Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000′s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

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Stomp website promoting voyeurism

From ‘MDA responds to anti-Stomp petition’, 17 April 2014, ST

Media regulator the Media Development Authority (MDA) will not influence the editorial slant of websites but will take firm action if there is a breach of public interest or the promotion of racial and religious hatred or intolerance. In a statement on its Facebook page last weekend, it wrote that netizens can and should continue to signal to Internet content providers the standards expected of them as part of efforts to promote responsible online behaviour.

The post was made in response to a petition to shut down citizen journalism website Stomp, which is owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). The petition claims to have collected more than 22,700 signatures since being set up 11 days ago on international campaigning site change.org by 26-year-old retail executive Robin Li.

…Mr Li told The Straits Times that he launched the petition after a March 24 post on Stomp in which an NSman was accused by a Stomp contributor of failing to offer his seat to an elderly woman in front of him. But one picture in the post’s photo gallery showed a reserve seat near the NSman that was empty.

Mr Li said that was the “last straw”. “Many netizens contribute posts that are at the expense of others, especially NSmen. Their faces are not blurred either… this promotes voyeurism and comes at the expense of their privacy,” he said.

Mr Felix Soh, editor, digital media group, of SPH’s Digital Division which oversees Stomp, denied Mr Li’s accusations and pointed out that there was no attempt to hide any information in the March 24 story.

“In fact, the full picture showing an empty seat on the MRT train was published by Stomp in the gallery of two photos accompanying the story. Furthermore, the fact that there was an empty seat in the row was mentioned in the second paragraph.” He added: “It is sad that those who clamour for the freedom of the Internet are now asking for the closure of a website – just because they don’t like it.”

Many people didn’t ‘like’ adultery site Ashley Madison either, which MDA banned because it didn’t meet their guidelines on ‘public interest’, flagrantly disregarding ‘family values and public morality’. Invasion of privacy, however, not only doesn’t count as a breach of ‘public morality’, but is in fact the bread and butter of Stomp, so it’s not in SPH’s ‘interest’ to shut down the voyeuristic tabloid elements. Those of a more dystopian bent would see Stomp as the dreaded roving all-seeing-eye, to the point that the threat of getting ‘stomped’ has become an everyday catch-all phrase to deter any form of antisocial behaviour, be it eating on the train or sleeping on a priority seat. What would it take for SPH to stop encouraging people from spying on each other, I wonder? Someone traumatised enough to kill himself in shame because his photo got plastered all over social media, perhaps?

Instead of addressing their penchant for distorting images and context at the expense of the unsuspecting, SPH went on to question the authenticity of the petition and the number of electronic signatures obtained. Not like numbers matter anyway since it’s unlikely that a petition would bring about Stomp’s demise. There’s also a certain demographic of those people caught on camera. Everyday people like you and me doing everyday things. You may even find yourself snapped unawares even if you’re not part of the action. Fat chance finding a Stomp piece about an important person flicking his booger in public.

Launched in 2006 as the ‘Straits Times Online Mobile Print‘, SPH’s intention was to cultivate what has been termed ‘citizen journalism’, or ‘grass-roots reporting‘. Cherian George disagrees with ‘citizen journalism’ for the simple reason that the end product still has to get the blessings of ST journalists, who get to pick and choose what sells and not what’s decent. Nonetheless, the award winning site (Gold for BEST ORIGINAL CONTENT (provided by other people for free), 2014) stands by its original purpose of getting users to do the ST’s job without a single cent. For every piece of news that justly highlights abuse towards the mentally disabled, road ragers or brawls on the train, there are at least a dozen others that belong more to the category of ‘citizen paparazzi’ than ‘journalism’. Stomp calls their stars of the show ‘Hey Goondus’, while users out to defend the innocents mock contributors as ‘stupid stompers’, unwittingly adding to the millions of hits that keep the site alive.

