrations and protests are therefore a regular feature at World Bank/IMF conferences. However, demonstrations and protests are definitely not a regular feature in Singapore, where the gathering of even five persons can constitute an "unlawful assembly" under the law.

So what's going to happen in September?
ST July 29, 2006
No outdoor demos for World Bank, IMF meets, say police
But those who want to engage the two organisations can do so in secure, private area at Suntec City

By Tanya Fong

OUTDOOR demonstrations and processions will not be allowed during September's International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings, the police said yesterday.

But in keeping with the tradition of these meetings, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who want to engage the two organisations will be allowed to do so, but only in a private, secured area set aside for them at the Suntec City venue.

Issuing their public order guidelines for the meetings yesterday, the police said demonstrations are already banned by Singapore law, which cannot be changed to accommodate the meeting.

Securing the country against terrorist attacks and protecting residents, conference delegates and visitors, they said, must take priority.

Singapore Police Force chief-of-staff, Senior Assistant Commissioner Soh Wai Wah, said: 'We are talking about a high security period, and we do not want to create opportunities terrorists can exploit, which can then compromise our security.

'The threat of a terrorist incident is a real one, and requires Singapore to take all necessary and effective measures to safeguard the meeting.'

That means accredited CSOs will only be permitted to express their views inside the convention venue, in a special area on Level 1 of the Suntec Convention Centre. Even then, they must stick to the police rules, which include bans on wooden or metal poles to hold up placards.
Little in the above excerpt will surprise any Singaporean, who would be well aware of the government's strict stance on law-&-order issues.

The "terrorist" argument is a minor new twist, and a clever one to make the Singapore government's stance more palatable to foreigners. Of course, Singaporeans know that even if 9/11 had never happened at all and terrorism is not a global threat today, the Singapore government will still find some other reason to disallow IMF/World Bank demonstrations here.

The next part of the article will however surprise some Singaporeans:
Last night, in response to queries from The Straits Times, the World Bank's Singapore representative, Mr Peter Stephens, indicated that the global body might want to explore alternative arrangements with the Government.

'While we recognise the desire of the Government to provide space for civil society within the conference precinct, we believe that other options could give civil society representatives more space and more opportunity to express their views, without violating Singapore laws,' Mr Stephens wrote.

'Effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that their Annual Meetings are a success'.
The concept will be rather radical to many Singaporeans. Here is a World Bank representative saying that he wants to see anti-World Bank protests take place. Why? Because he thinks that "effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that World Bank/IMF meetings are a success".

In contrast, imagine the Minister for Home Affairs saying that these four little SDP protestors should be allowed to stage a peaceful protest in Robinson Road because "effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring the accountability of Singapore's public institutions".

Gasp. Civil society? And voices? No, we can't imagine it. Not even jokes are allowed in Singapore. The whole idea is as inconceivable as the PAP admitting that more Opposition MPs in Parliament might be key to ensuring that new government policies are properly scrutinised, debated and discussed before implementation.
Singapore will host the event between Sept 12 and 20 at the Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre in Suntec City.

About 16,000 foreign delegates from 184 countries are expected to turn up for the event.

The entire police force will be mobilised to secure the area, and an additional 23,000 Police National Servicemen will be on stand-by.

A round-the-clock police ground presence will be enhanced by aerial surveillance by the Ministry of Defence. Stringent checks will be made at all immigration checkpoints.

Said SAC Soh: 'We work with agencies all over the world and we will be ready to handle any troublemakers who come to Singapore.'
In other countries, such people are called "activists". They may campaign for a wide variety of different reasons. For example, to end wars. To promote women's rights. To save the rainforests. For greater transparency in public institutions. Or against human rights abuses and the torture of Iraqi prisoners-of-war.


In Singapore, they're just known generically as "troublemakers".

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Past Musings: Possible Ways To Hold A Legal Demonstration in Singapore Without A Licence

27 July 2006

The Mass Influence of Good, Bad & Ugly Bloggers

I left a long comment on a Singapore Angle post. I decided to post the comment here as well:

In all these discussions about whether to "educate or legislate", one point of great practical significance keeps getting forgotten -

99.99% of the blogs in the universe hardly have any readers at all.

When I start a blog, it is theoretically correct to say that the whole world can read it. In reality, hardly anyone will read it unless I put significant effort into getting it read. A blogger (and/or his blog) needs to have considerable amounts of at least three or four of the following attributes:

1. dedication & diligence
2. writing skills
3. marketing instincts
4. a colourful, striking or otherwise entertaining personality
5. unusual talent
6. captivating life experiences
7. sex appeal or personal charisma
8. a sharp intuitive sense of readers' interests
9. a knack for attractive presentation
10. technological know-how with devices like RSS Feeds, Technorati, podcasts, Photoshop, pings, feedburners, YouTube, aggregators

... before he will be able to build and sustain a readership of any decent size at all.

My point is that I think much of Su-Lin's concerns are unwarranted. It is foolish to be excessively alarmed by the idea that large numbers of seditious, racist, severely confused or otherwise socially undesirable persons now have vast powers (via blogs) to afflict and infect the vulnerable minds of our hapless fellow citizens. Yes, anyone can blog, but most bloggers will hardly be read. Some bloggers will gain prominence, but if any of them gain prominence for undesirable elements such as racism, then their own prominence is their downfall and they will quickly be shut down.

Where a blogger (any blogger) does gain wide currency, the factors involved in his success are usually not at all easily replicable. Example - Mr Brown's bak chor mee podcast. Why was it so popular? It was very funny; very intelligent; very topical; very creative; and very accurate in reflecting the views of a very large number of Singaporeans.

Now, YOU go and try to write something on your blog that's:

(a) very funny;
(b) very intelligent;
(c) very topical;
(d) very creative; AND
(e) very accurate in reflecting the views of a very large number of Singaporeans.

... and I think you will see how difficult this is. Good luck to you!

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Oh Dear. I Feel Worried For PM Lee.

July 27, 2006
PAP wants 'hip, happening' image to click
with the young

Party's conservative style needs to be updated to get in sync with younger generation, says PM Lee

By Li Xueying

FROM 'conservative' and 'staid', to 'hip and happening': The People's Action Party (PAP) wants to update its style to connect better with younger Singaporeans.

Party secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong wants the PAP to 'get more in sync with the younger generations' culture and be on their wavelength'.

In an editorial in the latest issue of the PAP party organ Petir, he spelt out the challenge for the 52-year-old party: 'The party's style is conservative, even retro. But the values, perspectives and lifestyles of our young have moved on from those of our older generations, and will continue to change rapidly.'


So while the young had shown strong support for the PAP, more needs to be done to keep pace with them, he added.

He cited as an example the 'criticism' from his children, in their teens and 20s, after they all attended a PAP election rally.

On the way home, they told their 54-year-old father what they thought of the experience: 'Too staid, too logical, not 'lively' enough, not at all attractively presented to them'.

Said Mr Lee: 'I have heard the same criticism from other young people. It is not just our rallies, but the party's overall approach to putting our message out and involving our supporters in our activities.'

One 'great success' when the party connected with younger members was at the Young PAP's 20th anniversary rally in April, complete with balloon clappers and cheerleaders.

'But we need to do more,' he said. 'We have to build up more groups of active supporters who will contribute ideas and fight for our cause.'

