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Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

A hassle to read about harrassment

In News Reports on January 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm

This is about a strange story in ST about a doctor whose online video captions sparked a harassment case. It’s a strange story because the court made it clear that no one can re-publish the captions, so you really don’t know what was offensive about them. That’s understandable because you don’t repeat remarks that the court has deemed offensive, much like the case in defamation suits. But in this case, you also don’t know what the original altercation between the doctor and a Frenchman at a petrol station was all about.

Anyway, here’s the gist. Something happened between the doctor and the Frenchman at the petrol station. There was some gesticulation and what seemed to be an exchange of words. Somehow the doctor got hold of the video off the petrol station CCTV (so easy to get ah?) and made a Magistrate’s complaint against the Frenchman. The court said: No case. And, I am assuming here, the doctor got fed up and uploaded the video and put in the captions. It was the Frenchman’s turn to go to the courts to get the captions taken offline. Court said: Okay.

All that is very interesting but was even more interesting is this phrase: “This is believed to be the first time that a court has issued an expedited protection order (EPO) under the Protection from Harassment Act, landmark legislation passed last year which, among other things, seeks to curb online harassment.’’

“Unlike a protection order, an EPO is issued on a temporary basis to prevent further alleged harassment until a case is settled.’’

So the legislation is already in force? And why “believed’’? Is this the first time an “expedited’’ order is granted as against a plain vanilla ordinary order, or also the first time the new law was being used? No way this can be verified by any authority?

It’s frustrating.

What is more perplexing is the later part of the story which said that since the new Act came into force last Nov 15 till Jan 7 this year, there have been 79 Magistrate’s Complaints for harassment and 13 applications for Protection Orders.

Three Protection Orders have been issued by the State Courts, and the remainder of the cases are ongoing, according to a spokesman for the courts.

So interesting! So, people have already been apply for protection under the new laws which will curb stalking as well as stop harassing remarks from going viral. And we didn’t know about this! What were the three Protection Orders about? The media missed the story and only caught up with an “expedited” order?

Then while trawling for more information just now, I came across this story in TODAYOnline reporting an announcement from the Law ministry today that  “Victims of harassment can now apply straight to the Singapore Court for a Protection Order, which will direct the harasser to stop the behaviour and put a stop to the spread of harassing communication by others who re-publish the communication.’’

There was nothing in the story to say when the law came into effect and what has happened since then. An announcement? So are we talking about the same laws here?

FYI, failure to obey the court’s order could result in a contempt of court action or a Protection of Harassment Act offence which carries a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to six months.

I seriously wish the media would give a clearer picture…..

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SDP’s first salvo

In News Reports on January 10, 2015 at 11:21 am

Now, I know Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, but it’s still probably the first website people turn to when they want a quick run-down of anything. And so it says of the Singapore Democratic Party since Dr Chee Soon Juan took over the reins from Mr Chiam See Tong in 1995: “The party has since focused more on a liberal human rights agenda…’’

But there was none of the usual liberal human rights talk about lack of democracy, right of assembly, freedom of expression and the like at its event today. Instead, the SDP’s focus was on the “hard’’ stuff, such as its proposed changes to the education system, healthcare financing and subsidized housing.

Dr Chee said the SDP had “never consciously gone for the liberal agenda’’. It focuses on issues close to the heart of Singaporeans, he said, and that would be bread-and-butter issues. As for human rights, well, affordable healthcare for everyone is also a human right, he argued.

(And there I was wondering why nothing was said about 377A, police powers, public entertainment licences, more room for civil society to grow, use of defamation laws etc…By the way, Dr Chee was introduced as the only man sued by all three prime ministers in Singapore…)

That hoary old chestnut, ministerial pay, however, was raised. The SDP wants it pegged at 10 times the salary of the 20th percentile to incentivize (my word) the leadership into moving up wages in general. By SDP calculations, it means the Prime Minister will earn about $50,000 a month.

