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The penitent season

It’s about that time of the cycle again, when the penitent seek forgiveness for the sins they have committed. They humbly, or in this case, not so humbly, go to the people who they have offended and ask that they forgive him or her. For if offended don’t, the aggressor may face hell, or worse.

Yes, its pre-elections season and the government has actively gone around trying to right wrongs.

For one, for years the government has been told that companies are too reliant on foreign workers. It constantly defended its policies, preferring to lump two arguments into one; that of the foreign workers with foreign talent.

On the one hand, it said foreign workforce is crucial to the economy because it provides businesses with the slack to work. If businesses don’t have the ability to hire cheap labour, they go to another country to set up shop.

On the other, foreign talent gives Singapore skills that Singaporeans don’t have.

It’s a difficult argument to rally against. Singapore is small, Singapore is competitive, Singapore is an open economy. Those are the three assumptions that any argument about the economy is based on.

Yet, the argument has always been built on weak foundations.

One, if companies can simply set up shop elsewhere, given cheaper labour, then our entire value proposition is reduced to whether labour is cheap here. This can’t possibly be what Singapore has prided itself on, can it?

Two, there are ways to manage the foreign worker flow, without having to cut off supply. Clearly, businesses are exploiting the foreign workers because they can. Recall the numerous cases of Chinese workers filing complaints against construction companies at MOM.

In this case, it is not a function of what the company needs, but what the company wants.

Underlying all these problems was a hidden story; that of falling productivity. For a nation priding itself on knowledge, science and technology, to have productivity fall over 10 years is horrifying.

Of course, productivity is nowadays defined in many ways. Rising real wages is a real problem. But if you look at the statistics, rising overall wages are due directly to the top earning more, rather than everyone earning more. According to the Dept of Stats, the bottom 20 per cent of household’s real wages (which is adjusted for inflation) has declined the most in the past three years, while the top dropped by less.

Those who live in private housing earn an annual income of $54,000 at least twice those who live in HDB flats. They earn ten times those who live in 1 and 2 room flats.

So what does this say about the situation here?

It is quite clear that while wages have risen, it is those who are are the top who have experienced these increases. This cannot account for the loss in productivity since people who earn that much are expected to pull in more for the employers (except maybe top civil servants, hah)

So the fault was always with foreign workers; foreign workers who did not get trained by their companies because they were transient labour, those who were given the lowest wages possible since they earned more much in their currencies due to the SG dollar strength.

And so now, the anger has risen from those who have fallen through the cracks; those who demand a decent wage so they can live and thrive in sunny Singapore. For them, whether or not the companies fail or go bust is irrelevant. For them, tis a question of survival. Surely anyone can live on $800; but how does he live?

If these were obvious problems, why did the government not react earlier? And why now and not in boom times when it was better to make adjustments? (to be fair there is never a good time to do these things for the companies. But given how the PAP has always harked on their abundance of political capital and will, one wonders.)

It is not late now to change all this. And to this end, the government has embarked on a systematic purging of unproductive companies. Doubt me not, many companies will fail because they have relied so much on foreign labour and the cost savings they brought. But I rather them fail, send the foreigners away, save jobs for Singaporeans, free up housing for us.

I am not against foreigners. They are human beings out to make a decent living. I know many of them. They are essential to many parts of the economy.

But if and when it comes to defending the rights of locals to a decent jobs, a decent wage in one of the richest countries in the world, I say, death to the firms which rely on foreigners.

But as with all transgressions, the people forgive the sinner?

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The “Mother” of all Budgets

So $20.5 billion for companies and individuals, with the bulk of the money going towards firms.

The biggest component of Budget 2009 must certainly be the innovative and interesting CPF-cut, that is not a CPF-Cut.

Called the Jobs Credit, the $4.5 billion package is in essence a wage-subsidy direct from the Government to companies.

Everyone was expecting a CPF contribution cut despite many political leaders insisting that they would not cut it. And why not? AFter all many have said and are still saying this is the worst recession. Ever. Singapore will possibly contract at a massive 5%, the deepest worst recession. Ever. In 1998 CPF was cut because it was the fastest and most potent way to cut costs for companies. Compared to that Asian Financial Crisis, this global downturn is probably 10 times worse, given that it afflicts everyone.