Mr Lee has asked a team of new MPs, born after 1965 and called the P65 Team, to 'recommend ways to better connect with the young and to make fresh proposals for a more hip and happening PAP' ....
The man wants to be more "hip and happening". Gosh. This is the kind of line which I expect to hear from yesteryear's pop stars, like the Bee Gees or Barry Manilow. Or maybe even from the participants in Singapore Idol.

But I start to worry when I hear such a line coming from the Prime Minister of Singapore. And it terrifies me to hear PM Lee cite, as a positive example, a Young PAP's event with "balloon clappers and cheerleaders".

Behold - the future is in our pom poms.

The ST article tells us that the PAP wants to change from 'conservative' and 'staid', to 'hip and happening'. My goodness. Mr Lee, this is NOT quite the way to go.

Your party IS too "conservative" and "staid". But instead of striving to be "hip and happening", why don't you strive to be more "open & consultative"; "flexible & responsive"; or "innovative & dynamic".

The man has lost his way. He has really, really lost his way.

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26 July 2006

Goal Setting Principles for Practical Problem-Solving

In my previous post, we discussed an ST article on life coaching. Many people in Singapore would be somewhat suspicious of the life coaching concept. Some tools & techniques of "life coaching" can indeed seem quite strange, almost mystical in nature, and therefore difficult for the uninitiated to accept.

However, many other ideas routinely applied in the "life coaching" movement are very practical and commonsensical, and furthermore, potentially very effective (if only people would get in the habit of using them). In particular, I'd like to say a bit more about the principles of setting and achieving goals. Earlier, I wrote this:
Personal goal-setting and goal-achieving, by the way, has been refined to a fine art, in the universe of life coaching, self-help and self-improvement.

It comes with an extensive package of methodologies - for example, clarifying your values, having a personal mission statement, defining goals in a quantifiable way, creating a plan of action, establishing deadlines, taking action, monitoring progress, gathering resources, identifying roadblocks etc (but with variations, of course).
As I said, the methodologies come in different packagings. A basic framework could be something like this:

1. Identify the goal, write it down and know why you're setting it.
2. Break the goal into smaller sub-goals, each with a deadline.
3. List all the steps you need to take, in order to achieve each subgoal.
4. Identify the most important steps to be taken at each point in time.
5. Take action, focusing on the most important steps first.
6. Record your progress, review & adjust periodically.
7. When you run into a difficulty, treat its solution as a subgoal to be achieved, and repeat steps 3 to 6.

It is as simple as that. And of course, not as simple as that.

I think that the most common reason why people don't achieve their goals is that they stumble at Step 1. They may only have vague notions of what they really want to do, have or be. But when the notions are vague, they don't know what to do next or can't find the motivation, and so they never get going. And frankly, identifying what you really want is not at all such a simple thing.

Step 2 is the second-most common reason why people fail to achieve their goals. If you do not break down your goal (eg a goal to graduate with 1st Class Honours in 2009), the goal will seem very difficult and intimidating, and therefore you give up. Or it may seem very distant, so you do not even feel like trying.

But if you systematically break it down into smaller subgoals and then focus on the most important next step at each point in time, the goal becomes much more manageable. For example, the immediate subgoal may be to do well in next week's test. If you break it down further, the next step may be nothing more than to concentrate on one chapter of your textbook tonight. Not so frightening or impossible or faraway, after all.

Finally, you don't need a perfect plan. You just need something to get you going. That's because as time goes on, things will happen and you'll be adjusting your plan (Step 6) anyway.

Sometimes, people refrain from setting big, ambitious, long-term goals (eg to become CFO of a large MNC in seven years' time) because the amount of sustained effort required over that period of time seems daunting. The usual "life coach" answer to that is - the time will pass anyway. In seven years' time, you'll (probably) still be alive, and kicking, and working somewhere. Since you'd still be working, you might as well aim to be working in whatever kind of job you consider to be "successful" or "satisying".

Oh, don't forget to have fun along the way.

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Life Coaching

Today the "Mind Your Body" section of the Straits Times has an article on life coaches. Before we look at it, let me introduce you to a Singaporean life coach who is also a blogger - click here.
ST July 26, 2006
When nothing's going right... see a life coach
He will help assess a client's values, set goals and empower the client to achieve them. Judith Tan finds out more about the rising popularity of this profession

Relationships gone awry. Career paths meandering beyond your control. Family falling apart.

These seem like fodder coming from Wisteria Lane which would make a great drama series on TV.

But when real relationships fail and real careers crash, many people call in a life coach.
I could be wrong, but I think that the above does not qualify as an accurate generic description of why people go to life coaches.

As I see it, life coachees fall into two broad categories. The ST article only describes one kind. The person has fallen into what most of us would agree is a rather sorry state of life (for example, there may be the failing love relationship; the awfully stressful career; the unhappy family etc). So he goes to a life coach for help.

In contrast, the 2nd kind of person who goes to a life coach does not appear to have any significant personal problem. On the contrary, he may appear to be doing well, perhaps very well, in life. This is the self-actualiser (or over-achiever, depending on your point of view) who goes to a life coach with the aim of doing even better in life and becoming utterly outstanding.
Life coaching is a relatively new approach to improving one's overall condition - be it in career, relationships or life in general.

Ms Katherine Warner, managing director of Triple E! (Asia), said life coaching is born out of sports coaching.

'It's very much about peak performance from within yourself. If you believe in what you can do, it will translate to what you can achieve. For example, take two tennis players who are at the same level of performance. The one who is all psyched up to win will be able to beat the other at the game,' Ms Warner, 35, a life coach, explained.

In sports, the goals are clear and the techniques to achieve them are learnt and practised. However, in life, things may not be as straightforward.

And unlike sports coaches, life coaches do not shout instructions from the sidelines on how to lead your life.

Another life coach Wendy Chua K. Wand, 35, said: 'Rather, we are like guides, offering advice on relationships, careers, and more. We provide a sounding board for people to voice their aspirations and clarify what their life goals are and how they can go about reaching them.'

This, according to Ms Chua, is made easier when the person you are telling your life goals to is a stranger who does not know you enough to judge you.

And this may be one reason why more people are seeking help from life coaches to build the confidence to change careers or repair relationships.

Ms Helena Paoli, 32, said a life coach needs to be intuitive enough to let the clients 'find the answer within themselves'.

'We must be able to activate the client's subconscious mind that the idea and motivation comes from the client. We coax it out of him in order to help him be motivated and engaged in wanting to make the changes,' she explained.
The very natural question that comes to most people's minds, when they first encounter the concept of "life coaching", is whether it's just a lot of hogwash. The next part of the ST article deals with that:

According to the Singapore chapter of the International Coach Federation website, there are 66 registered practising life coaches here, 'but there could be more - about 150', Ms Warner said.

And as its popularity grows, more and more people are asking what life coaching is. Is it another American new age fad, delivering yet another empty promise of helping people live better lives?

Take a look at what happened to the American trend of going to the shrink back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

'I can understand why some people think it is a fad. This is perhaps due to the fact that life coaching is a totally new concept in Asia. What is new is often viewed with a little scepticism,' Ms Warner said.

Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist with Gleneagles Medical Centre, said to dismiss life coaching as a fad would be a bit unfair.

'I think that people these days are more aware of the psychological and emotional issues they encounter at work, at home and in their personal lives - so life coaches are another avenue where people can get the help they need.

'My only concern is that life coaching, or counselling in general, remains an unregulated area. The only thing worse than getting no advice on a problem is getting bad advice,' he said.

