31 October 2006

Advance Medical Directive

An interesting interview with a doctor who has signed an Advance Medical Directive. It's basically Singapore's form of legalised euthanasia, although you can be sure that Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan wouldn't like to hear the E word being used in this context.
Oct 30, 2006
Terminally ill? Doctor has 'no intention of lingering'
Dr Lee Wei Ling, director of the National Neuroscience Institute, tells The Straits Times why she was among the first to sign the Advance Medical Directive

Why did you sign the AMD?
I was among the first to submit the Advance Medical Directive (AMD) - which allows a patient to state in advance that he does not want to be sustained artificially should he become terminally ill and unconscious.

I have also convinced my parents to do so.

In case you didn't know, Wei Ling's parents are Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.

When I say I will carry on until I cannot carry on any more, I have no intention of lingering.

I have cheated death many times, and I came to a decision long ago that enabled me to remain optimistic day to day while hearing the ticking of the clock.

How have your life experiences shaped your decision?
As an avid hiker, I have had many hiking near misses. My medical and surgical near misses have been even more dramatic. I plan 10 years ahead knowing full well that I might not make it to tomorrow.

Everybody has a clock ticking. Some hear it and are bothered; others like me hear it and remind ourselves not to leave undone things we want to do, for there may be no tomorrow.

Others don't hear it and are not bothered until tragedy strikes them or someone close to them.

Some people feel that this topic is too morbid to address. What are your views?

We have no control over our birth, who we are born to, when we are born, where we are born.

But death is sometimes within our control.

My philosophy is that I control my own life, not someone else, not society, and to a certain extent not even disease or fate.

Knowing I have control gives me confidence to face tomorrow or the next moment.

This is not morbid thinking. I am not depressed or suicidal.

But like a chess player, I have to think several steps ahead.

I take what comes, knowing it is not entirely within my control but not entirely out of my control either.

My dad, like Dr Lee Wei Ling, also signed an AMD years ago. My dad has told me not to tell my mum. My mum doesn't read my blog, so I guess it's ok for me to mention it here. :P

I've never seen Dr Lee Wei Ling but I've been told that she is quite obese. I've also learned that she had had a heart attack (or was it a stroke?), which is a little surprising, because she was quite young - not yet 45, I do believe - when that happened.

I respect her philosophy -
"My philosophy is that I control my own life, not someone else, not society, and to a certain extent not even disease or fate"
... but I wonder how well she manages to execute it. I mean, she was fat, and she had a heart attack (or stroke) in her early 40s, and she's a doctor. It seems that she didn't really have enough control over her life, to manage her body weight and other risk factors relating to cardiac infarction. She probably ate too much, exercised too little and worked too hard.

This post isn't meant to put down Lee Wei Ling in any way - think of it more as a reflection of general human weakness. Very often, we all do know what's best for ourselves. Whether we get around to doing it is another question altogether.

UPDATE (25 Nov 06): Major oops by Mr Wang! I've received word, from the doctor herself, that she isn't or wasn't fat, she is very fit & athletic and she didn't have a heart attack. She had a transient ischemic attack caused by a surgical complication which caused her platlets to rise to a very high level. Thus her condition had nothing to do with high cholesterol or atherosclerosis (in other words, it wasn't caused by an unhealthy diet or a lack of exercise).

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29 October 2006

Karmic Biscuits

I've just come back from a weekend getaway. I was somewhat surprised to see the large number of comments on my previous post, Mr Wang's Personal Trivia.

It may be apt to reiterate my basic point. Mr Wang is not specifically telling you whether you should or should not buy a car; employ a maid; live in a condo; get married; or have children.

Mr Wang is merely pointing out that there are many different possibilities in organising your life. And that the mainstream approach (whatever "mainstream" means to you) may not be optimal for you. That is all.

While there are many possible "good" ways to organise your life, there are also many "bad" ways. Then there are certain highly subjective aspects, dependent on your unique personality. Do respect yourself.

Also bear in mind that your circumstances - whatever they currently are - will change, and that the future is never completely certain. And therefore never completely predictable.

Uncertainty, in itself, is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It is simply the way life is. While uncertainty means that you may get a bad outcome in the future, it also means that you may get a good outcome, one that is better than you had expected or hoped for.

Thus you can see the game of life as one of managing risks and probabilities. For each potential course of action, you consider the potential outcomes, gains, losses, costs and trade-offs, and the probabilities of each of these actually occurring. Then you make your decisions, and you play.

You'll win some and you'll lose some. But if you consistently play well, chances are high that over time, you win a lot more than you lose. And the world has plenty of room for winners. It's not a zero-sum game.

The problem with many Singaporeans, as I see it, is that they don't even know what their game is about. They don't know what they're playing for. They just blindly follow what everyone else around them seems to be doing. They blindly aspire to what everyone else around them seems to be aspiring to.

You were born an original. Don't die a copy. Find your own path.

(And that applies to everything, not just maids, cars and houses).

26 October 2006

Mr Wang's Personal Trivia

Yesterday's ST Review section had two articles, each on a very Singaporean topic. The first article is about employing a maid:
ST Oct 25, 2006
The price of a good maid

By Newsdesk Reporter, Arlina Arshad

AFTER giving birth to twins in July this year, marketing executive Ng Su Ming, 35, decided to hire a maid. She wanted someone who could help look after the twins and another toddler when she went back to work.

Her husband consulted several agents and decided to engage one which charged an agency fee of $1,388, more than double the average.

Homemaker's director, Mr Alvin Kor, recommended Ms Lore Lee, 27, a mother of two who had worked with children in a Philippine hospital, and who had looked after triplets before.

Madam Ng said: 'The agent was very detailed and comprehensive, he went through everything with my husband for two hours. Other agents would just give you a one-liner and two pages of maids' biodata.'

She is pleased with her maid who is 'very good in childcare, has initiative and can read medicine labels'. Her maid's salary is $50 more than the market rate of $350 a month. 'It's OK to pay a bit more for a maid who is well-trained and can stay with you long-term,' she said.

Maid agents say good maids are available if Singaporeans are willing to pay higher salaries ....
The second article is on owning cars vs using public transport:
ST Oct 25, 2006
Getting more on board

ANY review of public transport usage will have to contend with one Singaporean immutable: the wish to own a car. For many it is a validation of success; some are attracted to the assumed social cachet. The mobility a car offers surprisingly is not thought to be the sole reason, as would be evident in cities with unreliable or patchy bus and rail services. But Singapore's transport system is reasonably good for a city of its population and compactness. A controlled rise in car ownership also happens to be a policy objective to fulfil citizen wants, subject naturally to the limitations of road-building capacity. Understanding why car use has outpaced bus-and-rail's rate of growth in the period since the last land transport policy study was done, in 1996, is in the circumstances less relevant than making public transport so efficient car-owning office workers would prefer it for the convenience. The family car would strictly be used for evening and weekend social purposes.
Everybody's circumstances are different. Anyway, I'll share mine. Personally I don't drive, but I do employ a maid. In fact, I am just about to employ a second maid. Considering that my domestic requirements are fairly average - two young kids, 5-room HDB flat - this may seem a bit of a luxury.

On the other hand, I don't own a car. And a car is a lot more expensive than a maid (or two). I believe that having two maids adds more to my quality of life than having a car, or for that matter, having one maid and one car.

It helps, of course, that years ago, I had deliberately decided to buy a flat very, very close to a NEL MRT station (then still under construction). Today, the line is up and running, and I can travel from my home to Plaza Singapura (Dhoby Ghaut MRT) or VivoCity (Harbourfront MRT), faster by train than I would be able, by car or taxi.

Another thing about the flat purchase. When we got married, my wife and I considered our housing options - to buy a condo; a HDB resale flat or a new HDB flat. We quickly dismissed the new HDB flat option, because it would mean living in some outlying area of Singapore (like Sengkang - where transport is a hassle).

We ultimately decided against a condo, because we wanted (1) to save money, and (2) to live either near my parents or hers, and there were no suitable condos in those locations, and (3) we knew we wanted kids, and therefore we wanted a bigger place, and the old HDB 5-rooms are considerably bigger than new HDB 5-room flats, and for that matter, bigger than most condos.

So we ended up with the HDB resale flat, which is near my parents' place (10 minutes' walking distance) and very, very near a NEL MRT station. As it turns out, I get to spend more time with my parents, and they with their grandkids, than would have been the case if my home was further away.

