Saturday, April 30, 2011

Heard of the headless chicken that lived for 18 months?

Short Saturday night posting, and non-political too. It's adapted from a trivia tidbits ad by Aberdeen Asset Management Asia Ltd, in Friday's (29 April) TODAY.

1) How many hearts does an earthworm have?
2) Did the percentage of people dreaming in black and white increase or decrease after the introduction of colour television (in the US, I believe)?
3) How heavy are one million US$1 bills?
4) Which gender blinks more than the other, and by how much?
5) How long can a cockroach survive without its head?
6) How long will it take a car travelling at 100mph (160km/h) to reach the nearest star?
7) What is the memory span of a goldfish?
8) Can you sneeze with your eyes open?
9) Still on sneezing, what is the possible speed of that "Ah Choo!"?
10) How many earthquakes does Alaska experience in a typical year?

The Aberdeen ad's source is:

Check it out! And the answers to the quiz above? Here they are:

1) Five, yes, five hearts!
2) The percentage decreased.
3) One tonne.
4) Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
5) More than a week.
6) More than 29 million years.
7) 3 seconds (Hah! And how did they find that out???)
8) It is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
9) Over 100mph!
10) More than 5,000.

The item about headless cockroaches reminded me about the true account of a chicken that once lived for 18 months without its head. The Internet has lots of links to this phenomenon. Just Google for "headless chicken that lived".

Friday, April 29, 2011

Aljunied GRC is the tectonic plate

The two men to watch in this tectonically fraught general election are the PAP's George Yeo and the WP's Low Thia Khiang. The one is cerebral; the other a natural-born politician. Both will be reaching out for the hearts and minds of Aljunied GRC voters. Using a simplistic template, the Western educated strategist (Mr Yeo) will be thinking in chess terms; the Chinese educated strategist (Mr Low) will be plotting his next steps along the lines of the ancient Chinese game of Go (weiqi).

Mr Yeo is calling on Aljunied voters to think of their self-interest -- the material well-being of their constituency, at risk if the PAP loses -- and not be persuaded to carry the "national burden" of preventing a 87-0 rout by the PAP (one in which Mr Low exits the political scene). If Mr Yeo can portray the national burden notion as an abtract value argument, and convince the voters that in any case, the next Parliament will still see nine "alternative" voices, he may still carry the day.

He has also cleverly admitted to the possibility of his defeat -- thus playing the same unspoken "fear factor" card that Mr Low is using in upping the stakes by going into Aljunied and forswearing any chance of becoming an NCMP. The PAP machinery will come in to portray him as a hard-to-replace foreign minister. This psychological combination might swing around enough voters to push his team past the 50 per cent point come 7 May.

Mr Low, on his part, has never openly claimed he is using the Aljunied voters to achieve his national agenda, only that the time has come to clinch at least one GRC to ensure that a First World Parliament emerges. And he has also faced the self-interest issue squarely, asking the PAP to be specific about its plans to materially upgrade and improve the ward and which programmes will not be carried out in a WP win. He will leverage on his own experience in running Hougang to assure the voters that they will not lose out or be left with a rundown constituency.

Meanwhile, the motoring analogy continues to be milked by the WP, with talk even of slapping the driver if he is found to be asleep at the wheel! I shall comment no further on this, or on the equally silly use of ladders to "climb up" (if you vote in the PAP) and poles -- "useful only if you want to climb down" (if you vote in the opposition) by a PAP candidate in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

Polling Day, please hurry up!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Of party posters, and the drive needed to be in politics

The street lamps are now "decorated" with party posters of candidates. If you stretch your imagination, some juxtapositions seem to tell a story.

For instance, a street lamp beside the little roundabout at Hillview has both the PAP poster and the NSP poster fixed on it. But sandwiched between them on the pole is a traffic sign with the figure "50". So, is there an omen there: that it will be a close 50-50 fight for Chua Chu Kang GRC?

I took a bus ride today, and I saw that both parties seemed to have been quick on the draw in Chua Chu Kang GRC. Both parties' posters are out in force but thankfully not on every lamp post. Every so decorated lamp post has each contesting party's poster. Here's the intriguing part: without exception, the "top dog" position is occupied by the PAP and the "under-dog" position is taken by the NSP!

Actually, I'm not sure about the bragging rights here. The lower posters are closer to eye level, and hence it is easier to make out the candidates' faces and names.

There are also lamp post posters with just the parties' symbols. Again, the pecking order (or should it be the totem-pole order?) is invariably PAP on top, NSP below. Some are cheekily positioned such that the PAP's lightning bolt points directly at the NSP's eight-pointed star! Come to think of it, how come there is no opposition party that uses the lightning conductor as part of its symbol?

Meanwhile, over in next-door Jurong GRC (at least in the Bukit Batok precincts where my bus wend its way today), the PAP's posters are up on lamp posts, as are its party flags. But there are no NSP posters, even though the party is contesting the constituency and CCK and Jurong are cheek by jowl.

Likewise, in the Toh Tuck/Beauty World part of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, I saw PAP posters but not the SDP's, the other party contesting this GRC. I suppose the opposition parties' posters will be put up pretty soon, or else people might start to wonder if there will be unplanned walkovers.

Last snippet about party symbols here: What do the SPP, the SDA and Audi (yes, the German car maker) have in common? They all have four rings linked together (Olympic-style)!

On the subject of cars, today's ST has a picture of Mr Chiam See Tong in his now-famous Volkswagen Beetle, his unofficial battle horse. But he is in the front passenger seat! Party lieutenant Benjamin Pwee is the driver. Well, Mr Chiam did mention he is putting in place a succession process. Ability to drive a Beetle a must?

Finally, I had posted earlier comments on WP leader Low Thia Khiang's using the metaphor of a spare tyre to refer to the WP's role in Parliament and the response from the PAP's K. Shanmugam who used a different motoring analogy -- he suggested that LTK wanted to be a co-driver so as to wrest control of the steering wheel. I felt both were inapt analogies.

Now along comes PM Lee, with his driving analogy apropos Parliament:

"If we are permanently divided, and we're always two-thirds say yes, and one-third say nay, and we argue over every issue, then we become like America, or Japan, or Belgium.

"But that's exactly what we [I suppose the "we's" in this segment refer to the PAP] don't want; that's exactly what we fear when we listen to these slogans from the opposition... They say oh, let's have a little more (opposition)... Somebody else to step on the brake from time to time when you don't like what the driver is doing.

"I think that's a dangerous way to drive a car. Better find the best driver who is not only capable, but who really cares for where the car is going, and will take (it) forward safely. And if it doesn't work, throw him out [Mr Lee did not say if this action should be done while the car is still moving]. But if he's working, support him, and get to the destination together, safely."

Like I said, I find driving-related analogies unhelpful in describing politics. And anyway, many Singaporean drivers are a terrible lot, but that's another -- non-political -- matter.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

By George! A Quixote tilting at windmills, or a shrewd '87-0 fear factor' move?