Here’s my rundown of my ‘Best of Stomp Voyeurism’ stories, which also serves as a warning to everyone out there, not just hapless NSmen, who ever eats food in public, cuddles, sleeps on the train or wears short hot pants. You’d also notice how the editors are inconsistent in their practice of blurring out faces so you can’t trust them with any sense of moral decency. The more practical way to shut Stomp down, short of hiring Anonymous to hack the shit out of it, is to just stop visiting, sharing or ‘liking’, though I confess to occasionally accessing it if only for ‘research purposes’.

1. NSman with trouser leg coming loose

Break a leg, stompers

2. Guy eating a bun on the bus.

The shame is too hard to swallow

3. Couple sleeping on MRT

The editors who let this go public were sleeping on the job too

4. Eating during a presidential salute

Tony Tan Keng Yum

5. Kids hugging in uniform

Stomper, you sicko you.

6. NSman drinking water on a train

No water parades on the train

7. Girls with long legs

One for your private collection, eh Stomper?

8. Taking your dog out unleashed.

Dogged by stompers

9. CISCO officers eating in a food court

Don’t ever get caught lining up for Krispy Kreme, cops

10. Wearing a helmet on the bus

Stomper is way aHEAD of you, poor guy

But it’s not just voyeur posters going out of control in Stomp. The editors are unable to manage death threats from commenters as well.  Like this one:

Eh this stomper should be shot 10x over. This poor bloke is serving YOU. Protecting YOU. Defending YOU. You effing suck for taking a pot shot at this poor NS dude you retarded asswipe. Learn how to appreciate others and not nit pick you moron.

Of course even if by some miracle the petition is successful in forcing Stomp to close shop, there will be plenty of eager startup companies waiting to pounce and create copycat platforms, not to mention the likes of already existing forums and Facebook. If you’re a regular contributor to Stomp, I hope you realise SPH is winning ‘journalism’ accolades at your expense, and that even if you think you’re reporting wholesome, worthy news, you’re indirectly supporting the propagation of trashy ones. If you happen to be a victim of Stomp and your life has been ruined forever, my advice is to set up a support group for similarly affected individuals, hunt down and stalk the ‘Stompers’ and editors responsible for your shame, and set them up on your own ‘citizen journalism’ campaign website because two can play at that game. You could call it ‘Stompers Are Bastards Online’, or SABO.

 

 

Mothership website made to register with MDA

From ‘MDA asks website mothership.sg to register for licence’, 3 April 2014, article by Robin Chan, ST

Social news website Mothership.sg has become the latest to be asked by the Media Development Authority to register with it, which prohibits it from receiving foreign funding. Mothership has four full-time staff, counts former foreign minister George Yeo as a contributor, and is backed by a social enterprise known as Project Fisher-Men, which is chaired by civil service veteran Philip Yeo.

In a statement on Thursday, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said it had notified Project Fisher-Men on March 27, to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which was enacted under Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act.

The MDA said it had assessed that the website meets the registration criteria and it must register by April 11. This is as it promotes or discusses political issues relating to Singapore, and is “structured as a corporate entity which is deemed to be more susceptible to coming under foreign influence through foreign funding“.

Holy Mother of Mercy! MDA on the licensing warpath yet again!

When Mothership was publicised by the ST in Feb this year (Social news website Mothership brings home discussion on Singapore, 3 Feb 2014), it was touted as the Singapore version of Buzzfeed. Backed by the likes of original social media advocate George Yeo and consisting of ex-Ministry men such as Jonathan Lim (MICA) and former PMO civil servant Martino Tan (who set up PM Lee’s Facebook page), it has all the makings of a casual yet Government-friendly portal, an alternative to ‘alternative media’. Executive director Lien We King is also an ardent supporter of George Yeo, and was among those helping the ex-minister collect presidential election eligibility forms back in 2011. ‘Foreign influence’ therefore seems to be the last thing MDA should worry about. In fact, there’s something so grounded and familial about Mothership that calling itself ‘Fathership’ as in ‘founding father’ wouldn’t be too off the mark either.

