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Caught in the middle: Residents in AHPETC

In News Reports, Politics on May 5, 2015 at 8:14 am

What do you think?

Can you live with the consequences of your vote? So if your town council runs out of money, you will just have to suffer lift breakdowns and dirty corridors until the next general election? That’s the Workers’ Party position. How it operates is something between the party and the voters – not for the G nor the courts to intervene in, it said.

It’s so interesting. The WP lawyer in court even backed it up with past ministerial exhortations about the consequences of the vote. Residents shouldn’t expect to be bailed out if they voted in people who can’t manage the estate.

Anyway, some background:

The G wants the court to let it appoint independent auditors to go over the WP town council’s books and reclaim funds that have been wrongly disbursed. It will only release $14 million in grants to the town council, if the independent auditor is in to see that the money is managed properly. For example, if the WP wants to spend $20,000 or more, the independent auditor has to sign off on it.

Things are getting critical because there’s only enough money to sustain the Aljunied, Punggol East and Hougang estates till June. And that’s because it hasn’t made two sinking fund payments for cyclical works, according to the G.

The WP looks to be trying to head off the installation of an independent auditor (if the court says okay) by having its own external accountants and a financial consultant. But the G has dissed its efforts as “lukewarm assurances’’ citing the lack of experience of at least one of them.

What a state of affairs!

What’s interesting is that the WP is throwing back to the PAP its own argument about voting the “wrong’’ people. It’s the PAP G which said residents are responsible for their vote, so why is the G turning to the courts to intervene? In fact, it is up to the G to decide how to disburse the funds and it has already said it would review the Town Council Act. So why doesn’t it just do so and make the system more robust?

Another argument: Only the Housing Board and residents can go to the courts for redress.

Hmm. Quite smart.

The G wants to deal with this as a “legal problem’’ which needs the court’s adjudication while the WP wants to portray it as a “political dispute’’ that shouldn’t be any business of the court.

The problem with long sagas is that most people have short memories. So did the WP do any wrong that required such action by the G? Here’s what people reading about the court saga will remember: There was something about arrears, its managing agents having conflict of interest and some unaccounted money somewhere. Oh. And the Auditor-General’s report which said that there were plenty of “lapses’’ but didn’t say anything about a crime being committed.

They might remember the WP saying how no one wanted the job of managing agent and how it had just 90 days to sort the groundwork for the enlarged town council – and wasn’t this a bit tough on them? And the WP said it would fix its internal problems by itself while the G said it would fix the Town Council Act.

I am going to say it again: This is all sooooo interesting. It’s like the days of the late Ong Teng Cheong who wanted to test the elected president’s powers vis-à-vis the G. That took place in the courts too. Now we have another unique experiment in Singapore taking the same route.

I wonder what the residents in the opposition ward think? The elected presidency challenge was more hypothetical. This case, however, affects the lives of people living in one GRC and two single-seat wards. There hasn’t been much of a ruckus raised by residents, not even after the PAP put out fliers asking them to take the WP to task – or at least get answers from the party. Nor has any noise been heard about a petition that was initiated. The community groups in the area haven’t said a thing either.

Actually, I was thinking that if the WP had a case and the court agrees that the G shouldn’t bring the issue to court, what if a resident did so instead? Remember how a resident went to court to try and force a by-election in Hougang?

It would be good to know the mood of these hundreds of thousands of people in the opposition wards. How would they react to their own MPs’ position: You voted for me, so you have to live with me until the next GE when you have to decide whether you should keep me or throw me out. You know that don’t you?

Some possible answers:

  1. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. It hasn’t, so I have to live with it. Never mind rubbish piled up to the nth floor.
  2. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. Even if the WP doesn’t, I reckoned that the G wouldn’t just let things be because we’re all taxpayers aren’t we? And that grant is really taxpayers’ money.
  3. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. But it’s been hobbled so much that it can’t perform and now it’s being bullied and we, the residents, have to suffer. If the PAP didn’t try to “fix’’ the party, we’d all be okay.
  4. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but it didn’t matter to me whether the WP did a good job of running the town council or not. I voted them to speak up for me in Parliament. The estate is a bit smelly and dirty but that’s the price you pay for exercising your vote.
  5. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote which was why I DIDN’T vote the WP. So why are PAP voters being penalized? Should I move out?
  6. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but I thought all those other checks by grassroots organisations which purport to represent us would keep the town council in line.
  7. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but this is too high-level for me to intervene. How can I make a difference? I am powerless – and that’s why the G should intervene to protect me. It’s no longer a party thing, but a national issue.
  8. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and I also know that at the very last minute, the G will still rescue us because it risks looking heartless if it doesn’t.

Anyway, it’s in court now. Even if the residents decide to band together and say something, would it be subjudice? I don’t even know what subjudice is anymore.

TRS kena Part 2

In News Reports on May 4, 2015 at 2:14 pm

I was a little puzzled by the Media Development Authority’s order to The Real Singapore to shut down. Not that I would miss TRS. I am puzzled at the way the law and media regulations look like a badly sewn patchwork.

The kindest thing I can say about the G’s move is that it is still wondering how to handle the wacky online world.

So the MDA couldn’t do a thing about TRS in the past because it based its operations abroad. That means it didn’t come under the ambit of the Broadcasting Act.  Until December that is, when Yang Kaiheng, a Singaporean, and his Australian fiancé, Ai Takagi, started “running their operation from Singapore’’, said the MDA.