And so it has come to pass...

The Workers' Party is going for broke, with Low Thia Khiang leading WP's A-team into Aljunied GRC, currently held by PAP MPs led by Foreign Minister George Yeo.

In one quickstep move, LTK -- in choosing the road not previously taken, and in tandem if not in coordination with Chiam See Tong's move into a GRC -- has upped the ante in Singapore politics.

The magic figure ahead is the possibility of 87-0.

The PAP is sure to assure voters that if this number comes to pass, there will still be nine "alternative" voices -- the maximum number of NCMPs (which should be the case in a 87-0 result). This ties in with what I call the PAP's assessment of a "lightning conductor" effect if nearly all seats are contested.

Now that Nomination Day (today, 27 April) is over, only the five-member Tanjong Pagar GRC is uncontested, so 82 seats are up for grabs. With all other GRCs and SMCs contested, voters have a "choice". But what if this creates the perception in individual voters' minds that voters in another constituency will vote in an opposition team or candidate -- the NIMBY phenomenon?

The PAP will also, I am sure, be claiming that it cannot afford the loss of a single incumbent minister, or any of its crop of 24 newly picked candidates. And it might invoke a loss of investor confidence should even one minister fall.

So, is LTK tilting at windmills, dreaming the Impossible Dream, in seeking to create a "Position Vacant: Foreign Minister of Singapore"? Already, observers see an uphill fight for the SPP team led by Chiam in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, which has two heavyweight ministers: Wong Kan Seng and Ng Eng Hen.

Or has LTK shrewdly calculated his odds -- that his going for broke strategy is really a putting into the minds of Aljunied voters the "fear of 87-0 for the next five years" strategy?

And if the "LTK factor" still holds sway in Hougang, his fellow Teochew-speaking WP member and now Hougang candidate Yaw Shing Leong may yet retain the SMC.

Put it another way: is LTK, in raising the stakes so high, fast-forwarding the emergence of a two-party system, ie a still dominant PAP vs a "not just a spare tyre" WP?

So, these are likely numbers at the end of the day come 7 May: 87-0, 82-5, or 81-6.

Any other number means at least one more, and possibly more, opposition party has survived an electoral drubbing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fasten your seat belt, this 'car' can go from 0 to 87...

Election rhetoric has been shifting into higher gear ahead of Nomination Day, tomorrow (27 April). And even more high-octane metaphors are being pumped out by political parties.

There's one about driving a car -- and the political context of its component parts.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang declared on Sunday that a strong opposition can be a "spare tyre" in case there is a puncture . A puncture presumably means some kind of failure by the incumbent government, ranging from perhaps a policy boo-boo (nail in the tyre) to a major blow-out (maybe even all four tyres ripping apart).

I thought this unfortunate analogy would be seized upon by the PAP. After all, the spare tyre is unsexy, is out of sight... it can even be dispensed with! My little hatchback car does not come with a spare tyre. The car maker kindly gave me a kit to inject something into a tyre if it were to be punctured (touch wood!) so that the vehicle can hobble to the nearest garage.

And the latest tyre technology is called "run-flat" -- tyres can be made so robust that even a puncture will not prevent the car from reaching a garage without having to stop. So, think about it. If a political party were to use the spare tyre as its party symbol, it'll surely sputter.

But did the PAP seize its chance? No. Instead, the PAP's K. Shanmugam said the WP -- instead of wanting to be just a spare tyre locked up in the car boot -- wanted to be a "co-driver" and to tussle with the PAP over the steering wheel. He added that the WP wanted to be seated next to the driver (the PAP) so that it (the WP) can "stop the car if he [Low] does not agree with the direction".

I don't get this analogy either. A car has a driver and it has passengers. At most, it has "backseat drivers" (MPs from both sides of the floor?). A car can't have a co-driver.

A "co-pilot" -- using the aeroplane analogy -- would make more sense. A co-pilot has his own set of controls. Stretching this metaphor, the co-pilot is a coalition partner, something unimaginable about the PAP's need for one now or in the far future. So I can't imagine Mr Shanmugam using this analogy.

To go off-track a little, old-timers like me will recall that there were once specially configured Morris Minor cars (remember the Lambert driving school?) with two sets of controls (I can't remember if there was a second steering wheel). With such cars, the driving instructor could override the actions of the learner driver (the "lembu") if a dangerous move was about to occur.

But, again, I think no one is alluding to a car with two sets of controls.

So, both analogies -- the spare tyre and the co-driver -- suck. They should think of better metaphors to convey their respective arguments. Fasten your seat beats, you're going to meet more metaphors -- clever or otherwise -- enroute to May 7.

Monday, April 25, 2011

First of a series on great websites

From time to time, I will simply just post a great link here. This first one is on Words Do Count, by a self-styled "book doctor" called Pam Rider.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How to hire, and how to get hired

After that string of serious postings, it's time for a chill-out break:
Job Ad Vocabulary

 “Competitive salary” -- We remain competitive by paying you less than our competitors.
“Join our fast-paced company” -- We have no time to train you.
“Casual work atmosphere” -- We don’t pay enough to expect that you will dress up nice and smart.
“Some overtime required” -- Some, every night; and some, every weekend. Without the overtime pay, of course.
“Duties will vary” -- Anyone else in the office can boss you around.
“Must have an eye for detail” -- We have no quality control.
“Career-minded” -- Female applicants must be childless (and remain that way).
“Apply in person” -- So that if you’re old, fat or ugly, you’ll be told that the position has been filled.
“Seeking candidates with a wide variety of experience” -- You’ll need it!... to replace the five people who just quit.
“Problem-solving skills a must” -- You’re walking into perpetual chaos.
“Requires team leadership skills” -- You’ll have the responsibilities of a manager, without the pay or respect.
“Good communication skills” -- Management tells you, you listen, figure out what they want and do it.

Useful phrases for you to use in a job interview

“I’m honest, hardworking and dependable” -- I pilfer office supplies.
“I take pride in my work” -- I blame others for any mistakes.
“I’m personable” -- I give lots of unsolicited personal advice to coworkers.
“I am very adaptable” -- I’ve changed jobs a lot.
“I am someone who's always on the go” -- I’m never at my desk.
"I'm extremely adept at all manners of office organisation" -- I've used Microsoft Office.
“I’m highly motivated to succeed” -- The minute I find a better job, I’m outta here!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A question Ms Low of SMRT Corp should answer herself

In an earlier posting, I had highlighted a letter published in TODAY headlined "An abandoned bag on MRT train". The writer, one Valen Luah, was on an MRT train between the City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut stations at around 12.45 pm on a particular Friday when he or she saw the abandoned bag on a seat. Another passenger, a man, used the emergency intercom to report the bag.

Below is from Valen Luah's letter:

"Instead of being told what to do in this situation, the response was that an MRT officer would attend to the matter later. Disturbed, the man asked what if the bag contained a bomb?