To "make up" for living in a HDB flat, we decided to get a country club membership so that we could use the facilities and "enjoy life". This was a rather silly mistake. We still have the membership today, but like most country club members (excluding the golf addicts), we hardly ever go. The novelty wears off quite quickly.

Around the time we were considering buying a flat, we heard that HDB was planning to corporatise, and we suspected that the HDB subsidised loan scheme would be ending. So we decided to take it up before it was really abolished (indeed it is now no longer available for new HDB flat buyers). We were one of the last batch of Singaporeans to get this kind of loan.

So we pay a fixed interest rate of 2.6%. It doesn't rise with the general market. It is pegged to be 0.1% more than whatever the prevailing CPF Ordinary Account interest rate is (that is, 2.5%). This wouldn't have been possible if we had bought a condo and taken a loan from a commercial bank. For these past three or four years, we have been totally unaffected by rising interest rates (unlike those of you who have an outstanding mortgage with Standard Chartered or DBS etc).

I can prepay, in part or in full, my kind of HDB loan at any time, without fees or penalties. But I have never prepaid. That's because instead of prepaying the loan where interest is chargeable at 2.5%, I would rather chuck my excess money (CPF or non-CPF) into investments (it is quite easy to get returns higher than 2.5%).

For example, I've chucked a lot of my excess CPF Ordinary Account money into the CPF Special Account. Instead of using that money to prepay a loan accruing interest at 2.5%, it makes more sense to put it into CPF Special Account where it earns interest at 4%, guaranteed by the triple-A rated Singapore government).

Back to maids. Why do I want two? After careful consideration, I realise that time is the most precious commodity for me and my wife. As lawyers, each of us earns quite a lot of money, considerably more than the average Singaporean. The money is comfortable. Time is what we lack. So instead of using money to buy material luxuries (like expensive holidays, designer furniture or branded goods), we plan to use money (the costs of employing two maids) to buy time.

If this works out the way I envisage - we will hardly ever spend any time on things like cooking, doing the laundry, buying groceries, mopping the floor, ironing, making the bed etc. It may not be fair to expect, or possible, for one maid to do all that well AND look after two young kids. But I think it is a fair expectation, if we employ TWO maids.

Thus when I come home after work, I expect to be able to spend 100% of my time in a quality way with my kids. Or on my personal projects. Same for my wife (except that she doesn't have any personal projects). If I alternate the maids' off days, there won't even be a Sunday where the household will be "maid-less".

Will I need two maids indefinitely? No. Only until the kids get older, and become more independent. That will be in a couple of years' time. Then we'll go back to one maid. And eventually, to no maid. We'll get part-time help then; like a cleaning lady who comes in twice a week to do the housework.

Some people think that doing your own housework is character-building and enriching. I can understand, even appreciate, that philosophy. I know a very wealthy & successful lawyer, a senior partner in Singapore's largest law firm, who thinks that way. He and his wife do all their own housework (and they have kids too). His wife had a car; he rode a motorbike. Bear in mind that he is the kind of person who could well afford two BMWs, or three.

In another way, he is rather unusual. For many years he had no credit card at all. He paid everything in cash - this is his psychological method of stopping himself from overspending. This approach has its pros and cons. This way you will avoid living on credit. On the other hand, if credit cards don't tempt you into overspending, then their usage is actually good, since you collect rebates and points for buying things that you would have bought anyway.

What is the purpose of my long, meandering post? Actually, it is quite simple. I certainly do not claim that my lifestyle decisions, or that senior partner's lifestyle decisions, are best for everybody (in fact, at the start, I already said that everybody's circumstances are different). What I wanted to do is demonstrate that actually, life in Singapore does offer a variety of options.

For example, you DON'T necessarily have to own a car. You DON'T necessarily have to live in a condo. You COULD possibly have a successful career, yet have kids - and quality time for them. You DON'T necessarily have to have a credit card. A country club membership COULD be a stupid idea.

Wow, I just dealt with all of the 5 C's.

Two more thoughts - you DON'T have to have a maid. Or you COULD possibly have two.

Don't be a cow. Drop that herd mentality. Think about how YOU want to live your life, and not how society seems to expect you to live your life.

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25 October 2006

Wee Shu Min, Globalisation, Singapore and America

I was reading this article about the now-infamous Wee Shu Min:
ST Oct 24, 2006
Teen blogger counselled for her 'elitist' remarks

By Ken Kwek

A TEENAGE blogger has found herself in the soup after comments she made in her online journal were criticised by many Internet users for being insensitive and elitist.

Raffles Junior College student Wee Shu Min, a daughter of MP Wee Siew Kim, sparked a heated debate on the Internet when she derided another blogger, Mr Derek Wee, for his views on the anxieties of Singapore workers.

Both Miss Wee's father and the principal of RJC told The Straits Times yesterday that she had been counselled for using insensitive language.

Miss Wee, a second-year student on RJC's Humanities Scholarship Programme, has since shut down her blog and apologised for her comments, though not directly to Mr Derek Wee.

Mr Wee, 35, a Singaporean who works for a multinational corporation, had written in his blog on Oct 12 that he was concerned about competition from foreign talent and the lack of job opportunities for older workers here.

He urged the Government to understand Singaporeans' plight.

Last Thursday, Miss Wee responded to him on her blog, calling him old and unmotivated and said he was overly reliant on the Government.

In dismissing his views, she wrote:

'Derek, Derek, Derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron rice bowl or a solid future if you cannot spell?

'There's no point in lambasting the Government for making our society one that is, I quote, 'far too survival of the fittest'... If uncertainty of success offends you so much, you will certainly be poor and miserable.'

She concluded by telling Mr Wee to 'get out of my elite uncaring face'

Her attack was criticised by hundreds of Internet users, who accused her of being elitist, naive and insensitive to the lives of Singaporeans from humbler backgrounds.

Though she has shut down her blog, her entry has been replicated on many websites and the issue is hotly debated.
In a curious way, this episode reminded me of a (much) more intelligent article I recently read. It's entitled America's Middle Class Has Become Globalization's Losers and is about how globalisation is hurting the lower and middle classes in the US. This excerpt provides a flavour :
Make no mistake about it: at the start of the new century, the United States is still a superpower. But it is a superpower that faces tough competition from outside and difficulties within. The feedback effects involved in globalization are especially intense for the US economy -- so much so that large parts of the US workforce are now standing with their backs against the wall.

The rise of Asia has only led to a relative decline of the US national economy. At least so far. But for many blue- and white-collar workers, this decline is already absolute because they have less of everything than they used to. They possess less money, they are shown less respect in society and their chances for climbing up the social ladder have deteriorated dramatically. They're the losers in the world war for wealth.
What struck me was the next part of the article:
But while that may be their fate, they cannot be faulted for it. And it's certainly not a private affair. Every nation has to face uncomfortable questions when an ever-larger part of its citizenry is delinked from the nation's overall wealth. This is all the more true of a society that has made the pursuit of happiness a fundamental right.
Why does the above strike me? Because it is so different from what I perceive Singapore to be.

When Singaporeans get hurt by globalisation (read: competition from India and China), all too often the signal I get from our government is - "That's YOUR problem. YOU lack skills. YOU need retraining. NO, you cannot have your *own* CPF money back. YOU are not competitive. YOU should accept lower pay. YOU are too fussy. YOU are to be blamed." Example here.

Which is really not that different in spirit, from this Wee Shu Min girl, is it.

In contrast, the article about the US asserts:
But while that may be their fate, they cannot be faulted for it. And it's certainly not a private affair.
In other words, the American worker may be displaced, but America knows that it is not his fault. And America knows that the American worker must not be left to die. America knows that the American worker needs help. The problem is serious, but it is not a private affair.

In Singapore, my sense is that the government is more likely to tell you: "Get out of my elite uncaring face". Not in those exact words, surely they would be more diplomatic, but the spirit of it would be largely the same. Yes?

If you need further confirmation, just read this further paragraph in the ST article, quoting PAP MP Wee Siew Kim (Shu Min's father). Emphasis mine.

Mr Wee Siew Kim said he stood by his daughter's 'basic point', but added: 'As a parent, I may not have inculcated the appropriate level of sensitivity, but she has learnt a lesson.

Then they wonder why so many Singaporeans want to emigrate, or don't like serving NS, or dare not have babies. Heheh.

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24 October 2006

Another Feather in the Cap For NUS

This one comes soon after its other achievement of being ranked as one of the world's top 20 universities. Some people may be skeptical, other people may be surprised, but in the past few years, the evidence is that NUS seems to be improving by leaps and bounds.