But Ms Paoli says a life coach does not give advice. Rather, a qualified life coach helps a client to break down his goals so that he knows 'where and how to start taking those specific steps to ultimately achieve them'.
Personal goal-setting and goal-achieving, by the way, has been refined to a fine art, in the universe of life coaching, self-help and self-improvement.

It comes with an extensive package of methodologies - for example, clarifying your values, having a personal mission statement, defining goals in a quantifiable way, creating a plan of action, establishing deadlines, taking action, monitoring progress, gathering resources, identifying roadblocks etc (but with variations, of course).

Actually in the area of personal financial planning, you come across some very similar concepts (talk to your financial adviser, or click here, and you will see). If you engage a personal trainer from Planet Fitness or Fitness First, the fitness plan he draws up for you will contain similar concepts. Similarly the concepts emerge in many corporate organisations in different ways (for example, in project management, or employee appraisal, or sales targets).

So what we're looking at are some flexible, practical concepts which can be applied (with adaptations) in many areas. That includes personal areas, relating for instance to your love life, your career, your hobbies, your social life, your health, or whatever.
'Coaching in general is a way to be able to gain clarity, gain focus and achieve goals faster. Although you can do it yourself or with encouragement from a friend, a coach helps to align the strengths and motivation and allows a clear action plan,' she said.

According to Ms Chua, a life coach draws from a number of disciplines such as psychology, career counselling and social counselling. The life coach assesses the client's values, sets goals and helps make changes 'by simply asking the right questions'.

Life coaching often takes place over the course of several months, but some people see positive changes in their lives after just two sessions.

However, Ms Warner said people in search of life coaches should check their credentials as some do not have the right qualifications.


Why do we need life coaching now when grandma didn't need it then?

Life moves at a faster pace today. Goals constantly need to be set and changes made. There is also more stress and uncertainty.

According to Dr Wang, to be optimally effective, people need to manage their emotions 'and get rid of the psychological clutter dragging us down'.

'In the past, you had to see your pastor or your old uncle to get reasonable advice. But like science, psychology has progressed and we now know and understand better many of the issues that affect us emotionally and mentally. So you can get your answer from the pastor, doctor or psychiatrist, or even the life coach,' he said.

Ms Paoli added that it is easier for a person to reveal deep dark desires and goals to a life coach than to a friend or a loved one.

'We tend to think that friends or loved ones would have 'pre-notions' about us and when we reveal certain information, they would become judgmental,' she said.

Dr Wang said: 'I think people today have a lot more things to worry about than our grandparents. Grandma didn't have a Blackberry in her bag, a breakfast teleconference to attend, and a flight to catch in the evening, all while worrying who's sending the kids to phonics class later. Things were simpler and needs more basic then.'

So has the life coach become the secular answer to the pastor or religious teacher?

'Yes, in a way, because the key skill here is the ability to listen. However, that's where the similarity stops. When someone goes to see his pastor to have a discussion, he is still seeking advice and guidance. In a coaching relationship, the client is empowered to make the decisions. The coach will never advise but let the client find the answers from within and be there to assess progress and motivate them towards achieving success,' Ms Warner said.

To sum it all up, Ms Paoli said: 'Life coaching is as successful as the individual wants it to be.'

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23 July 2006

The MSM Grows Nervous

So the debate about blogs versus mainstream media (MSM) just goes on and on. The Straits Times yesterday published a long article on this topic - so lengthy that I'm reproducing it on a separate page. Blogger Bernard Leong had an insider's view on this article and he shares further thoughts here.

Mr Brown's recent saga sparked this latest article, which subtly injects a new angle. Reading the article carefully, we seem to discover that the local MSM is quite concerned about the Mr Brown saga too. Not so much for the man himself, but about the implications of this episode, for the future of MSM. Note the opening lines of the article:

If it's Internet chatter, it's okay. But because it was published in a mainstream newspaper, it's not. So said Minister Lee Boon Yang, explaining the Government's stiff response to a newspaper column by blogger mr brown.
Did you detect anything there? A weak cry of "Oh please, MICA .... you're not being fair to us journalists!", perhaps? Read the article for more sounds of faint protest. Some degree of mutedness is required because Bhavani has already forbidden local MSM from "championing issues" - and that surely includes the issue of MSM's own journalistic scope and freedom.

But of course the MSM is concerned. Singapore is already ranked 140th in the world for press freedom. SPH journalists must be regularly feeling embarrassed when they travel to international press events. Furthermore their coverage of GE 2006 did nothing to regain the trust of thinking Singaporeans. Retaining what credibility they still have is already an uphill struggle.

And now MICA has slapped them with the Bhavani commandments. So their scope for critical journalistic work is even further reduced.

Even worse for MSM, MICA has announced that while local MSM must obey the Bhavani commandments, bloggers need not. So effectively, the "alternative media" has advantages in the exact areas where local MSM is crippled.

Suppose for example that the PAP comes up with a new government policy which is seriously flawed. Bloggers such as Mr Wang, Molly Meek or Yawning Bread will be free to do research, study the policy, point out the problems and say, "Goodness, why is the PAP making such a terrible mistake?"

The MSM, however, cannot do that. Bhavani has spoken, and she has made it clear that journalists must not "undermine the Government's standing with the electorate". In other words, journalists cannot say that the PAP has gone wrong - even when the PAP has gone wrong.

And how long do you expect Singaporeans to trust newspapers like that? Far safer, and far more intelligent, to turn to "alternative media" to get an informed, reasoned view.

And that's why the local MSM is worried.

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Further Thoughts: Recently, Yawning Bread also overheard the MSM making some other strange noises to the Singapore government.

21 July 2006

P.E as an O-level Subject

ST July 21, 2006
Sports school is latest to offer PE at O levels
It joins Victoria in doing so, and both stress that the course is rigorous

By Maria Almenoar

YET another school will be offering physical education as an O-level subject to students.

Besides Victoria School, which announced this on Wednesday, the Singapore Sports School (SSS) has also received approval from the Education Ministry (MOE) to offer the subject.

Victoria School will incorporate O-level physical education modules into its Secondary 2 syllabus first next year and then in 2008, allow 40 Sec 3 students to take it.

Singapore Sports School, however, will let about 75 Sec 3 Express stream students and Sec 4 Normal (Academic) stream students start the curriculum from next year.

Both schools defended their move to offer this new subject, especially after concerns were raised that it was an 'easy way' for students to score at the O levels.

Said the principal of Victoria School, Mr Low Eng Teong: 'Our first step when looking to offer this subject was to check how rigorous the programme was.

'Looking at the topics covered and the 40 to 60 per cent weightage on theory and practical showed how intensive the subject was and how comparable it was to other subjects.'

One of the teachers in charge of the programme at the sports school, Mr Zachary Kang, agreed: 'A good athlete will not necessarily do well in this subject. For example, England and Arsenal football player Theo Walcott scored a C in PE. Students have to be balanced in physical activities and academic work.'

In Britain, physical education has been offered at the O levels for almost 40 years.

Under the theory component, students learn about anatomy, preventing sports injuries and the development of sports in different societies, among other things. They must also sit for a written examination. For the practical component, students must take on at least four 'speciality subjects'.

While the sports school has not decided on the sports yet, Victoria School is likely to offer students hockey, soccer, track and field and cross-country as speciality subjects.