"As it turned out, an officer was waiting at the next station and he asked the surrounding passengers if any of them owned the bag.

"Then, without examining the bag, he lifted it to take it away -- for that brief instant, my heart skipped a beat.

"For all the public awareness campaigns on ensuring that our trains remain secure, was that officer properly trained to provide commuters the assurance that any emergency situation would be ably handled?"

I then commented in my posting that a response from the train operator will surely come.

It did, and I was astonished! Let me reproduce it here:

"SMRT staff adhered to SOP" (TODAY, 22 April, page 24)
Letter from Bernadette Low, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communication, SMRT Corporation

We refer to Valen Luah's letter (April 18) on an abandoned bag on an MRT train.

When a passenger activates the emergency communication button on our train to alert the Train Officer (TO) of a situation on board the train, the TO will relay immediately the information to the Operations Control Centre so that it can activate staff at the nearest station to attend to the matter.

Our station staff are trained to assess if a package left behind is suspicious and requires further checks. In the instance which the writer had witnessed, the staff saw a black sling bag on the train seat, and took swift actions according to our standard operating procedure. We hope this clarifies.


No, it does not clarify, and I hope Valen Luah writes in to say he is shocked that SMRT is prepared to take the chance that this was just a harmless bag and could be lifted off just like that -- and without the staff member asking passengers to calmly leave the train first (if he wanted to be a hero, that's his choice, SOP or not).

I have just one question to ask Ms Low: Will you -- and I mean you as yourself  -- pick up the bag just like that, and in front of nearby passengers?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Two "star catches" illuminate as they ruminate

ST's interviews, published today (22 April) with two "star catch" candidates from opposing camps, gave contrasting pictures of why they are stepping up into the political arena. Both men were eloquent.

One interview ("Former senior Govt officer in SDP camp", ST, page A4) was with the Singapore Democratic Party's "star catch" (hey, if you're a political party and you don't have at least one star catch for this election, you're behind the curve). He is Mr Tan Jee Say, 57, now a private investor and once the principal private secretary (PPS) to then Deputy PM Goh Chok Tong in the 1980s.

Mr Tan -- described by ST as "the most senior member of the establishment to join opposition ranks in two decades" and who is slated to contest in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC or Sembawang GRC -- had been involved in key economic policies when in government service.

He now says: "The economic policies that are being pursued now will undo all that we have achieved in the past 30 to 40 years and will lead to social disintegration."

He believes the influx of foreigners has depressed locals' wags and crowded citizens out of jobs ands schools, and that the decision to allow two casinos here has caused families to break up.

"Throughout society, people feel something is just not right," he adds. He says he is grateful to the PAP government for raising the standards of living of many Singaporeans in a generation. But it needs a reality check. He says the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) report, released last year in the wake of the global financial crisis, was the final straw for him.

"The ESC was just whitewashing the economic issues," he says. The focus should not be on raising productivity but on correcting bad economic policy, namely the propping up of manufacturing which has led to Singapore's reliance on foreign labour, he says.

The other "star catch", Mr Lawrence Wong, 38, is described by ST as a potential office holder ("Civil service to politics: 'I couldn't say no to PM' ", ST, page A6). He had to resign from his job as the chief executive of the Energy Market Authority to enter politics because he had just 14 years of service. To be eligible to retire and hence qualify for a pension, he needed to have at least 15 years -- one more year -- under his belt.

ST asked him why did he not wait till the next general election to answer the PAP's call? He replied: "It (the pension) was a loss but it was not something that factored into my consideration at the time. The main issue was whether I was prepared to take the plunge into politics. Once I decided to do so, I did not see the need to wait or hold back."

ST said, in its story, that Mr Wong had told friends who had asked that he could not say no to PM Lee, to whom he was principal private secretary from 2005 to 2008. ST added that the deep mark Mr Lee left on Mr Wong is evident; his is the name Mr Wong brings up when asked why he decided to enter politics.

"One thing that motivates me to do this is the depth of conviction our leaders have in wanting to make Singapore better," Mr Wong, slated for the Boon Lay ward in West Coast GRC, says.

When he was PPS involved in writing Mr Lee's speeches, he recalled that whenever there was a major speech to be delivered which dwelled on Singapore's transformation from Third World to First, and how it succeeded despite all odds, Mr Lee's emotions were always close to the surface. "You can hear it in his voice, sometimes he gets misty-eyed. This happens sometimes during the live speech, but even during practice runs, it happens."

So, there you have it: two men who were PPS to a senior government leader and who were insiders to key policies, now in opposite camps, articulating their reasons for joining politics. Will both achieve their political goals in this GE2011?


Here's a "star catch" song from the baby boomer era. Enjoy!    

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Chiam factor, and when being wrong is being right

Just two quickie items today.

Election Quotable

"You must understand, Potong Pasir residents like the rustic environment. They don't like grand buildings coming up." -- The PAP's man in Potong Pasir, Sitoh Yih Pin, after he said he was the "underdog" and not feeling any more confident of his chance of winning the single seat ward although the incumbent since 1984, the Singapore People's Party's Mr Chiam See Tong, is not standing there but Mr Chiam's wife Lina is. Mr Sitoh said his electoral defeat in 2001 and 2006 had taught him never to discount the "Chiam factor" and that this time round, he will eschew promising major infrastructure projects in the estate with 17,318 voters.          

"I'm wrong. You're right"

Burmese strongman Senior General  Than Shwe, before he stepped down, sought  a  reconciliation with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. “I’ll admit I’m wrong if you’ll admit I’m right,’’ he offered her. Ever the lady, she replied, “Okay”. So, in front of a special session of Parliament open to the international media, he started his speech, “I was wrong…” In a crisp and steady voice, she cut in, “You are right.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The lightning conductors strategy?

Election Quotable:

"It's party time." -- Singapore Democratic Alliance secretary-general Desmond Lim, alluding to the announcement yesterday that Parliament has been dissolved, the Writ of Election has been issued, and that Nomination Day and Polling Day are on April 27 and May 7 respectively.

For today's posting, I want to continue to look at the use of election metaphors, and at an intriguing comment by the PAP leader helming Aljunied GRC.

PM Lee kicks this post off with his statement, "All the parties have been preparing for these elections [Note: incorrect: I am sure he means "this election"] for some time. I believe the time is now ripe for me to ask voters for a fresh mandate to take Singapore forward for the next five years."

He is conjoining the concept of "time" with the idea of "ripeness". The idea of fruits ripe for the picking, as in yesterday's posting, comes to mind. Too early, and the fruit is not yet sweet; too late, and it rots, is wasted. Of course, there are fruits like the durian, where timing IS everything. It must drop on its own, signalling it has ripened.