The odd man out, curiously, is New Nation’s Belmont Lay, who used to be Opposition candidate Nicole Seah’s campaign manager. New Nation is, of course, the satire site notorious for taking the monkey out of MDA. A post titled ‘MDA required to obtain $5 million licence from New Nation’ mocks the agency as ‘Murder Decimate Arserape‘. In an article written in his personal capacity, Belmont dished out some pro-tips on how to deal with the MDA’s licensing scheme, among which include:

There is no better way to deal with the licensing scheme than to act as if there is no licensing scheme. That would really show them.

Well now it’s the Mothership’s turn to be at the receiving end of the Mother of all arserapes. I wonder how the Mothership, with Belmont’s expert guidance, can steer itself out of this shit. Perhaps good ol’ George, chairman of Kerry Logistics, can help them out with the $50,000 ‘performance bond’.

So I’m guessing the real reason why Mothership is getting buggered by MDA is not so much about its content or the risk of it being hijacked by anti-Singapore propagandists, but because having shackled the likes of The Independent and bringing about the unfortunate demise of Breakfast Network, this move seems out to show detractors that MDA is ‘fair’ is its implementation of licensing requirements, that even ‘pro-government’ sites which can list 48 wonderful things to ‘feel for Singapore’ are not exempt from registration.

In short, it’s an attempt at consolation for the brute high-handedness delivered on the real rogue sites out there. You know, like a mother refusing to show favoritism by lashing both the good and bad kid with the same whip. Still, here’s hoping Mothership continues onwards with its maiden voyage despite this MDA setback, a lone fairy godmother hovering over this vast wasteland of debauched ‘alternative media’, lactating her warm, wholesome chicken soup of feel-good Singapore stories upon us all.

So when’s your turn to join the fray, The Real Singapore?

Postscript: Mothership decided to register with the Grandaddy that is MDA after all, agreeing to ‘comply with all laws, rules, regulations and codes of practice’. Not one voice of protest in the team, taking it gamely like gentlemen. Mother Father Gentlemen.

 

 

Authorities in a muddle over leaves in drain

From ‘Who should clear leaves in drain?’ 21 March 2014, ST Forum

(Arthur Lim): THE ineffective clearing of fallen leaves is not just evident along major roads and expressways (“Act promptly to clear fallen leaves” by Dr V. Subramaniam; Tuesday), but also in housing estates. In my estate, the leaves seem to be frequently cleared from areas visible to the eye, but those that are “hidden” under the covered portions of drains are not. This may cause pooling of water and mosquito breeding.

I have raised this issue with the officers who check for mosquito breeding in my estate, but they said their department was not in charge of this. They were not sure if it should come under the National Environment Agency or the PUB.

I hope the relevant authorities will step in to address this issue.

This confusion over who’s in charge of dengue-breeding ‘longkangs’ has existed for at least a decade. In 2005, if the affected drain is in a Housing Board precinct, the town council is responsible. If it’s by the road in a residential estate, either the NEA or PUB is in charge. If it’s in a public park, then NParks needs to pick up the trash.  Filthy drains are like the NEA/AVA tussling over mynahs; nobody wants to claim them, like separated parents each refusing custody over an obnoxious child. Even the source of the leaves, the very trees that line our roads, have different agencies looking after them, NParks or the SLA. Good luck blaming either for negligence when a loose branch falls and knocks you into a month-long coma, which is probably the duration of time needed for someone to finally admit that he’s responsible.

NEA, being the national dengue-buster, received a complaint in 2007 by a member of public about a choked drain along Jalan Loyang Besar, whereby nothing was done for 3 days after reporting the hazard. A second NEA officer then proceeded to refer the caller to the PUB instead. NEA later apologised and announced that the officer who did not abide by this ‘No Wrong Door’ policy was reprimanded for his incompetence. Another resident noticed workers from NEA actually sweeping dried litter and leaves INTO drains. Instead of a joint effort to curb the mosquito nuisance, what happened here was literally one agency pushing the problem to another, or rather, sweeping the problem under the other’s DOOR instead.