I wonder if running an operation FROM Singapore is the same as running operation IN Singapore because I gather that the couple were nabbed while on a trip here from Australia in February. So, they weren’t based here but the servers were? Administration? What?

In any case, a couple of months passed…before the cops, not the MDA, acted. Why didn’t the media regulations kick in first (in December?) if the MDA is so keen to protect the reading/viewing public? Instead, it gets into the act after the couple got the book thrown at them.

I can’t help but wonder if somebody made some mistake here… Did someone think that TRS would automatically shut down or suspend itself after the couple got charged? And when it didn’t and continued to have those allegedly seditious posts accessible online and operated business-as-usual, that someone realized that TRS wasn’t going to play ball? Or were the criminal charges levelled simply so as to keep the couple in Singapore? (By the way, Yang has been allowed to leave Singapore to attend to his sick father.)

I had a look at the Sedition Act which can be used against any person who “ prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication’’. The penalty: fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

I am not going to say more about this because the case is before the courts. And that is what makes the MDA move even more puzzling. By ordering a shutdown, hasn’t it prejudiced the sedition case against the couple? Or is it going to split hairs and say that it was not referring to the seven charges which refer to specific posts when it made the order – but on other matters posted on TRS?

There are too many questions surrounding this issue which I am sure is being watched by anyone who has a website.

In its statement, MDA said TRS published “prohibited material as defined by the Code to be objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony.’’ I looked at the Code on what was considered “prohibited material’’ and I guess it would be this one:

(g) whether the material glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance.

It also said that “TRS has deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties. TRS has also inserted falsehoods in articles that were either plagiarised from local news sources or sent in by contributors so as to make the articles more inflammatory.’’

You know, I didn’t know the MDA also policed a site’s errors and plagiarism…But I suppose if a site does so with the intention of inflaming passions and increases eyeballs while raising eyebrows, then there’s a reason for its intervention.

The statement goes on about how “at least two out of TRS’s three known editors are believed to be foreigners – Takagi is Australian, while another editor Melanie Tan is believed to be Malaysian’’. “The foreign editors were responsible for several articles that sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore.’’

Hmm…Is the problem one of having foreign editors? Is this something all websites must guard against? Or is this about foreigners trying to incite anti-foreigner sentiments here? How does the MDA know that the foreign editors were responsible when it is so tentative about how many editors the site has in total and even the nationality of the third?

The landscape is way too complicated.

Even though all websites come under the statutory class licence requirement in the Broadcasting Act, the MDA decided two years ago that some big sites which report on Singapore to Singaporeans should be licensed with a $50,000 bond. If TRS was based in Singapore, maybe this licensing route would suffice to keep it in line given its 1.2 million unique visitors a month.

Then the MDA also decided that some websites, never mind how fledgling, should register once they decide to go commercial (I declare my interest here as the former editor of Breakfast Network), I thought, ah, maybe TRS would be cornered here, given that it charges six figures in ad space a month. Then again, no, because, I think, it didn’t have a Singapore-based company.

Then TRS moved here.

It’s a bit ironic that it was the good ole Class Licence requirement that was held against it after all the fuss made about earlier tweaks in regulations.

Some people have said that the unprecedented application of the Class Licence requirement reflected the “light touch’’ of the G. In other words, it waited till “now’’ to actually use it. But they forgot to say that the Sedition Act charges came first.

We need a lot of clarification here…but how to ask/answer questions when the court is involved? The court action and the MDA move are not separate issues – or are they?

Sigh.

Where oh where is that promised review of the Broadcasting Act?

The baby, the bathwater and the bathtub

In News Reports, Politics on May 2, 2015 at 12:24 am

Everybody is reading tea leaves again. You can be sure that every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth from now, people will speculate on whether it would be an early election held way before January 2017. I have given up guessing dates but my tea leaves, or rather coffee grounds, tell me that all seats will be contested and eyes will be on wards bordering the Workers’ Party cluster in the east. At least, I sure hope so….I live there!

So what can be gleaned from PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech on May Day? It was all about exceptional leadership, like the sort his father and the first generation of ministers provided. And the difficulty of recruiting good men and women into leadership positions. He didn’t say that they would be for the People’s Action Party – presumably because it’s a given. In fact, he hardly mentioned his party at all except when he reminisced about the late Lee Kuan Yew’s early days with the NTUC.

He has set the agenda for the next election: “..leadership renewal is the most important issue. It is not doing more or spending more as some would like you to think. It is who will lead Singapore into the future and it is our future at stake and our children’s future. Because if this government fails, what is going to happen to you, to all of us to Singapore?’’

The thing about leadership renewal as a mantra is that it has been the case for nearly every general election that I can remember save the years when the PAP put the elected presidency and the need for MPs who can run town councils centre-stage. Of course, there were plenty of other issues the PAP threw in, like vote for upgrading and deny racial politics ecetera.  But the theme of getting a team in place for the future is like listening to a tape recorder after re-winding.

Is it going to get any traction? Can it compare with the WP’s theme of needing a check in Parliament? Remember that Singapore lost a Foreign Minister in George Yeo. That’s a high profile job that is responsible for Singapore’s high profile on the international stage. Despite expressions of Mr Yeo’s exceptional ability, the PAP couldn’t fight the WP tide.