Said Anuruddhan Arunan, 13, a Sec 1 student at Victoria School who is in its cross-country team: 'It's quite exciting knowing that I might be among the first students here doing PE at O levels.'

From this year, drama, economics and computer studies are the new O-level subjects being offered. MOE said schools have not asked to offer any other O-level subjects as yet.

I think this is a good move. I like seeing a wider range of possible subjects being open to Singapore's students at the O-level and A-level stages. This offers students more opportunities to study subjects for which they have a genuine interest or talent.

As the ST article points out, physical education has been offered in the UK at the O levels for almost 40 years. So doing P.E as an O-level subject isn't even a particularly novel idea.

Out of curiosity, I decided to find out what are all the subjects that Cambridge offers as examinable O-level subjects. Here's the list - wow, 58 subjects in total. (Strangely, Physical Education is not listed - not sure why).

Some O-level subjects which plausibly could be offered in Singapore but (to my knowledge) are not currently offered in our schools or are only offered very rarely would be:

Business Studies
Commercial Studies
Design and Technology
Environmental Management
Fashion and Fabrics
Food & Nutrition
Principles of Accounting
Travel & Tourism

Looking at this list, it suddenly occurs to me that this list of subjects which the vast majority of Singaporeans (two or three generations of them) never took at their O-levels may actually explain a lot about why Singapore is the way it is today.

For example, we lament that Singaporeans do not know how to appreciate the arts or express themselves artistically. But things may not have been this way if Music and/or Art were commonly taken by Singaporeans for their O-level exams.

We wonder why Singaporeans lack entrepreneurship. But quite possibly many, many Singaporeans today would be more entrepreneurial if, in their teenage years, they had studied subjects such as Business Studies, Commerce and Commercial Studies, which would have sparked an interest in at least some of the students.

We know that Singapore is kept clean only by the endlessly diligent efforts of our sweepers and cleaners, and that many Singaporeans still litter freely whenever they know or feel that they won't be spotted by the authorities. Perhaps if Environmental Management had been offered as a common O-level subject in our schools for the past 15 years, more Singaporeans would be voluntarily keeping Singapore clean.

And many Singaporeans are still so naive and unaware of how their society and their lives have been so heavily and mechanically engineered by the Powers That Be. Perhaps there would be greater consciousness today if Sociology had been a mainstream O-level subject for the past 15 years.

(Singabloodypore, by the way, is founded by a sociology academic).

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20 July 2006

Mr Wang is in the I.S Magazine


I just found out that I was mentioned in last week's I.S Magazine. That's the free magazine you can sometimes pick up at cafes, dental clinics and airport lounges - where else, I don't know. I.S Magazine was recommending Singapore blogs worth reading.

Under the "Clever & Witty" section, I.S recommended Mr Brown and Mr Miyagi. There was a brief allusion to Mr Brown's recent saga - "Now that we can no longer read former Today columnist Mr Brown in print, we need to go to his website to hear his satirical voice". Under the "Brain Juices" section, well, I.S Magazine said:
"For hefty intellectual analyses of local current issues, check out http://i-speak.blogdrive.com by a young Singaporean [Mr Wang's note - that's Gayle Goh]. The more than one-year-old blog http://commentarysingapore.blogspot.com offers opinions on home issues from a lawyer's perspective. Besides notes on law and the media, other interesting bits such as why spirituality ties in with business are also explored. http://singabloodypore.blogspot.com is a similar blog discussing what goes on here and beyond, mostly with news bits taken from various sources and multimedia presentations. Another blog to look out for is http://www.yawningbread.org. This blog provides its take on social issues, from the reality of bird flu and takes on sexuality to the soccer mania phenomenon."
I don't remember writing anything about why spirituality ties in with business. Hmmm. I.S Magazine probably meant this post of mine, about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But that wasn't the point of the post at all.

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Update: IS Magazine is online as well. The article is here.

Politicians' Blogs


I recently mentioned that Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono had started his own blog. The Jakarta Post tells us that observers are saying that "by engaging his detractors on the Internet, the Indonesian minister is presenting himself as an open person, willing to discuss issues he cares about."

Someone then pointed that at least one PAP MP (Teo Ho Pin) has a blog too. So I decided to visit both Juwono's and Ho Ping's blog, take a look and do a compare-&-contrast.

Here's a sample from Juwono's blog - part of his response to human rights groups' criticisms of the Indonesian military:
From the outset the Indonesian Defense Force has never had a decent budget to provide a security and defence service as part of the provision of a public good to enable an environment wherein development, stability and civil liberties can flourish. Since the mid-1950s, no Indonesian government has been able to provide the police and the defence force with an adequate budget to provide that public service.

The HRW June 2006 report is understandably unsympathetic to such realities, given that its framework and paradigm rests on the assumption of standards of “professionalism and transparency” taken for granted in developed countries. HRW Asia was also mindful that in the wake of the TNI’s exemplary role in the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of the post Tsunami in Aceh in 2004-2005 and the recent earthquake in Central Java, the TNI’s image at home and abroad had soared. The lifting of the US restriction of spare parts to the TNI also took the wind of the anti-Indonesian lobby in the US and Western Europe.

All in all, the content and tenor of the HRW 2006 report is both predictable and disappointing. When I served in London as ambassador, I had many meetings with NGOs and human rights activists (including HRW Asia) about the TNI, its role in the reform of political life in Indonesia. Including the divestment of the TNI’s businesses. The language and lexicon of most of the groups I met came right through a time warp of 1990-1998. They simply could not and would not accept the notion that the TNI was the pioneer of political reform, and none more so when under Lieut.General S.B. Yudhoyono during his tenure as TNI chief of territorial affairs in 1997-1998. Human rights groups also would not acknowledge the UN Human Rights Summit formulation in June 1993 that human rights constituted “civil, political, economic, social cultural rights in an integrated, inseparable and balanced manner”.

But then HRW thrives on focusing civil and political rights infringements because their bread and butter heavily relies on emphasising those infringements that are much more appealing, dramatic and headline grabbing. Besides, who would want to read about the TNI’s successes in separating sectarian groups from killing one another in Sulawesi or Ambon. What Congressman in the US or parliamentarian in Europe would care about a TNI soldiers toils in helping villagers build irrigation, shelters and wooden bridges in the boondocks of Borneo. No editor in the newsrooms of satellite TV or print media in the liberal press would dream of providing a favourable paragraph or two about the TNI. The TNI will remain whipping boy for many NGOs and western media for a long time to come.
Now, let's take a look at Ho Pin's blog. Three sample posts:
"Thank you. I am indeed very proud of the achievements of Zhenghua Primary School. The Principal, teachers, staff, and pupils have worked hard to provide a good learning environment for their students. The parents of their students have also played an active and important role in working closely with the school to help students achieve more in their learning. Zhenghua Primary is indeed a very good neighbourhood school. My best wishes to all!? Be the best, Beat the rest!"
-- Dr. Teo
The tender for Lift Upgrading Programme at your precinct has been closed and in the process of tender evaluation by HDB. The contract is expected to commence in the 3th quarter ( Jul-Sep) of this year and complete 24 months later.

Should you need any further clarifications please contact Lawrence Toh (Property Manager, Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council) at 64167953.

Dear resident

Thank you for your feedback on bus services 960,961 and 190. We would appreciate much if you could provide us with more details (during which hours of the day) so that we can further request TIBS to improve their services. Pls contact my Transport Committee Chairman, Mr Louis Tay at 96608266.