If you’re expecting to know how many seats the SDP will contest or whether where Dr Chee will stand, you’re being silly. What Dr Chee did say though was that the SDP will be back in the wards it contested the last time around, such as Sembawang, Tanjong Pagar and Holland-Bukit Timah GRCs. And people should put behind them names such as Vincent Wijeysingha (he quit to be a full-time activist) and Tan Jee Say (he has his own Singapore First party), said Dr Chee. He promised a slate of candidates who will be as good if not better than the last, “people who have gone through the crucible’’.

So what was today’s to-do at Holiday Day Inn Atrium about? It had been drummed up over the past month as the start of the SDP general election 2015 campaign. (No, no one asked why it’s 2015 when it could be 2016).

Here are the news points:

1.     The SDP slogan is Your Voice in Parliament

2.      It has slated activities almost every month to showcase itself and its election agenda, and the fact that it is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

3.      Two more policy papers will be forthcoming: on economic policy next month, which will include changing the CPF scheme so that there is no more minimum sum scheme, and on running town councils, in June. (It has already put out position papers on education, healthcare financing, housing and population)

4.     A book on – not by – Dr Chee will be out in April to present another side of the man from friends, co-workers, facets which do not surface in MSM

5.     It will have one or two pre-election rallies in Hong Lim Park starting in October.

6.     It will have “constituency committees’’ of volunteers who will run operations at grassroot level. (Today’s event was also for people to sign up as volunteers)

7.      As for what it did after the 2011 election: It had 44 activities, sold 20,000 copies of its newsletter and “made inroads into new constituencies’’. (Sorry. Nobody asked which.)

I have to say that the SDP thought through its steps. Since the last GE, it has been pumping out its policy papers, including suggestions which the G has since adopted, according to Dr Chee in response to a question on whether the SDP will keep the promises it makes if it emerged victorious in the election.

He gave two examples:

  1. The SDP wanted a minimum wage scheme for all and the G responded with the Progressive Wage scheme, albeit only for cleaners and security guards. (Actually the progressive wage scheme is a “ladder’’ pegging salaries to productivity and expertise, while the minimum wage represents a “floor’’)
  2. The SDP said that employment should be on the basis of Singaporeans First and the Manpower ministry has since made it policy that firms which want to hire foreigners have to show that they can’t get locals first.

(Now I wonder what the PAP will say…)

Clearly, the SDP wants to debunk the PAP’s constant hectoring of opposition parties as having no vision and no solutions for the country. It was more a case of  the MSM not giving enough space/air-time to the party – “couldn’t get the message out”, as Dr Chee put it, like refusing to run his op-ed articles.

He became alternately aggressive and plaintive about the “state-controlled’’ media through out the event, actually appealing at one point to media representatives present to “talk to their editors’’ and do what it is “right for Singapore’’. He was more than ready to talk to editorial management, he said, or speak at events intended for journalists. He’s written to the Singapore Press Club but hasn’t received a reply. But he will be addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Association.

If the media is such a big bugbear with the SDP, why didn’t it put up some proposals on reforming the laws?

Mr James Gomez, who was on the SDP panel, replied that there was no need for political parties to take the lead on everything. Civil society, such as the Free My Internet group, could step in. And the SDP would support it. Dr Chee added that the need for a free media would be part of its on-coming economic policy proposals, as essential for a dynamic economy.

Frankly, Dr Chee was in rally-mode with rhetorical flourishes which the non-media people in the room lapped up.

So what else was interesting about the event earlier today?