I suppose one reason leadership renewal might resonate now is that PM Lee isn’t getting younger. He’s 63. Leadership renewal was less of an issue during PM Goh Chok Tong’s time was because we all knew who was going to take over his job when he stepped down. Now the guessing game isn’t just about when the GE will be held, but who is going to step up to the PM’s plate. (You realise that we no longer have a First or Second DPM? Both Mr Tharman and Mr Teo are equal players although it is Mr Teo who steps up in the PM’s absence.)

The other issue is what it means to have an exceptional team.

PM Lee said this of the outpouring of emotion from the people when his father died: “I think his passing reminded people that exceptional leadership made a big difference to us and I think it has caused many people to pause and to ask ourselves are we sure we don’t need that kind of leadership any more, that quality of leadership anymore. Of course Mr Lee did not do it alone. Part of his greatness was that he brought together exceptional people to form an outstanding team.’’

As evidence, he also cited the numerous foreign leaders who came for the funeral and even flying their own national flags at half-mast.

So is PM Lee talking about “tough love’’? Hard truths and no holds barred kind of leadership that the late Mr Lee epitomized? He was after all, not a “gentle father figure’’ but a hardnosed mobiliser and, some might even say, hardboiled mobster.

I don’t think the late Mr Lee was the right leader for the turn of the century but I have sometimes wished that he had come out to lay out the law of the land and just point the waaaay. This is especially so when discussion gets too fractious.

I really want to know, for example, what was it that the late Mr Lee wanted to say in Parliament post-GE which his son didn’t allow him too. My guess is that it’s some kind of harangue about navel-gazing and going on about COEs and property prices when the world is out there ready to eat our lunch. The PM told his father that he and his team would handle it by themselves.

This is pure guesswork but I suppose he thought Mr Lee might do more harm than good by speaking up to a population which is no longer dominated by the first or second generation Singaporeans. Also, he wouldn’t want his father to help bolster him and the younger lot, and risk looking even weaker especially after a weak showing in the GE. Just saying.

There is another point in his speech I found disconcerting. He talks about how Mercedes still needs Lewis Hamilton to win the F1 championship even though it has an outstanding car. “The car can’t drive itself.’’ So those people who think it’s okay to try out a different team to lead the government because there is still the civil service to run the show should be “very careful’’.

Hmm. The civil service SHOULD be able to run the show despite a change of political masters no? That’s how it works elsewhere, so why can’t it work here? What is the relationship between the civil service and the government-of-the-day, especially when so many ministers are ex-civil servants?

I ask this because I was very taken by the speech made by Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo published in the media last week:

“The distinction of the role between the politician and public servant has started to become blurred.

“The upside is that the politicians will have strong support from public servants when they need to sell government policies. But the downside of the change is that it will be more difficult for the public servant to behave in a non-partisan manner as the public will see him as intrinsically linked to the ruling party, perhaps even occasionally justifying the party line. It was not an issue in the early days because the old-generation public servants never had to worry about another political party taking over government from the PAP.

“But GE 2011 has caused some of our younger public servants to worry about what to do if there are more and more opposition MPs in Parliament or even if there is a change in political party, and not just in government, maybe a few general elections from now.’’

There is something very wrong here. Are the fates of the civil servants so inextricably tied with that of their political masters that we have to be “very careful’’ if we exercise our right to put in a different political team? We risk the country going down the drain because the civil service can’t function as well with someone from a different party? Surely, ministers are NOT super civil servants.

You can already see attacks on the civil service when something untoward happens in the Workers’ Party town council. There is a perception that civil servants might not be even-handed in its dealings with the PAP and WP town councils, with those living in the opposition wards being worse off. It might be an unworthy perception but it is one that will dog the civil service if the distinction of the role between the politician and public servant is not clarified. We can throw out the party in power because we disagree with its politics or politicies but we must always be able to have faith that the civil service can and will carry on on behalf of the people.

It got me thinking about the NTUC. What happens to the NTUC should the PAP lose more seats or even lose power? Maybe nothing as the symbiotic relationship is between the PAP and the NTUC, which is like a holding fort for some would-be candidates and a testing ground for others. (Note: symbiotic is not tripartite which is G-employer-union.) I once asked Mr Lim Swee Say about the relationship and he said there were non-NTUC unions as well and opposition parties are free to tie up with them or form their own version of the labour movement. Interesting.

So PM Lee is right about being “very careful’’ about our vote. Throw out the bath water (the PAP) and the baby might go as well (the civil service) – and we also risk over-turning the bathtub (the NTUC)?

He might be right but it doesn’t seem right, does it?

The Slap

In News Reports, Society on May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

So many views have emerged over the slapping of Amos Yee that you can’t say a thing about it without someone emerging to… slap you down.

In case you didn’t know, Amos breached his bail conditions by posting online again complaining about his bail conditions and describing how his father had hit him, especially when he wanted to go to court in his pyjamas. His well-meaning bailor who put up $20,000, a stranger to him, pulled out because Amos wouldn’t abide by bail conditions. Then another stranger turned up in court yesterday to slap him in front of the media.