Of course there is still plenty of room for improvement. Among other things - in the way they select and admit their EMBA program applicants.
Business Times - 24 Oct 2006
NUS makes FT's top 30 EMBA list again

NUS Business School has made the Financial Times top 30 ranking of executive MBA programs for a second straight year.

NUS's Asia-Pacific Executive MBA in English and Chinese came 29th in the newspaper's 2006 ranking of the Top 85 EMBA programs, rising one place from 30th last year. The school's APEX program is also the only Asian program to make the FT's Top 85 list, NUS said.

The school performed extremely well in two of the sub-categories, emerging in the top five for 'International Attendees' and 'Top Salaries in IT/Telecommunications'.

Its 2003 EMBA cohort of 73 students, made up of nine nationalities, visited China, India, Taiwan and Vietnam in six intensive two-week segments to complete the 17-month course, and enjoyed a 47 per cent increase in post-graduation salary, NUS said.

There are 16 criteria in FT's survey, which considers 104 business schools around the world. These include: salary today, percentage of salary increase, career progress, work experience, aims achieved, female faculty, students and board, international faculty, students and board, international course experience, languages, and education and research rankings of faculty.

The ranking is based on data collected from two sets of questionnaires - one completed by the business schools and the other by alumni who graduated in 2003 and have been in the work force for three years.

NUS was the only business school from Singapore ranked by FT.

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Oh Look. ERP, COE and Road Tax Going Up Again.

ST Oct 24, 2006
Push to get more people to take public transport
This is among aims of a review to set land transport directions for next 10-15 years

TEN years after the White Paper on Land Transport was published, Transport Minister Raymond Lim yesterday announced that his ministry was going back to the drawing board to map out new directions for the next 10 to 15 years.

Among other things, planners will work out how to get more Singaporeans - including those who can afford to drive a car - onto the bus or train.

'We will have to work harder to make public transport a choice mode for the vast majority of Singaporeans for routine day-to-day commuting,' he said at the SBS Transit headquarters in Braddell Road.

'This is because, for a dense urban city-state such as ours, it will be catastrophic to allow private transport to be the dominant transport mode, as it will cause huge degradation to the city's liveability and quality of life.'

The comprehensive review, to be done over a year or so, will take into account the views of the travelling public and stakeholders such as transport operators.

Mr Lim promised to incorporate a 'human dimension' to land transport planning: 'Our transport system, while having to be as efficient as possible, must ultimately serve the people who use it.'

But it is clear that his focus is on public transport, which has seen its share of morning trips fall from 67 per cent in 1997 to 63 per cent in 2004.

The reason: more people now own cars - and drive them intensively.

The car population went up 10 per cent over the 1997-2004 period, while daily car trips more than doubled, rising 23 per cent.
I can believe those statistics about the car population. After all, the overall number of people living in Singapore rose by about 12 per cent over the period 1997-2004. So the percentage rise in car population is roughly the same as the percentage rise in human population.

In other words, it isn't as if the proportion of car-owning Singapore residents has actually gone up. It's just that the overall number of people living in Singapore residents (car owners included) has gone up.

As for the other figures, the ST article isn't so clear, but I assume that it's trying to say that:

(a) in 1997, 67% of people travelled in the morning by public transport; and approximately 10% travelled by car (the remaining 23% presumably either walked or don't normally travel in the morning);

(b) in 2004, 63% of people travelled in the morning by public transport; and approximately 23% travelled by car (the remaining 14% presumably either walked or don't normally travel in the morning).

A plausible interpretation is simply that in 2004, a higher proportion of people living in Singapore actually go to work or school in the morning (as compared to the situation in 1997). Again this doesn't surprise me. This seems to be a fairly predictable consequence of our foreign talent policy, which kicked off in earnest roughly around 1997, in fact.
Mr Lim's aim is for the bus and rail system to account for 70 per cent of all morning peak-hour rides. To achieve this, the Land Transport Authority will examine whether more rail lines are needed.

It will also review the public transport regulatory framework to see, for example, how to cater to commuters who are willing to pay more for better bus services.

'We must aim high, with the test being whether people who have a choice of private or public transport are won over to our public transport system. To achieve that, people must feel that 'my other car is a bus' or train, as the case may be.'

The need to get more people on public transport is urgent, given the burgeoning car population, maturing road network and the increasing numbers of residents and visitors.

The new land transport roadmap will have to contend with issues such as the level of tolerable road congestion, electronic road pricing (ERP) coverage and rates, and whether more trees should be cut down to make way for roads.
I like that last bit about the trees. It's nice to know that the authorities even consider this an issue at all. By the way, whatever happened to this tree?
Mr Lim said the fundamentals of Singapore's land transport policy will, however, remain the same: promote public transport, optimise road usage and manage demand for private vehicles.

This time, transport planners will be able to build on what has been achieved in the 1996 White Paper. Among other things, it settled the financing system for public transport infrastructure and led to ERP implementation.

At the ground level, however, people are more interested in who will pay for the transport system that is being envisioned.

But Mr Lim yesterday pledged that the general public would be able to afford public transport fares, while those who couldn't would continue to get help.
Get help? You mean, like this guy over here? I hear his family didn't even have enough money to take public transport to the mortuary to see if it was really his body lying there.

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23 October 2006

On Employees Who Quit

An interesting article from TODAY:
No points for this loyalty programme
To retain star employees, companies should reward committed workers, rather than long-stayers

Monday • October 23, 2006
Liang Dingzi

IS STAFF loyalty passé? Are we clutching at straws, refusing to recognise that in the changing, competitive world, this value is no longer as important a corporate asset as it used to be?

At a job interview several years ago, the chief executive officer (CEO) of an eminent company said to me: "If a person has not changed jobs — at least twice — in his first 10 to 15 years, it gives the impression that he is easily contented with being what he is." That, he explained, reflects a lack of ambition to want to do better.

With so much lamentation today about the fast erosion of the loyalty culture, many Singaporeans are unlikely to agree with him. What price staff loyalty, then? Is it still relevant?
Personally, I agree with the CEO. Of course there are exceptions. For example, an outstanding employee may stay for a long time because he keeps getting promoted.
The debate thus far has been fairly one-sided — from the companies' point of view. Management consultants talk about the importance of staff loyalty contributing to the bottomline. The findings of a recent survey by research firm Synovate attest to the readiness of Singapore workers to change jobs at the promise of higher salaries ("Staff loyalty key to bottomline", Oct 16).

Unfortunately, that has been put across as something negative. But if competition is healthy, why is this not encouraged in the employment market?

If an employer is concerned about losing its competent workers to rival companies, it is up to it to offer adequate compensation that will deter resignation, while acknowledging that there are other influencing factors such as job security, prospects for promotions and a conducive work environment.

So, too, if an employer is concerned about recurring training costs because its workers do not stay long enough, it will have to factor in that risk. It's not the fault of workers when they leave. The current discourse on the dilemma of displaced older workers may have overplayed the issue of loyalty — in this case, company loyalty.

The real problem is not the lack of such, but rather job security and the perceived worth of workers after a certain age. They are deemed too costly when there is a cheaper alternative of younger workers.
Aha. Liang Dingzi offers an insight. Some of these non-movers are staying put, because of concerns about job security.
An ex-classmate, who was laid off six years ago from an accounting job, continues to harbour misgiving about being written off just because he had reached that certain age. Many others like him were axed in cost-cutting exercises during the economic downturn. The good news that today, the employment rate has reached a 15-year-high — with the biggest gain made in the 55 to 64-year-old category — only partly assuages concerns.

The other question being asked is: What becomes of rewarding staff loyalty?

Mind you, seniority has become a convenient measure of "loyalty", for both the workers and the many companies that continue to salute long-serving staff. To quote NTUC's director of industrial relations, Ms Cham Hui Fong: "We have to look after the interests of our older workers, who have put in long years of service."

That makes it obligatory. But if employers can no longer assure workers of job security, is it fair of employers to demand staff loyalty? The expectations, one might argue, must be mutual.

Understandably, employers find themselves in a bind when better workers leave, since they are the ones likely to be offered opportunities. The less competent — who, by circumstances, stay — are rewarded for their "loyalty".
Heheh. The less-competent do not merely just "stay". Sometimes they can steadily rise through the ranks of a not-so-excellent organisation, simply because the more-competent ones have already departed or keep departing.
This Catch-22 demands a shift away from the traditional mode of compensation — paying workers by grade and job category — which, in a way, has contributed to the problem of obligatorily carrying higher-paid but less productive older workers.