  1. Someone asked about its “links’’ with foreign institutions which he thought the PAP will “hammer on’’. Dr Chee said it was about “networking” and “making friends” who might be useful later. In other words, nothing sinister about it at all.
  2. Did he think the SDP’s credibility was dented when it pulled out of the Punggol East by-election to clear the field for the Workers’ Party? Dr Chee said that on the contrary, the SDP earned kudos as it showed that the SDP “listened to the people”. They didn’t want the opposition votes split. The SDP did what the people wanted.
  3. Dr Chee was asked about his position in 2005 that civil disobedience, not entry into Parliament, was the way to change things in Singapore. He said that this was before the advent of social media when messages could not be disseminated widely. Circumstances have since changed.
  4. Dr Paul Tambyah, who was on the SDP panel addressing the audience, made a quip about being a full professor with tenure. (I don’t have to explain this do I?) Ears pricked when he said that the opposition should try to deprive the PAP of its two-thirds majority which led to the obvious question of whether some alliance was being forged among the opposition parties. He said he speaking “off the top of his head’’ and that all opposition parties should have this as the ultimate objective to prevent  frequent amendments to the Constitution. Dr Chee expanded on this in reply to another question when he said that “nobody can point a finger at the SDP for not co-operating”. He listed a few examples when his overtures to other parties met with lukewarm response. As for co-operation during election time, he would only concede that it was “not an easy process’’ to have all parties in agreement.

That’s about it, folks!

Oh. Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui were present at the event, as on-lookers apparently. And the hotel coffee wasn’t half bad.

When absolute freedom of speech meets threshold of tolerance

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 9, 2015 at 2:12 am

So 12 people, including two policemen, at the office of a French satirical magazine have died, shot by two armed men one of whom was known to the authorities for his nutty views.

The reaction in France and worldwide was spontaneous – who, after all, would not condemn killing? There’s no sound from militant groups which use Islam as their banner either, even though reports said the two terrorists invoked Allah during their shooting spree. (Note: I did not say militant Muslim groups because it seems too crazy a description and a little insulting to the religion to have its name pinned on people who kill people.)

I am upset at what happened to my former French counterparts. But I confess that I can’t help tut-tutting as well. The things that Charlie Hebdo got up to with its depictions of Islam, other religions and politicians – more like denigration than satire – would never see light of day in Singapore. So finely-tuned is the journalistic antenna here, even though years have passed since the Maria Hertogh riots were sparked by the publication of a newspaper photograph of the girl taken from her Muslim foster-parents, kneeling in a church.

Race and religion were (or are still?) subjects most journalists we would rather not touch with a 10-foot pole unless it is to document the various festivals. Which is why some people felt some consternation when the G broke its own unwritten mantra of dissociating race and religion from national life. Like when it encouraged the setting-up of community self-help groups and started releasing examination results of the various races. The justification was pragmatic: people in the same community would do more to help and accept help from their own kind. (BTW, did you know you can’t touch on race and religion in Hong Lim Park?)

It became so that one American consultant remarked to me a few years ago that it is wonder that religion and religious issues were not widely reported in the media given the extent of worship here with its mosques, temples and churches. Tentatively, I set up a religion “beat’’ in my old newspaper. Tentatively, I say, because I wasn’t sure what would count as religious news in a secular paper. How to avoid stepping on some religion’s toes if there was too much coverage of the happenings in another religion? How to get around accusations that individual journalists or the paper as a whole might be religiously prejudiced?

I digress. Back to Paris…

If Charlie Hebdo did what it did here in Singapore, I can just imagine the weight of the G bearing down on it, with accusations of threatening the social fabric of this multi-racial, multi-religious society. Any combination of the Penal Code, Sedition Act and Internal Security Act would have been invoked. Licences stand to be revoked. Apologies, retractions and reparations would be demanded. That would be the State reacting.

What about the people here? I think they too would agree with the State action, because we simply can’t conceive of being rude to another religion in such a public space. Sure, words have been exchanged between some church groups and civil society types in recent time, but there have remained, well, online and among individuals. No broadcasting or publishing institution would devote its work mainly to making fun of what is sacred to some groups. Not even the satirical online sites operating here; politicians are the preferred target.