I’m summarizing the range of views here and my apologies if I left out any strand of thought

a. Those who clapped loudly along with the slap thinking that it’s about time the boy got his comeuppance. After all, he is undeniably rude and abusive and has no qualms about spreading his vitriol in public.

b.  Those who clapped quietly because it’s not right to condone violence on others and agree that the stranger shouldn’t have taken matters into his own hands. But they’re still gleeful that he did what they have an urge to do themselves if they could or had the guts to.

c. Those who say the stranger shouldn’t have done what he did because it’s just plain wrong. And have no views (I don’t know how it is possible to stop the brain from going there) on whether Amos deserved one tight slap or not.

d. Those who say that those who clap loudly or quietly are wrong because they are really piling on a troubled kid who just might have been abused at home by his father whom he himself described as a “killer’’ and a “bastard’’.

e. Those who say that the stranger was merely doing what his parents should have done (but of course the stranger is wrong), although they don’t know what the parents have done over Amos’ formative years.

f. Those who say that violence on others, whether by strangers or relatives, cannot be condoned. They do not subscribe to the “spare the rod, spoil the child’’ type of upbringing which they say is old-fashioned and out-dated thinking. Besides, it’s also cruel.

g. Those who think everybody should shut up especially if they are not child psychiatrists, do not know Amos or his family and, oh yeah, because the case is before the courts.

h. Those who heap abuse on anyone who differs with them, indulging in ad hominem attacks and engaging in vocabulary almost close to Amos’ quality.

i. Then they are those who conflate the slap with a whole host of other issues surrounding Amos, such as whether a 16 year old should be tried in an adult court, whether the Sedition Act is too heavy for what he did, whether he was being prosecuted more for his anti-LKY rants rather than seditious remarks on religion, why others who attacked him aren’t also being prosecuted….you name it, you can attach a whole lot of issues to Amos.

Before anyone asks, I belong to group b. I got vicarious pleasure from seeing the slap administered. But that is about as far as I would go. We all refrain from acting from basic/base instincts because we’re civilized people who abide by the rules of society and by the law. My regret is that no member of the media or any cop collared the stranger to find out who is he, why he did what he did, and to throw the book at him for executing some version of “mob justice’’.

I know I will be attacked by those who disagree with my group b choice and will call me all sorts of names and declare their “disappointment’’ ecetera. I suppose I can be politically correct – and keep quiet. I wanted to be, because I think that’s what Amos wants – the glory of public comment/interest. And I didn’t want to give him that. Besides, silence is great no? You can’t get into trouble for shutting up. Or if you want to say something you know will get you attacked, you use a pseudonym or set up a fake account or something. But that would be cowardly. So, by that measure, Amos is a hero for saying what he did online so openly….

The Amos issue excites comments because it touches on the law (why the Sedition Act?), court processes (strange bail conditions), freedom of speech (is this more about the anti-LKY rant?), upbringing (unresolved teen issues?), family circumstances (too lax/tight?) and yes, even child/teen abuse whether at the hands of parents, strangers or the State. All of us think we know a bit of the different facets and even have some pretty firm views on parenting styles.

Parents look at Amos and wonder if they are keeping a tight enough rein on what their kids do online. They will put themselves in his parents’ shoes and wonder about how the Yees brought him up, whether he was simply beyond their control – and thank their lucky stars that their own children are well-behaved, or so they think. There will always be an element of self-righteousness and even hypocrisy because we do NOT know his family background and we’re NOT child psychiatrists – but we think we know it all. The thing is, you can’t stop people from having a view, at least, over his public actions.

Likewise, we are all products of our own upbringing and know of people who turned out well or not, because or despite of family circumstances. So we base our judgments on our own experience and anecdotal evidence. To each his own view, I say. We can agree to disagree on any aspect but I think we must and should agree that the stranger was in the wrong to slap him if we are to live in a society based on law and order. And we must and should let the courts proceed with its case without anyone on the outside prejudicing the process or hoping to influence the outcome.

BTW. The Slap is the title of a 2008 novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas. At a barbecue, a man slaps his neighbour’s son, who has been misbehaving without any intervention by his parents. Plenty of drama after that. Some characters believe the boy should be taught some discipline, others think the police ought to be brought in to investigate the slapper. And there’s a range of positions in between. Very good book.

* my apologies. He is being prosecuted under the Penal Code

Bully – and risk being bullied

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 22, 2015 at 2:54 am

I am so glad that IKEA did not change its mind about sponsoring pastor Lawrence Khong’s magic show despite the objections of the LGBT community. I am also pleased that the pastor has NOT said anything. If he did, there would never be an end to the fracas….

I looked at the protests about the show which basically centred on Mr Khong’s uncompromising public attitude towards those of a different sexual orientation. Like many, I wondered what his magic show had to do with his views, unless he chooses to use it as a platform to “convert’’ others to his point of view through some magical brainwashing technique. Or maybe his magic show is so bad that IKEA should be ashamed to support it.

I guess it was not so much Mr Khong’s show as the fact that it was a Swedish store that was involved. Sheesh! The Swedes support Lawrence Khong? How can? Shouldn’t it be more “inclusive’’ and embrace diversity? Aiyoh…this company from a wonderfully advanced country doing this?! How can?

Actually, the LGBT lobby shot itself in the foot by talking about diversity. IKEA made a pointed reference to its support of the Wild Rice production of Public Enemy, helmed by a prominent gay man, Mr Ivan Heng. It looks as though IKEA had been rather even-handed in its choice of activities and organisations to support.

