Monday, February 29, 2016

Hard work pays off better in Singapore, say Malaysian odd job workers

February 29, 2016

SINGAPORE — When Mr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysia needed migrant workers because local youth shunned manual labour, Zul could only shake his head in disbelief.

Every day, the young graduate crosses the gridlocked Causeway from Johor Baru to Singapore to do exactly the kind of work migrant labourers do in Malaysia – dirty, dangerous and difficult, also known as “3D”.

Zul, 22, has been doing it for three years for one sole reason, the higher salary.

“I earn way more than I ever did in Malaysia. Even though the work is tough, the salary makes up for it,” Zul told The Malaysian Insider recently.

“It’s not true that Malaysians are unwilling to do 3D work. Otherwise, why do you find so many Malaysians in Singapore and Australia looking for such jobs? It’s because the pay in Malaysia is not enough.”

The Malaysian Insider previously reported that more than 400,000 Malaysians work in Singapore as of 2012, the majority of them in blue-collar jobs.

Some, like Zul, forked out about RM2,000 (S$668) to apply for a legal permit and for other paperwork needed to hold a job legally in the Republic.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Family of 7 live on $1,300 a month

Feb 28, 2016,

Janice Tai

Some people call sole breadwinners like Mr Ong Leong Hock the "sandwiched class" because they have young children to take care of and elderly parents to support.

But Mr Ong, 49, is literally sandwiched between his wife and three daughters on two beds joined together in a room every night. His family of five would squeeze in a room because the other room in their three-room flat is occupied by his parents.

Though he promised his wife when they got married 13 years ago that they would get a place of their own, it has yet to materialise because finances are tight.

"I have applied for a two-room rental flat nearby because the kids are growing and need their own space and my parents can rent out the room for some income," says Mr Ong in Mandarin. His three daughters are aged four, 12 and 13.

To make ends meet, Mr Ong puts in long hours as a cooked food stall assistant. He starts work at the economical rice stall at the nearby Kovan Hougang market and food centre just after 7am and knocks off at nearly 9pm on weekdays.

Singapore’s economic miracle uncovered

[Note the date of this article. This was published just after LKY's passing in 2015. It is not a new article.]

Ferdinando Giugliano

Mar 24 2015

The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, has focused attention on the economic miracle he helped to create.

In the three decades since Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.

Yet economists remain divided over the causes behind this remarkable take-off.

For some it was the result of inspiration – the ability to import the best technologies from around the world thanks to an enlightened economic model. For others, it was the consequence of perspiration – the sheer accumulation of factors of production such as labour and capital, accompanied by little technological growth.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Punishing NS dodgers: What's fair, what's not?

Jermyn Chow
Defence Correspondent

25 Feb 2016

Clarity needed on sentencing guidelines for defaulters with little connection to S'pore

In 2006, I was in Parliament listening to then-defence minister Teo Chee Hean painstakingly explain the nation's uncompromising stance against National Service (NS) evaders.

His speech had come in the wake of a public furore over a $3,000 fine handed to celebrity pianist Melvyn Tan for defaulting on his NS for more than three decades. Mr Teo pushed for stiffer fines and jail sentences for those who skip NS.

Since then, this no-nonsense stance has not wavered.

What you need to know about South China Sea disputes

24 Feb 2016

The South China Sea, dotted with small islands, reefs and shoals, is one of the most hotly contested areas in the world.

While unexplored, much of the disputed area around the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands is believed to be potentially rich in oil and other natural resources. The sea is also a major shipping route through which over US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) of maritime trade passes each year.

Here's a quick look at the disputes: 

Who claims what?
China: It claims almost all of the resource-rich waters in the South China Sea - an area defined by its "nine-dash line" which extends hundreds of kilometres south from China's Hainan Island to waters off the coast of Borneo, taking in some of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Beijing says its right to the area goes back centuries to when the Paracel and Spratly island chains were regarded as integral parts of the Chinese nation. In 1947, it issued a map detailing its claims. It showed the two island groups falling entirely within its territory.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Re-opening The X-Files

Ignatius Low
Managing Editor

FEB 21, 2016,

The conspiracy theories in the cult TV series opened my mind to the possibility that neither science nor religion had the answers to everything

Of all the little surprises that came along with the new year, there was none more pleasant than the return of the cult television series, The X-Files.

Yes, the small basement office filled with files on paranormal activity has been reopened. FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are back in their jobs investigating these cases and linking some of them to a grand conspiracy theory involving the United States government and alien activity.