I look at the French and I think about how different their society is. It prides itself on freedom of expression. Its own politicians have tried to get Charlie Hebdo to tone down – but in the way a parent would chide a child. It gave police protection even after the newsroom was firebombed for its issue with the prophet as “guest editor” in 2012. Here, it probably would have been closed down. Even in the United States, that bastion of freedom of speech, the White House spokesman then wondered about the “judgment’’ behind decisions to publish offensive cartoons.

Of the massacre, Financial Times columnist Tony Barber wrote that the magazine exercised “editorial foolishness.” He went on: “If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech.” Of course, “this is not in the slightest to condone the murderers… it is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications… which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.”

(BTW, FT clarified later that this was an opinion piece, not its editorial. Interesting huh?)

In Malaysia, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohammad said: “I do not support the killings. But we must be mindful that when we purposely provoke others, we cannot be sure how they will react.’’

Charlie’s supporters can say that it pokes fun at the Catholic church and the Jews too, so why should it not be even-handed with Islam? In other words, why is the threshold of tolerance so low when it comes to Islam? And must the magazine deviate from editorial policy because of “sensitivities’’ of a particular group? Among the responses advanced is that besides Islam, other religions are not do devoutly or obsessively held by their followers, particularly in Europe.

The French might want to consider that its own social dynamics have changed over the years, with the advent of immigrants of other religions particularly from North Africa. The French might have held firm to absolute freedom of speech as a cherished principle all along, but this might not be the case for the “new’’ French. With increasing self-radicalisation among the Muslims in France (they form the biggest European contingent which have gone to fight the cause of the Islamic State), adhering to principle of absolute freedom of speech might well be like waving a red flag at a bull. With consequences that are dire for the rest…

I guess people will now ask me for my own bottomline…

Here goes: Killing cannot be condoned. It is the most extreme form of extremism. There are other ways to seek redress, particularly in a liberal democracy. Go protest in front of the newspaper office. Bombard the editor with letters. Get a petition up. Tell people not to buy or subscribe to it. Set up a magazine to counter Charlie Hebdo. If you are living in a country where the value of freedom of speech has been forged over the years, then try to live by it. Or work at changing the value system to include greater respect for religion.

As a Singaporean citizen living here, I value peace and civility towards each other, regardless of race, language, religion, economic class and sexual orientation. And I believe this to be the case for most people. If there are some restrictions on speech about religion to preserve social harmony, I can live with it. Religion is not worth killing over.

The curious case of Cherian George Redux

In News Reports, Politics on January 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

You know the phrase: Let sleeping dogs lie. Now an old issue looks like it’s going to be dug up from the morass of ambiguity in which it had been buried. From Hong Kong, Dr Cherian George has fired a missile at his former employer for making somewhat defamatory seeming comments (my words) in an education website.

Dr George didn’t say he was going the legal route but his words could have been borrowed from a lawyer’s dictionary. Likewise, the response from Nanyang Technological University where he used to teach journalism.

I am taking the lead from MSM by not repeating words that might be potentially libellious. Let me just say that university president Bertil Andersson was trying to stress that the decision not to grant Dr George tenure was not a political decision but one taken by the tenure committee. That is, Dr George was assessed in the same way as other academics going for tenure, which presumably meant that he had been found wanting on the academic front.

This appears to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Dr George described the remarks as “incorrect, insensitive and injurious to the reputation of a Singaporean forced to reestablish his career outside his home country by his employer’s failure to treat him like other academics’’. 

He said he had asked for a retraction but NTU replied with a clarification: that it had no intention to lower Dr George’s reputation and standing in the field. That is, no malice was intended. In likewise lawyerly language, Dr George replied that this clarification “fails to reduce the sting of his published remarks’’.

Frankly, I wondered why Dr George had held his tongue (or pen) for so long. His distress was already clear in an earlier blog post seven months ago just before he left for Hong Kong Baptist university. It was his first extensive public comment on the issue which had drawn the attention of foreign academics and media.

He said:  “It didn’t help that my employer issued this public statement about its general policy: “The tenure review process is purely a peer-driven academic exercise… The two equally important criteria are distinction in research and scholarship, and high quality teaching.”