So instead of cutting CPF rates, the Govenrment will give cash to companies, which means that it is shouldering the burden instead. Well, not actually. Because they are funding the subsidies with money from higher GST. So we are actually paying for it in other ways. We just don’t quite feel it.

The other big point is that the Government is not only running a huge-ass deficit but also dipping into past reserves. OMG. This is like what!

For its prudish stance towards spending on savings, the Government has decided this time that the time was right. It will darw $4.9 billion from reserves estimated to be some $600 billion large. This is barely 1%.

But more than the amounts involved, this move has a potent signaling effect. One, it signals that the Govt is treating this recession seriously and is doing serious things in return. Two, it is justifying its past insistence on balancing the budget with its dip into the reserves now. These are potent political messages that will not be lost on the average citizen. ie We are only able to weather the storm now because we made the right decisions then. So trust us.

That leads on to the next question and one that will have people speculating

Is this an election budget?

No. When one says it is an election budget, it means the electio

Crime and Punishment – Round 1

In one corner, Law Society President Michael Hwang, in the other, former top lawyer, now Law Minister, Shanmugam.

Michael takes the first swing by posting two pieces critiquing (not criticising) the Penal Code.

You can find it here and here

But I append the entire treatise in both parts here ( I do realise that this maybe infringing copyright – If I am, and law society says to take it down, just drop me an email)

Crime and Punishment

In my message for this month and the next, I propose to examine some basic thoughts on the purpose of our laws on crime and punishment, commencing with crime.

There are many statements of the purpose of the criminal law, but my favourite short and simple statement is from the Wolfenden Committee in England set up to review the law on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. The function of the criminal law, as they saw it in their 1957 Report, was:

… to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable …

It is not … the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined … there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business.

If we accept this as a working statement of the guide to criminalization of conduct, then the following principles flow from this:
1 It is not the function of the criminal law to shape personal conduct in the way that lawmakers would like Singaporeans to behave.

2 Acts (or omissions) should only be made criminal if they cause positive harm to:

a

other persons or beings capable of sentient feelings;

b

the actor himself;

c

the state;

d

public order; or

e

the community as a whole.

3 Harm has to be tangible and provable rather than speculative or subjective.

4 Harm to others (2a above) needs little explanation except for the second part which is meant to justify laws against cruelty to animals.

5 Harm to the actor (2b above) can be justified either by the principle of paternalism (sometimes the state knows better than the individual what is harmful to him, defining harm in terms of (3) above) or the welfare principle (it is against public policy to utilise the resources of the state to expend time and money on attending to the injuries of those who could protect themselves against such injuries with little inconvenience).

6 Harm to the state (2c above) will justify offences set out under Chapters VI and VII of the Penal Code and offences such as failure to pay taxes.

7 Harm to public order (2d above) will justify:

· (in principle) the laws against public assembly and
racially insensitive speeches, although the degree
to which it is necessary to control the activities of
public assembly and freedom of speech is debatable; and

· laws which prohibit behaviour which many not cause tangible harm to the object of the act concerned but, if not prohibited, will cause people who are so outraged by that act that they will take redress into their own hands (eg necrophilia).

This will also distinguish public decency and private morality, so that (for example) there should be:

· criminalization of sexual acts committed in public (which would be justified in the preservation of public order); but

· non-criminalization of sexual acts performed in private (other than those which cause physical harm even to consenting adults).

8 Harm to the community (2e above) distinguishes the interests of the state from the community at large and provides justification for offences such as:

· those which protect the integrity of the financial markets; and

· those which save the community from the trouble and cost of having to take action to rectify the consequences of acts which cause harm to the actor (eg taking drugs or attempted suicide), which is also justifiable under the welfare principle described under (5) above)

If we follow these principles to their logical conclusion this should lead us to re-examine why certain offences remain on the statute books and whether they should be repealed or modified.

The point of this analysis is that we should not criminalize conduct which we simply consider to be immoral unless harm also results from the conduct. We can argue about what ‘harm’ means for this purpose, but the essential principle should be: no harm, no criminal offence.