I watched with bated breath as the opening episode of the 10th season aired about a month ago, more than 13 years after a two-hour finale in May 2002 was supposed to have "explained everything" and ended the long-running series for good.

My face may not have shown it, but a huge cheer erupted in my heart when Mark Snow's iconic instrumental theme boomed out from the TV set that I had turned up way too loud, together with the original title sequence which had been left entirely intact.

I had, after all, felt much the same way when it boomed out of my tiny Nokia phone speakers - being my very first ringtone purchase all those years ago.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

'Sister, how could you love me after what I have done?'

Feb 21, 2016,

Sister Gerard Fernandez became a Changi Prison death row counsellor after one of her former students, Catherine Tan Mui Choo, was sentenced to hang with her husband Adrian Lim and his mistress Hoe Kah Hong for the killing of two children in the sensational "ritual murders" case of 1981. The Catholic nun, 78, spoke to Alan John for the 2016 reprint of his book Unholy Trinity.

Alan John

When two children were murdered within a fortnight in Toa Payoh in early 1981, all of Singapore was shocked. But the tragedy hit home especially among the Good Shepherd sisters, a community of Roman Catholic nuns who run schools, a vocational centre for girls and a shelter for women.

They knew the first victim, nine-year-old Agnes Ng Siew Heok, whose family were devout Catholics. And when the police arrested three people for killing Agnes and Ghazali Marzuki, 10, the sisters were distressed to learn that one of the suspects was Tan Mui Choo, who had attended their Marymount Vocational Centre and whom they knew as Catherine.

Said Sister Gerard Fernandez: "I knew Catherine, she was one of our girls. She came from a Catholic family, her parents were very religious, and we knew them too." She was aware that the 26-year-old had fallen into bad company after leaving the vocational centre.

As the sensational case unfolded before the courts, she heard the terrible details, including how Catherine's younger sister and brother had also been tricked by her husband, self-styled spirit medium Adrian Lim, 39.

When Adrian, Catherine and Adrian's 25-year-old mistress Hoe Kah Hong were sentenced to hang on May 23 1983, Sister Gerard felt she had to act quickly: "I thought they were all going to hang the very next day!"

Housing market wish-list for Budget 2016

Darius Cheung

February 19, 2016

Budget 2016 will be unveiled next month and it is hoped that the Government will consider the following measures in the area of housing:


Many Singaporeans bought one or more private residential properties following the global financial crisis of 2008, partly motivated by steep plunges in mortgage rates as the United States Federal Reserve held its key interest rate target near zero. It was common to find mortgage loans with interest rates as low as 1.7 per cent right up to 2012.

Meanwhile, many Singaporeans switched to private bank loans for their Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, since HDB concessionary loans — pegged at 0.1 per cent above the prevailing Central Provident Fund Ordinary Account rate — were much higher at 2.6 per cent.

Last December, the Fed marked the end of its zero interest rate policy era with its first hike in nearly a decade. Although the hike was small at 0.25 per cent, interest rates are expected to rise further as the US embarks on its normalisation path.

This will, in turn, affect home loan rates in Singapore, and homeowners here will need time to adjust to bigger mortgage repayments.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

China should dial R for Rajan

Ravi Velloor
Associate Editor (Global Affairs)

Feb 19, 2016

Among the most startling pieces of news on China's economy lately was one citing investor Kyle Bass whose firm, Hayman Capital Management, reckons that the mainland's liquid foreign reserves are only US$2.2 trillion (S$3 trillion) at most, whereas the People's Bank of China (PBOC) maintains it is a trillion dollars more.

Even the PBOC's figure of US$3.23 trillion in reserves is a huge dip from the US$4 trillion China held less than a year ago, underscoring how quickly money is leaving China. Bloomberg Intelligence thinks that came to about a trillion dollars last year. Those flows have slowed a bit lately, true, but at more than US$3 billion a day it means that a fortnight's capital flight from the mainland equals as much as the entire money that fled Indonesia in the 1997-99 period, when its economy was devastated by the Asian financial crisis.

Even after adjusting for the relative size of their economies, this is serious stuff.

"China's back is completely up against the wall today, which is one of the primary reasons the government is hypersensitive to any comments regarding its reserve levels or a hard landing," Mr Bass reportedly wrote to clients.