While this may be true in general, the process was not followed in my specific case.’’

He proceeded to give a condensed version of what happened in 2009 and later. He added: “When set against the facts of my case, my employer’s public statement that “all” NTU faculty go through the same “purely” peer-driven process is inaccurate.’’

 Then seven months later, NTU more or less repeated this in Times Higher Education supplement.

I had expected at that time that NTU would respond to his earlier blog post. After all, here is one of its (former) academics accusing it of being politically influenced (whether self-afflicted or pressed by outside forces) in decisions that should be based purely on academic performance. To put it bluntly, Dr George is saying that NTU didn’t have the guts to give him tenure even though, he claimed, the committee thought he was good enough for it. Why? Because of a “perception’’ that his critical writing would pose a “reputational risk’’. Now Dr George is an excellent writer but the journalist in him would acknowledge that the follow-up questions would be:

  1. How did the perception arise? Who said what to whom?
  2. Which set of critical writing? His book Freedom from the Press?
  3. Define reputational risk. Is NTU afraid that people would say it has some sort of rebel/maverick in its ranks? So what? For some universities, it might well be a badge of honour to have academics of different stripes.

Some commentators have already suggested that this is something that happens in the “real world’’. Companies have been known to sack employees for other reasons than job performance such as inappropriate speech  – think Anton Casey and Amy Cheong. In fact, employers have plenty of discretion over the retention of its employees. If you are on contract and it is not renewed, employers are not compelled to give you a reason.

Should academia be treated in the same way? We can debate this issue till the cows come home but right now, I think the issue is this: Dr George is saying that NTU lied about why he was not given tenure and hence had to leave the university. NTU should respond, to save its own reputation.

A life-and-death conversation

In News Reports, Society on January 5, 2015 at 8:47 am

So there’s a row about a columbarium to be built by a private company next to a  BTO development called Fernvale Lea in Sengkang. Prospective residents who’ve put down money say that the publicity materials gave more focus to the building of a Chinese temple rather than its attached columbarium. Unfair, they said. They might not have bought the BTO flat if they knew. Some want their money back.

Here’s the story:

Dead: Wow! What a beautiful home I will have in this new housing estate. Did you see the architecture? It must be because a private developer is doing this. Life Corp. How nice, the name…I’m dying to move in.

Living: Please lah. I am going to move into the area too. Why can’t you stay at some ulu place far away like where the foreign worker dorms are sited?

Dead: Eh, you didn’t read the brochures properly ah? Anyway, you won’t be able to see my home. I think I am going to be underground – as usual. And my neighbours and I are just taking up 20 per cent of the place.

Living: Doesn’t matter! Fact is, I didn’t know you were going to be my neighbor. Never mind if you’re out of sight. The fact people know you are there is going to push down my resale price!

Dead: Oi! This is going to be my permanent home! You already thinking of selling yours ah? Plenty of other residential areas have columbariums. Next door at Anchorvale, there are three Chinese temples with columbariums! So what’s your problem?

Living: I don’t care. Maybe those stupid residents there bought and didn’t know until they moved in. But now that the rest of us who haven’t moved in know, we die, die want something done! I bet the G just gave the land  to the highest bidder which happens to be a private developer. What kind of private developer builds temples?

Dead: Don’t confuse the issue. If it’s some Chinese society which builds my home, you’ll still kao peh, kao bu. (Oops! They not alive ah…sorry…did you put them in some ulu place…?) Okay, okay, you just don’t want to live with the dead. I assure you I won’t be any problem at all. I won’t make any noise, won’t spit, won’t litter. I am not even a foreigner. You will hardly see me. And remember that it’s a columbarium, not a crematorium!

Living: But what about your relatives and so who come and visit you? There will be traffic jams during Ching Ming! This is a deadly serious issue!