That is not to say that morality has no place in the criminal law. All criminal laws must be rooted in morality in the sense that it must have the moral support of the majority of the community, otherwise it becomes the rule of the oligarchy, who think they know what is best for us all. We cannot criminalize conduct if the majority of the people think that the conduct is not wrong enough to require state enforcement (eg adultery). But the converse argument does not follow as a matter of logic: to enforce morality for its own sake cannot be justified by legal arguments. Hence, the arguments about prohibiting the consumption of alcohol or the practice of homosexuality need to focus on the actual or potential harm caused to the persons involved, especially if they are vulnerable (by reason of age or mental incapacity) and not capable of making a fully informed decision as to whether they understand what harm they might suffer from the conduct in question.

All the above is not original thought; it is largely reproduced in the standard criminal textbooks, and I am simply reminding people who have a say in the revision of our criminal laws to take the above into account.

We need to apply intellectual rigour to our attitude to criminalization of human conduct, and should not simply argue for criminalization of conduct which offends us personally for reasons which do not fall within the objective criteria set out above.

So let us clear our minds of cant, and think logically and progress towards a more rational theory of criminal law.

In next month’s message I will deal with what I consider to be the relevant principles determining the imposition of penalties for criminal behavior.

Following on from last month’s message, I want to share my views on the purposes of punishment insofar as they should be reflected in the sentences imposed by criminal courts.

The old view (which is still maintained by many) holds that there is a necessary moral connection between wrongdoing and punishment (variously called ‘ethical or moral retribution’, ‘retributive justice’ or the ‘desert justification’). This theory is a refinement of the ‘revenge theory’ best expressed in the ‘eye for an eye’ principle.

An alternative view (which I prefer) is that offenders are punished only for social reasons, looking forward rather than to the past. This principle is best expressed pithily in the words of the Utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, who wrote:

All punishment is mischief. All punishment is in itself evil. It ought only to be admitted in as far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.

Retributive justice looks to the past when it seeks to punish the offender for what he has done, while the utilitarian looks to the future to justify the imposition of punishment. The utilitarian justification for punishment is not to take revenge on the offender for his wrongdoing but to prevent future offences of a similar kind, whether by that offender or others. In short, the principle of deterrence should underpin a rational policy of sentencing. The sentence should be determined by its effect upon the person punished (particular deterrence) or by serving as a warning to others (general deterrence). In addition, the penal process can have a certain educational effect, both on the offender as well as the community at large in reinforcing the social values of the community as expressed through its criminal laws. However, the educational process should only be regarded as a side effect of punishment, and not as its primary justification. To that extent, I would therefore respectfully disagree with Lord Denning who once famously said:

The ultimate justification of any punishment is not that it is a deterrent but that it is the emphatic denunciation by the community of a crime.

As I pointed out in last month’s message, the purpose of the criminal law is not to enforce the moral standards of the community as such, but only to protect the community and individuals from tangible harm. Accordingly, punishment should not be based on moral denunciation as its primary justification.

But utilitarianism does not provide a self-contained justification of punishment, as there are cases where utilitarianism would provide too harsh a penalty, or where it would not justify a punishment at all where clearly punishment is necessary.

If one carried utilitarianism to its logical conclusion and make deterrence the sole criterion for punishment, there would be times where the easy way to abolish a socially undesirable practice would be to impose extremely harsh penalties, eg to impose huge fines or even imprisonment for parking offences. But the community would (rightly) reject such penalties because they would violate another principle that is commonly accepted as a necessary ingredient of a rational sentencing policy, viz. the principle of proportionality. That principle reflects the correct place where retribution ought to be reflected in punishment – in the distribution of justice, rather than in its primary justification. The extent to which an offender ought to be punished cannot be determined solely by the need to stamp out future repetitions of the same offence; there is a moral limit to the law’s power to make an offender an example for others to fear.