I am also led to the Biblical concept of the conditional aspect of time as "an appointed  time for everything". There is a lovely folk song that captures this theme:

Meanwhile, DPM Teo Chee Hean conjures up the "delivery" (fast food? or Fedex/DHL?) image. He said: "The PAP has shown that it can deliver... Question is, can the other guy deliver?"

I think both sides should be inspired by this, in their election ads, to come up with creative storylines. We have all seen on TV that ad in which this guy, trapped somewhere, sends his faithful dog out to deliver an SOS message but the pooch is sidetracked when it sees a fellow canine of the opposite sex. The ad then zeroes in on this delivery firm that delivers that package (of goodies? of promised changes?) on time, unerringly, etc.

Election ads should not be dull, without being facetious of course.

Returning to the idea of the "ground" (and soil, by extension), Ms Sylvia Lim of the WP, responding to jibes from the PAP, gave a list of reasons why WP candidate Chen Show Mao -- who has lived in Singapore for 10 of his 50 years -- is "very much rooted" here. But I doubt if both sides will want to play up this emotional hot potato too much, as it can backfire if questioning over sincerity and commitment is carried too far in the heat of the hustings.

New PAP candidate and ex-general Chan Chun Sing uses the "ground" metaphor simply: "We will continue to walk the ground and serve the residents..." As for the Singapore People's Party's Mr Sin Kek Tong, who will be contesting his sixth election, this time in the Hong Kah North single seat ward, he says he is confident of a win over the PAP's Dr Amy Khor because "the ground has been encouraging".

So, when you "walk the ground", it's the more literal meaning? But when "the ground has been encouraging", it's a metaphor that means the voters?

My last point is something intriguing that foreign minister George Yeo, helming the PAP team in Aljunied GRC, said. Recall that, in 2006, Aljunied was a cliff-hanger for both the PAP and the WP's team led by Ms Lim.

Mr Yeo is now happy to see nearly all GRCs being contested this time (save the three PAP strongholds, it would appear), which he says defuses the pressure on his team. He adds: "If there are many lightning conductors, then we are less likely to be struck too hard."

The PAP's party symbol has, of course, a prominent red lightning bolt. A clever pun by Mr Yeo, I must say.

More cogently, did the opposition in fact play into the PAP's hands by contesting all the 12 single seat wards and nearly all the 15 GRCs? It has been argued that in 2006, apart from other factors, Aljunied was closely fought because it was just one of the few GRCs contested, and the one with the best chance of an opposition GRC win.

But this time, will voters turn the so-called "by-election strategy" on its head and now say to themselves, "Wah, so many seats contested by so many parties, ah. Since there is now a choice all over the place, let the other wards do the job of voting in the opposition, lor." NIMBY, so to speak.

Or call it the PAP's "lightning conductors strategy"? A marketing coup even?

After all, in her commentary on Monday, ST's political editor Chua Lee Hoong noted that supermarkets found that their revenue from jam sales actually increased when customers had a few more brands to choose from but their revenue declined when there were too many brands.

This may well be a ground-breaking election, in more ways than one. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A fruitful election season?

The much awaited Day is now known... 7 May 2011 (a Saturday) is Polling Day aka Election Day.

Meanwhile, Mr Goh Chok Tong said something which piqued me.Speakng in Beijing, where he has just ended a visit, he said: "The ground may not be sweet but can you sweeten the ground by having more Opposition in Parliament?"

I am sure there will be pundits commenting on this remark of his. But, for now, my interest is in the idiomatic use of ground being "sweet". I wondered if this is a peculiarly Singaporean expression; it has often been used in the past here, particularly by the PAP. And we know what it means.

When "the ground is sweet" for a political party, it means much of the effort it has made to date in cultivating the "ground" -- voters -- has borne fruit (as in "working the ground"). Presumably tangible incentives like, say, estate or lift upgrading and hardship softening measures -- ie sweeteners -- have struck a chord, or to continue with the fruit tree/fruit vine analogy, percolated into and enriched the ground. In short, people are happy.

So, when "the ground may not be sweet," the sweeteners did not seem to have had the desired effect, and there is a certain "bitterness" still within the ground, ie among voters. This could be because all those "hot button" issues from the high cost of living to overcrowding continue to a source of dissatisfaction.

If the ground is sweet, presumably the fruit trees or vines planted on it will bear fruit, and they will be barren if the ground is not sweet.

But my check on the Internet was not fruitful... my search proved barren and I remain clueless as to the origin of this expression, inspite of my being a "farmer" and not a "scholar" (fellow baby boomers who have served as regulars or NSmen will know what I mean).

Mr Eric Low, the PAP's man who has decided he will no longer take on the Workers Party's Low Thai Khiang in Hougang in this election (having lost twice) had also used a fruit analogy. He had, in the run-up to the previous election, felt that the chiku fruit in the ward was ripe for his picking. It was not to be.

Recently, Mr Eric Low explained why he will not stand in this coming election: ‎"The chiku tree is now very big. At 62, I don't think I can climb up and pluck the fruit. It is good for a young man like Desmond Choo to go for it. We have looked after it, and one day, we will taste the sweetness of the fruit."

[Note: Chiku in Chinese is "'ren xin guo", which means "humane heart fruit".]

Finally, in Singapore-Malaysia relations, efforts were made to pluck the "low-hanging fruits" ie to reach agreement on the less contentious bilateral issues first. Hopefully, the "feel good" from such progress will lead to a better chance of resolving the harder issues -- the tough nuts to crack, or more appropriately here, the "higher-hanging fruits".

Well, in this coming election season, we are seeing more quality candidates coming forward -- and no fruitcakes. I hope.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Curiouser and curiouser... a clutch of strange stories

There are some interesting -- I would say, strange -- articles in the newspapers today (18 April).

The first one is an offbeat piece in The Straits Times headlined "Beware, HK airline crew is gongfu-trained".

I had previously noted that ST, compared to Today, tended to fight shy of the less-serious stories (or did not project them in a way that showed their humorous angle). I am glad to see more such stories in ST, like this one below (as tweaked by me):

Hong Kong Airlines takes the fear out of flying for both its passengers and cabin crew who meet the unruly or drunk passenger onboard. That's because its cabin crew are taking lessons in wing chun, a form of gongfu.

The airline has around three incidents involving disruptive passengers every week, a senior manager said. She added that two weeks ago, one passenger "was sick and probably drunk... The [female crew member who attended to him] realised her [newly acquired] fitness was helping her, especially because the guy was quite heavy".

"Normally, a female cabin crew member can't handle a fat guy, especially if he's drunk, but because of the training, she could handle it quite easily," the manager said.

New recruit Lumpy Tang, 22, said: "You cannot predict what will happen on the plane, so wing chun is good because it's so fast. I feel safer because I can defend myself, and I'm really happy to be one of the first cabin crew [members] in the world to learn wing chun."