If merit were the key determinant instead, staff loyalty would no longer be held to ransom by seniority.

But if staff disloyalty costs companies dearly, staff loyalty could cost workers — which was the essence of the CEO's message at my job interview.

Singaporeans are practical people. According to Synovate, they are nothing short of model employees.

This is borne out by many productivity studies, such as the Beri report, that laud our workers as being amongst the world's most reliably efficient. But while they are enthusiastic and focused, they are unlikely to swear loyalty.

And, if you think that's a blemish in an otherwise perfect report card, it's about time we look at staff loyalty from behind the lenses of the workers. As the work ethos changes, what is going to matter more is commitment to the job, rather than loyalty to the company.

In that context, neither party can cry foul.
The way I see it, individuals owe it to themselves to do what's best for their own careers. If you ought to move, then you move. In fact, changing your jobs every now and then may be the best way to stay relevant.

That's because when you move into a new job, the fact that this new job exists in the market reflects that there is demand for the particular set of skills or knowledge which this new job requires.

Better organisations will make efforts to work out a career path for their employees, providing training opportunities, promotions, internal transfers, competitive salaries etc. Sometimes however your continued progress within that organisation will no longer be possible, or no longer possible at the pace you want.

For example, in some situations you may not be able to progress any further unless your immediate boss resigns, dies or gets sacked (and the probability of any one of these events occurring seems low). Or your current organisation may simply not be able to offer you work which is as challenging or interesting as you would like it to be.

In those circumstances, the best thing to do may simply be to go elsewhere.

In my opinion, employee loyalty is passe. As Liang advises, you should give your best to your job while it's still yours, but neither you nor your employer should have any expectation that you will be a permanent fixture in that role.

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20 October 2006

Interesting Model For A Life

The article below is from AsiaOne. It is about Mr Melvyn Chew, someone who semi-retired at age 37. He is not fabulously rich - simply very clever at living very cheaply.

I don't really admire his lifestyle, but I do admire his courage in daring to live a life so different. I definitely understand what he's trying to say in Point 7. In my experience, people do often somehow expect you to want for yourself what they want for themselves.
You can enjoy retirement on $20 a day
By Narendra Aggarwal - Oct 20, 2006
Not many people are as lucky as Mr Melvyn Chew, who quit full-time work at age 37 to go into semi-retirement.

He decided to drop out of the rat race to opt for an easier pace of life.

Trained as a lawyer, he worked as a legal assistant in a law firm here for just three years when he decided to move on to acting and teaching, which he has been doing on a part-time basis since.

"I started thinking about not having to work full-time since I was in my 20s," Mr Chew, now 42, tells AsiaOne in an interview.

Said the bachelor: "Many people don't want to go to work every morning because they do not enjoy what they are doing. Coming from an acting background, I have many friends who, like me, don't like the idea of being tied down to full-time work.

I don't have a budget. I think I don't really have to work at all, if I keep expenses at this level. But it's fun to do so.

"You do not need a lot of savings to go into semi-retirement. But I made sure that I paid up my housing loan before I decided to take it easy.You don't really need huge savings to retire. I think if you have $50,000 put away, semi-retirement is a workable option.''

Being single helps as this frees him from the financial commitments which a married man would be saddled with. He gets by on less that $20 every day. Breakfast is at home, lunch costs about $2.50, and dinner, $3. Add another $3 for transport. "I really don't understand what people spend on - you do not need much money for
your day-to-day expenses," he says.

He loves cooking, so he doesn't eat out as often. But once a week, he gives himself a treat and goes to "a nice place to enjoy the finer things in life,'' he confesses. And despite his modest means, he has been able to suss out cheap holidays to Chiangmai on $200, Australia for $1,000 and even toured France and Spain for less than $2,500.

As for getting around, he uses public transport. "I live in a small walk-up private apartment, the size of a three room HDB flat, in Novena. So it's very convenient taking the MRT.''

His part-time jobs - teaching business law at Singapore Management University and Nanyang Polytechnic and some acting assignments - provide him enough to get by every month.

"My income is irregular. Some months it is in the hundreds, while in some other months I make a few thousand. I really don't keep track of the money. All I know is that I spend less than what I make.''

But he has to manage his tight budget carefully. "Budgeting to me is a game of some sort, while most people find it a chore and give it up after a while,'' says Mr Chew, but he declined to say how much of savings he has and how that money is invested.

What about the future? And old age?

"I do not worry too much about the future. I am a Christian and believe that God is looking after me''

Some tips from Mr Melvyn Chew on how to stretch a shoe-string budget:
1.You don't have to be rich to retire early. Such a sad fallacy. You simply have to reduce your expenses without really reducing your quality of life. Hence, if you can get along very well on say $1,000, you really don't have to be a millionaire.

2.To be totally retired can be boring and costly. So, it's best to have some work to do. If your work brings in say, $400 a month, you only need $600 from your savings or investments.

3.Decide which are the things you value most, and which give you the greatest pleasure. Go for what is most necessary to you and allocate money to these first, for example, a home, food, transport etc.

4.Be creative. If you are a sociable person, then share a home with someone. Or if you have your own place, rent out your rooms. If not, rent a room. Cook your own meals - that saves heaps.

5.Enjoyment. Very necessary. Otherwise what would life be? If you want to retire on very little, you probably wouldn't have much money here. Well, I decided to be radical. Sold off the TV. No more plays and theatre. But there are many cheap and enjoyable things to do. I've gone on $200 trips to Chiangmai, and $1,000 holidays to Australia. And a one-month trip to France and Spain for less than $2,500. Including delicious food, ballet performances, the Louvre (free first Sunday of the month), many other museums, the French Alps, Gaudi's Holy Family Church, Euro Disney, etc.

6.Cheap enjoyment? The credit card 1-for-1 offers are great.

7.It is also best to keep your careful ways to yourself. Most people don't seem to appreciate that you don't have to work while they do. They'd rather that you were mortgaged to the hilt. Don't let them know your careful ways or they'll use it against you.

8.So, look rich. But don't spend much. Do a bit of research. Take the Crystal Jade restaurants, for example. If you're just having dimsum, go to Crystal Jade Palace. The dimsum there costs about 15 per cent more than the dimsum at Crystal Jade Kitchen. But the service and ambience and general good feeling you get is more than worth it.

9.Oh yeah. a bit about cutting down. Clothes. Fifty years ago, people used clothes till they were worn. Nowadays, people seem to throw away brand new clothes. Well, I have items which are 15 years old. And people compliment me on them. Another thing, if you can do something yourself, then do so. I cut my own hair. So, I only go to the barber once or, at most, twice a year. But make sure doing it yourself doesn't cost you more in the long run, for example, buying all sorts of ingredients just to make a cake that can be bought more cheaply.

10.One more. Turn a hobby into a money maker. I happen to know Thai. And I enjoy teaching. I've been teaching Thai at various community centres - mainly for the fun of it.

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19 October 2006


MRT trains seem to be an increasingly popular way to kill yourself (and others) in Singapore.
ST Oct 19, 2006
Man fatally hit by train, services disrupted

TRAIN services were disrupted for a short while last night after a man was fatally hit by a train.

Closed-circuit cameras at the Chinese Garden MRT station reportedly captured the man flinging himself into the path of an oncoming train.

The man, in his mid-40s, was alone at the station platform at 10.10pm, the police said. He was wearing a light-coloured T-shirt and dark shorts at the time.

The CCTV footage has been handed over to the police, said SMRT officials. The police are investigating.

Those travelling on the train - which was moving at a speed of over 50kmh - said they felt it hit something and screech to a stop. At the same time, the lights in some sections of the train went out.

Said polytechnic student Ricky Ong, 20: 'We didn't realise it was anything serious. We just thought the train had broken down.'

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17 October 2006

Singapore Blogs Mentioned in Lee Kuan Yew's Legal Document

Click here and take a look at pages 11 and 12.

16 October 2006

More on P65

Gayle Goh, writing for The New Paper, seems to share my views on the MPs' blog, P65. Gayle quotes me in her article and makes me sound a little harsh - I say "harsh" because in the days since I posted my article, the P65 MPs have improved and tried to focus a little more on serious issues.
MPs' blogs a good move, but dare they go further?
By Gayle Goh

The New Paper, 13 October 2006
SINCE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned in his National Day Rally speech that, perhaps, the PAP should be on the networking website MySpace, I have waited with bated breath to see the next move on the evolving chessboard of the Internet.