Conversely, there may be occasions where an offence may result in no overt harm, but may attract such moral outrage that, a failure to punish (or punish adequately) such an offence will lead to those outraged to take physical action to vent their feelings. This is the basis for laws and punishment against those that express views which give serious offence to religious or racial groups. Indeed, this was the original justification for having laws at all, because, in the absence of government having a system of law and order and punishment for violation of those laws, victims of wrongs committed against them would have to resort to self-help to gain redress for the loss and suffering they had sustained. It is to this extent that Lord Denning’s dictum can be justified, but only as a postscript to any thesis on the purposes of punishment.

On a more practical note, Singapore is sadly lacking a principled and transparent penal policy. Our universities barely cover the study of criminology, and even less the more important study of penology. Possibly, this is because Government has not published detailed statistics of crime and punishment so that social scientists can undertake adequate research on the causes of crime and the effects of current penal policies on prisoners (especially recidivists). One traditional justification for the lack of such statistics is that these are sensitive figures which could be interpreted as indicating that certain communities might be more prone to commit certain crimes, but we cannot continue to put our heads in the sand and hide important social facts which need serious study by objective scholars in order to improve our society. Only rigorous research with full access to relevant information can help us determine important penological questions such as:

· Is the death penalty effective in preventing murder and other capital crimes?

· Do strict liability offences achieve their object of deterring anti-social behaviour?

· What kind of punishments best deter what kind of behaviour?

· Should we follow the UK in adopting indeterminate sentences?

· Is corporal punishment an effective deterrent against the crimes for which it is imposed as a penalty?

So I end with the message that we need to re-think our policies on crime and punishment at a more fundamental level than hitherto so as to base our laws and sentences on a proper jurisprudential as well as practical basis.

Michael Hwang, SC
President
The Law Society of Singapore

JBJ Died

PM’s National Day Rally

Political films, political material during election and outdoor demonstrations

These are the three main thrusts of his speech aimed at liberalising the political sphere here.
The second and third items are not anything new. He has hinted at these before and yesterday’s annoucements were but elaborations.

a) Political films to be allowed – but safeguards will remain. His exact words were

“Some things are obviously alright – factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events…. If you make a political commercial so that it’s purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression, I think those should still be off limits… Just as we deal with it for non-political films, we have censorship, we have classification standards. It depends on subjective judgment but we’ve worked out a workable system, a panel applies their minds, they make a judgment”. (Bolded for emphasis)

Clearly, that is where his OB markers are. “Factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events.” In other words, if you whip our your camera and tape something happening right in front of you and upload it to YouTube or produce a DVD, you’re safe. This is assuming you do not edit it or put “footage distorted to create a slanted impression.” This is obviously fraught with problems – what is distorted footage, or slanted impression. He is clearly referring to videos like the one which had Obama morphing into Osama and Mccain endorsing his right-wing pastor.

Obviously, someone has to make the call to judge what is permissible and what is not. So far, it has been civil servants. As Alex Au pointed out, most laws are left to lawyers to interpret. The Films Act gives civil servants the power to interpret; not the most objective legal system around.

This is where I think the PM is hinting at a slightly different system, or so I hope. He alluded to the Films Classification system. Correct me if I am wrong but civil servants currently sit on the censorship board. If a filmmaker or distributor is unhappy with the ratings, they can go to an appeals board, made up of private citizens. This panel abitrates on the film.

Is PM hinting that political films will likewise go through the same process? That what is judged political be left to a panel? Possibly. If so, it too is fraught with problems and does not escape the key argument raised by liberals – such laws are practically unenforceable. The latest viral video on Hitler and ERP is such a film. Clearly political and very funny and satirical. Who uploaded it? Nobody knows. Can we catch them? Probably not. But it sure made an impact and it was *gasp* an emotional one too. It made me laugh and expressed exactly how I feel sometimes at the ERP system.

b) Political rules during election to be eased

Podcasts/vodcasts – I suppose this will be added to the positive list. Nothing new. In fact, it is still the same. Instead of saying what cannot be allowed, it is still “we give you a short list of what can be allowed. The rest can’t.” This is actually a better way of controlling than vice-versa but in the wild wild west of the Web, it makes no sense. Podcasts – okay but what about social networking sites? Can they be used in elections? They too offer podcasts and videocasts. In this, does this mean that the medium of audio and film is allowed but not the platform? As PM himself pointed out, a cyber-year is 7 years in real life. Things move so fast that his rules now will seem outdated by next GE.