Dead: Your relatives don’t visit you ah? Public holidays no jams ah? I thought the Government wants family members to stay tight knit! You don’t want my relatives to visit me ah? How many times you visit your parents?

Living: Not the point! Not your business how often I visit my parents. I want my money back. Refund! Of all things, put a columbarium there… Why not a hawker centre or childcare centre or something? The space is supposed to be for community use right? This is a new development, probably plenty of young families…why remind us of what will happen to us eventually?

Dead: Are you superstitious? Or it’s just resale value you worry about. So other people are superstitious but not you…Got find out whether resale prices near columbariums really go down or not? Anyway, where you expect me to go? Bukit Brown already gone. Chua Chu Kang…hmmm…landed property. Already filled and maybe even some re-settlement… My children should have scattered my ashes into the sea…..waaaaiiiilllll

Living: Stop this rubbish! Not blaming you! Blaming the government! The HDB! The MP! Money grubbing capitalist corporations! All trying to hoodwink decent hardworking residents!

Dead: Anyway, you go see what your MP can do lah. You keep the issue alive, maybe the government will go soft and relent. Or maybe the deal already signed and sealed in concrete. Dead in the water liao.

Living: It’s very simple. We don’t have enough land for the living and the dead. The living must take priority. The dead should remain dead silent. So shut up and stay dead!

The influential crowd

In News Reports, Society on January 4, 2015 at 8:09 am

In the realm of social media, there is this creature known as the “influencer’’. It’s a new term that refers to people with an online following; supposed trend-setters who can shape the behavior and opinions of many. The term is now in vogue because of a spat between blogger diva/social influencer XiaXue and a social media marketing firm known as GushCloud.

It’s over the whole business of “influence’’ – whether faked or not in terms of the number of followers and the kind of analytics used. It’s over whether influencers are really peddling products without telling people that they have been paid to do so. It might also be over getting publicity for sponsors and influencers by generating “news’’ that also made it into the offline media. If so, social media has managed to trump mainstream media. What is news on social media is also news on MSM, expanding exponentially the influence of social influencers….

And there is now the term “style’’ influencers – this refers to trendy IT (not info tech) people who pose in various items of dress and undress and which have thousands of people drooling over their Instagram pictures. MSM readers have since been introduced to four of them, all of whom profess to be simple and down-to-earth girls in their glam outfits. Now whether young people rush to get the same outfits or not is not clear. But in the SunTimes, the sponsors say that this does happen – although you wouldn’t think they could say otherwise.

I congratulate these “influencers’’. Seriously. They’ve shown that you don’t need to join a beauty pageant, learn how to model or enter some Star Search contest to be a star. You just need a sense of style, willing sponsors and a good social media marketing firm. The young ones have achieved in a much shorter time than what their older counterparts took to make the spotlight and become “brand’’ ambassadors. They are making big bucks although no one is on record for saying how much – but I guess it’s more than they would get in an “ordinary’’ full-time job starting at the bottom of the ladder.  It’s a new way of making money off big business.

I suppose there are also eating (gourmet?) influencers and tech influencers who tell you about good places to eat and what high-tech gadget to buy. Whether they have been paid to put up a good review, fed well and given freebies, is something else. Xia Xue, an ex-journalist claimed that some of GushCloud’s “influencers’’ don’t declare this upfront. I know of one such blogger/influencer who told an open forum that she doesn’t do it because “my readers don’t like it’’. Ouch!