We will continue to improve the bus services in Bukit Panjang.

Dr Teo Ho Pin

To be fair to Ho Pin, he may have only been blogging with very municipal concerns in mind (and we DO need people to take care of our municipal concerns). But you can probably see why many thinking Singaporeans would be disappointed with the contents of Ho Pin's blog.

If you had hoped to read Ho Pin's views on the PAP's political vision for Singapore post-GE 2006 ... or to find out what policy issues Ho Pin intends to raise and debate in Parliament ... or read Ho Pin's analysis on the recently-released statistics about Singaporeans' household income ... or learn what he thinks are the key challenges for Singapore's fledging biomedical industry ... or get an inside look at how Parliament functions etc ....

well, you would be disappointed.

I'm kinda reminded of PAP MP Penny Low's blog (I think it has been deleted - I can't find it anymore - but there's a reference to it here). No insights into national matters, no discussion with the readers on the issues of the day, no analysis of any concerns of the Singaporean people.

I remember how Penny Low basically just blogged and blogged and blogged about her backpacking holidays in Europe about one decade ago. Might as well read Xiaxue - whose news about her own personal life is, at the very least, not coming one decade late.

Juwono's blog serves as a convenient contrast. Whatever your views may be about Indonesian and its military, Juwono is at least providing his personal insights and analysis on some important national (and international) issues - and the insights and analysis are based on his special position as Defence Minister and senior statesman. His blog indeed has a sense of engagement with its readers. No wonder Juwono gets accolades for his blog - and Ho Pin and Penny don't.

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18 July 2006

Indignation 2006

Singapore's cleverest blogger, Yawning Bread, who is also the nation's undisputed Photojournalist of the Year, just told me what he's been up to lately. He's been busily organising Singapore's gay pride season for 2006. Gasp, how could such shocking things happen in straitlaced Singapore?! I must publicise this. Click on the image below for further info:


Even more shockingly, they are not actually hosting any mass orgies or drug parties or sexual escapades with Singapore police officers. Instead there will be a series of serious-sounding public events like art exhibitions, discussion forums, literary readings and a book launch, mostly on the premises of Theatreworks.

Oh, even heterosexuals are welcome! What kind of wild gay sex party is this?! Where's the immorality?! Where's the shame!? This is just not right. I feel indignant already. They just don't seem unnatural enough to be punished with life imprisonment under section 377 of the Penal Code.
Adds Alex Au: “Nor do many Singaporeans realise that straight people too, e.g. Suchen Lim, one of our contributors, support the message that ignorance and discrimination is wrong.”

“Indignation is a broad tent. Everybody, straight and gay, is welcome to participate,” stressed Kelvin Wong. “And hopefully, people will realise that that party set do not typify the gay community.”

“The ultimate message of Indignation,” says Jean Chong, “is that lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and gays are part of Singapore life and members of our families, and we should be asking ourselves, why do we discriminate against our own?”

Agreeing, Miak Siew, who is curating an art exhibition, titled “Sama-sama”, says, “We want to reflect the dreams and aspirations of the gay community as part of Singapore.”
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Credit Cards for 18 And Below

This is a good idea for banks, but I don't think it is such a good idea for society. The better idea for society would have been to promote the use of debit cards among the below-21 crowd and the "need-to-travel-overseas-but-cannot-qualify-for-a-credit-card" crowd.

A debit card is linked directly to your savings account. You can use it at any Visa or Mastercard merchant, but you do not borrow from the bank. Instead the money is deducted from the funds you actually have in your savings account (like when you use your ATM card). So no interest is charged.

If your kid starts bugging you for a supplementary card, consider getting him to apply for a debit card instead. If he needs to travel overseas without you, you can then top up his savings account with extra money to make sure he doesn't run short of cash while he's still overseas.
Business Times - 18 Jul 2006
Credit card privileges for teens in the pipeline

Changes follow amendments made to Banking Act


(SINGAPORE) Teenagers as young as 18 may soon fuel the next phase of credit card growth.

Banks are now issuing supplementary credit cards to those aged 18 and over - down from the previous minimum age of 21.

Also, banks are now issuing supplementary cards to persons regardless of age for purposes of overseas travel and not just overseas study. Users of supplementary cards can spend, with the bills going to the main account-holder.

In line with recently revised regulations by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), banks have made changes to guidelines on issuing cards and they are looking forward to good demand for supplementary cards from this new group of users. The revised guidelines allow banks to reach out to a previously untapped customer base.


An MAS spokesman told BT: 'MAS recognises that credit cards are used increasingly as a means of payment, particularly when travelling overseas. As part of our ongoing review of regulations, we amended the rules on supplementary credit card issuance to allow these cards to be issued to individuals aged 18 years and above, or for the purposes of overseas travel.

'The aggregate amount of credit granted to the principal and supplementary cardholders remains capped at twice the principal cardholder's monthly income.' Banks will be careful when it comes to issuing supplementary credit cards to young people and they want young customers to be prudent in the use of their credit cards.

For those below 18, 'cards will be issued strictly based on needs', said a spokeswoman for DBS Bank, adding: 'We will be reviewing each application on a case-by-case basis.'
Another question occurs to me. Suppose I do not qualify for a credit card but my Daddy does. He could apply for a supplementary card for me and claim that I intend to travel overseas. How could the bank know whether this is true or not?

Having obtained the card, I could then proceed to use it in Singapore (or for that matter, overseas). I doubt if the banks are required to, or have the technological capability, to issue credit cards that cannot be used in Singapore but can be used overseas. And do you think that banks would really cancel your credit card if they check and find out later that you mostly use it in Singapore and had never, or had only occasionally, travelled out of Singapore? Possible, but I doubt it.

Effectively there may be a loophole here whereby people who don't earn enough to qualify for a credit card under Singapore's rules will still be able to get a credit card just by claiming (whether honestly or otherwise) that they need it for the purpose of travelling overseas. All they need is a parent or spouse (or possibly a boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend) to collude with them in that relatively simple lie.

On Deterrent Sentences

ST July 18, 2006
Deterrent sentence need not mean long jail term

By Crime Correspondent, K.C. Vijayan

A HIGH Court judge has made a case for shorter, rather than longer, deterrent jail terms for offenders who are unlikely to offend again.

Justice V.K. Rajah made the point when he explained the grounds for his decision to cut the jail term of businessman Tan Kay Beng, 41, from 33 months to three months plus a $1,000 fine for theft and criminal intimidation.

Tan, who has a small business in traditional Chinese religious paraphernalia, was convicted of theft and criminal intimidation last December.

District Judge Roy Neighbour dealt him 12 months for the theft and 21 months for criminal intimidation, with the two sentences to run concurrently.

[Mr Wang's note: Trust the Straits Times to mess this up. 12 + 21 = 33. The sentences run CONSECUTIVELY. not CONCURRENTLY]

The case gained added notice when it became the first criminal appeal from the district court since Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong took office in April. But it was inappropriate for CJ Chan to hear the appeal because he was the Attorney-General at the time the case was prosecuted in the district court.

Justice Rajah acknowledged that while a jail term was 'clearly and undeniably' justified, it had to be meted in such a way as to be fair to the man and to take public interest into account.

He said Tan was not likely to return to criminal activity, given that he was a happily married family man running a small business that depended on his physical presence and know-how.

