Kampung spirit useful in rail failures

From ‘Rail failures: Kampung spirit can help’ 25 Oct 2015, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

…”This is the kampung spirit that we must inculcate in every MRT station,” said Mr Khaw (Boon Wan), adding that Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo had suggested involving shopkeepers working in the station, so they can play a part in contingency plans.

“Such ‘family-ness’ will be important not just when there is a technical breakdown, but (will be) even more critical if there is a terrorist- led sabotage to our rail system,” he said. He added that he has asked the Land Transport Authority and transport operators to consider the suggestion.

The over-used ‘kampung spirit’ should be evoked only in reference to the ‘village mentality’, whereby neighbours look out for each other, where the doors are never locked, and you could always pop by your neighbour’s house if you ever run out of sambal belacan. When trains break down, you’re hoping for random acts of kindness from strangers, be they Singaporeans or foreigners. They’re not kampung kakis who you grew up playing chapteh with, soaking in the sun chewing lallang. They’re rush-hour passengers who want to get to their destination as desperately as you do.

Shopkeepers are more keen on making money out of stranded passengers than being honorary SMRT staff, and would rather stay behind their cashiers than risk exposing their shops to angry looting mobs. Now our Transport Ministry wants commuters to extend our homely altruism out of our estates into the public domain, so that we can have mass group hugs and singalong sessions on the free shuttle bus rides home during an MRT breakdown. We’re already having trouble keeping the ‘kampung spirit’ alive with our immediate neighbour, now we’re expected to heed the Minister’s call to summon it outside in sweaty work clothes because nothing else can be done to improve our travel experience besides deluding ourselves into ‘loving thy neighbour’.

Come, people, let’s see your ‘gotong royong’, from Pasir Ris to Jurong. Bring a spare umbrella to lend your fellow commuter while he’s forced to march along an overhead track during a breakdown! Keep a tumbler of home brewed green bean soup handy in case someone needs nourishment! Sing ‘Home’ out loud to lighten the mood when everyone is seething with murderous rage! Let’s exude this warm fuzzy feeling wherever we go, whether it’s outside our corridor, around the void deck, or on a shitty train ride home!

Still, where’s this ‘kampung spirit’ outside everyday common-man experience? Does it apply to our billionaires living in penthouses and Nassim Road mansions who zip around in supercars?  Maybe they give it a less ‘rustic’ sounding name, one that involves non-kampungish activities like sharing expensive wine by an indoor pool or loaning your butler to your neighbour while the family’s out holidaying at a private island luxury resort. It’s ironic that our Government bandies ‘kampung spirit’ around to inspire people to pick up trash, volunteer or endure train breakdowns, while at the same time destroying tight-knit heritage estates like Commonwealth’s Chap Lau Chu, thereby exorcising its ‘spirit’ all in the name of ‘redevelopment’.

Kindness in the midst of commuting madness is greatly appreciated of course. But it should be done solely out of compassion for fellow humans, not egged on by ministers who should be focusing on the root problem, rather than trying to soften ugly consequences with tired cliches.

How to get rewarded for reporting litterbugs

From ‘Reward people who catch litterbugs in action, MP Lee Bee Wah proposes’, 12 Oct 15, article by Monica Kotwani, CNA

…Ms Lee said picking up litter is not enough. She is encouraging her residents to look out for those who litter habitually. She also suggested to the authorities to reward people who catch litterbugs in action. For example, after a resident takes a video of someone littering, he submits the evidence to NEA, and he gets to earn half of the summons.

She said: “In Taiwan, every resident is an enforcement officer. They can video, they can take photo of the litterbug and submit to their NEA. And if there is successful prosecution, their NEA will give the resident who reported it half of the summons collected.

…Said NEA chairman Liak Teng Lit: “I think the Government needs to think through what are the things we need to do. If you look at the equivalent of what is happening on the road, many people today have their in-vehicle cameras and not many people dare to make funny claims about accidents because there is a risk that whatever you say could be contradicting what’s on the camera in someone else’s vehicles.

“So certainly having neighbours watching over the environment and watching over each other will be very helpful. For the good citizens, there is nothing to worry about. In fact, people will be filming you doing good things and praising you rather than reprimanding you.”