It is normal for consumers to put pressure on corporations because of their perceived failings. Boycotting those who use child labour to produce their products, for example. Here, there was even an abortive attempt to not buy palm oil during the height of the haze to hurt unscrupulous plantation owners who use slash-and-burn techniques to clear land in Indonesia. Whether companies succumb depend on how much they value their reputation and whether they can withstand the effects of a boycott.

In this case, IKEA incorporated Mr Khong’s magic show as part of its loyalty programme of discounted rates for members. That, it seems, is enough to rile the LGBT activists who show themselves to be as intolerant of other people’s views as they say other people are of theirs. Does the community intend to hound Mr Khong’s magic show wherever he goes – and will corporate sponsors pull back because they don’t want any heat from the vocal lobby? Will the lobby claim victory then, never mind that it acquires an image of being strident and, hmmm, intolerant?

There’s another point which the community should consider. If the boot was on the other foot and the pro-traditional family lobby comes out in force to do the same, what would it do for its cause of getting the community recognized as part of the mainstream? What if, for example, the members of the lobby decide to boycott all the organisations who sponsor the annual Pink Dot? Would the LGBT lobby then start denouncing them as intolerant homophobes? Even worse, what if they start petitioning the civil service not to hire gays, because their employment runs contrary to the State’s pro-traditional family stance?  In the case of IKEA, what if the pro-Lawrence Khong supporters and traditional family groups decide to boycott the store BECAUSE it sponsors Mr Heng’s play or pulls Mr Khong’s show?

There is some wisdom in the official advice to not to take things too far or to push too hard. The Pink Dot organisers have been superb at keeping its event low-profile; they can’t help it if more and more people converge on Hong Lim Park. Still, the ever-growing crowd has already prompted a backlash with the Wear White campaign last year.

Never mind the LGBT numbers here, no one will say that they are in the majority. Yet there are many people who emphatise with the LGBT community and wish the members well. They are not anti-gay and go about their business quietly. Bullying tactics, however, will make them sit up and take sides. Might it not be better to let things happen naturally than start a culture war?

This is not to say that the LGBT lobby should shut up and sit down. It should not tolerate discriminatory acts against one of its members, such as employment termination because of sexual orientation. It should raise an outcry if, say, a homophobic play is put up for audiences – although I think the censors would get to it first. It will find many supporters if it works for the well-being of its members rather than push its agenda on others who might not be ready for it.

Bullying won’t work – or there will be bullying back. How is this good for anyone?

Just pandering to you

In News Reports on April 21, 2015 at 10:16 am

In case you didn’t know, the pandas have mated. BUT it wasn’t successful. Still, here’s the story, according to…hmmm….me.

Panda-monium reigned at the River Safari last Thursday as word leaked out to visitors that a mating session was in progress between Singapore’s foremost Chinese guests. Bamboos were broken and reeds were trampled as curiosity got the better of otherwise well-behaved humans who wanted to see some “action’’ between Kai Kai and Jia Jia.

Early birds caught the full 40-minute show although they had difficulty distinguishing between the male and the female of the species. Zookeepers helpfully pointed out that the “one on top’’ was Kai Kai, the male.

Parents tried to shield their children from the more graphic and acrobatic antics of the two giant pandas – to no avail. The screams of both children and pandas resounded. Fireworks went off. And people sang Stand up for Singapore.

The two pandas were non-plussed at the buzz which surrounded what should have been an intimate activity. Videos and cameras flashed as visitors sought to capture the historic, once-in-a-lifetime scene.

But what should have been the climax of the show proved elusive. Although Kai Kai had begun making overtures to his mate for some time before finally getting randy, he proved unequal to the job. Zookeepers had to supplement what comes naturally with artificial insemination.

Said Mr Quah See Meek, 45, a technician: “It was a bit of a let-down. How can Kai Kai fail? He’s already seven years old!’’

Zookeeper Pan Da Ling said Kai Kai was unable to rise to the occasion because of his lack of experience: “Kai Kai is young. He is interested and ready to try a lot of things. But in captivity, he did not have any older pandas as “a role model”, so he didn’t really know what to do.’’

She added that panda reproduction is a “notoriously complex process, with females ovulating once a year, in which they are fertile for only 24 to 36 hours’’.

Because Jia Jia’s hormones started falling on Friday, the zookeepers needed to move quickly to artificial insemination given the short window when female pandas are able to conceive.

The pandas’ progress has been much monitored by the international community which had worried about the suitability of Singapore’s hot and humid climate. Attempts to vary ventilation and lighting to simulate the pandas’ Sichuan home and to get them in the mood for love had been tried since November.

The duo’s 40-minute effort eclipsed that held by Lu Lu and Xi Mei, a couple from the Sichuan Bifengxia Giant Panda Research Centre in Ya’an. Two weeks ago, they had set a  marathon 18 min 3 sec session, which was broadcast on the Internet via a website that monitors pandas.

The Wildlife Reserves Singapore spokesman it will apply to the Guiness Book of World Records to enter Kai Kai and Jia Jia for accomplishing the longest sex show for pandas. The spokesman brushed off protests from private groups and parents-against-panda-porn. “They don’t realise what an achievement this is. It shows that Singapore is a good place for foreign talent.’’

Asked why the zoo had kept quiet about the feat until now, Dr Pan said: “We didn’t want to give the pandas more post-copulation stress. We also did not want to pander to voyeurs. We envisage that even more visitors will be coming to see them since they are no longer virgins.’’