The ministers have sallied forth boldly. Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo made ripples in the blogosphere when, in September, he began publishing entries on the blog of undergraduate and Young PAP member Ephraim Loy.

The post-65 Members of Parliament have been busy over at www.p65.sg, their glitzy new site launched just last week.

Is this something to be excited about? Should we gather round as spectators to watch the MPs take on 'alternative' and often politically incorrect blogs by the horns?

Unfortunately, as commendable an effort as it is, I am disappointed with two things in particular.

The first is that the entries on the blogs revolve mainly around the everyday lives of the bloggers - BG Yeo's morning run or MPs' duties such as visits to ITE students and charity fund-raisers or running up HDB blocks, as Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza did.

The most pressing issues which many other bloggers have previously raised remain untouched - topics like upgrading policies seem to be out of bounds.

Secondly, I am surprised that for a blog that has been well-publicised, there are relatively few comments from the public.

Are comments moderated before they are displayed on the site?

It seems that while the MPs are willing to engage with the online generation, they are less sure about leaving themselves open to irresponsible comments and attacks that accompany every Internet experience.

These two things limit the potential of the blogs to really excite readers who are attracted to political content and are interested in local issues.

Responses from the online community have been lukewarm at best. A well-known blogger who uses the pseudonym Mr Wang said it was 'embarrassing' and that 'P65 is failing to engage Singaporeans'.

An anonymous commenter wonders 'if they have appointed official commenters', noting the limited number of comments and the generally positive tone of the feedback.

Of course, there's also good reason for the MPs' reticence to engage in political topics.

The Internet is cast in murky waters and commenting on political issues would not only raise the risk of blurring their official and personal capacities, but could also open them up to more attacks.

In trying to 'connect' with the younger generation, the MPs have set themselves up as very human figures.

They have brought down some of the barriers that previously separated them from the man in the street. They have become people with thoughts, pasts, dreams and even possible weaknesses.

Should they then not be wary of what they say at risk of being dragged into the mire of public opinion?

After all, the Internet, unlike television or newspapers, allows infinite no-holds-barred views to proliferate.

A debate, once opened, would likely not reach any real conclusion and may end up undermining the position of the MPs.

So the verdict is still out on whether the MPs will choose to tackle tougher topics or keep pushing feel-good buttons like celebrating mid-autumn festivals.

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Heheh. I Get The Feeling That Sandra Davie Has Been Reading My Blog

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the abolition of the EM3 stream in our schools and I mentioned the Rosenthal effect. Now suddenly the Straits Times has an article on it too. Ah, how lucky our journalists are today - they have bloggers to educate them, or at least inspire story ideas.
ST Oct 16, 2006
Dear teacher, do you think I am too stupid to do well?
Rosenthal Effect links teacher expectations to students' showing

By Education Correspondent, Sandra Davie

HIS mother wept when she was told that he would be placed in the EM3 scheme. He had to bribe his brother not to tell relatives and neighbours about it.

Polytechnic student Marc Tan knows all about the stigma that is attached to the stream for slow learners. 'I was so ashamed,' he told The Straits Times in an e-mail message he wrote after news broke that the current system would be replaced by subject-based banding in 2008.

With the change, he hoped that the labelling and stigmatisation of students will go away. He remembered how streaming affected the way teachers treated the students.

'In primary school, I was quite good in maths, but all the teachers treated us like we were troublemakers and worthless.'

Marc might be exaggerating the extent of derision his teachers dished out. But he is clear about who is responsible for his turnaround: his form teacher in Secondary 1. 'He made me the monitor of the class and said I was better in maths than some of his Express stream students.

'It made all the difference. It was such a confidence boost for me. I worked hard to prove him right,' he said.

Marc took the predictable route for most EM3 pupils, making it to the Normal (Technical) stream in Secondary 1. But where he broke tradition was when he did well enough in Secondary 1 to be transferred to the Normal (Academic) stream in Secondary 2. In Secondary 5, he did well enough in the O-levels to make it to a junior college, but opted for a polytechnic course instead.

Do teachers' expectations of students' performance affect how well their charges do?

Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal thought so. His seminal study in the 1960s of young students in what he called 'Oak School' found that when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do.

Likewise, when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways.

His conclusions were based on a 'trick' he performed on teachers. After he gave an intelligence test to all the students at the beginning of the school year, he selected 20 per cent of them randomly.

Then he told the teachers that these were students who showed 'unusual potential for intellectual growth' and could be expected to 'bloom' in their academic performance by the end of the year.

Eight months later, he re-tested all the students. Those labelled 'intelligent' showed significantly better results in the new tests than those who were not singled out for attention.

Hence, the Rosenthal Effect: Teachers' expectations about intellectual performance can lead to an 'actual change' in how the students do later.

What happened in between? A self-fulfilling prophecy, going by Professor Rosenthal's observation: 'If you think your students can't achieve very much, are perhaps not too bright, you may be inclined to teach simple stuff, do a lot of drills, read from your lecture notes, give simple assignments calling for simplistic factual answers; that's one important way it can show up.'

Subsequent studies by other researchers appear to back this up. One study involved videotaping the teachers' interaction with students who had been identified as bright.

The tapes showed that teachers smiled and made more eye contact with 'bright' students while other students were treated in a generalised, standard manner.

If the Rosenthal Effect is real, will Singapore's subject- based banding, as opposed to streaming, alter teachers' expectations of their weaker pupils?

That would be wishful thinking. This is how subject-based banding will work for the weakest pupils who are currently streamed into the EM3 course.

All pupils, including those who are lagging behind, will be banded according to their strengths in specific subjects.

For example, a student strong only in mathematics will study it at the standard PSLE level but he will take English and Mother Tongue at the easier foundation level, which covers the basics.

In the current system, he would be studying all three at the foundation level, branding him a weak student.

While the refinements recognise that even the weakest students may have strengths in some areas, let's not run away from the fact that the education system is centred on the belief that children have varying levels of ability and need different curricula and teaching approaches.

This has always been the case, from the days when classes were labelled Primary 1A, B and C. The difference is that the humiliating label EM3 will now be defunct.

Prof Rosenthal himself believed that children have varying abilities. He complained how, at Harvard, some of his colleagues gave out all As.

'Not everybody is going to be a star, a PhD or what have you, that's reality,' he said.

But he strongly believed that all his students can 'learn more than they are learning' and does not prejudge a student's ability.

So he sets high expectations of all his students at Harvard and almost always, all of them deliver.

It would be too much to expect all teachers not to have any kind of expectations when they teach a class.

After all, as one veteran primary school teacher pointed out, the school system itself encourages the differentiation, right from the start in Primary 1.

The weaker pupils are identified through a school readiness test and given special help through the learning support programme.

The question is, are teachers even aware of the sort of impact they have on a child's ability to perform?

Six out of seven teachers polled by The Straits Times had not heard of the Rosenthal Effect.

Researchers at the National Institute of Education have attempted to study teacher perceptions of EM3 students and how these affect their teaching. Once the results are published, they must be scrutinised, to open the eyes of teachers to how their expectations can shape their students' performance.

As the good professor said, it is the moral obligation of a teacher to check his own presumptions.

And if a teacher does not believe in a student's capacity to learn, he should not be that student's teacher.

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Big Change in Criminal Procedure

Here comes a huge change in our criminal legal system. Unfortunately due to work pressures, I won't be commenting as of now. I hereby post the article first, and will comment when I find the time.

Oct 16, 2006
Prosecutors to reveal all in proposed new law
Defence lawyers will have access to evidence against their clients before cases go to trial

By Ben Nadarajan

STATE prosecutors will soon be compelled to reveal all the evidence they have against an accused person before the case goes to trial.

The Straits Times understands the law is set to be changed to make it compulsory for prosecutors to share their evidence with defence lawyers.

This will settle the regular complaints from lawyers that they are handicapped at trials because they are not fully apprised of all the evidence early enough.

According to sources, Law Minister S. Jayakumar sent a letter to the Law Society a few months ago, giving his in-principle agreement to such a change.

The minister's letter was in response to a policy paper submitted a year ago by the society's Criminal Practice Committee, headed by veteran lawyers Peter Low and Chia Boon Teck.

Both the Law Ministry and Law Society declined to confirm the change, which could also be enacted without a change in legislation.