The idea of a ‘litterbug vigilante’ is not a new one. In the face of weak enforcement, many have called upon concerned citizens of this ‘cleaned’ nation to rise to the occasion and publicly shame our fellow Singaporeans for their inconsiderate behaviour. NEA chairman Liak himself is the sort of guy who would tell people ‘nicely’ if they litter, citing statistics that 6 to 7  out of 20 litterbugs would give him a dirty look, while 1 out of 20 would yell at him to mind his own business. (Liak Teng Lit: 5 million, 70,000 cleaners, that is ridiculous! 16 Feb 2015, ST).

Mr Liak got one fundamental thing wrong about human psychology though; NO ONE will ever bother to take a video of you volunteering to clean someone else’s crap and give you a thumbs up. If you have followed STOMP long enough, you’ll realise that people are more interested in taking pictures of flaming cars, dead insects in food, catfights, exposed buttcracks, people washing boots in food court sinks, or if you’re lucky enough, someone shitting outside an MRT station.

Good Samaritans doing everyday niceties, without risking their lives or losing limbs saving strangers from total disaster, often go unnoticed. If you defend a helpless teenager from a crazy abusive angmo, you’re recognised as a hero. If you escort an old lady cross the road, you’ll be praised as an angel sent from heaven. If you, however, wag your finger and tut-tut at someone for leaving a mess in public, people will start asking: ‘What are you, Captain Planet?’ Which explains why now an MP is suggesting that we need to instill paranoia into litterbugs so that they think twice before launching that filthy booger out of the car window. And that by throwing money at you, hopefully that would encourage you to grow some spine and snitch on your fellow man.

Just last year, the NEA mooted the idea of recruiting volunteer enforcers to go around catching nuisance litterers. It’s a thankless job and no wonder we haven’t heard anything about this project since. It’s slightly worse than being one of those library attendants who go around shushing noisy children. As for filming someone red-handed, it’s practically impossible to whip out your phone and catch someone just at the instant they’re flicking their cigarette butt into the drain or throwing their Old Chang Kee fishball stick by the road. You’d have to start filming people secretly from behind a bush, and who has the time for such undercover stakeouts, half-summons cut or not? You’re more likely to be the one reported to the cops instead because of your suspicious loitering around trying to help the NEA raise their miserable KPIs.

Lee Bee Wah’s idea would probably work, provided you’re in the Old West looking for Billy the one-armed bandit, except that you’re armed with a crappy phone instead of a lasso to round up fugitives. It’s a sad state of affairs when the authorities need to pay amateur mercenaries to do the dirty work for them. Such a move is backward cowboy thinking and should be duly, well, trashed. Then do I have a better solution, you ask? Well, one word: Drones. Yes, flying surveillance machines designed to catch these no-good scum of the earth from way up high. It sure beats clumsy spywork and none of the scuffles or vendettas when things turn ugly. It’s like Robocop with wings.

We’re supposed to be a SMART nation now, MP Lee. Let’s live up to that, shall we.

Voting for the Opposition goes against human nature

From ‘PM to actively push for succession in new Cabinet lineup’, 19 Sep 15, article by Charissa Yong, ST

…PM Lee was also asked whether he was surprised, relieved or vindicated by the election results, which saw the PAP win 83 out of 89 seats and get 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, a near-10 percentage point swing from the 2011 elections.

He said he was surprised and relieved. But he would not use words like vindicated, as “you only know you’re vindicated after 100 years have passed”.

As for what led to the election outcome, he said the PAP will study it but it was hard to say for sure. But it seemed that voters approved of what the PAP Government had done over its past term and wanted them to continue on the same track, he said.

The opposition’s storyline, he noted, was “the Government is doing good; you vote for us, the Government will work even harder”.

“That’s a very dangerous approach and it goes against human nature,” he said. “If you have a friend and your friend is nice to you, you’re nice to him or her.

If the Opposition were a terminal patient rendered comatose by the election trouncing, then PM Lee is following up the defeat not by buying flowers and fruit baskets as a sporting victor should, but putting a pillow over his face.

The analogy here seems to be ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’, that since the Government had done well, says our PM, it is only ‘human’ for Singaporeans to show some damn gratitude and appreciation by voting for them. If you don’t, then well, pay the price and repent for your choice. Politicians comment on hindsight that Singapore has voted ‘rationally’, which implies that the remaining 30% cast their votes on base animal instincts, biting the hand that feeds them. If the Opposition’s share were higher, they either call it a fluke, or sugarcoat the result as a ‘new normal’.