The writer of this latest complaint did not mention if the officers he approached were from the NEA or not, and it’s possible that from the time agencies begin their bureaucratic shrugging, finger-pointing and someone finally getting a contractor down, a handful of residents would have been hit by the dengue scourge already.  Since 2008, NEA has led an ‘inter-agency’ dengue taskforce, including the PUB, to keep our drains from turning into festering dengue hotspots. It remains to be seen if officers from the agencies involved even know what the heck is going on, or this collaboration and showcase ‘synergy’ efforts have, well, all gone down the drain. It sounds nice on paper, but it’s beginning to look like a football team where players don’t have a damned clue what their field positions are, and run away when they see a ball coming instead of passing it towards goal.

Perhaps it’s time the Ministry of Environment set up a DRAin Maintenance Authority. Or DRAMA.

Tan Cheng Bock uninvited from Istana CNY party

From ‘PA withdraws Istana party invite to Tan Cheng Bock’, 8 Feb 2014, article by Robin Chan, ST

FORMER MP Tan Cheng Bock, who quit the People’s Action Party to contest the 2011 Presidential Election, sparked a debate yesterday about the motives of the People’s Association (PA), which had withdrawn its invitation to him to a yearly Istana party. Dr Tan, an MP from 1980 to 2006, said he had been going to the Chinese New Year party for former and current grassroots leaders since 1980.

This year’s event will be held tomorrow afternoon.It is not the same party as the one to honour the pioneer generation. Yesterday, Dr Tan wrote about the incident on Facebook, prompting PA to issue a public apology for what it said was a mistake. The error arose because an old invitation list was used instead of a new one, PA’s deputy chairman Lim Swee Say said.

Dr Tan’s post, which garnered more than a thousand likes and shares, said that he received the invitation on Dec 27 last year. Twelve days later, on Jan 8, Mr Lim, the labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, called him to explain that a change of policy required the invitation to be withdrawn.

“He conveyed (that) to me by phone and e-mail. There was a change in ‘policy’ to invite only those ex-advisers to grassroots organisations, from the immediate past GE (2011). I did not fit into this category as I stood down in 2006,” Dr Tan wrote.

Replying, Mr Lim said in a statement that it was “most unfortunate that PA made the mistake of using the old list instead of the updated list”. The list is periodically reviewed, he added, to let a wider base of people attend. It was last reviewed “a few months ago”.

…Mr Lim took issue with Dr Tan’s post: “I was heartened that Dr Tan very graciously accepted my explanation over the phone. So I am surprised he now brings this up publicly as an issue.”

The last time a politician made a Facebook fuss over having an invite withdrawn was WP’s Chen Show Mao, who was denied attendance to a Hungry Ghost dinner back in 2011. Clearly, the PA hasn’t learned from the social media repercussions of the last high-profile ‘uninvite’, which explains Lim Swee Say being taken aback by TCB complaining about it on FB. Withdrawing an invitation is embarrassing for both parties, but more so for an organiser who should really know better, even if there’s a ‘policy’ to hide behind when telling the uninvited the bad news. As for TCB’s dismay, it’s not surprising either considering that during his presidential campaign, he suggested ousting the PM from the Istana in  ‘Queen of England‘ fashion. But speaking of hungry ghosts, where exactly has Chen Show Mao been to lately?

Not sure if TCB was given a spot on the actual pioneer party. That depends on how our PM defines ‘pioneer’, and how the hosts of the pioneer party feel about this awkward incident (They include Heng Swee Keat, Lawrence Wong and, and to no one’s surprise, Lim Swee Say).  Like the definition itself, this year’s pioneer invitees appear to be a mixed bag. They include Hooi Kok Wah of yusheng fame, opposition veteran Chiam See Tong and former MP Ong Ah Heng. Incidentally, MP Ong himself once admitted in 2010 to replacing elderly cleaners, fellow ‘pioneers’ even, with younger, fitter foreign workers upon receiving complaints by a family.