She added that China had sent a congratulatory message to the Chinese couple and all eyes are now on Jia Jia. “We are pregnant with hope,’’ said Dr Pan.

TRS kena

In News Reports on April 15, 2015 at 1:58 am

I am no fan of The Real Singapore. I read it occasionally when articles pop up on my Facebook newsfeed and always end up asking myself why I was even taking the time to do so. I suppose the curious in me was wondering what TRS was up to yet again. Another anti-foreigner diatribe? Yet another cut-and-paste job with a twisted headline?

I happened to have been a victim of such venom. But, frankly, I couldn’t care less. If readers choose to believe what they read, so be it. If they think this is the “real’’ Singapore, a place to carp and complain and make unsupported accusations in the name of free speech, then I don’t know what to say about their judgment. The website, in my view, is simply…scurrilous. That, I suppose, is its attraction and why it has so many followers. I tell myself that people read it to be entertained, but I think they also read it to be riled up and roused into some kind of righteous indignation over foreigners, the G and whatever or whoever is the favorite enemy of the day.

Time and again, we see people upset by remarks posted on TRS which abdicates responsibility by saying that it doesn’t control what their usually anonymous contributors post. Yet their shadowy owners with overseas servers seem to be beyond the grip of the law. Sue them for defamation? Who are they? Where are they? I was looking forward to seeing someone use the Harassment Act against the site but it seems the law beat people to it.

Now that the couple, a Singaporean student and his Australian girlfriend has been charged, it’s a bit tough to say anything that would not compromise their case. I must say the use of the Sedition Act was a bit of a surprise coming so soon after the same charge was levelled against a Filipino ex-nurse. It is a “heavy’’ legislation and very wide-ranging, which might account for its infrequent use.

The first seven charges come under section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act (Cap. 290) read with Section 3(1)(e):

Offences

4.—(1)  Any person who —

… (c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication ….

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years; and any seditious publication found in the possession of that person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs.

Seditious tendency

3.—(1)  A seditious tendency is a tendency —
(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;
(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;
(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;
(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;
(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

The seven charges each refer to a particular posting, with the most recent being the false allegation that a Filipino family was involved in a fracas during Thaipusam.

The thing I wonder about is this: Why are the seven postings still accessible online if they are said to incite ill-feelings? Shouldn’t they be taken down to prevent further distribution?

From a reading of TRS’ own report of the court case on its site (yes, I had to look at it) it looks as though it is attempting to bring the original writers into the fray. Or at least to show that they were not involved in “content creation’’.

For example, one charge concerning an article on the sacking of “Pinoys’’ and an Indian national had the TRS saying that this “is a complaint shared with TRS in an email which was also published on Facebook by the original writer’’.

Likewise, it published a rant by a soon-to-be divorced woman who complained about the presence of female Chinese nationals who were stealing husbands. TRS said “This article was a complaint sent in by a TRS reader by email on May 22nd 2014’’.

What takes the cake is a charge involving a picture of a supposed female Chinese national making her grandson pee into a bottle on the MRT. Of this, TRS said: “This was sent in to TRS by a reader who also sent the same complaint to STOMP which also republished the same article inclusive of these allegedly seditious lines.’’

Ooh. In other words, double standards?

TRS said that the woman, Ai Takagi, “has been involved in the approval and publication of reader submissions for some of the content posted on TRS’’ but not Yang Kaiheng, the Singaporean. It also very handily listed the “seditous’’ comments that it has been accused of broadcasting.

For example, on the anti-PRC women rant:

“I would like to voice out my unhappiness with the over-populated China Chinese people in Singapore now!”
– “these Chinese women just apply permit/visitor pass using all kind of job excuse”
– “Do you know by simply granting another work permit to these Chinese women means you are destroying many Singapore homes out there!”
– “These Chinese women sleep around with our men … and doesn’t care whether the men are married or with kids.”
– “they only hopefully the men can divorce & married them and after that apply for S’porean citizenship and dump the guy! ”
– “We are flooded with enough Chinese all around us now! and enough is enough!”

I find it troubling. Because I think there are plenty of people who share some of these sentiments and would rant in similar fashion. Unless the case is that TRS has a deliberate agenda given the long list of other charges? Would it not be more suitable to use the Broadcasting Act or some other law to prevent such diatribes – or even to issue a take-down order under the Harassment Act? Until the case of the Filipino nurse with his anti-Singapore rant, the Act has been used against those who spout statements against a particular race or religion.  And now…?

Hopefully, some light will be shed on the use of the Sedition Act.

Teaching kids about cheating.

In News Reports, Society on April 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

ADVERTISEMENT

Ex-journalist/blogger/university lecturer available for homework-completion projects. Fees will start at $200 an hour, and will vary according to degree of difficulty and immediacy of assignment. For “immediate’’ assignments that must “pass up tomorrow’’, tutor will require transport allowance to and from clients’ home with surcharges levied for work done after midnight (tutor’s surcharge not just taxi midnight surcharge).

Only parents with above-average children may apply. And that means anyone because I’m sure every parent thinks his/her child is exceptional.

You know, I think I can make heckuva lot of money offering my services this way. I think I will be especially good for “project work’’ assignments and long-winded essays. Anything to do with General Paper, I also can do. In fact, I don’t even mind completing homework assigned by kindergarten teachers. I like colouring.