There is also worry that, as China sends capital overseas for acquisitions, many of the state- owned companies in the vanguard are dragging along massive debt portfolios. This could, if the climate turns more sour, curdle economies even beyond Asia's shores and hurt even Western banks, some of whom have lent to these entities only because of the sturdy backing of the state they are said to enjoy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

S’pore’s complex challenges defy solutions of yore


FEBRUARY 18, 2016

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last October, is finally off and running.

It has five sub-committees looking at a broad range of issues — corporate capabilities and innovation, new growth industries and markets, connectivity, all things “city”, and jobs and skills.

Each sub-committee is helmed by political heavyweights and business leaders. In short, the CFE promises to be another high-profile exercise in intensive research, rigorous analysis, and whole-of-government coordination of the kind in which Singapore excels.

The CFE is, of course, the latest in a line of high-powered committees — for example, 1985’s Economic Committee through to 2009’s Economic Strategies Committee — convened every so often to answer the critical question, “What’s next for the Singapore economy?”

Why Singapore forests are worth safeguarding

Audrey Tan

18 Feb 2016

How much do we value our forests, and are they worth protecting?

"Not really, there is nothing to see in our forests... so I would say, build away," a banker friend told me. Another added that to get his nature fix, there are far better alternatives overseas.

These are typical answers I get when I ask laymen about the possibility of the Cross Island Line tunnelling under Singapore's largest nature reserve.

Yes, there has been strong debate over the issue. But it seems that the loudest voices belong to those involved in the green movement.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Conspiracy theories about Zika spreads along with virus


FEBRUARY 17, 2016

SALVADOR (Brazil) — The Zika virus, some Brazilians are convinced, is the inadvertent creation of a British biotech company that has been releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to combat dengue fever in Brazil. Others here and elsewhere see it as a plot by global elites to depopulate the Earth and install a “one-world government”.

And after a group of Argentine doctors asserted that a larvicide, not the mosquito-borne Zika virus, was to blame for a surge in cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly, Brazil’s southernmost state went so far over the weekend as to ban the use of the larvicide in its drinking water — even though scientists and health officials insist there is no such link.

[Note that there are THREE conspiracy theories.
1) Genetically modified mosquitoes created to fight Dengue inadvertently resulted in the Zika virus.
2) The Larvicide use to kill mosquitoes are the REAL cause of microcephaly
3) The Zika Virus is a plot by global elites to depopulate the earth.
So don't confused the 3 conspiracy theory. Although #3 can stand independently or flow from #1 or #2.]

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Justice Scalia and the rule of law as a law of rules

Cass R. Sunstein

16 Feb 2016

When Mr Stephen Breyer, President Bill Clinton's second appointment to the United States Supreme Court, was sworn in as an associate justice at a White House ceremony in 1994, Justice Antonin Scalia came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said with a bright, mischievous smile, "First Ruth, and now Steve? Cass, it's almost enough to make me vote Democrat."

The late Mr Scalia was witty, warm, funny, and full of life. He was not only one of the most important justices in the nation's history; he was also among the greatest. With Oliver Wendell Holmes and Robert Jackson, he counts as one of the court's three best writers. Who else would say, in a complex case involving the meaning of a statute, that Congress does not "hide elephants in mouseholes"?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

'I find Singaporeans a cynical lot': Grandmother of Goondus Sylvia Toh

"People no longer believe. Their first stance is combative. Like 'Oh, they're giving us S$10. Tomorrow, they will tax us S$11.' That is the first thing they think instead of thinking: 'I think I'll go and spend S$9,'" columnist and writer Sylvia Toh Paik Choo tells 938LIVE’s Bharati Jagdish.
By Bharati Jagdish, 938LIVE 

13 Feb 2016 

SINGAPORE: Columnist and writer Sylvia Toh Paik Choo is known as the Guru of Singlish. She is the author of Eh Goondu! (1982) and Lagi Goondu! (1986), the first two books on Singlish, and is the first to put spelling and punctuation to Singlish. She continues writing on a freelance basis, writing about food, movies and, of course, her brand of humorous social commentary. 

Kickstarting the interview with 938LIVE's On The Record, Ms Toh talked about her own educational history and how she came to be called "the Grandmother of Goondus" in Singapore.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why judges should not be moral arbiters

K.C. Vijayan
Senior Law Correspondent

11 Feb 2016

Issues of social preferences can be expressed only through electoral process, US judge tells Singapore audience

After the United States Supreme Court gave same-sex marriages the green light, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked if, in his view, such thorny issues were better decided through politics or in the courts.