The judge added: 'The public does not need to be protected from him. His conduct should be denounced without destroying his business and family life. He should be given an opportunity to pick up the pieces.'

Justice Rajah added that the courts should not use deterrence to justify long jail terms when dealing with those unlikely to become repeat offenders, unless there was a clear and compelling need.

He noted that even the public prosecutor had not defended or justified the one-year jail term for theft when it came up for appeal; he had in fact said the term would have been more apt for criminal intimidation.

Instead of a jail term for theft, Justice Rajah imposed a $1,000 fine, and the jail time for criminal intimidation was cut to three months.

The judge ruled that the district judge had 'paid little heed' to the sentencing guidelines in a 'misguided attempt to impose severely deterrent sentences on Tan'.

Association of Criminal Lawyers president Subhas Anandan, contacted yesterday, lauded the High Court's approach in the case. He said: 'They are saying deterrence is not the same or does not mean a longer jail term. You can achieve the same with a shorter term but it must be linked to the circumstances of the case, the background and character of the offender.'

We don't know what Kay Beng stole and how he stole it, but DJ Roy Neighbour seems to have gone really wrong here. VK Rajah describes Roy Neighbour's sentencing as "misguided", which is a very strong word for one judge to use on another judge. Normally an appellate judge would just say something vague and polite like "My dear Honorable Brother Seems to Have Erred Somewhat".

The DPP even refused to defend the appeal (in other words, he showed up in court, said "Hi" to everyone and then told the judge, "That's all I have to say"). This shows that the DPP thinks that Roy Neighbour's sentencing was very misguided too. The DPP felt that the accused really deserved a lighter sentence and so decided, in the appellate court, to do a "kelong" by shutting up and saying nothing.

"Oh, it's okay. I don't mind."

The reduction in sentence speaks for itself - from 33 months in jail down to $1,000 fine and 3 months in jail. A huge reduction. It is probably fair to say that VK Rajah thinks that Roy Neighbour is, ummmm, not so very clever.

This case does seem to represent an interesting new development in the law, but it also seems to me that the Straits Times has done a very bad job at explaining. But first, let me explain what deterrent sentences are all about.

In criminal jurisprudence, there are two kinds of deterrence. One is called specific deterrence and the other is called general deterrence. To achieve either effect, you impose an extra-heavy sentence.

Specific deterrence is to deter a particular person from committing an offence again. This is relevant especially in cases where the person is a recalcitrant repeat offender - for example, he has already had several previous convictions for the same kind of offence.

General deterrence is to send a message to the general public that a particular kind of crime is viewed as very wrong and thereby deter would-be offenders from committing such crimes. This can be relevant where crime rates for a particular offence are on the rise, or if the public needs to be made aware of the seriousness of a "new" kind of crime (for example, computer hacking or collecting fees for sham marriages).

Now a judge can impose a deterrent sentence with specific deterrence in mind, or general deterrence in mind, or both in mind at the same time. It all depends on the facts of the case.

An example of the kind of case where specific deterrence might be relevant but general deterrence would be irrelevant is where the offender repeatedly commits a particular kind of fairly uncommon crime which others would not (for example, he repeatedly pees in inappropriate public places).

An example of the kind of case where general deterrence might be relevant but specific deterrence would be irrelevant is a case where a housewife leaves a flower pot on her high-rise balcony, the pot drops down due to strong wind, and it smashes someone's head down below. The housewife, duly traumatised, will probably avoid leaving things on her balcony for the rest of her life. But the judge might impose a general deterrent sentence anyway to educate the rest of Singapore about the dangers of such behaviour.

Now, back to the case. What's the new development? In the first sentence of the article, the Straits Times explains it as follows:

A HIGH Court judge has made a case for shorter, rather than longer, deterrent jail terms for offenders who are unlikely to offend again.
This is a poor, and wrong explanation. VK Rajah does not think that shorter, deterrent sentences are more appropriate under certain circumstances. That's because relative to the seriousness of the crime, a short sentence has no deterrent value (whether specific or general). So the Straits Times sentence does not even make any sense. In fact the title of the article is also misguided - "Deterrent sentence need not mean long jail term".

The really relevant part of VK Rajah's judgment is this:
The judge added: 'The public does not need to be protected from him. His conduct should be denounced without destroying his business and family life. He should be given an opportunity to pick up the pieces.'

Justice Rajah added that the courts should not use deterrence to justify long jail terms when dealing with those unlikely to become repeat offenders, unless there was a clear and compelling need.
What VK Rajah is really saying to Roy Neighbour is this:

"If for the sake of general deterrence you want to make an example out of somebody, please pick your somebody carefully. Be fair - don't impose a massively heavy sentence on a Relatively Okay Guy like Tan Kay Beng just for the sake of sending a message to the public.

Wait for another case, for a Really, Really Bad Guy to show up, before you impose a heavy sentence for the sake of general deterrence."

Or to put it another way, VK Rajah simply did not agree that Tan Kay Beng should get a general deterrent sentence.

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16 July 2006

Expanding Visions


So let me tell you a few things about myself. I am a very systematic, methodical person. I am patient. I don't like surprises. I like balance. I like positive change. Not in huge, sudden steps, but in small, steady doses. Take my life, for instance. In my personal journals (offline), I divide it into seven main areas:
    Family / Career / Spiritual / Finances
    Health / Hobbies / Social Contribution
and within each category, I have goals, philosophies, little mission statements, sub-goals, action plans, progress logs and so on. Even the occasional poem, picture or quotable quote, to amuse or inspire myself. And I am doing something (even if it's only a little something) towards all of my goals, every week.

Why am I telling you this today? Well, I wanted to tell you where this blog (Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma) is located in the overall picture of my life. No, it does not fall under Hobbies. It falls under Social Contribution. I see this blog - the expression of my thoughts & views on issues in Singapore - as my contribution to society.

Some will say: "Bah, Mr Wang, you grossly overestimate the significance of blogging. It's mostly hot air and it changes nothing. Why don't you volunteer your time or donate money to charity instead?"

To which I could smugly reply: "I do, you duffer. That's my Action Plan 2(A) and Goal 3.2 under Social Contribution of my Life Planning Journal." Which is true. But it is also an overly- convenient reply which skirts around the question of what this blog, and other serious blogs, can contribute to society.

Fortunately, Cobalt Paladin has blogged his thoughts on that more-difficult question, thus saving me the trouble. (By the way, I found his post via The Intelligent Singaporean, a site which you must surely add to your blogroll). Anyway, excerpts from Cobalt Paladin's post:
We need to continue to engage the growing population who are going online. We need to encourage them to have independent thinking. Let the people think for themselves. Let the Internet present an alternative source of information to the mainstream media. The people has become more sophisticated. We want to be engaged. Nobody wants to be opinion leaders. We just want our views to be heard, argued, debated etc. We want to be part of a REAL inclusive society, not in theory but in REALITY. Yes, it may take a lot of effort for the government to engage the citizens but that is the changing face brought by globalisation, ignore that, the world will pass you by.


Forget about "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.". Nobody should be afraid of anyone. We want a genuine inclusive and consultative society, so no one should be afraid of anyone.

If we force our views and opinions onto anyone, we are no different and we become them. So we should just present our views in a peaceful manner, engage the people to think for themselves. We are not looking for revolt; we are not looking for matyrs. We are looking for the betterment of our country and society.

But change takes time. Be patient. I'm a Singaporean. I'll stay and do my part.