So, there you have it. If you fly Hong Kong Airlines, you get served by female bouncers who will sweetly ask you, "Coffee, tea or booze? But if you start to get drunk on the booze, you'll get thrown out of this aircraft faster than you can say tim sum!" And note the name of that flight attendant. Don't pray, pray with her!

Still on airlines, both TODAY and ST have this story headlined respectively "SIA refused to divert flight, claims man who had heart attack" and "Heart attack victim 'endured 14-hour flight as plane not re-routed' ".

As reported by the British newspaper the Daily Mail, a BBC journalist, Max Pearson, 51, was on a connecting SIA flight from Singapore to London (having flown in from Tokyo). He suffered a heart attack shortly after the SIA flight took off.

Quoting an unnamed BBC source, the Daily Mail report alleged that the cabin crew refused requests to re-route the plane so that Mr Pearson could receive urgent medical attention. The plane flew on to Heathrow in a 14-hour journey. On landing, Mr Pearson was sent to hospital where he had emergency surgery.

He is reported to be taking legal action against SIA.
What a strange story! An SIA spokeman would only say that the airline was unable to comment on individual cases. But I'm sure this story will have a follow-up, and pretty soon.

Next, there's this -- also strange -- story in TODAY headlined "An abandoned bag on MRT train". It's a letter by one Valen Luah, who was on an MRT train between the City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut stations at around 12.45 pm last Friday.

Another passenger used the emergency intercom to report the bag.

"Instead of being told what to do in this situation, the response was that an MRT officer would attend to the matter later. Disturbed, the man asked what if the bag contained a bomb?

"As it turned out, an officer was waiting at the next station and he asked the surrounding passengers if any of them owned the bag [my own comment here: Duh!].

"Then, without examining the bag, he lifted it to take it away -- for that brief instant, my heart skipped a beat.

"For all the public awareness campaigns on ensuring that our trains remain secure, was that officer properly trained to provide commuters the assurance that any emergency situation would be ably handled?"

Look out for a follow-up story, or explanation from the MRT operator.

Last item is this seemingly strange headline in the sports page of TODAY (page 42):

"No three-peat for Vettel".

Okay, as the story itself explained, current Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel was denied a third triumph in a row this season. Lewis Hamilton broke Vettel's run by winning the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday. But -- for Pete's sake --  what is a "three-peat"?

Then I Googled, and here's what I found:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If you Gotta Gogh, you Gotta Gogh!

There's a Van Gogh exhibition in town. It's a world premiere, and is at the spanking new ArtScience Museum. Very high-brow.

What's below (from Readers' Digest, I think) can't lay claim to such high status. But it's still funny to me, so there!

Vincent van Gogh’s relatives…
His brother who ate prunes... Gotta Gogh
His constipated uncle... Can't Gogh
His Mexican cousin... Ah Mee Go
His Mexican cousin's American half-brother... Gring Gogh
His banker nephew... Wells Far Gogh
His disco-crazy sister... A Go Gogh
His ballroom-dancing aunt... Tang Gogh

Saturday, April 16, 2011

There's foreign talent and there're foreign talons

I had fun going through a reporter's story about the Nature Society doing a "parrot count" just to have an idea of how many of these birds -- which include cockatoos, lorikeets and parakeets -- are flying about in the open in urban Singapore.

It seems that, apart from three local species, quite a few species found here are actually from elsewhere, and are likely to have been pet birds that somehow got free and later began to breed.

In tweaking the story's introduction, I decided to call these non-indigenous parrots that now call Singapore home "foreign talons". Clever and original, huh?

I then decided to Google and found an interesting photography community forum that also had the same idea. The forum thread started with someone posting a beautiful picture of a regal-looking hawk, with the heading "Application for Singapore PR". The online banter led to someone else suggesting the bird was a "foreign talon". Great minds think alike. Here is the link:

It's been a long day at work for me, so I'll end here today.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Amazing but true (except the last item's impossibility)

* You gotta watch this segment of Good Morning America (above), which dishes out and "dissects" TV camera footage of the moment when the President of the Czech Republic surreptitiously slips into his pocket a pen that his hosts, the Chilean government, had let him use for some official signing ceremony with his counterpart.

It seems that the (obviously) sharp-eyed Mr Vaclav Klaus had noticed that the pen was encrusted with semi-precious Chilean stones and decided to keep it -- right in front of the cameras! Czechs are now so "malu" (Malay for embarrassed) they have started a Facebook campaign to get him 5,000 pens to keep.

Aiyoh, they didn't pay him enough salary or what?  

* The next amazing item comes from today's xinmsn News (15 April):

A man in Penang beat the odds to come back to life two-and-a-half hours after doctors at a hospital pronounced him dead, according to a report by Malaysian daily, The Star.
His family, upon hearing of his death began making funeral arrangements, and placed a canopy in front of his house. As they were about to report his death to the police, they were shocked when doctors called to inform them that he was still alive.
The man's son talked about how they rushed his father to the hospital on Thursday morning, after he had stopped breathing. Recounting the incident, he said doctors performed CPR on his father, but to no avail, and then pronounced him dead at 1.00 pm. They were headed to the police station at 1.30 pm when they received a call.
The family rushed back to the hospital to see him being transported back to the cardiac care unit, and hooked up to a respirator.
This occurrence, which has become a hot topic in the area, is known as the Lazarus syndrome. It is a rare one, with only 39 cases recorded worldwide as of 2009. It gets its name from the biblical story of Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus.
* The last item, below -- from today's Straits Times -- is a quote that is an impossibility and amazing only because it was allowed in print:

[Two Bangladeshi men were found trapped inside a container shipped to Singapore. They were trapped for 10 days without food or water. One had died by the time workers here heard the sound of knocking by the survivor. The quote here is from Mr AKM Mohsin, a Bangladeshi newspaper editor...]

"Said Mr Mohsin: 'They could breathe, but the air was dank and stale. After several days, his (the survivor's) friend gasped his last breath and said, 'I'm gone'."

Er, shouldn't it be "... said 'I'm gone' and gasped his last breath."?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Whither ASEAN?