In his response to the question, which was posed at a dialogue at the Singapore Management University (SMU) last June, he said of the US ruling that any ban on such unions was unconstitutional: "That is their (the US) system. They will not say that they made a decision on the issue; they will say that they interpreted the Constitution in its true sense and this is what it has always meant.

"Things like abortion, racial discrimination, drugs, all sorts of things go to the Supreme Court."

And that means that the US Congress, made up of those elected by the people, does not have the last word, he highlighted at the SMU's Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture.

That same issue was at the heart of a lecture that Justice Antonin Scalia delivered here late last month.

Singaporeans need to know their legal rights

Kok Xing Hui

11 Feb 2016

The recent suicide of a teenager after he was questioned by the police has spurred debate and calls for public education about rights

When I was 17, I spent a night in the lockup of Tanglin Police Division - the price I paid for using a school senior's identity card to try and get into a club.

I had been curious about a party many of my junior college schoolmates were at, but the door girl saw through my youthful indiscretion and called the police.

In the cold cell they put me in, I was filled with regret, and desperately worried about being kicked out of school.

I needed to call my parents, and at least let them know where I was past 3am that Saturday morning.

At that time, all I knew about police arrests was what I had seen on American TV programmes. So I was under the misguided notion that I would get one phone call and could call my parents and ask them to come and get me.

It was only later that I realised Singapore takes a different approach, and its reasons for doing so.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Was the Apollo moon landing a hoax?

March 31, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

I was reading an online story about the anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing and it mentioned that a very few folks maintain, nay, obsessively insist, that it never happened. That none of the moon landings ever took place, except for on a movie set or in the Nevada desert. It sounds to me like the talk of someone who has a wee bit too much time on their hands. What's the Straight Dope — did Armstrong and company walk on the moon or no?

— Matt Schutte

An Unhinged Democracy in America

FEB 9, 2016


NEW YORK – Alexis de Tocqueville, a liberal French aristocrat, visited the United States in 1831 ostensibly to write a study of its “enlightened” prison system (locking people up in solitary confinement like penitent monks was the latest modern idea). Out of this trip came de Tocqueville’s masterpiece, Democracy in America, in which he expressed admiration for American civil liberties and compared the world’s first genuine liberal democracy favorably with Old World institutions.

But de Tocqueville had serious reservations, too. The biggest danger to US democracy, he believed, was the tyranny of the majority, the suffocating intellectual conformity of American life, the stifling of minority opinion and dissent. He was convinced that any exercise of unlimited power, be it by an individual despot or a political majority, is bound to end in disaster.

Democracy, in the sense of majority rule, needs restraints, just like any other system of government. That is why the British have mixed the authority of elected politicians with that of aristocratic privilege. And it is why Americans still cherish their Constitution’s separation of governmental powers.

F-35 fighter jet to go on display at Singapore Airshow

As the event nears, analysts weigh in on what the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can offer for Singapore's air defence and why the country has yet to buy it.

By Loke Kok Fai
09 Feb 2016

SINGAPORE: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be on display at this year's Singapore Airshow, which will be held from Feb 16 to Feb 21. There will also be a flight simulator so visitors can get a feel of the fighter jet that Singapore has expressed its interest in buying.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has expressed interest in the F-35 since as early as 2003, when it joined a programme to develop the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). It is the only fifth-generation fighter presently available on the market and observers said it suits Singapore's needs.

The F-35 offers advanced stealth, ground attack and sensing capabilities for reconnaissance and surveillance. Additionally, some versions of the fighter only require a small area for take-off and landing.

"Singapore has such a small amount of territory," said Mr Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies' Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. "It only has a certain amount of territory for airfields and a certain finite number of airfields, and one of the things you're concerned about is of course enemy air attacks on your airfields that render them useless.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why few child prodigies grow up to be geniuses

Feb 7, 2016

They don't learn to be original; study shows that setting fewer rules enables kids to be creative
Adam Grant

They learn to read at age two, play Bach at four, breeze through calculus at six, and speak foreign languages fluently by eight. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Consider the most prestigious award in the US for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognised more than 2,000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 per cent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes. For every Lisa Randall who revolutionises theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential.

Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted - as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

It's not all rosy for job seekers

Toh Yong Chuan
Manpower Correspondent

Feb 5, 2016,

The Ministry of Manpower said on Thursday that four in 10 job vacancies are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). It went on to say that there were 116 positions for every 100 job seekers last year.

Just last week, it was revealed that, in real terms, citizens saw their median income from work jumped by 7 per cent last year.