I’m no evolutionary psychologist, but I believe returning favours isn’t a uniquely human trait. Primates groom each other for sex, for example. In the same way, we put a cross next to the PAP box not just as a ‘reward’ for the party’s efforts, but because we expect something in return; 5 years of them doing their damn job. Alas, simple reciprocation is merely one aspect of this ‘human nature’ that PM speaks of. It’s also typically human to be swayed by sentiment. Cue SG50 and the death of LKY.

Conversely one could argue that it’s ‘against human nature’ to vote for the PAP too. By doing so, you’re endorsing arrogant oppression, which goes against the human quest to be ‘free’. You’re endorsing the generous slapping of litigation on critics including 16 year old bloggers, which goes against the human trait of compassion. You’re saying yes to opening floodgates to foreigners, which goes against the human ‘territorial’ instinct to reject invaders who want a share of your pie.

The PAP has displayed the entire range of human traits, altruistic and kind on one hand, devastatingly ruthless on another, bold then fearful, humble then pompous. So to single out an undesirable, supposedly dangerous, action such as Opposition voting based on the ‘make the Government work harder’ premise as ‘unnatural’ is falling into the very human trap of cherry picking. ‘Dangerous’ to who, exactly?

If our leaders continue to congratulate themselves and saying that voting for the PAP is a ‘no-brainer’, many will be wondering if they made a terrible mistake giving them the mandate. But it’s OK, to err is human after all.

NEA making rain to wash off the haze just for F1

From ‘Cloud seeding rumours are false, malicious: MEWR Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’, 17 Sep 15, article in CNA

Rumours that cloud seeding is taking place to induce rain ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix are false, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said.

Addressing a WhatsApp message that has been making the rounds in Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook on Thursday (Sep 17): “The National Environment Agency does not engage in cloud seeding and has no plans to do so. Singapore is so small that even if anybody tried to do it, the rain would almost certainly fall outside Singapore.”

He added: “Singaporeans should beware of malicious people spreading false rumours during a period when anxieties are heightened.”

The original WhatsApp message called for people to be wary of what it claimed were “chemically-induced rain showers”, purportedly meant to reduce haze levels in light of the coming Formula 1 race, which will be held on roads in Singapore’s Civic District from Sep 18 to 20.

In 2006, the NEA did in fact conduct a feasibility study on cloud-seeding to combat the annual haze scourge (S’pore may make own rain to beat the haze, 17 Nov 2006, ST). If you go further back to 1963 when the country was drought-hit, we embarked on the first ever rain-making attempt by sending a Royal Australian Air Force DC-3 up into the air. It is not known if that crew was actually successful, or the lack of suitable clouds to fertilise put a damper on their efforts. That probably works on the parched Outback, but not on our little pinprick of an island. Alternatively, you could try to pray for 4 hours, like what our Sikh community did that same year. I wonder what precipitated out of that. So, yeah, the possibility of us ‘playing God’ and dabbling in rainmaking is not as outright incredulous as the MEWR minister makes it seem.

Rumours of using this expensive technique, the science behind which is still rather ‘hazy’, to bring on the showers aren’t new to Singaporeans. We hear of it being done to deplete the clouds of their load so that the National Day Parade would be rain-free. But why hire a pilot and an aircraft full of silver iodide when you could do something far cheaper, and simpler, a method even endorsed by our PM himself: Making an offering chillies and onions to the rain deities.

Conspiracy theorists may recall how the US War machine supposedly weaponised the weather using aggressive cloud seeding over Vietnam. Code named Operation Popeye, the mission was to ‘reduce trafficability’ along infiltration routes. A war euphemism for torrential rain, floods and landslides. Apparently not everyone dreams of making it rain meatballs.

Cloud seeding by our neighbouring countries has also been linked with hailstones, a speculation that was firmly debunked by NEA for the reason that rain clouds formed by such seeding cannot travel such long distances to reach us. Till today, there remains no clear explanation for the freak weather we had post-haze in 2013. Not everyone complains about this ‘raining like ice cubes’, though.

PAP winners humbled by landslide victory

From ‘PAP wins in a landslide with 69.86% of votes’, 12 Sep 15, article in CNA

…Among the winning PAP candidates, clear common themes arose in their victory speeches and interviews: Gratitude to voters, the humbling mandate, and the work to be done.