The trouble with many international organisations is that they begin to lose track of their original purpose and aims as they expand. NATO, for instance, has been derided as "No Action, Talk Only".
ASEAN, too, ever since it expanded from its original five members to now 10, is often called a talkfest. How many ASEAN-linked meetings are there in a year? Some say about 400!
I don't know why Timor Leste is so eager to join ASEAN as its 11th member.
The first link below gives an idea of what some critics think about the plethora of ASEAN meetings, while the second link is ASEAN's own listing of its 2011 meetings schedule.
I have written a number of articles commenting on ASEAN. I now feel the grouping is indeed at risk of losing its relevance as a 10-member body. The original five -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore -- as well as sixth member Brunei are still the core members and will probably stick together even if ASEAN-10 becomes less dynamic.
But I wasn't always so pessimistic. I wrote a commentary for TODAY in 2005, when I was teaching political science at NUS:
"There is plenty of life in ASEAN yet"
TODAY, 12 August 2005
When the going gets tough, the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) gets its act together. So it seemed last month when Myanmar, thanks no doubt to peer pressure, declared it would forgo its turn as chair next year.
Meanwhile, in what would seem an unusual move, an ASEAN foreign minister has declared that ASEAN defence ministers should hold their own meeting for the first time  next year.
 A third interesting development has been the chorus of calls for ASEAN to become more "people-centric".
Are we seeing the transformation of ASEAN?
After all, the group has often been caricatured as (a) a club that eschews interference by seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil; (b) a bloc that meets mainly for diplomatic talk-fests (the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, for instance, has been dubbed "Agree First, Talk Afterwards"); and (c) an intergovernmental organisation that the man in the street has little knowledge of, let alone affection for.
One key factor for ASEAN's continued relevance, going back as far as the Cold War years, was indeed the group's apparent ethos of non-interference.
Since ASEAN's founding in 1967, this prevailing culture has enabled its members to get on with tackling domestic issues ranging from internal security to economic development.
During the Cold War years, one of ASEAN's biggest successes was managing disputes among the five founding non-communist regional states (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand).
Friction among the founding members (Brunei joined ASEAN as its sixth member in 1984) has been, on balance, well managed.
A second important factor for ASEAN's relevance during the Cold War period was its convergence of interests with the major powers. Pro-West initially, ASEAN adapted to geopolitical changes when it worked with China to force Vietnam to eventually withdraw from Cambodia.
The Cold War record shows that ASEAN was not just a group that met for diplomatic talk-fests but were capable of effecting change through diplomatic solidarity.
The post-Cold War years have seen ASEAN's image take a battering, often unfairly.
 Just when ASEAN was finally getting serious about economic cooperation (Agree First, Talk Afterwards notwithstanding), the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997.
Just when ASEAN decided to make the mindset-changing plunge to welcome four new members (Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia), international norms began to change.
After the 1989 Tiananmen incident in China, domestic governance began to have more pressing international ramifications. Myanmar's rulers, for reasons of their own, failed to take into account the winds of change and proceeded to incarcerate opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Today, if -- and there will be big "ifs" -- ASEAN gets it right, its handling of the so-called Myanmar problem may provide the blueprint for further institutionalisation of internationally acceptable norms. There will be less dependence on what some observers have called the nebulous "ASEAN Way", including the principle of non-interference.
The proposed ASEAN Charter is a welcome initiative in this direction.
The effort to make ASEAN more people-centric may enable ASEAN members, backed by their more involved citizens -- the much talked-about man in the street -- to persuade the leaders in Yangon to find a solution that sees Ms Suu Kyi freed without risking domestic turmoil.
As always, ASEAN must continue to seek convergence of interests with all the major powers with a stake in the region. Also, the time has indeed come for ASEAN defence ministers to adopt a higher profile. Today's threats are, after all, transnational (for example, terrorism and the security of the Malacca Strait).
Does ASEAN still have plenty of life? I'll bet on it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Next Change: The World Order According to BRICS?

The Washington Post carried a fascinating Associated Press article about the growing international clout of the so-called BRICS countries, from the initial letters of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

These five countries account for 40 per cent of the world's population, 18 per cent of global trade and 45 per cent of current growth. Their voices are also being heard on security matters. All five are currently represented in the UN Security Council (Russia and China are permanent SC members). In the recent SC debate over a No-fly Zone over Libya, only South Africa among the BRICS supported the No-fly Zone. And they are having a pow-wow Thursday (tomorrow) on China's Hainan island.

Will there be a world order according to BRICS one day? See the article here:

It got me thinking. When the Cold War ended in and around 1989/1990, Western pundits were heralding a New World Order based on Western liberal triumphalism. "It was the end of history," one US academic claimed. With the Cold War "Balance of Terror" between the superpowers having ended, a new era of peace -- "the peace dividend" -- lay ahead. Alas, all this was not to be. The ancient Greeks called such pontification hubris.
Putting on my humour cap, here's my alternative brief current history:
NWO, NIEO... New World Order and New International Economic Order respectively. These were the terms bandied about in the new millennium.
Sorry, guys. What we have now is WATAMESS -- World Affairs Today: A Major Economic and Security Shift.
China was, from 1989 to 2000, still an emerging economy; Russia was written off. India? Brazil? And, of all places, South Africa? You gotta be kiddin'. But now there is BRICS -- coming at the West like a ton of bricks.
So the West is now in some, er, sh*t. Let's call several of its major players FUKUSALL (try pronouncing this acronym of mine creatively).
 The players here are France, UK, US Australia, Low and Laggard countries. Australia is included here because it sees itself as culturally Western and is a key US ally; it also sees itself as an Asia-Pacific country, and will be counted again below. The Low countries refer to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux). The "Laggards" is my catch-all term for the Eastern European countries which have joined, or hope to join, the EU. They are typically behind in most key indicators.
Then there is what I shall dub the "G1" -- Germany. It openly defied the US over the No-fly Zone and is not keen to bail out EU countries in deep economic sh*t. G1 may become a G-force if others join it.
Meanwhile, the saying "you reap what you sow" has come true for profligate European countries. So there is now the label PIGS -- for heavily indebted Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.
Over in this part of the world, everyone -- Japan most of all -- is starting to fret about China's growing clout and power. So let's call them all "JAPS" -- for Japan, Asia Pacific, and South Korea.
Australia is of course in this group; so is New Zealand. And across the Pacific, countries like Canada (North America) and Chile (South America).
If Brazil and Chile have started to emerge, watch out for the rest of South America. So let's group them as "SALSA" -- South America, Latin Spanish Areas.   
Did I leave any countries or regions out? Of course; this is not a comprehensive survey. But I would conclude by identifying a still "recalcitrant" group -- their shared outlook being that of a pain in the ass for the US. These are the "CAVeMEN" -- Cuba, Africa, Venezuela, Mid-East, and North Korea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kiasuism for the Blur Like Sotong

It all started this way... I was reading New York Times columnist David Brook's piece about people's almost automatic use of metaphors in speech and writing.

I thought, hmmm, there are lots of Singaporean -- especially Singlish -- metaphors, such as "blur like sotong". Then I stumbled online onto a long spiel about "kiasuism", on the popular site Squidoo (very apt, squid = sotong). So, here it is. Do click on the Girls Out Loud video clip on "Culture of Kiasuism". Enjoy:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just one more Singapore joke...

Last Monday, I put up here a Today reader's question about the basis for allowing two young generals and two young senior-grade civil servants to retire rather than resign their positions. Implied in the letter, I suppose, was whether rules were bent to facilitate such retirement. (These four gentlemen are now on the PAP's slate of new election candidates.)

The replies from the Ministry of Defence and the Public Service Division was fairly quick, last Thursday. But I had not found the time to highlight these replies till today. Well, better late than never.

The short answer given, as I would have expected, is that provisions have long been in place for early retirement, subject to conditions.