I haven’t wrapped my head around the phenomenon. I dislike the term influence because it is too broad and all-encompassing. Can an influencer really change behavior and shape opinion? Or do they simply influence buying trends? Whatever happened to the term “style-setter’’ or “trend-setter’’ or even “social butterfly’’ and “fashion promoter’’? It strikes me as really odd for an 18 year old to be known as an “influencer’’ of young people and crowing about her ability to “impact their lives’’. A little humility and restraint, my dear girl, is more becoming…

It’s all in the power of marketing, I suppose. As someone who used to work in MSM, I have always been wary about using made-up terms that convey more than they actually mean. I would have set some standards in terms of quantifying “influence’’, size and type of fan base before dignifying someone as an “influencer’’. Maybe I would even make a distinction between whether they are “paid’’ influencers or not. The second is more credible than the first of course. Just as a paid newspaper like ST should be regarded as more credible than a free paper like TODAY or My Paper – because its readers bother to pay money for it and it is not totally dependent on advertising. (Go ahead…hit me)

According to Sunday Life, The Influencer Network Communications has about 200 influencers while Nuffnang has 60,000 bloggers but says about 100 of them are the more influential ones. Gushcloud says it has 200 influencers. So all in, there are at least 500 influencers, many more than there are Members of Parliament.

MP: Hi, I am an MP for XX. I have 60,000 constituents.

Influencer: So few? I am an influencer with 120,000 fans.

MP: I speak for the people in Parliament and influence or try to influence policy. I get a monthly allowance.

Influencer: I pose on Instagram and influence or try to influence people to buy stuff I wear. I get paid by sponsors.

MP: Are you more influential than me?

Influence: Of course! Get your party to sign me up as an “influencer’’! I will make sure I mix-and-match everything I wear including eye shadow and lipstick in your party colours! Sure win election one!

(Okay, I was being naughty there…)

Now…to get to the point. Frankly, I don’t think we should be all het up about the influencers. These young people are having fun being in the limelight and their fans are enjoying themselves vicariously through them.

Sure, there is the harm that over-consumption can occur with young ones wanting to emulate dressing and lifestyle. One academic said young people and prospective consumers need to consider conflicts of interest, source, credibility and quality of information when considering what an influencer recommends. To translate: Do you know if the influencer is paid to say/do/eat/wear/use those things? Is all the info coming from one source – the sponsor? Is the info accurate and can comparisons be made? Is there enough information anyway – or is the product, hmm, cancer-causing?

But advertising (whether disguised or product placement) melded with a sort of hero worshipping has been around since the age of communications…think radio stars and television icons and the Beatles. Except that instead of just so many “big heroes’’, we have plenty of “small heroes’’. The problem will be when everything important revolves on status and style – rather than substance. When people want to emulate what is on the outside rather than inside. When style, eating and possessions are what people talk about, not anything heavier that would strain the brain. What’s worse….when we strain the brain just so that we can achieve style and status. When we hanker after good jobs and big salaries not to give our work and life meaning, but to acquire the adornments and accoutrements of status. To say…we have arrived!!!

So I do hope that the influencers of style will also temper their displays with an influence over the mind. You know what they say about having power also means taking responsibility. That is more difficult, methinks, than looking good.

Is this home – truly?

In News Reports, Society on January 3, 2015 at 1:09 am

I have been thinking for weeks about writing a “look forward’’ blog post – and now it’s too late. It’s Jan 3. So many people are crystal ball gazing or putting forth personal or national aspirations that I was flummoxed last night when a friend asked if I had a resolution for the new year. I realized that I don’t have one.

But a thought struck me when I was scanning today’s newspapers. I think the article in ST would have caught readers’ eyes: how a Duxton Pinnacle flat fetched $900,000 in the resale market. It’s a 95 sq m flat bought for $340,000. Woooah! So the iconic (or ugly, in my view) Pinnacle flats were finally allowed on the resale market a month ago after meeting the HDB’s ownership deadline rules. The article tried to dampen any feelings of envy by talking about how unique the flat is, and how neighbouring similar sized HDB flats were already going for three-quarters of a million bucks.

First thought: What a windfall for the couple who sold the unit! It doesn’t seem to have been affected by the fall in HDB resale prices,  by 6.1 per cent for the whole of last year! Then again, we wouldn’t know since the Pinnacle@Duxton is a new product on the market. Which leaves me to think: how many others in this HDB estate would be off-loading their flats for such a windfall? I see a green-eyed monster growing in me….