The Attorney-General's Chambers could change its practice guidelines instead, and effectively usher in the new procedure.

One of the committee's concerns was the uneven playing field in the area of disclosure of evidence.

As it stands now, prosecutors do not have to show their hand until the trial begins, giving lawyers little time to prepare counter arguments for cross-examination.

This does not happen in High Court trials, where all relevant statements and documents are revealed to defence lawyers before the trial during a preliminary inquiry.

In civil cases, both parties are also required to furnish all relevant information sought by the other side.

Lawyers have asked for a similar practice to be adopted in matters before the Subordinate Courts, which handle about 95 per cent of all cases.

In particular, they want copies of documents like police statements obtained from the accused and witnesses.

While criminal lawyers appear to have got their way on this matter, another request, for early access to their clients, has fallen through.

Police do not allow defence lawyers to see their clients until investigations are over, a process which can take weeks, or sometimes even over a month.

Lawyers argue that this infringes an accused person's right to counsel.

When the issue came up in Parliament last year, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng defended the practice, saying that allowing accused persons instant access to lawyers could hinder or compromise investigations.

It is understood that the authorities are satisfied that there are checks in place to ensure that an accused person is not held in remand for longer than necessary.

Nevertheless, a study is under way to determine whether prisoners claiming trial are kept in lock-up for too long.

When informed of the change, the president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers, Mr Subhas Anandan, welcomed the 'long overdue' move.

Describing the job of a defence lawyer now as a boxer fighting blindfold, Mr Subhas said sharing information with the defence was a given in countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

'In these countries, if the prosecution does not give everything to the defence, it is grounds for a mistrial. Here, we don't even get our own client's statement to the police.'

He repeated the call for earlier access to counsel, saying clients needed to be informed that they had the legal right not to say anything incriminating to the police.

Law lecturer Michael Hor said early access to counsel might detract from the police force's efficiency in solving crime, but would mean a 'significant increase in the legitimacy of the process'.

He added: 'The reality is that once incriminating statements are successfully extracted, any sort of defence at the trial is unlikely to succeed.'

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15 October 2006

Knowing Your Assumptions

Today the Sunday Times has an article about saving for retirement. According to a survey, 90% of Singaporeans think they are saving enough by contributing regularly to their Central Provident Fund. I think that in many (most?) cases, this will transpire to be a bad miscalculation. Anyway:
Oct 15, 2006
Saving their way to early retirement
To some, a quicker exit from the rat race may be a pipe dream, but the four people featured here are working on turning that into reality

By Leong Chan Teik

LIKE most of us, Ms Chong Yih Tyng hopes to retire early.

But unlike most Singaporeans who were surveyed by a life insurance company recently, Ms Chong, 35, is on track to achieving her goal.

The chartered financial consultant and her 39-year-old husband aim to have $3.5 million in 15 years' time.

Their recipe: a lifestyle that is modest in comparison to their income, and lots of investing.

They are a rarity considering that 90 per cent of Singaporeans surveyed by insurer AXA Life think they are saving enough by contributing regularly to their Central Provident Fund.

Sadly, they will find themselves well short.

The AXA report, part of the insurer's global survey of 10,000 people, found that Singaporeans dream of retiring at an average age of 54, earlier than people of any other country.
The Sunday Times article goes on to feature four Singaporeans each of whom has their own financial strategies for saving towards their retirement. Here's one of the four Singaporeans:
Ms Chong Yih Tyng, 35

MS CHONG and her husband, a department head of a multinational company, are on the way to achieving a $3.5 million retirement nest egg.

She declined to disclose the dollar amount of what they have at the moment but says it would grow to the desired amount if two things happen over the next 15 years:

Their incomes grow by 5 per cent a year on average; and

They save regularly and plough the savings into investments that grow 10 per cent a year.

To ensure that there is money for investing, they lead a relatively simple lifestyle.

Home is a five-room HDB maisonette in Clementi, which they bought for $400,000 when they married eight years ago. It will be paid up in four years and they do not plan to upgrade to a fancier home.

Holidays are inexpensive: the couple and their five-year-old daughter usually check into a local hotel to enjoy the beach and to cycle.

To ensure their retirement goal is not derailed by ill health, they have bought insurance cover to pay for hospitalisation, critical illnesses and long-term care.

To boost their net worth, the couple invest their money, and strive to become savvy about investing.

'I spend no less than an hour every night to research on investments,' says Ms Chong. 'Our portfolio has achieved no less than 10 per cent growth a year in the last five years.'

She invests in Singapore stocks as well as park money with fund managers.

She has also invested in funds that are passive: They simply track the performance of stock indexes such as those for India, China and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

The couple desire to achieve $3.5 million not just so they can have the option to retire early but also for the sake of their parents, who will be in their late 70s or 80s in 15 years.

'We want to be 'free' to tend to their needs without the stress of job, time and money,' says Ms Chong.

It would also mean time for her and her husband to pursue higher education, play golf and spend time doing church work.
I often find the topic of long-term planning (for anything, not necessarily money) very interesting. What I like to investigate are the assumptions made in the planning process. Small errors in an assumption can, over the long term, lead to a large divergence between the actual and expected outcomes.

It's like standing in the middle of a soccer field and trying to kick the ball straight between the goal posts (assume that there are no defenders and no goalkeeper). This is a very difficult challenge. Theoretically all you have to do is kick the ball straight and hard. However, a small angle of deviation over a long distance (half a soccer field) means that it is very easy for the ball to completely miss the goal posts.

Let's say that like Ms Chong, you are 35 years old right now. You go to a financial planner for advice. It's very likely that the financial planner would proceed on two assumptions:

(1) You will retire around the age of, say, 60.
(2) You will die around the age of, say, 75.

Actually these are extremely huge assumptions. It is not at all obvious that in the year 2031, people would usually retire around the age of 60. Nor is it obvious that in the year 2046, people would usually die around the age of 75.

Life expectancy studies show that human beings (especially in developed countries) have been steadily living longer and longer. In ancient Greece, life expectancy for human beings was around 28 years. By 1901 in the US, life expectancy had risen to 49 years. By the year 2000, it had further risen to 77 years. In the year 2006, Singapore's life expectancy is even higher - 81.7 years.

Today, there are many scientists who believe that in future, many human beings will routinely live past 100 or 110 years.

What does this mean, in the financial planning context? Well, firstly, if you are 35 years old today and planning to save enough to support yourself until the age of 75, maybe you need to think about saving enough to support yourself for an additional 10 or 20 or 30 years (for you may die at age 85 or 95 or 105 instead).

Secondly, if you were planning to retire at 60, maybe you should contemplate the idea that at 60, you could still be quite young and energetic and could easily run a few marathons, climb a few mountain and work full-time for another 10 or 20 years.

Thirdly, you may want to consider the possibility that the long-term financial plan which your financial adviser had so painstakingly drawn up for you may, in the distant future, turn out to be an utter piece of crap. Right now, it may have its uses, but you should be regularly reviewing and tweaking it over the many years ahead.

That would be like an intelligent, self-correcting ball that constantly adjusts its own flight, as it travels across half a soccer field. It has much higher chances of scoring.

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NUS Does Well in International Rankings

NUS does well again in another study ranking top universities around the world.

1 Harvard University
2 University of Cambridge
3 University of Oxford
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 Yale University
6 Stanford University
7 California Institute of Technology
8 University of California, Berkeley
9 Imperial College London
10 Princeton University
11 University of Chicago
12 Columbia University
13 Duke University
14 Beijing University
15 Cornell University
16 Australian National University
17 London School of Economics and Political Science
18 Ecole Normale Supérieure
19 National University of Singapore
19 University of Tokyo

11 October 2006

Tharman's Thinking

The Gifted Enrichment Programme is dead. I had missed this bit of news earlier. If you look at other recent changes to the education system, like this, this and this, you can pretty much get a sense of where Education Minister Tharman is headed.

He doesn't like streaming, and furthermore he wants a system where students have more options to pursue what they're really interested in and feel they have the natural ability for. To put it another way, he doesn't want students to be penalised for what they're bad at, but to be judged on what they're best at.

I tend to agree with Tharman's philosophy. Who knows, perhaps these sorts of changes will be more effective than PM Lee's baby bonuses in encouraging Singaporeans to have children. Many Singaporeans avoid having kids precisely because they don't want to make their kids suffer through our local school system.

Gifted kids to take 'integrated' path

TODAY Thursday • September 21, 2006

Loh Chee Kong

IN TWO years' time, the much-debated Gifted Education Programme (GEP) will quietly fade away from secondary schools.