What makes this a more attractive job than plain vanilla tutor: You can do the work at your own time, like a freelance writer with a deadline, and you won’t have to deal with pesky kids or have their kiasu parents wondering if boy-boy or girl-girl has really, really improved and can score A or not…

Anyway, The New Paper on Sunday reports that this is a new business that our education system has generated. What a wonderful revenue stream for teachers, ex-teachers and those who think they can be teachers but don’t want to be! One teacher who charges $250 an hour says he makes 75 per cent of his monthly salary this way. If he abides by the Education ministry’s a 6-hour-a-week maximum guideline for private tuition, he can make a maximum of $6,000 a month. Sounds good…

Are many parents availing themselves of people like him? The TNP report has three parents doing so, including one who said she sets aside $800 a month for such special services.

The reasons:

  1. Too much homework, CCAs and the poor kid doesn’t have time to rest.
  2. It’s only for unnecessary or superfluous homework which does help in final grades, that is, not core subjects.

TNPS backed up its story by referring to another in 2012, when it interviewed 80 parents who sent their children to “elite’’ tuition centres. Close to half “had hired or would hire’’ tutors to finish their children’s homework. In fact, one parent hired such a tutor to finish her 14 year old’s tuition centre assignments. She reckoned that since she waited a year to get her daughter into the centre, it would be a waste for her to give up the spot just because of unfinished work. (Makes me wonder if the tuition centre boots out kids who can’t finish homework assigned…got such a thing ah?)

TNPS also said it had come across websites which offer such services including a group that says it would complete projects, essays, reports and homework at a cost – even for undergraduates. The company has a no-questions-asked policy: “Whatever their reasons are, we do the work for them because we get paid to do so. We cater to that demand and we do a fantastic job.’’  So said its spokesman.

To think that we have been grumbling about the $1billion tuition industry, un-tutored tutors preying on parents and kiasu parents loading more classes on their already-gifted kids just so as to ensure they stay ahead or keep up with the pack. That the issue has been raised to a national level with tuition centres requiring registration and even accreditation.

You can’t help but think parents are going nuts…

Nutty parent 1: “Of course I’m going nuts! It’s the education system that is making me nuts! My kid will go nuts too if you see how much homework the teachers give! Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of “homework policy’’ so we don’t stress the kids out, like how many hours of homework a week?’’

Nutty parent 2: “There’s nothing nutty about this. If my kid cannot finish his homework, he will be penalized and it will make him look bad in class. I don’t want to destroy his self-esteem. How his classmates cope? I don’t know. I guess they just don’t get much sleep. I just think that as a responsible parent, I should help him out. Especially since I can afford it.”

Nutty parent 3: “What monkey business? In any case, it’s only “stupid’’ homework which I don’t think is going to affect his exam scores very much…so that’s okay. The teacher won’t know anyway since everything is typed. I would have helped my own kid out if I could, but I am just too busy. The homework also sometimes quite hard…’’

I’m sure everyone has a point of view on this matter. Teachers, for example, will tell of parents who complain if their children get too little homework. Or that the parents/students do not know how to manage their time. Or explain that parents these days just want their kids to do “well’’, even if that means the work has to be done by other people, in other words, they cheat.

That’s right. It’s cheating.

And it’s a shame if parents and homework completors (especially if they are teachers) do not see it this way but choose to dress this up as a transaction or some kind of parental aid for a poor, burdened kid.

Was it so long ago that students were warned about having “other people do their homework’’? Isn’t it better not to complete the homework or to tell teacher “cannot pass up on time’’ than having a beautiful piece of work that is really a con? Or would teachers flip at such responses and prefer to be lied to?

I wonder what such “protected’’ students will say to their classmates: “Heng ah…last night, my dad got so-and-so to come to my house at midnight to finish this homework…Yours how? Finish already? Not yet? You poor thing…Your daddy no money to hire someone ah…”

I don’t want to tell parents about how to bring up their children. It’s not my place to do so. I’m quite sure a lot of the responses will have to do with this onerous education system we have and terrible teachers. All I can say is: I wonder why people don’t deal with the issue by simply bringing it up to the people in a position to change things. What has happened to parent-teacher meetings? Where is the school board/advisory committee/alumni? Can’t the parents – if they are REALLY concerned – make an effort to reach the school principal?

Why throw money at a problem when it is possible to make the problem go away? If fact, why compound the problem by throwing money at it?

Honouring LKY

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 11, 2015 at 2:57 am

On Monday, some very important questions will be asked about how we should honour the memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Now, I am NOT being sarcastic because I DO think something should be done to keep him or at least his thoughts alive beyond merely ensuring re-prints of all his books. So the MPs have come up three suggestions which I suppose will generate a bit of debate given how everyone has something to say….(I’m just going by my FaceBook wall)

The three:

1. Have his face imprinted on coins and dollar notes.

I like this idea.

After all, given that we have our first President’s face on dollar notes…why not? It’s something that our currency board can do quite easily and I rather like some variety of faces on my dollar notes…. And Mr Lee himself never said no. He was against monuments built for him and I suppose that would mean statues and busts. He wouldn’t be against being in the hands of bankers or fishmongers would he? He was a man of the people and everyone would have a bit/a lot of him in their wallets…He was concerned about economic development and our Singapore dollar is super-strong, a reflection of the man as well.

Of course, those who don’t like him might want to deface their notes. But that’s their lookout. If defaced so much that it is no longer accepted as legal tender, too bad…That will teach people to be careful with their money! Hey, that’s another LKY maxim!