How many people actually age in place? According to HDB, six in 10 people are still living in their first flat. That’s good – because it is their home, truly.

Apparently, most of them are concentrated in the Tanjong Pagar (where Duxton is) and Chinatown areas. I don’t think anyone is surprised by the places named. That’s where quite a few of the elderly live, and they would want to age in place, as many elderly people want. In fact, a survey last year showed that about 81 per cent of those above 65 want to age in their existing flat, as they found it comfortable, had an emotional attachment to it, or want their children to inherit the flat. I think the HDB upgrading projects are magnificent moves to get people to stay in place. I can’t imagine my mother, for example, negotiating the stairs at her age without a lift that stops at every floor. Perhaps, the upgrading programmes contributed to the six in 10 ratio of people staying put. Or it could have been smaller.

But staying put for ages can be viewed as quite silly because the residents didn’t take advantage of buying and selling, upgrading to a bigger flat and reaping profits. That’s what most people think about – the future gain. That’s why you have people who bought BTO flats in Sengkang grumbling about the siting of a columbarium. They haven’t even moved in, and they’re thinking about resale prices…

So the HDB wants to come up with more ways for families to live near each other. If the elderly wants to age in place, and the younger ones are attracted by market incentives (read: subsidies/grants) to live near them, hopefully the younger ones will want to age in place and the cycle starts again with their children. Except I am now reading about people asking for home distances to be “widened’’ for incentives to live near each other. (I was thinking to myself, maybe the HDB should give incentives for parents and children to live in the same constituency/GRC…that’s a wide enough distance…)

Professor Tommy Koh wrote about his three wishes for the new year published in ST today, and worried that Singapore was becoming a “market society’’ which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  He hopes that Singapore will be less obsessed with money and less materialistic.

Maybe we can start by not thinking of the place we live in as something we can make money from. But as a home.

According to a five-yearly HDB household survey released last week, fewer HDB residents are satisfied with their flat, a drop from 96.4 per cent in 2008 to 91 per cent last year. Residents’ main concerns were related to the condition of ageing flats, HDB stated. Additionally, resident satisfaction with their neighbourhood stood at 92 per cent, down from 95.1 per cent five years ago. Respondents cited inconsiderate neighbours as the main reason, HDB said. (So either we’ve become more inconsiderate over the years or we have new types of neighbours…I don’t think I want to go there…)

About 25 per cent of the complaints that HDB receives concern ceiling leakages in flats, according to MND minister Khaw Boon Wan.  Now, the responsibility for maintaining the flats and addressing such leakages fall on both the upper and lower floor flats. The problem arises when the upper floor residents refuse to allow HDB officers in to fix the leaks, which could take as long as three months or even a year to fix. I think the problem is also the cost which the upper floor residents will also have to bear – the HDB funds half, the other half is split between upper and lower floors. Since the upper floor residents aren’t affected, they would view it as an imposition…until THEIR own ceiling leaks.

Mr Khaw wants more power for the HDB to enter flats. It’s a reasonable request for power even though I don’t like it at all. I guess we have to get used to living in older structures and know where responsibility lies…and maybe more emphasis on this should be placed. I don’t just mean promoting neighbourliness, but a DIY culture.

I have always been amazed at how westerners fix up everything in the house on their own without resorting to cleaners, painters, plumbers, electricians and carpenters. I suppose it’s because it is cheaper to do so. Here, it might well be cheaper and more convenient or even a habit to just sell and move out to a newer place. We don’t have a DIY culture, but a disposable one.

My own place is getting old. I have to fix one air-con unit, lights in the living room and my book collection has outgrown the shelf space I have. I need to change my sofa and television set both of which have been with me for more than 10 years. I am getting annoyed at the surrounding construction work which will block my view of the neighbourhood when the buildings are up. I suppose I can also look for a newer place since I will get a good profit from my home despite falling resale prices. But I think not.

So my new year resolution will be: This is my home, truly – and I will make it beautiful.