More than a decade ago, a pioneer generation was described as one who ‘grew up with Singapore’, called upon to sweat it out in factories and shipyards, or be among the first to serve the army. In 2007, PM Lee described the pioneer generation of public servants as ‘the last of the Mohicans‘. A survey on familiarity with Singapore ‘pioneers’ in 2012 included ‘founding fathers’, i.e political heavyweights like Devan Nair, LKY and Goh Keng Swee. In the Reach portal, they are those who built Singapore from her infancy, even if they’re today ‘scavenging for food to eat, tin cans and cardboard to sell’. It seems that anyone can be regarded a pioneer as long as you’re old, Singaporean, and worked almost your whole life to feed your family. If you’re an afterthought to the PM’s party, you probably haven’t contributed that much. Or contributed TOO much, stepping on the party organisers’ toes in the process, like TCB was known to do. You’re also unlikely to find billionaires in the list, because you don’t usually associate rich folk with out-in-the-sun back-breaking work that the image of a ‘pioneer’ summons, even if they’ve started out in life doing exactly that to become what they are today.

As symbolic as the 1500-strong party is supposed to be, those who believe they have served the nation beyond the call of duty but didn’t get the invite will be wondering ‘Why not me?’, just like being left out of any hip party hosted by the most popular person in school. Granted, it’s intended to span all walks in life and you can’t accommodate everyone, though by not making its criteria explicit it begs the question of how the PAP determines your pioneer value. But if you’re a true-blue pioneer, it shouldn’t matter if you’re remembered or not. And you wouldn’t complain on FB insisting that you’ve been mistakenly taken out of the invite list.


Burning an effigy of Lui Tuck Yew is illegal

From ‘Burning of effigies at Speaker’s Corner may be an offence: Police’, 30 Jan 2014, article by Xue Jianyue, Today

In response to media queries, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) clarified today (30 Jan) that the burning of effigies at the Speaker’s Corner may constitute offences under legislations such as the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. The police added that under regulations set by the National Parks Board, which manages the Speakers’ Corner, activities that involve the use of fire at the venue also require the approval of the Commissioner of Parks.

Last Saturday, protest organisers shelved plans to burn an effigy of Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew after they were spoken to by the police. The protest was against the impending 3.2 per cent public transport fake hike, which will kick in from April 6.

Under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, any person who sets fire to or burns any material to the annoyance, inconvenience or danger of the public shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

In its statement, the Police said it had advised Mr Gilbert Goh, who led the protest, that the burning of effigies in the Speakers’ Corner may constitute an offence. “Upon the Police’s engagement, the organiser decided against burning the effigy,” said the police.

Lui Tuck Yew: Flame-proof

Lui Tuck Yew: Flame-proof

Instead of setting fire to a shitty-looking effigy of our Transport Minister, Hong Lim protesters gathered around the figure to splash it with water(Protesters drop bid to burn effigy, 28 Jan 2014, Sunday Times). A terrible waste of a precious resource if you ask me, and not quite as fun or cathartic as ganging up on the helpless doll and beating it silly with your bare fists. I doubt the Police, nor NPARKs, would have any problem with that because no one would ever mistake Gilbert Goh’s ugly dummy for a human being getting the thrashing of his life.

But seriously, if you want to make an effigy, at least do a proper face cut-out.  A Lui Tuck Yew pinata stuffed with coins would have been a better idea. Nonetheless, some people seem to find the image of Lui Tuck Yew in a sports jacket and N’Sync pants rather amusing. I mean, just look at THIS GUY in the background. With the hat straight out of the Crucible.

Here to party, y'all

Here to party, y’all

PM Lee, in his address to NTU students in response to online behaviour, described some ‘group dynamics’ like a pack of hounds hunting. Today conveniently headlined the article as ‘PM cautions against LYNCH MOB mentality’, when Lee himself did not appear to use the loaded word ‘lynch’. He did, however, mention ‘abusive, hateful mobs’, though I doubt anyone here would go beyond desecrating a minister’s likeness through fire/water and march on to his house with a flaming torch in hand, or attempt to overturn a MRT train. The closest anyone came to symbolically embarrassing SMRT was some Swiss guy with cans of spray paint in 2010.