In its place, the Ministry of Education (MOE) wants GEP students to join schools offering the six-year Integrated Programme (IP). This means that GEP students, who are identified in Primary 3, will no longer march to a different beat in secondary school. Instead, they will follow the same curriculum as other bright students who are picked for the IP when they are on the verge of leaving primary school.

In a circular issued on Monday, MOE informed the parents of GEP students in Primary 4 and 5 that it would no longer offer a centralised gifted programme at the secondary school level. The parents of the current batch of Pri 6 pupils were informed in April that they would be the last cohort to be offered the programme, MOE's deputy director of its Gifted Education Branch, Dr Tan Bee Geok, told Today.

There had been criticism that the 22-year-old GEP programme was "elitist". But Dr Tan stressed that the latest move was merely recognition of the fact that more secondary schools were now offering innovative programmes to develop talented students.

Dr Tan said: "We are just informing the parents in advance not to choose the O-level track. This group is so able that it doesn't need to take O levels. And most of the students which GEP schools would have taken in at the Sec 1 supplementary intake would now choose to enrol in the IP anyway."

Each year, some 500 students — or the top 1 per cent of each cohort — are selected in Primary Three to join the GEP. These students could go on to a centralised MOE programme in secondary schools.

But Dr Tan said that the landscape has changed since the IP – a six-year-programme that starts in Sec 1, with students skipping their O levels — was introduced in 2004. Then, four out of five "gifted" students picked this programme over the four-year GEP course, said the MOE. The number fell further this year, with only 13 students opting to stay in the GEP over the IP.

The IP, the new favourite, embraces some 2,000 students in 12 schools, including Raffles Institution, River Valley High, Dunman High and the National University of Singapore High School.

In contrast, only Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Dunman High and Nanyang Girls' High now offer MOE's GEP.

Noting that most of its former GEP secondary schools are now IP schools, the ministry said in the circular: "With such a small enrolment, it is not possible for the MOE to continue to run the secondary school GEP."

GEP students who wish to take their O levels can still do so in "schools with school-based special programmes that nurture pupils who have special aptitudes and talents", the circular said. Examples of these schools include ACS (Independent), St Joseph Institution, Methodist Girls' School and Catholic High School, said Dr Tan.

And although the GEP students would follow the same curriculum as other "very bright students", they would continue to be developed at these secondary schools, which would increase in number as Singapore creates a diverse education landscape, said she added.

Dunman High School principal Sng Chern Wei told Today that his school was looking to implement enrichment programmes which would allow both GEP students and non-GEP students "who are talented in some subjects" to work together.

Said Mr Sng: "It makes sense for the gifted children to opt for the IP because they can be exempted from the O levels and benefit from a more seamless process.

"The approach is definitely moving toward one where the gifted education model is realigned to provide more opportunities that will allow talented students who fall outside the GEP to benefit, and which will also allow our GEP students to have more opportunities to interact with students who come from a non-GEP background."
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Mr Wang is Psychic

Naaaah. I just have great faith in the ability of the Singapore government to mess up. Back in August, I commented on the supply of lawyers in Singapore and concluded that the government had made some major mistakes. I then went on to say this:
"Lawyers are one example. Other examples have been doctors (undersupply) and engineers (oversupply).

So if you are making your next career move based on the government's prediction of the next "hot" area or the next "dead" area, just be aware that the government has a record of getting things wrong. Life sciences and the biomedical industry is what comes to my mind. It may indeed be the next big boom. Or it may not."
Well, today TODAY indeed has a story about life sciences and the biomedical industry. Looks like we have an bad oversupply of life sciences graduates:
The life sciences conundrum

After the hype, grads now realise that there's no place for them in the industry

Monday • October 9, 2006

Loh Chee Kong

IN 2002, when Singapore universities had barely begun producing their own life sciences graduates, Mr Philip Yeo, chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), famously rattled those undergraduates when he said that they would only be qualified to wash test tubes.

But four years on, armed with their Bachelor's degree, some of these graduates are learning the truth of his words the hard way. Many from the first cohort have ended up in junior research positions or manufacturing and sales jobs in the industry — positions that do not require a life sciences degree. Others find themselves completely out of the field.

Said Edmund Lim, 27, who graduated two years ago, and now works as a property agent: "One of my classmates is working illegally in Australia, peddling psychotropic drugs to clubbers. Many of my classmates have gone into teaching. Others are in pharmaceutical or equipment sales."

Another life sciences graduate, who declined to be named, found a job recently at a tuition centre, after failing to land research-related positions for over a year despite numerous job applications.

Already an established base for pharmaceutical manufacturing, Singapore has been trying, in the past five years, to move beyond manufacturing to more high-end research that is "value-added".

According to the industry's annual reviews compiled by A*Star and the Economic Development Board's Biomedical Sciences Group (EDB BMSG), an average of a thousand new jobs were created annually for the past five years. Last year, there were 10,200 manufacturing jobs in the industry, almost doubling the 5,700 jobs created in the then-fledgling sector in 2001. By 2015, EDB targets the number of such jobs to hit 15,000.

But the booming figures mask a Catch-22 situation: The current shortage of PhD holders in the biomedical sciences cluster is hampering Singapore's bid to attract multinational companies to move their high-end research projects here. Without a PhD, most of Singapore's life sciences graduates are only qualified to work as research assistants.

And both graduates and diploma holders vie for these positions that could pay less than $2,000 a month. In the industry's manufacturing sector, life sciences graduates compete against their peers from other general sciences and engineering disciplines. They face even stiffer competition in the sales sector, where paper qualifications take on less significance.

A*Star's Biomedical Research Council oversees and coordinates public sector biomedical research and development activities. On the surplus of life sciences graduates, its executive director Dr Beh Swan Gin told Today: "It is not a situation that can be easily communicated, as there are many factors involved. Simply put, a PhD is essential for progress as a researcher. And there are still not enough Singaporeans pursuing PhD studies."

Adding that the local universities should not pander to the students' demand for the subject, Dr Beh said: "The job market of today and tomorrow, is the market the universities should focus on. The manufacturing and commercial jobs have always been there, albeit there are more of these now. NUS (National University of Singapore) and NTU (Nanyang Technological University) should get better data on the demand for life science graduates at the Bachelor's degree level."

In 2001, NUS' Science Faculty rolled out an integrated life sciences curriculum and NTU started its School of Biological Sciences (SBS) a year later. Meanwhile, the polytechnics also introduced more life sciences courses. Thousands of students jumped on the bandwagon, with demand outstripping the supply of places in these courses.

Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS' Dean of Science — who believes that it could take another five years for the industry to establish itself — acknowledged that his school's intake of life sciences undergraduates was "a bit too high".

"When we started offering a major in life sciences in 2001, 550 students took up the programme. For the subsequent intakes, the number stabilised at about 450. But we would be more comfortable with about a hundred less," said Prof Tan, who added that many students were "unrealistic" about their job prospects.

Said Prof Tan: "A lot of students were probably all hyped up to look for R&D jobs. And when they can't get such jobs, they could be disappointed. If they want to do research, they should further their studies." ....
I've just reminded myself of my crystal ball joke.

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See Anything?

I will give you excerpts from three separate articles and let you figure out the connections, if any. The first article about the high number of very rich people in Singapore:
ST Oct 11, 2006
1.5% of adults in Singapore have assets exceeding US$1m
Republic's concentration of the wealthy is far higher than global, Asia average, survey shows

By Finance Correspondent, Lorna Tan

IF YOU are looking for a millionaire, it is rich pickings in Singapore - which has the highest concentration of well-heeled people in Asia.

A new report estimates that there are 55,000 people who each have net assets, excluding their main home, above the magic US$1 million (S$1.6 million) mark.

That is a concentration of 1.48 per cent of its adult population, far higher than the global average of 0.22 per cent and Asia's average of 0.1 per cent.
The next excerpt is about the high number of very rich Indonesians or ex-Indonesians in Singapore:
ST Oct 11, 2006
A third of millionaires here of Indonesian origin

ONE in three millionaires in Singapore is Indonesian in origin, according to a report from Merrill Lynch and consultant Capgemini.

It estimates that at the end of last year, Singapore had 55,000 people with net assets of at least US$1 million (S$1.6 million), excluding their main home.

Of these, 18,000 were Indonesians who have become either Singapore citizens or permanent residents here.