2. Re-name Changi Airport after him

Not a popular choice it seems even though he was the man who moved the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi. And SIA pilots are sure to remember the man who thumped them and threatened to replace all of them! There are plenty of precedents abroad. Charles de Gaulle airport in France, JFK in the US. Better, methinks, than Ho Chi Minh city?

People will have to get used to saying “I have to get to LKY tonight’’, “Planes delayed at LKY’’ and “Did you get any duty-free booze at LKY?’’ But we Singaporeans can get used to anything….One argument in favour: Besides Singaporeans, foreigners will be forced to be educated on the legacy of LKY as well…His name will be remembered forever, far and wide. Hurray! The Singapore dollar, on the hand, is only circulated on this tiny red dot.

So why unpopular? Methinks people rather like the term “Changi’’, more than the LKY name for the airport. I like Changi too…It is so Singaporean. And we don’t need to ape the ways of foreign countries do we?

3. Have a Founder’s Day for him

Quite a popular choice, since it’s likely to be public holiday. So should it be on the day of his death, March 23? Or his birthday, Sept 16? Some people, however, think it should be a PLURAL Founders’ Day – for all the first-generation leaders since he wasn’t the sole architect of Singapore.

I’m not sure about this since he would probably tell us to “stop this nonsense and go back to work’’. Also, what would we DO on Founder’s (singular) Day? Re-play old broadcasts and enact scenes from LKY’s past? Have mass readings of his books? Hold an LKY festival? Or should the day simply be a day that’s marked on the calendar like Teachers’ Day, Racial Harmony Day, Total Defence Day or Youth Day? That is, no public holiday…but the school children will have to do something…?

As you can tell, I am personally not in favour of this. I am also not in favour of preserving his Oxley Road home given that it is the family’s wish to have it demolished. We should respect their wishes.

Monday’s sitting is sure gonna be interesting…

PS. Actually why don’t we name a battleship after him? And I don’t mean steamboat.

Furniture buying

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 10, 2015 at 10:12 am

The Cabinet reshuffle has led to speculation that the general election, due by January 2017, could be held early, according to a TODAY report. Plus, the PAP G can reap an “LKY dividend’’, from the goodwill demonstrated by the populace in the aftermath of the first Prime Minister’s death. It’s a minor reshuffle, with Mr Masagos Zulkifli elevated to full minister and becoming second minister in both the Home and Foreign ministries and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew taking on a second portfolio.  Messrs Lim Swee Say, Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-Jin have done some portfolio swopping. Me, I am still tickled by the idea of our multi-tasking Cabinet, who are members of the A team, said the Prime Minister.

So I went furniture shopping…

Me: I’m looking for some cabinet…can you advise me please?

Salesman: What sort you looking for? Kitchen cabinet? Shoe cabinet?

Me: Actually, something more multi-purpose…can put shoes, books and all kinds of knick knacks. Maybe for the living room…And maybe another for my bedroom with drawers for underwear and cold weather clothing.

Salesman: For living room ….how big?

Me: Ah…something adjustable, stackable. In case, I accumulate more stuff over the years…Somethings I just cannot throw away, you know…last forever.

Salesman: You want with glass panels or open shelving? Glass can show off your ornaments….Or you want them covered so you can hide stuff …

Me: Hmmm…open shelving must dust everyday…But very good to show off my Lee Kuan Yew books. But maybe put at the bottom because they are very heavy. Some glass doors for me to show off stuff I’ve bought from abroad or some sg50 mementoes…

Salesman: Different size compartments? All same size? We can stack small ones and some got double the size. Or we can have separators within compartments.  Everything adjustable…

Me: Maybe some have two separators so I can put stuff of different colours in one stack…Hmm…your cabinets come in white? Difficult to maintain or not? Can get rid of stains easily?

Salesman: Don’t worry Ma’am. We have all sorts of cleaning fluids. Just dab and like bleach, stains go off. Case-trusted and CPIB-approved. But don’t use too much or the wood will get rotten…

Me: What? Your cabinets all made of wood? I thought something stronger…

Salesman: Ma’am, then you looking for filing cabinet – we have cast-iron one…

Me: Don’t need filing cabinets…got computer. Just sell me one living room cabinet, soft compressed wood, white, with big and small compartments and shelves that can adjust up and down. Some got glass panel, some don’t. Do you have shoe cabinet?

Salesman: Of course! Very cheap. Very good. But stock only come in October.

Me: Aiyah, I think don’t need then…I buy from NTUC.

Salesman: Okay ma’am. I have a Class A type living room cabinet for you. Very good to display, very multi-purpose. People see …sure to go waaah…I can also offer you Class B type cabinet for your bedroom. For your socks and all that…Sometimes, can put in living room as well if living room cabinet suddenly collapse because you put too many things….

Me: Your stuff so lousy ah???

Salesman: Not lousy. Very good. Don’t believe me you just ask people…they will all kee chiu…

Me (dubious): Hmm…how much and when can you send over?

Salesman: Depends on how many compartments and how big each compartment. But don’t worry, still below market rate. Let me calculate…

Me: I don’t mind paying if you sure it’s good quality…so when delivery?

Salesman: Arhh Ma’am, you have to carry home yourself and assemble yourself. Got instructions…very easy to follow….Ma’am! Ma’am…don’t run away…Still haven’t shown you our kitchen cabinets!

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