See? I'm not the only weirdo around who thinks that blogging can effect positive change. And so, finally, I come to the purpose of my present post. I am assuming that you personally hold at least some version of the vision of Cobalt Paladin and my own - that individual bloggers on the Internet can make a difference and effect positive changes in our society. And I am further assuming that you want to be a part of that vision. So I will share with you some ideas on how to do that.

1. Blog. Do it regularly. Expand beyond personal trivia (that is, not just about what you ate for lunch). Write especially on your areas of expertise, the topics on which you particularly have experience, knowledge or insight. Be sharply aware that you DO have such areas of expertise.

2. Build a readership. Get noticed. Your blog is useless if no one reads it. Ping yourself to a wider audience. If you've written something intelligent, email The Intelligent Singaporean and let the editor know. Get yourself Tomorrow'd. Also, go to more-popular blogs, leave comments & links and get yourself noticed.

3. When you come across other worthy blogs or posts, tell others about it. How? Blogroll the worthy blogs. Hyperlink to worthy posts. A lot of the potential power of the blogosphere lies in the power of hyperlinking. Bloggers grow when they help each other to grow. Remember the vision. It's not just about you.

4. In the blogosphere, be a discussion. Don't be a monologue. If you want to write about Event X, don't just write about Event X. Do a bit of research first. Find out what other bloggers are already writing about Event X - what their views and opinions are. Then add your own personal views; say why you agree or why you disagree; expand on their points; offer relevant data or information; ask questions. Blogging is a community.

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15 July 2006

Even Indonesia Has Got The Idea. How Backward Singapore is.

ST July 15, 2006
Minister engages citizens on blog

INDONESIAN Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono has started his own weblog.

Mr Juwono, who received his doctoral degree from London School of Economics, made his first posting in May on www.juwonosudarsono.com.

He wrote about the birth of his granddaughter Vanya on May 25.

The blog, run by one of Mr Juwono's two sons, is creating a buzz in Indonesia and many bloggers, mostly young people, have lauded his weblog, reported the Jakarta Post.

Personal notes aside, Mr Juwono has also posted a note titled Military Businesses And The Reform Process. In it, he rebuts the Human Rights Watch report, issued last month, on the human price of the Indonesian military's economic activities.

Observers say that by engaging his detractors on the Internet, the Indonesian minister is presenting himself as an open person, willing to discuss issues he cares about. -- JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Well, if Singapore ministers started blogging, I know what would happen. On a typical morning, Lee Boon Yang would sit at his computer, read the comments on his blog and say:
    "Okay, let's see. HEY! That's a non-constructive, cynical comment by Gayle Goh. That's not allowed. [presses Delete]. Look over there, Mr Brown made another funny comment! Terrible ... [presses Delete] Next comment by Yawning Bread, hmmm, he's championing an issue [presses Delete]. Here's Mr Wang highlighting another problem, but where's his solution? [presses Delete]. And this Xenoboy talking about PAP again, obviously a partisan player [presses Delete].

    Hey, Bhavani .... I got an idea. Why don't I just disable the Comments function?"


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14 July 2006

Why You Should Not Abuse Your Husband

Because he might kill you, that's why.

ST July 14, 2006
Prosecution appeals against jail term
By Chong Chee Kin

CONVICTED killer Lim Ah Seng does not know it yet, but the prosecution has appealed against his 2 1/2 year jail term for killing his wife.

Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon last week convicted Lim, 37, of culpable homicide.

The sentence fell short of what the prosecution sought for Lim - about 4 1/2 years.

On Wednesday, the prosecution filed an appeal with the Court of Appeal.

Confirming the development yesterday, Lim's lawyer, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, told The Straits Times he was not surprised that the prosecution has appealed.

His client, who appeared overjoyed when he was given the sentence last week, has yet to be told about it.

He is now in Queenstown Remand Prison serving his sentence, which was backdated to Oct 25 last year, when he was first arrested.

Mr Sudheesan, from Harry Elias Partnership, said he will speak to Lim's family and visit his client tomorrow.

He said the family cannot afford a lawyer for the next round of hearings, so he will probably do it pro bono, but 'in any case, we will defend him vigorously'.

In sentencing Lim last week, the judge noted the 'unique' facts in the case.

Lim had lived in fear of being beaten by his wife, Madam Riana Agustina, who once hit him so hard he became deaf in one ear. She also beat their two children so badly, child welfare officials had to step in.

On the night he killed her, she had threatened to report him for rape after having sex with him. That night, she attacked him repeatedly and threatened to stab him to death.

The judge said: 'His wife had initiated and pursued a course of action all through which the accused had been at the receiving end, until he finally snapped.'

The judge also noted that Lim had shown 'uncommon meekness' in the way he dealt with the abuse by his wife.

After she died, he contemplated suicide and 'unreservedly accepted responsibility from the outset'.

The hearing for the appeal before the Court of Appeal is likely to take place in late September.

This is quite an interesting case, from the psychologist's perspective. This man, Lim Ah Seng, is probably suffering from a certain recognised psychological condition which is a sub-category of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is the general name for the psychological disorder often suffered by rape victims, war veterans and survivors of traumatic experiences such as terrorist attacks, tsunamis or other natural disasters.

Anyway, Lim Ah Seng's psychological condition (the PTSD sub-category I mentioned) is commonly known as the Battered Wife's Syndrome. The reason for the name is that in a male-female relationship, it is usually the woman who gets it, not the man. But in Lim Ah Seng's case, it is the man, Lim Ah Seng, who gets it. That's really quite rare. Wikipedia's description of the syndrome:
    "... a reference to any person who, because of constant and severe domestic violence usually involving physical abuse by a partner, becomes depressed and unable to take any independent action that would allow him or her to escape the abuse. The condition explains why abused people often do not seek assistance from others, fight their abuser, or leave the abusive situation. Sufferers have low self-esteem, and often believe that the abuse is their fault. Such persons usually refuse to press charges against their abuser, and refuse all offers of help, often becoming aggressive or abusive to others who attempt to offer assistance."
What happens next is that the victim, although docile, passive and weak all along, suddenly loses his or her inhibition, retaliates in extremely violent fashion and kills the abuser. Just as Lim Ah Seng suddenly kills his abusive wife Madam Riana Agustina.

The question is whether the fact that the offender had Battered Wife's Syndrome should excuse him from the offence. In most jurisdictions, it doesn't lead to a full acquittal but may reduce a murder charge to "manslaughter" (as in Lim Ah Seng's case). It may also serve as a mitigating factor in sentencing (that is, the judge may take it into account, and accordingly impose a lighter sentence).

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If you are a victim of domestic violence, click here now.
If you are an abuser, you need professional help too. Click here.

Seditious Cartoons

There's a newspaper article today about a Singaporean historian & teacher, Lim Cheng Tju, whose research area is political cartoons.
July 14, 2006
Where are the political cartoons today?

.... Mr Lim has met and interviewed about 10 other local political cartoonists and woodcut artists of the 1950s and 1960s, who used their pen - or chisel - to depict anti-colonial or anti-Japanese mood of their times.

Their influence on public opinion at the time can never be measured, but Mr Lim says: 'I want to give them a voice. They are important because they are also part of the Singapore story. But like many others, they are forgotten because history tends to focus on big men.'

This is his way of layering the Singapore story, says Mr Lim, who has been researching, and writing and presenting papers on post-war political cartoons and woodcut prints for the past six years.