For example, Cabinet Minister Grace Fu – one of the first winners to be announced on Friday night – said that while she was happy to see her share of the vote in Yuhua SMC improve from 66.9 per cent in 2011 to 73.54 per cent, she was “very humbled” by the mandate and would work hard to prove herself worthy of voters’ trust.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his victory speech for Ang Mo Kio GRC, told voters: “We are very grateful and happy but at the same time humbled by the result, by the trust you have put on us, by the responsibility we have taken on to serve you.”

In any sporting contest, to be ‘humbled’ usually refers to an unexpected result when a crowd favourite suffers defeat at the hands of a less worthy opponent, such as Man U were humbled 1-2 by Swansea City. In 1984, one would celebrate with champagne upon seeing the ‘mighty PAP humbled’ post-election. If you use it in the first person, however, it expresses something rather different, a feeling of surprise and gratitude mixed with mild self-deprecation. Like ‘I’m not a man with many friends, therefore I’m humbled to see all of you here at my wedding’, or ‘I’m a terrible writer, so I’m humbled to see people clicking on this blog’.

So the PAP, sensing that they may be in for a tough fight, decided to thank their supporters with some syncopatic grovelling when they were rewarded with a rock-solid victory margin. Being ‘satisfied’ , ‘happy’ or ‘relieved’ (or as Lim Swee Say would say, ‘heng ah’) isn’t enough. You need to give the masses the illusion of authority, that you, the MP, are the ‘chosen’ one, that you’re proud to assume the role as a servant of the people, a steward, a ‘JAGA’, as PM Lee described. That you’re so honoured by the overwhelming mandate that you could drop on your knees and kiss our feet for this opportunity to serve. Like we’re 18th century plantation owners buying you out of a life of tunnel digging or dragging boulders up a hill.

For a while at least, we, the PAP voters, are made to feel like the masters of our fate. The people have spoken, and whether you call it a mandate, upswing, or some severe ‘groupthink’ on the part of the electorate, we always bring out a crouching, simpering tiger during the victory parade, but come SG51, let us brace ourselves for the searing heat when that familiar fire-spewing dragon emerges out of its subservient shell. I suspect most Singaporeans already know this, that the U-turns, the misguided policies, the preservation of a conservative status quo, can be seen a mile away, but they decided that they would rather live with a painful, but apparently successful formula, than put their faith in the Opposition. Which makes us, well, political masochists who love complaining, who attend Opposition rallies and raise their candidates to the pedestal of heavy metal gods, but when it comes to the crunch, go for the only option that will enable us to continue complaining, to live in fear of getting arrested for defamation, to huddle with more sweaty bodies on the train, to save up for more goddamn Walls ice cream promotions. As long as someone is putting up a sheltered walkway, a lift upgrade, a new hawker centre, or giving away the occasional public holiday for no good reason.

As Kenneth Jeyaratnam sourly observed, Singaporeans got the government that we deserve. It’s only a matter of time before we see this charming humility being shed like a snake moulting its scales, and for the PAP to revert to its old highfalutin ways, with men and women with not just IRON in them, but willing to push policies with an iron fist as well. Until then, revel while you can, rest assured that with the PAP cruise ship restarting its voyage, and the mango fruits of election promises just starting to seed, there won’t be any dead founding fathers rising out of the grave to set things right anytime soon.

PAP is like a fruitful mango tree

From ‘Don’t weaken fruitful PAP mango tree’, 10 Sep 2015, article by Siau Ming En, Today

Likening the People’s Action Party (PAP) to a mango tree that has yielded abundant fruit for more than 50 years and will continue to do so, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong yesterday questioned the Opposition’s desire to weaken it.

Speaking at a rally at Woodlands Stadium on the last day of campaigning, Mr Wong said to the crowd: “If a tree bears good fruit all these years, and you know that the tree will continue to bear good fruit, will you cut it down, will you tear it down, will you weaken the tree? Clearly, the answer is no.”

“The Opposition somehow has a different view, they want to weaken the tree,” said Mr Wong, who is contesting as part of the four-man PAP team in the newly carved out Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency.

I’m no expert in horticulture, but according to an Australian government department of primary industry, old mango trees may be ‘rejuvenated by a moderate and severe pruning’. So contrary to what Lawrence Wong thinks, some judicious ‘cutting down’ may actually revive a 50 year old mango tree rather than ‘weaken it’. The tree got one of its branches nicked post 2011 GE when George Yeo’s Aljunied team was defeated, and in the past 4 years we have got quite a bit of juicy fruiting, from new MRT lines to Pioneer Generation cards to increased Paternity leave. In the past week of electioneering though, all this mango tree has done so far is to throw shade on its opponents.