Higher salaries, more jobs than job seekers, a choice of professional positions - workers ought to have much to cheer about.

But wait. The picture is not all that rosy, in at least three ways.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?

Thomas L. Friedman

NY Times

FEB. 3, 2016

Over the last few years we’ve been treated to a number of “Facebook revolutions,” from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

Recently, an important voice answered this question with a big “ yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

In December, Ghonim, who has since moved to Silicon Valley, posted a TED talk about what went wrong. It is worth watching and begins like this: “I once said, ‘If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.’ I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, but it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”

In the early 2000s, Arabs were flocking to the web, Ghonim explained: “Thirsty for knowledge, for opportunities, for connecting with the rest of the people around the globe, we escaped our frustrating political realities and lived a virtual, alternative life.”

And then in June 2010, he noted, the “Internet changed my life forever. While browsing Facebook, I saw a photo … of a tortured, dead body of a young Egyptian guy. His name was Khaled Said. Khaled was a 29-year-old Alexandrian who was killed by police. I saw myself in his picture. … I anonymously created a Facebook page and called it ‘We Are All Khaled Said.’ In just three days, the page had over 100,000 people, fellow Egyptians who shared the same concern.”

Soon Ghonim and his friends used Facebook to crowd-source ideas, and “the page became the most followed page in the Arab world. … Social media was crucial for this campaign. It helped a decentralized movement arise. It made people realize that they were not alone. And it made it impossible for the regime to stop it.”

Ghonim was eventually tracked down in Cairo by Egyptian security services, beaten and then held incommunicado for 11 days. But three days after he was freed, the millions of protesters his Facebook posts helped to galvanize brought down Mubarak’s regime.

Alas, the euphoria soon faded, said Ghonim, because “we failed to build consensus, and the political struggle led to intense polarization.” Social media, he noted, “only amplified” the polarization “by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech. The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground filled with trolls, lies, hate speech.”

Supporters of the army and the Islamists used social media to smear each other, while the democratic center, which Ghonim and so many others occupied, was marginalized. Their revolution was stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood and, when it failed, by the army, which then arrested many of the secular youths who first powered the revolution. The army has its own Facebook page to defend itself.

“It was a moment of defeat,” said Ghonim. “I stayed silent for more than two years, and I used the time to reflect on everything that happened.”

Here is what he concluded about social media today: “First, we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.” Second, “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else. Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.

“And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet.”

Fifth, and most crucial, he said, “today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

Ghonim has not given up. He and a few friends recently started a website,, to host intelligent, civil conversations about controversial and often heated issues, with the aim of narrowing gaps, not widening them. (I participated in a debate on Parlio and found it engaging and substantive.)

“Five years ago,” concluded Ghonim, “I said, ‘If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.’ Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.”

[I'll let Terry Pratchett respond:
“I’m sorry if this offends you,” he added, patting the captain’s shoulder, “but you fellows really need us.”
“Yes, sir?” said Vimes quietly.
“Oh, yes. We’re the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you’re good at that, I’ll grant you. But the trouble is that it’s the only thing you’re good at. One day it’s the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it’s everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no one’s been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It’s part of the specfication, you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don’t seem to have the knack.”
“Maybe. But you’re wrong about the rest!” said Vimes. “It’s just because people are afraid, and alone—” He paused. It sounded pretty hollow, even to him.
He shrugged. “They’re just people,” he said. “They’re just doing what people do. Sir.”
Lord Vetinari gave him a friendly smile.
“Of course, of course,” he said. “You have to believe that, I appreciate. Otherwise you’d go quite mad. Otherwise you’d think you’re standing on a feather-thin bridge over the vaults of Hell. Otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death. I quite understand.” 
“Do you believe all that, sir?” he said. “About the endless evil and the sheer blackness?”
“Indeed, indeed,” said the Patrician, turning over the page. “It is the only logical conclusion.”
“But you get out of bed every morning, sir?”
“Hmm? Yes? What is your point?”
“I’d just like to know why, sir.”
“Oh, do go away, Vimes. There’s a good fellow.”
Excerpt From: Pratchett, Terry. “Guards! Guards!”]

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Boneheaded aphorisms from Davos’ windy summit


Lucy Kellaway

February 3, 2016

You can always go faster than you think you can. Those are not my words. They are the words of Ms Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise chief executive, who said them about two weeks ago at the Davos, where they were duly jotted down and published in a collection of quotes from world leaders during their week in the snow.

I admire the Whitman aphorism for its simple syntax and nice short words.