In the case of the two generals [MG (NS) Chan Chun Sing, aged 41 and BG (NS) Tan Chuan Jin, aged 42], they were allowed to retire with the appropriate medical benefits since they satisfied the SAF's requirements that those who leave should be aged 40 or older and would have served at least 10 years of SAVER service [a non-pensionable SAF retirement scheme].

So, both men have retired but are not pensionable.

In the PSD's reply, the Pensions Act allows for a pensionable officer "to retire from the Civil Service before he reaches the retirement age, provided he satisfies certain service conditions, including having served for at least 15 years". Such officers will get the appropriate pension amount and the appropriate medical benefits.

Mr Heng Swee Kiat (aged 49) satisfied those conditions, retiring with a reduced pension. But the PSD made it clear that -- contrary to the letter writer's impression that Mr Lawrence Wong had also retired -- Mr Wong had resigned. This was because Mr Wong "is 38 years old and did not meet the years-in-service requirement for early retirement".

I am glad to see the exchange. It serves the public interest and it puts to rest questions about the situation of young public servants going into retirement prior to entering politics.

Okay, next.

I was wondering if my "Singaporeans and changing light bulbs" yarn could have further permutations. Here's what I further came up with.

Q: How long does it take Singaporeans to change a light bulb (assuming they have learnt from the foreign talent how to do so)?

Answer A: It depends on whether the light bulb is a subsidised one or not. If the replacement bulb is market-priced, it can be done in a jiffy. If the bulb is a subsidised one, take a queue number, and wait for your name to be called. And you can only get a new replacement bulb six months later, regardless of whether the one in place has blown or not.

Answer B: If the electricity bill has already been paid for (electricity, real-time, pricing or ERP), it won't take long... just screw in the bulb and it's good to go. If the ERP has not been paid, the bulb won't light up (duh) and you have to pay an "administrative fee" (translation: a fine) before you are allowed to change the bulb again. Provided you have first paid up the ERP.

Last item... just one more Singapore joke, which I found on the Net:

In Singapore, living in Highly Dangerous Building (HDB), most people have already gotten used to Pay And Pay (PAP); not only pay, you Pay Until Broke (PUB).
If that is not enough, somebody still Purposely Want to Dig (PWD) from you. What can you do if you are in the Money Only Environment (MOE).
With the current Mad Accounting System (MAS), you are forced to Pay the Sum Ahead (PSA) which makes some people Purposely Owe Some Banks (POSB) and live on Loan Techniques Always (LTA).
When you are sick, you might be able to use the Cash Prior to Funeral (CPF) fund if you happen to be admitted to the Money Operating Hospital (MOH) in time. If you are in sure bad luck, you may meet doctor who Never Use Heart (NUH) to treat you and that would make you to Sure Give up Hope (SGH). When that happens, Call Home (CH); you deserve a better place to recuperate.
To help to ease the traffic, motorists have to pay Cash On Expressway (COE). If that don't help, the Lousy Tax Accounting (LTA) can always Every time Raise Price (ERP) on the road.
If you don't own a car, you can always go for the Mad Rush to Train (MRT) and get squashed Side By Side (SBS).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Just not up to it?

Following up on my  post yesterday, I decided to check out what are some of the "Singapore jokes" circulating on the Net. There were of course many; the one below is just a personal choice:

Two men and a beautiful woman are stranded on a deserted island.

If the men are Italian, they will fight until one kills the other to have the woman.
If they are Americans, they will both work out a way to share the woman.
If they are Australians, they will dig in the sand for beer first, get drunk, then share the woman.
If they are Frenchmen, they will kill the woman to have each other.
If the men are Indonesians, the first man will claim the island as his and take the woman as his adviser.
The other man will swim to another island to search for a job.
If the men are Thais, the first man will "rent out" the woman to the second man.
If the men are Filipinos, the first man will kidnap the woman and demand ransom from the other man.
If the men are Malaysians, the woman will accuse the first man of sodomizing the other because she was rejected by both.
If the men are Singaporeans, they will still be waiting for instructions from the Government to tell them what they should do next. Before long, the woman would have given up and swum away. She would rather take her chances with the sharks.

Ok, here's one of my own.

How many Singaporeans will it take to change a light bulb?
Wrong question! It should be:
Can Singaporeans change light bulbs?
Answer: No, they need "foreign talent" to do that.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A neighbourly dig

Countries that have close historical ties also make fun of each other. For example, one Aussie joke goes like this: "Why does New Zealand have some of the fastest race horses in the world? Because the horses have seen what the Kiwis do to their sheep!"

Not to be outdone (outdunny-ed?), the Kiwis like to refer to Australia as "the West Island".

And so, with such a preamble, here's a joke. It was sent by my friend Nick recently:

After having dug to a depth of 10 feet in the area around Stonehenge, British scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 200 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 150 years ago.

Not to be outdone by the Brit's, in the weeks that followed, an American archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet in the Black Hills, and shortly after, a story published in the New York Times said: "American archaeologists, finding traces of 250-year-old copper wire, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network 50 years earlier than the British".

One week later, the Department of Minerals and Energy in Malaysia, reported the following:
"After digging as deep as 30 feet in North Central Kedah region, Mahathir Mohammed, a self-taught archaeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing. Dr Mahathir therefore concluded that 250 years ago, Malaysia had already gone wireless."  
Malaysia Boleh !
PS: Perhaps some Malaysians can send me some "Singapore" jokes? Clean ones, hor.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The times they are a-changin' indeed... a Dylan concert in China

First, there was North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's second son Jong-chol sneaking into Singapore to watch Eric Clapton's concert  in February.

Now, the legendary Bob Dylan has given a sell-out concert in Beijing. It took place  on Wednesday, after he was reportedly banned from playing there last year. But his songs had to be vetted by the censors, so two of my all-time favourites -- Blowin' in the Wind; and The Times They Are A-changin' -- got the chop.

With the recent scare in the Chinese capital over the so-called nipped-in-the-bud "Jasmine Revolution" in mind, I wonder what went through the censors' minds as they perused these two songs' lyrics? Well, here they are:

Blowin’ In The Wind (1963)
How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand
How many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they are forever banned
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea
How many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowing’ in the wind

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
How many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
The Times They Are A-changin’ (1964)
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agein'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A thinking voter's manifesto

I was going to take a break from electioning matters but PM Lee's focus on the A-team issue -- with an excerpt of his Tuesday night speech published in today's ST (7 April) -- continues to stick in my mind.

The PAP, willy-nilly, has dominated politics here since the 1960s and it has delivered materially, time and again. But is there such a thing as the Singapore Dream, and has the PAP helped to shape and realise this albeit elusive term? The Singapore Pledge arguably comes closest to this aspiration, this collective hope:

"We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation."