To be fair, government has always moved slower than society. And rightly so. But in this, it just doesn’t make sense.

c) Demonstrations at Hong Lim

I was most intrigued by this actually. On paper, it looks interesting. No police registration but NParks. But like his pronoucement a couple of years ago about allowing discussions indoor on anything but race and religion, this too need to be treated with some caution.

There will certainly be restrictions on who and how many can participate in the demonstrations. I think they know that from the past few years with SDP moving to “civil disobedience” they had to react. They cannot continue arresting people. Much like talking cock, this will certainly become a zoo. A few select individuals are allowed to exhibit resistance but in a controlled environment. “Being subject to public order conditions,” gives the government a great amount of room to play their cards. They probably wouldn’t object to harmless people like Ng E-Jay making a stand and complaining…but the moment the Chee gang steps in, the police will move in.

So what has changed?

In substance, nothing much. But, I refuse to be a cynic, much like others in cyberspace. I actually think PM does want to move forward. But he is being held back by a conservative Cabinet. These rules are in place to check SDP really. I would think that if say a normal dude goes onto demonstrate, they will certainly have no problems doing so. Is this progress. Yes. Undeniably. But is it enough. No. Unfortunately.
I await to see the details of his proposals

Sports and the soul of competition

You look into the eye of your rival, he stares right back. With a quivering hand and a slight twist of your wrist, you serve. He steps back and unleashes a volley, which you parry. He smashes it back but it goes out. Point, to you. You win, he loses.

At the heart of every sport is competition. It is that will to win, to triumph over your rivals, to best them in the sporting arena that drives one to compete at the highest levels. Forget that rubbish about beating yourself; you had to master yourself if you wanted to beat your competitors. How could you face them, if you knew you weren’t fully prepared?

No, it is that urge to smash that ball down the table or court, to volley the football into the net, to power down the 100m lane into the first position. Top dog. Numero Uno.

That is why the greatest nations have always put an emphasis on sport. The smartest rulers understood this basic need for competition. Xenophon, who some say invented beauracracy, observed, whether factually or through fiction, how Cyrus the conqueror made it a point to always exhaust his soldiers when they weren’t on the battlefield. Whether it was a gladitorial bout or a simple sport of running and throwing, it was always a priority to keep soldiers occupied and fighting their own battles against each other while on the march.

And that is why in peacetimes, sports like the Olympics are greatly celebrated. It is the event to mark the greatest human beings on earth when it comes to physical and mental toughness. And it is no wonder why it is so prophetic to see China dominating in this Olympics. Forget the conspiracy theories of judges cheating or atheletes taking drugs. Those who have watched the Chinese compete know that they are deserved winners.

This is their Olympics and it marks the asendency of the one true Asian dragon. It is sad to see the US fade away; but a new world order is upon us and the 2008 Olympics is just the dawn of that new era.

Jiayou Jiawei!

I’m seated with my laptop in front of the computer watching the semi-finals of the table tennis competition in the Beijing Olympics. In fact, these past two weeks, I have been gorging myself on the Olympics. I can watch any sport they put on TV; shot-putt, tennis, diving, gymnastics, weight-lifting, fencing. Name it, I’ll watch it. I’ll even spend 2 hours watching the shooting competition.

Right now, Li Jiawei and Wang Yue Gu are leading the South Koreans 2-0 in the first doubles of the tie. Jiawei just lost heart-achingly in the second singles to Park and she has to bounce back to win the doubles in order to have a chance of moving into the finals against China. If Sg wins this, we will be guaranteed a silver, if not gold – our first medal in since Tang Liang Hong’s much celebrated and over-nostalgic silver in the 1968 Olympics. I will be updating this entry as the results come in.

UPDATE: Jiawei and Yue Gu have won the first doubles. Yue Gu is up next. If she wins, we go through!!

UPDATE: Yue Gu was down 9-1 in the first set, fought back to 9-8 before losing, 11-8. Amazing stuff!