The third article concerns an ex-Morgan Stanley analyst's private views about Singapore and rich Indonesians:
“... [some] were competing with each other to praise Singapore as the success story of globalisation. Actually, Singapore’s success came mainly from being the money laundering centre for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials. Indonesia has no money. So Singapore isn’t doing well. To sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corrupt money from China.”
See anything?

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On Graduate Women & Lowly-Educated Men

I had asked for guest writers. Here's my first! The article is an excerpt from Christopher Ng's upcoming 2nd book, Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity. More details below about book & author.

Only the fittest shall find marital bliss

“You might as well show up with your salary printed boldly on your T-shirt. Save the women at SDU the trouble of asking", remarked a cynical male colleague when another fellow worker was talking about attending the next speed dating session organized by the Social Development Unit (SDU). In this country, even love and romance in are tainted by financial considerations.

Nothing seems sacred anymore.

June, 32, is a now an extremely unhappy single in Singapore. A local university graduate, she joined the SDS in the hopes of finding an eligible man, someone humble and unassuming, not your typical credit-card toting yuppie man out on Boat Quay on Friday night. The Social Development Services, which only matchmakes non-graduates, did a spot check on her. They found that she has a degree and promptly cancelled her membership. June now joins thousands of graduates who infiltrate the SDS every year, only to be caught and kicked out of the organization after their graduate status is discovered.

In a study on marriage trends in Singapore found in the Statistics Singapore website, 32.8% of female graduates aged 30-34 were single in the year 2000. This statistic has decreased over the previous 10 years (from 1990) thanks to the efforts of organizations like the SDU. In contrast, 41% of males aged 30-34 with below secondary education are single. This is a whopping 3.8% increase since 1990.

Can we blame these men for being unwanted and feeling disenfranchised? Their only hope now is to marry foreign brides. That hope in turn is being dashed by a policy which prevents foreign work permit holders from marrying local citizens.

The trends reflect the changing nature of Singapore society over the past 10 years. Graduate women have organizations built for the express purpose of finding their life partners creating a slow but steady improvement in marriage trends. Men with poor qualifications, however, will have to live their lives either being hopelessly single or taking a calculated risk with mail-order brides. Thus we see meritocracy being pushed to its extreme logical conclusion - it evolves into social Darwinism, a term coined by Herbert Spencer, who espoused the theory that only the most capable humans are chosen to dominate. Living in Singapore has become a game of the survival of the fittest. According to social Darwinists, the strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die.

If you visit http://www.lovebyte.org.sg, you’ll see that its mission statement says:

“We believe in our mission of promoting marriage among graduate singles and inculcating positive attitudes towards marriage among all singles in Singapore to achieve strong and stable families in Singapore.”

It seems to give the impression that the organization wants graduates to get married but other singles to simply appreciate marriage as a wonderful abstract concept.

In our push to do what works and reward those deemed capable, we constantly run into the problem of crude and primitive benchmarks. Our drive to create families with intelligent and capable children, we engineer a master plan to get highly educated people to marry each other creating some sort of a social stratification within our society. (“Does any one here belong to the Graduate caste?”, one might ask.)

Of course social Darwinism with myopic policy-making fails to consider other more personal factors which may be quite significant. Perhaps some graduate women are less willing to play a nurturing role within the family and Asian men have already sensed that and subconsciously marry down. Perhaps children with graduate moms may also have to see less of parents who are high-flying professionals.

Thus the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In our drive to have graduates marry each other, we deny many children the opportunity to have at least one graduate parent to guide them along in their life journey. For now, we have to learn to be aware of the threat of social Darwinism and be mindful to defend ourselves against that.

And for June’s sake, could we please merge the SDU and the SDS?

Christopher Ng Wai Chung ( B.Eng Electrical Engineering, MSc Applied Finance) is the author of Growing your Tree of Prosperity, a book on personal wealth management for the Singapore employee which reached no. 9 in the local bestsellers chart in October 2005.

His 2nd book, Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity will be published in December. It details his personal journey to financial independence one year after the publication of his first book. Christopher does not dabble in multi-level marketing, is no sales-superstar, does not qualify to be a member of the elite in Singapore, and today still works as an IT project manager in a American multinational.

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09 October 2006

The MPs' New Blog

In July, PM Lee said that he wanted the PAP to be more "hip and happening" so as to connect to young Singaporeans. In August, PM Lee announced that he wanted the government to use "new" media (ie the Internet) to reach out to the masses. And now - we have P65. The blog of 12 PAP MPs born after 1965.

This is embarrassing. The design is poor; it lacks navigation aids; the sidebar is non-existent; there isn't even a "Recent Comments" or "Latest Posts" function. There are 12 blog members but no "About Me" or "My Profile" section at all. The colours look like what my 4-year-old kid would choose for his artwork - please lah, I know they want to be "young", but surely not that young.

Dear MPs, you would be much better off picking a standard template from Blogger or Wordpress. Alternatively, I really suggest you pay Mr Brown $3,000 and engage him as a consultant. Or maybe my friend Alvin Pang who designs websites.

I won't even go into the content, except to say that if the content doesn't undergo drastic changes, within six months people won't even remember that there was ever such a thing as P65. Let's put it this way:

P65 launched with fanfare; the Straits Times featured it just last week; it also appeared on Tomorrow; and it has 12 contributors each of whom is a public figure. Yet (at the time of my writing this), its latest 10 posts received a total of only 17 comments from readers.

In contrast, my preceding 10 posts (at the time of writing) received a total of 325 comments. I'm just one blogger and not even a public figure.

Right now, P65 is failing to engage Singaporeans, and if it continues to fail to engage Singaporeans, maybe the better thing to do would be to close it down so that the MPs can spend the time on other things that MPs spend their time on.

Having said that, P65 is new and maybe it needs a while to find its identity. Well, maybe it will, and maybe it won't. Let's wait and see.

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07 October 2006

Guest Writers

While I'm on blogging leave, I invite guest writers to send me their articles (mrwangsaysso@gmail.com) which I will post on my blog if I think that they are interesting and well-written.

Articles should not exceed 850 words and should be on a topical Singapore matter. I may edit articles for clarity. The writer should write on a topic on which he/she has some expertise, training or personal experience, and separately provide his/her brief biodata (like, 1-3 sentences long) stating his/her relevant background.

If you're not sure whether a certain topic would interest me editorially, don't waste your time writing the whole article first. Send me a short email telling me what your proposed article is about, and I'll tell you whether I would be interested in posting it on my blog.

03 October 2006

Firewalking Court Case

M Ravi is the lawyer who has been handling a large number of high-profile civil / constitutional / human rights cases in the past two years. He's the same chap who's been representing Chee Soon Juan in court. Anyway, something strange has been happening to him. I don't know what the real picture is - read this, this and this, and do your own speculation.

I was quite surprised to see the description of another case he has been handling, which concerns the Hindu fire-walking ceremony.
ST Oct 3, 2006
Another M. Ravi case held over in courts

YET another M. Ravi case has stalled in the courts as the lawyer remains warded in hospital.

In the latest case, Mr Ravi has taken on the Hindu Endowments Board and the board of trustees of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

In a suit filed in the High Court on Sept 6, Mr Ravi wants to halt the annual fire-walking ceremony that is scheduled to take place at the temple next Monday.

He claims that the ceremony violates Singapore's Constitution on gender discrimination as women are not allowed to walk across the smouldering coals.

As a result, the ceremony discriminates against women in violation of Hindu ecclesiastical laws, practices and customs, he claims.

The matter was to be heard in chambers yesterday, but Mr Ravi did not attend as he has been warded at Adam Road Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital, since Sept 20.

He has yet to file the required affidavits to support his application.

The court adjourned the case, giving him time to take directions on the filing of supporting documents.

This is the latest in a string of no-shows by the lawyer that have led to postponements of his clients' cases.

The Court of Appeal last week adjourned the hearing of two Falungong followers who wanted a stay of their trial in the Subordinate Courts.

Last month, a hearing into Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's defamation suit against the Chee siblings - Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and his sister Siok Chin - was postponed as Mr Ravi was sick. The court ruled against the Chees the following day.

In the latest case, Senior Counsel K. Shanmugam, who is acting for the defendants, told The Straits Times: 'I'm trying to understand what exactly is the point being made. In my view, there are no merits in this application.'

In Singapore, women do not walk across the coals but instead walk around the fire pit.
Like Shanmugam, I too am unsure of the point. Are there any Hindu women out there who would like to comment?

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