I hope we’ve seen the last of such metaphors. Retiring minister Lui Tuck Yew compared the Opposition to ‘poisonous mushrooms‘ weakening the ‘special tall trees’. Eric Low, losing candidate for Potong Pasir, said he was out to ‘pluck chikus’ in the ward.  Goh Chok Tong warned of sowing a bad seed and not knowing what kind of Opposition tree you would get. If there’s a more appropriate analogy of the PAP machinery, it’s that of a sprawling behemoth with invasive (grass)roots that creep all over your backyard, threatening to burst through the walls of your house. As for Opposition parties with manifestos that are pretty to look at but are ultimately barren, they’re more like the skeletal Instagram tree in Punggol.

There’s no doubt that the PAP tree is bursting with mango goodness. So abundant has been our harvest that even ex MPs can afford to pluck them as personal gifts, like Michael Palmer’s offering to his lover back in 2012. Sweet.

Police report filed over Vivian Balakrishnan’s Facebook glitch

From ‘Elections Dept reins in breach of rules’, 10 Sep 11, article by Siau Ming En, Today

…Screengrabs of a tweet on Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan’s account linking to a Facebook post about an election walkabout — with a time stamp indicating it was published today — had some netizens questioning if electoral rules had been broken.

A spokesperson for Dr Bala­krishnan — who is leading the PAP team defending their seats in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC — said the minister has explained to the ELD that the Facebook post in question, which was first published on Sept 4, had been repeatedly published automatically.

“Despite multiple attempts by the page administrators to stop this, the problem recurred at 1.52am on Sept 10, 2015. We have contacted Facebook headquarters to conduct an investigation into the source of this bug,” Dr Balakrishnan told the ELD.

As his Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked, an associated tweet was also generated today. “We have also requested that the page be locked down to prevent any further postings,” Dr Balakrishnan said. Both the Facebook post and tweet have been removed from the respective social media platforms.

The police confirmed that reports were lodged on the matter, and they are looking into it.

UPDATE: Facebook confirmed on 11 Sep 15 that it was indeed a bug in the system that led to ‘recurrent autoposting’. Which is the internet equivalent of a ‘broken record’.

PAP’s youngest candidate Tin Peiling was accused of flouting Cooling Off Day rules back in 2011 when one of her Facebook posts called out rival Nicole Seah for sympathy weeping. An ‘administrator’ named Denise He took the rap. 4 years later, Tin is a rising star and looks set to sweep Macpherson off its feet, and another breach of Cooling Off Day rules is attributed not to a social media ghostwriter, but a ghost in the machine. Just a few days back, police reports were made against PAP MPs attending getais, which cater to a different sort of ghost altogether.

I suppose we should trust the Minister when he claims that there was a glitch in the Facebook-Twitter matrix. After all, this is the man who delivered an epic lecture about integrity and admitting to mistakes during his hawker centre kerfuffles with the WP. He could have blamed it on a hacker like what Ello Bello did to explain his seditious comments on Facebook. He could have blamed the haze for impairing his judgement and making him lose track of time. BUT NO, he chose to target a bug in the 2 biggest social media platforms in the world. Vivian is also no slouch when it comes to tech, being a self-professed gadget hobbyist himself, so he should know what he’s talking about. The PAP, I’m sure, just like it doesn’t have a ‘history of backstabbing’, does not have a history of obscuring the truth either.

Still, I don’t recall the Minister making personal apologies for blowing the YOG Budget in 2011, putting the fault on the ‘ministry’s inexperience’ in organising such a mega event. He also justified tripling the budget by saying that the YOG couldn’t have been a success otherwise. That’s like ordering a cake too large for a birthday party and then buying more candles to make up for it. Well at least he didn’t say there was a glitch in his calculator then.

If there’s a freak result in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC today, let’s hope the PAP team admits that they simply did not do enough to win hearts and minds, rather than dig into the ballot boxes looking for phony saboteur votes instigated by rogue polling agents. But if they do walk out as victors, my advice to the Minister and his team is to look beyond petty politics, all this talk about being whiter-than-white clean, and focus on the haze immediately instead.


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