The only trouble with it is that it’s nonsense. Often in business you can’t go nearly as fast as you fondly think you can. When you try, you fall on your face — and Ms Whitman, of all people, should know that.

If her predecessor at HP hadn’t been quite so hasty in buying Autonomy, it would have saved itself a big mess.

The 35 other quotes are almost all as dismal; variously moronic (“The fourth industrial revolution should be a revolution of values”), silly (“Let’s put our optimism goggles on”) or empty (“We are not the prisoners of a predetermined future”).

When I first read the collection I thought it was a spoof. Then I thought the quotes were real, but selected maliciously to make the speakers look foolish. I now discover they were specifically picked by the World Economic Forum not as the stupidest things famous people said at Davos 2016, but as the smartest.

Is access to social networks harming our children?


February 3, 2016

Every Chinese New Year, we follow the same routine: Visiting family, eating, catching up with friends, shopping, and more eating. However, there is something Singaporeans — young and old — now do that was rare only a few years ago: Sending wishes and arranging these visits using WhatsApp.

Singapore happens to be No 1 globally in smartphone ownership, with nine out of 10 Singaporeans owning a smartphone, and with it, unlimited access to social networks.

We also happen to be bottom of the charts (five out of five) for monitoring Internet use of young Singaporeans, according to a large-scale study carried out by the Insight team. Parents of children between the ages of three to eight were surveyed in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Why does this matter? Singapore is a developed, consumer-driven society; many of us want prestigious brands, exotic holidays, the latest gadgets, and dining at the best restaurants. It follows that our social media feeds are full of images of this perfect consumer lifestyle. For young children who do not know any better, this may be what life looks like.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Do lightning rods really work?


August 24, 2001

Dear Cecil:

Everyone learns about lightning rods in grade school. There is the heavy-duty kind on skyscrapers that takes the brunt of bolts and conducts them safely to ground, and the delicate, sharply pointed ones that protect residences by bleeding off electric charge and preventing strikes. Having been well schooled in skepticism by our beloved Cecil, I tried to find a scientific study showing that rods actually ward off lightning, before plunking down dollars. No luck, except for manufacturers' marketing propaganda. I've seen a scale-model village successfully protected by tiny lightning rods from a "lightning" machine. But models don't always scale up to the real world. Do houses with lightning rods actually get hit less often than houses without?

— John Glenn, N.T.A. (Not The Astronaut), San Francisco

Cecil replies:

You're thinking: What a stupid question. Everybody knows lightning rods work. People wouldn't have put them on buildings for more than 250 years (lightning rods were initially proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1749) if there weren't a sound scientific basis for them, would they?

Well … maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't. We need to have a little talk.

Is the petrodollar about to tank the economy?

January 29, 2016

Dear Cecil:

A friend warns that the impending collapse of the petrodollar, devised by Henry Kissinger as the world’s reserve currency when the United States dropped the gold standard, will bring down the entire U.S. financial system. How worried should I be?

— Kingsley Day

Twists and turns of Najib’s RM2.6 billion

January 31, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR — When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the RM2.6 billion (S$893.6 million) donation controversy has been “comprehensively put to rest”, the Internet promptly responded with memes ridiculing the attorney-general’s (A-G) decision to close the case.

From comedians to artists, local blogs to international news wires, many found it hard to believe that it was okay for a leader of a democratic country to accept billions of ringgit from an unidentified foreign funder.

Mr Najib urged Malaysians to “move on” from the issue but questions still abound despite the A-G’s findings that there was insufficient evidence to implicate Mr Najib.

The Malaysian Insider revisits what is known so far about the billions in his account, since July 2 last year when The Wall Street Journal first broke the news that RM2.6 billion was channelled into Mr Najib’s private bank accounts.

Consider return to Singapore's election system of 1965

Han Fook Kwang

Jan 24, 2016

There is a new guessing game in town, on what changes the Government has in store for the political system here.

This, after politics made a surprise appearance in the President's Address at the opening of the new Parliament.

Since it is so rare for the "P" word to be the subject of so much attention in this particular formal setting, I should quote exactly what President Tony Tan Keng Yam said: "Our political system has delivered stability and progress for Singapore. But this system must be refreshed from time to time, as our circumstances change. The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term."

The President mentioned three modifications to Singapore's first-past-the-post electoral system: Nominated MPs, Non-Constituency MPs and the Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).

More tellingly, he highlighted the Elected President (EP) as "another critical element that fosters resilience and stability in our political system".