UPDATE: WE ARE IN THE FINAL! WATCH OUT CHINA, WE ARE GUNNING FOR GOLD fo sho

Internet deregulation seminar

I was at the Internet deregulation forum hosted by NTU as a curious onlooker. I tend to see this blog as a site for random ramblings, which sometimes get read. Maybe 3 people have read this blog? *shrugs* So I don’t really consider myself an active blogger the same way these people see themselves as. Maybe that’s why I see myself as looking outside in.

Anyhow, quite a bit has been said about it already in other blogs, over at Alex Au’s blog and at Gerald Giam’s blog too. If you want a gist of what happened there I suggest going there to read.

What did strike me about the seminar were two things.

First, the idea of self-regulation and a slightly more controversial about extending protection beyond racial and religious discrimination.

Self-regulation is not new in the Internet. In fact, it is acknowledged as one of the outstanding virtues of the Net. In many ways the Internet is like the Hobbesian idea of a dog-eat-dog, man-kill-man type of landscape. It is literally every man for himself, the individual at the centre of the universe, except that he is not alone. Men are NOT made equal. Some are biggers, faster, stronger than others. If it was everyone for himself, the biggest, fastest and strongest would beat the pulp out of everyone else. He would rule by sheer strength. But the catch is, even the Hulk has to sleep or turn back into Bruce Banner, and that’s when the smaller guys would stick a knife in his back.

The idea is simple: In a dystopian world without rules, chaos would ensue. No one would be safe and hence, to gain liberty one must put liberty at stake. That is when the idea of socities, polities, citites, kingdoms, states and nations was formed. There has to be a central power to ensure that the big guys don’t beat the pulp out of the smaller guys, and the smaller guys don’t sneak in to stab the big guy in the middle of the night. At the end of the day, all individuals throw down the guns to the floor and say, we all agree not to kill each other but to let someone else decide who needs to be killed to maintain stability and peace.

That was enforceable in real life. Geographical boundaries, physical weapons made it possible for a state to enforce laws that would ensure stability in a given piece of land.

The Net on the other hand has overturned this equation. It has brought the individual back into sharp focus. On the Web, there are only individuals, or individual computers acting within a larger network. This same self-serving nature is raised as a result, although not with the same effects as it would in real-life. No one dies, but many people get flamed, gamers get “ganged” on by other players, cheated, spam is sent en masse by bot farms..etc. Generally, there is a lot of bad stuff going on in the Net, which would not be condoned in real lif, but which real life police don’t act upon simply because it is virtual reality.

What then could be done? Forum creators appointed moderators to moderate forums to ensure that discussion threads are not offensive or disruptive to the theme being discussed. But this was not enough because moderators are not robots who are on 24/7. What usually happens is that forum members would end up policing the forums they frequent. For instance, in a game trading forum, if there was a guy trying to cheat others in the forum, members would flag the person to the moderators so that the cheat would be booted out of the forum.

Similiarly, in an MMORPG virtual world, it is not uncommon to see individuals coming together to defeat or beat off “bullies” who prey on newbie characters. Others would join guilds – a form of a Hobbesian state – to seek protection, among other things, and maybe even beat up newbie guild-less characters.

Yesterday, the group of “13”, as it were, tried to sell the idea of a IC3, Internet Citizen Consultative Committee (correct me if I am wrong) to act as the group that would regulate the Net, based on self-regulation. Their premise was simple: In the case of controversial issues, instead of sweeping it under the carpet and into the cupboard through strict regulation, relax the regulation and let’s talk. They based this on several principles, as far as I surmised:

1) People need to build social immunity – the idea that the more we keep silent the more sick we get when the next bout of “illness” hits us. So instead of putting us on antibiotics, let the body deal with it through its defence mechanisms. For instance, in the case of race and racial incitement, if something happens like the seditious bloggers of 2006, instead of sending them to jail, let the community deal with it and condemn such behaviour. That way, talking about it would spur further discussion and let Singaporeans know that racism is no accepted.

2) People can handle race and religious slurs without resorting to violence – I believe it was Arun who pointed this out. He noted that racial slurs are commonplace in private discussion. In other words, in the words of Avenue Q’s Kate Monster – all of us are a little bit racist, it’s true.