Building on his master's thesis on political cartoons published in local Chinese-language newspapers from 1907 to 1980, he has gone on to become an authority on the cartoons and prints of the turbulent 1950s and 1960s.


And there are lessons to be drawn even from the small slice of the past he has captured through his own work, says Mr Lim.

He notes that in the 1950s and early 1960s, politicians such as Singapore's first chief minister David Marshall were caricatured in the press.

And a Straits Times cartoon dated June 6, 1959, shows the first Cabinet and People's Action Party's old guard, including Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam depicted as footballers standing in front of the goal posts, aiming for 'national language', 'equality' and 'stronger unions'.

Says Mr Lim: 'We don't really see that these days. But maybe it is okay to laugh at ourselves. We did that in the past.'

Where are all the political cartoons today? RJC history teacher Lim Cheng Tju may not know, but I do. They're in the blogosphere, of course. Examples are here, here and here.

Of course, you won't find them in the mainstream media. You've heard of the Bhavani Commandments, haven't you.

"Eh, Lim Cheng Tju. Remember -
prison got no broadband."

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The Government's Money Matters

The Business Times tells us that Singaporeans are now donating less money to charity, post-NKF saga.
Business Times - 14 Jul 2006
S'poreans giving less money, more time to charities


(SINGAPORE) When it comes to charitable giving, Singaporeans are getting tighter with their money but freer with their time, according to the latest survey results released by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

Released on Tuesday, the NVPC figures show that the total donation figure from individual giving was $341 million in 2006, or $125 per donor.

This is a plunge compared to the average donation of $155 per donor, and the total giving of $438 million two years ago when it last conducted the survey.

BT had earlier highlighted individual donor fatigue despite record donations of over $600 million last year.

According to the report, Singaporeans' generosity started to wane following the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal and the outpouring of money at the time of the Asian tsunami at the end of 2004.

In a separate Business Times article (also published today), we see why this might be a good idea.
Business Times - 14 Jul 2006
Lapses in govt finances show up in AG report


MORE than five years later, $474,092 of donations made to the Alexandra and Woodbridge Hospitals before they were corporatised is still in the hands of the Ministry of Health.

The ministry's explanation for not handing the money over? It was not aware that it had to obtain an order under the Charities Act before the restructured hospitals could use the funds - an order requiring the approval of the Commissioner of Charities and the Attorney-General.

AG Chuang Kwong Yong points out in his latest report on the public sector's accounts for FY 2005/06 that after the Health Ministry was told of the necessary procedure in January 2002, it took more than a year before it applied for the order in January 2004.

And plans for use of the donations were finalised and sent to the Commissioner of Charities only in February this year.

'According to the ministry, it was a long-drawn process requiring many rounds of queries and clarifications between the ministry, hospitals, the AG and the Commissioner of Charities,' the AG's report says.
However, it appears that the Singapore government can be slow and inefficient in handling not just charitable donations, but public money in general:
But disbursing the donations was not the only undue delay on the part of the Health Ministry. The ministry has yet to seek reimbursement of $37.8 million it spent on development projects for certain restructured healthcare institutions, even though the projects were completed between 2000 and 2003.

Other cases of undue delays that came to light after recent audit test checks by the AG were found in the Supreme Court, the Law Ministry and Trade and Industry Ministry.

Some 61 cheques for $8,076 issued by the Supreme Court between Dec 2, 1995 and May 8, 2000 were not presented to the bank. 'As at March 31, 2006, these cheques had already expired for between six and 10 years and yet the accounting records were not adjusted to reverse the failed payment transactions,' the report says.

Other lapses include the loss of public money over, for instance, payment of music lessons for children of overseas staff; revenue arrears; procurement irregularities; late payment to suppliers; and improper advance payments.

At the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the AG found that the ministry let an agent who is not a public officer sign the ministry's tenancy agreements on the government's behalf.

'Signing contracts on behalf of the government is a serious matter as it commits the government to specific obligations under the contracts and could have significant financial implications,' the report says.

And here is a classic example of civil-service stupidity:
A tenant of the Law Ministry defaulted on rent of $556,800.58 and there was no security deposit to make good at least part of the arrears - all because of 36 cents. When the tenant submited a cashier's order for $77,666.64, the exact amount for the deposit, to the Singapore Land Authority, it was returned to him because the computer system was designed only to accept payments rounded up to the nearest dollar. The SLA requested a fresh deposit of $77,667 but the tenant did not submit it.

'The authority acknowledged that it should have asked for a deposit of $77,667 in the first instance,' the report says. 'It also conceded that the shortfall of 36 cents should have been handled without returning the cashier's order to the tenant who had already taken possession of the state property.'
Because you wanted 36 extra cents from the man, you rejected his $77,667. Very clever indeed.


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13 July 2006

TODAY's first & last word on Mr Brown's Case.

It's surreal ... The way this article on Mr Brown's saga appears one week late in TODAY, recites the facts in highly condensed fashion and diligently avoids any semblance of an opinion ... as if the TODAY editors themselves were not at the very heart of the story.

If I didn't tell you that this is a TODAY article, you might have thought that it was from some other newspaper that was clueless in its reporting, unable to uncover any real facts and just cutting and pasting from already-existing reports about ex-TODAY columnist Mr Brown.

This is the nation-building press that Ms K Bhavani wants you to trust. The same press that Ms Bhavani says is supposed to provide "opinions with higher standards" and "constructive criticism".

We're in the Matrix. Any moment now, Lee Kuan Yew will materialise out of thin air and accuse Mr Brown of being a member of the bak-chor-mee-loving radical English-educated young.

Run fast, Mr Brown, run, head for the nearest telephone.

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Singaporeans, Retirement & Old Age

Ooh, I feel important now. The Institute of Policy Studies has just cited my blog in connection with HSBC's study on the global future of retirement. I'm told that IPS also provided a hyperlink to my blog in the latest issue of their e-newsletter.

Frankly it seems rather obvious to me that as the years go by, Singaporeans will tend to retire later and later. And that's because they will slowly but surely come to understand that they are living longer and longer. Life expectancies for Singaporeans have been slowly but steadily creeping upwards year after year.

My hope would be that over the next decade or so, the Singapore job market evolves such that employers become much more flexible in how they employ people (in terms of working days and hours etc).

For example, if you're a senior citizen, the thought of working full-time may be somewhat daunting or painful; you might not have the stamina or energy; and furthermore you may not even need the full-time pay. But you may actually like and do well in a job for which you only need to work, say, five half-days a week only, or three full days, or only on a project basis etc.

I can also imagine a future Singapore where many senior citizens are happy to be working. See, in your 20s to 50s, you probably work mainly for money, since you need it to pay your mortgage and raise your kids. As you grow older, those liabilities eventually come to an end, and you will also (hopefully) have accumulated a decent nest egg. Paradoxically, as a senior citizen, this frees you to work at jobs which you choose because you enjoy the work, and not merely because it pays you well.

Anyway, here is, in my opinion, Singapore's most inspiring senior citizen. She founded the Home for the Aged Sick in 1965 and she served as full-time Matron of the home until she was 85. Today she's 107 years old, she's still taking care of the old (you know, those poor folks 10, 20 or 30 years younger than herself), she recently helped orphans in Cambodia and she's also become an award-winning yoga teacher.

The remarkable Teresa Hsu.

This makes you think twice about the meaning of old, doesn't it?

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