If I recall correctly, it was an opposition party -- the Workers' Party -- that, during an election rally in the last general election, used this pledge to awaken a sense of a Singaporean destiny when it got the people at its rally to recite this pledge emotionally. It is a powerful ideational unifier, and the pledge has since been given a new lease of life by the PAP government too.

What I am trying to flesh out, as the general election approaches, is what I shall dub "The thinking voter's manifesto". I want to ask questions of both the PAP and the opposition that give me hope of a future that is emotionally satisfying, even if circumstances turn so badly against this little red dot that we are at risk of disappearing from the face of the earth.

I want to add here that I do believe we have vulnerabilities that will not go away, but our immigrant legacy brings up images of resilience, resourcefulness, pragmatism (yes, this too, importantly) and dignity.

So, to the PAP:
* This argument that there can only be one A-team is a bleak assessment, predicated on a supposed scarcity of talent. It is unproven, or at least not convincingly proven. Worse, it suggests that we are a "Humpty Dumpty" country. Only the PAP can keep this fragile egg from falling off the wall?
* If the PAP argues that a two-party system is unworkable, then how does it envisage the future of the election process?
* Does the PAP have a Plan B should the opposition win more seats in future? What I am thinking of is a recognition that talented opposition MPs (talented as so defined by the PAP) may even have a role in government.

*To the opposition parties, please study the PM's speech and tell us -- the voters -- how you can rebut the points where you should, and agree where you should too. Importantly, if you think the Singapore Dream is more than material security (important as it is), share it with the voters.
* Clearly, unlike the nearly monolithic singular voice of the PAP, different opposition responses will be expected. For instance, some parties will say they are not ready to form a government; others may be more coy on this. But there has to be a road map, and voters will want to know more.
* Key issues: are your long term plans to abolish the GRC system, the NCMP system, the NMP system, to keep the Presidential safeguard on the reserves, the ISA, etc. It boils down to this: on which key areas do you agree with the PAP, and on which do you fundamentally disagree?
* Last of all, can you subsume your rivalries and work more in unison. I do not believe the plethora of parties is workable.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Election ruminations (continued)

The Prime Minister's address and Q&A session with university students -- Gen Y voters -- yesterday (5 April) was of course given prominent coverage by the media.

I think no new perspectives were provided, save the revelation that the MM's position  is "unique" and that there will be no more MM posts in future (he made it clear he will not become one).

Still, PM Lee's arguments (a) that this election is about putting together the PAP's next A-Team (but headlined in Today as "Putting together S'pore's next A-Team") and (b) that a two-party system is untenable in Singapore because even putting together one A-Team , due to the small pool of suitable talent, is difficult enough, serve as food for thought. Speakng as his party's spokesman, he rejected the idea of voters "buying insurance" by voting in some opposition candidates and he asked for voters' full support for the PAP.

So, does it mean the PAP is looking for a clean sweep?

So far, I have not seen any reported reactions from opposition spokesmen but I am sure these will come in the next few days. I suppose many calculations come into play when a voter casts his ballot, but PM Lee's arguments here (and others covered in his address) should weigh heavy on the thinking voter.

I think the template being invoked is the "fear factor". From the PAP's perspective, the fear is that if ever a non-PAP party (or coalition) comes to power, it will be tempted to resort to populist policies that will ultimately finish off Singapore. On this basis, every election requires strong (and even full) support for the PAP, which will do its best to conduct its own internal checks and balances.

The flipside fear factor will be the opposition's "insurance" argument, and that ultimately, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Would all this be too abstract for most ordinary people on polling day?

Anyway, I will stay off election issues for a while. But I can't resist putting up here an old joke -- purported starring the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Asked if he believed in a two-party system, he reportedly said wickedly: "Of course! One on Friday night and one on Saturday night."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Some ruminations on the coming general election

This general election is a watershed one, for various reasons, with one standing out.

I don't have the statistics but Gen Y voters -- those in their 20s, with the "cream" in university -- will, I think, be of such numbers that they will be wooed (they already are). They are also the Social Network generation, with all the implications that this entails. How will they vote?

I would think that, traditionally, there are:

* The die-hard PAP supporters who, I believe until now, make up at least 50 per cent of voters in most constituencies (whether GRCs or SMCs). The operative phrases here are "until now" and "most constituencies".
* The die-hard anti-PAP voters. How many per constituency? I think about 30 per cent in the past. The operative phrase here is "in the past".
* The clueless. I guess they will vote according to whoever in the family says they should! I hope this is an insignificant group.
* Last but not least, then, would be the swing voters. Is it accurate to assume that, in this year's election, many Gen Yers will be swing voters?

If we make that assumption, then a number of outcomes are possible:

* Where the PAP diehards still comprise at least 50 per cent, the constituency goes to the PAP. The conventional wisdom is that a freak election is unlikely, ie, most constituencies will be captured by the PAP.
* Where the PAP diehards are less than 50 per cent, the question is of course: by what percentage? The smaller this percentage, and assuming the diehard anti-PAPs are 20-30 per cent, it means the swing votes assume greater import. And if there are many Gen Y swing voters, such unpredictability increases.

This coming election is indeed about the future. The PAP has already indicated what that means: leadership renewal, investor confidence, a strong mandate to respond quickly to crises,etc. And while it has not said it welcomes a multi-party parliament (note my careful phrasing), a remark by minister George Yeo ("Internal solidarity crucial to Singapore," ST, 5 April, page A7) is noteworthy. He said: "It is important to have a credible opposition so that should the PAP turn corrupt or become flaccid... there's an alternative that Singaporeans can go for." Wow, from the words of a PAP leader!

The opposition too agrees that the polls will be about the future, so much so that Mr Chiam See Tong is prepared to leave his comfort zone and take on a GRC. Mr Low Thia Khiang is keeping his options close to his chest but if he too contests in a GRC -- going for broke -- the two opposition-held wards are "in danger" if personal aura has been a huge factor in Potong Pasir and Hougang.

There is of course the unpredictable Gen Y vote in these two wards, and in "hotly contested" GRCs for that matter.

The key issue then, I think, as far as the fate of the opposition is concerned, is whether the beginnings of a stable two-party system will emerge, not now, but in some future time. I don't see how a fractured opposition can survive in the long run here.

So,  I think all voters need to reflect on the stakes in this election. Gen Yers have to start asking questions -- all the "FAQ" questions they can think of -- of both the PAP and the opposition parties. I think no question is too stupid  to ask. It's not about LOL or ROTFLOL. As one sage said, "He who knows not, and knows he knows not, is simple. Teach him." Here, "simple" and "teach" are not used in a derisory sense but in a positive sense.

Gen Y is teachable, I believe.

Rucksack postscript: So, I was wrong, and the picture of the NSman and his maid carrying his rucksack for him was genuine, not staged. But I must commend MINDEF for being able to identify him (and her) from just a picture of their backs. Hmm, I've heard of face-recognition technology. But back (and backpack) recognition technology? Wow!