3) Sometimes, people just need to know that other people disavow such actions – It was a point raised by Cherian who wondered if those people who made police reports of the racist incidents really wanted the police to act or whether they just wanted to voice displeasure. Maybe there was no other mechanism and that people still generally looked to the government to act?

I agree with all these principles, but I wonder: What would other Singaporeans think? Bearing in mind that their proposal is to the government, I’m not sure they are, by any means, representative of the blogosphere, much less of the population of Singapore. I know of people who have very deep-seated racism within them, without even being aware of it. Many automatically think of Chinese as moneygrubbers, Malays as lazy and Indians as smelly and Eurasians as playboys. I suppose the next question to ask is no one really knows, so shouldn’t we talk about them? The question I would pose back is: What are the limits, if any? Can people hold a discussion without feeling wounded if their religion, race or sexuality is painted in a stereotype that maybe what was outlined earlier, or even in worse terms? Do we then ban these people from the conversation or do we include them because they are society and they deserve a place in the discussion?

Obviously, I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I sure hope the group of 13 has and that when they put their theories into action, we can see the results. In fact, I hope this IC3 can be formed as quickly as possible. You’d be amazed at some of the racist crap that’s being spewed online right now.

As for the second interesting thing, I think I’d save that for another post. Didn’t realise I’ve written a blooming essay! 😛

Char siew potato please

This is kinda old news but I couldn’t resist writing about it, in light of what UN has just released on food and worries over starving people. The UN said that if nothing was done to correct food shortage and prices, we could see 1 billion people starving by 2030.

Pretty dire.

We are seeing the effects here. Everything is getting more expensive. A plate of chicken rice costs at least $2.50 now. A meal out at Sakae cost on average $15 a person easily.

Of course we know the problem – rising oil prices, biofuels, subsidies dumped by Western countries on their farmers who then dump excess on 3rd world countries destroying the agricultural industry there, rising demand from affluent Chinese and Indians, inefficienct use of farming space etc.

So these things take time to correct. Some may not even be corrected. And the solution, at least in the short to medium term, is the humble potato.

There is even a UN website to mark this year as the year that human beings turn to the humblest of root vegetables for humankind salvation.

According to experts, the potato yields more bio-mass (the stuff that powers human beings), more nutrients per land area than any other staple, including rice, maize and corn. It is also the cheapest stuff that is on the market and is the easiest to produce of all staples.

So next time you go out to the auntie to buy chicken rice, ask for potatoes instead.

Horrors of civil service speak – SG style

Been a bit bored today because work’s hit a snag. So instead of producing stuff, I’ve actually been catching up on reading the material I’ve been gathering for my work. On top of that, I’ve also been reading stuff online.

One of the sites I visited was the e-government website for the Singapore government. Now before I umm comment, I would like to state for the record that I have many friends in the civil service. They are intelligent, sensitive and bright human beings who can laugh at themselves. But somehow, the bigger organisation does not seem to shine with the same intelligence as individuals who make up the organsation.

Now first, the website’s address is at http://www.igov.gov.sg. That must be in itself a warning that it isn’t going to be very original.

Being unoriginal is fine in my book. After all, everyone copies everyone else.

But horrors! The language. Every sentence I read was a knife that continually stabbed at my heart deeper and deeper. The red of its words were bleeding across my screen and my eyes.

“Our vision is to be an Integrated Government (iGov) that delights customers and connects citizens through the use of infocomm technology.”

How does the Government delight me with e-services? Can it make me a doughnut? Or read me a fairy tale? Maybe it can tickle me subtly with its horrendous language…

“To achieve an iGov, we have to hasten the reworking of backend processes that cut across agencies to strengthen customer-centricity in service delivery. Our next step will be shift the focus from front-end to backend integration, and to advance from integrating services to integrating Government.”

What is an iGovt? Integrated government? What is customer-centricity? It must be Singlish. And horrors!!! “Integration” “Integrating, integrating” In one sentence at that!

Oh and on the Chee vs Lee trial, my friend, who can only make bad jokes had this to say:

SDP got Gandhi, now got Cheesus. Wonder who they have next? Martin Luther King? Oh they got aung san suu CHEE also.