Yet, you don’t even need to light a match to get arrested for threatening violence against a minister. Just typing out the fantasy of burning Vivian Balakrishnan online would have the police hot on your tail. Even if it were legal and done in a contained manner with a fire-safety officer on standby, what good would effigy-burning do other than leaving a charred mess for our poor cleaners to dispose of? As much good as spitting on your EZlink card out of frustration, perhaps. Not sure if the magnetic strip can withstand the corrosive potency of human saliva.

Slapping uncle: Shame on me for taking the MRT. SHAME!

But maybe the Hong Lim pyromaniacs have a point, even if effigy-burning does seem like the stuff of 16th century witch-slaying festivals. In 2008, an article titled ‘More open field’ was published in the Today paper, where protests which involve ‘burning an effigy of a Singapore political leader’ MAY HAVE A PLACE in Singapore. Apparently, neither of the relevant agencies objected then when people asked for permission to perform this exact activity. Why the U-turn now?

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 11.16.53 PM

Maybe some people do need the burning simulation as a therapeutic outlet for their fury. Like the taxi driver who set MP Seng Han Thong aflame, for example. If viewed in that context, perhaps the Minister should encourage rather than clamp down on it. Better a recipient of an over-dramatic insult that getting third degree burns, I say.

Singaporeans can’t burn minister effigies on open ground since it’s in breach of public safety, yet we allow other countries to do it on our behalf. In 1990, Lee Kuan Yew’s effigy was burnt by angry Indonesians for his Sukarno remark. In 2007, Wong Kan Seng was the victim of a Thai protest, though it seemed he had nothing to do with what the mob was raging about. Despite all the hate directed at Anton Casey, no one thought of putting the guy’s face on a makeshift scarecrow and setting him alight. If the Police had found out that Anton was the target instead of Lui Tuck Yew, they may even join in the ceremony and fire a few rounds into his effigy for good measure. Perhaps we should all just stick to burning PSLE homework then.

Lui Tuck Yew disappointed with train disruptions

From ‘Transport Minister Lui disappointed with train disruptions’, 23 Jan 2014, article in CNA

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew expressed his concern and disappointment with the recent spate of disruptions on the SMRT rail network during a meeting with the operator’s CEO and senior management on Thursday.

He was also briefed on the status of the ongoing investigations and SMRT’s preliminary findings on these incidents. Mr Lui said: “I share the frustrations of train commuters affected by these incidents, and I empathise with them on the anxiety and uncertainty that they may experience.

“I am also very concerned about SMRT’s service recovery efforts, particularly in reaching out to affected commuters promptly and keeping them updated during these incidents.”

Minister Lui has been ‘concerned’ and ‘disappointed’ before. In 2011 he expressed the same emotions about the N-S line breakdown which had someone resorting to breaking a window with a fire extinguisher. He told SMRT chairman Koh Yong Guan that he held the board and the management team ‘responsible for making it right’. 3 years later, it looks like disappointment alone won’t cut it anymore. Koh Yong Guan is STILL board chairman, and unless our minister has forgotten all about the pledge to uncover the ‘root cause’ in 2011, perhaps it’s time ultimatums are issued instead of second chances and tame euphemisms for ‘pissed off’.

Disappointment is shaking your head and walking away, and it has been a favourite tone adopted by some our ministers whenever someone upsets them. Lim Swee Say, for instance, was disappointed when DBS retrenched workers in 2008. S Jayakumar was surprised and ‘disappointed’ with accusations by Malaysian officials over the Pedra Blanca incident a year earlier. Disappointment is a mother telling her kid nicely that he’s an utter failure, but still loves him anyway. It’s time to slam your fists and up the ante, Lui Tuck Yew. Even your name rhymes with a classic expression that should have been thrown at SMRT a long time ago. They’ve had their chance to redeem themselves, but not only have they struggled to set things right, they even managed to convince the PTC that they deserve their fare hike.

There’s no shame in telling SMRT how you really feel to show Singaporeans that you mean business. Try DPM Teo’s expression of ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with the ICA checkpoint lapse and MFA trespass. Or DPM Wong Kan Seng being ‘totally appalled and flabbergasted’ following the ICA passport mix up in 2008. K Shanmugam recently revealed that he was ‘terribly upset and offended’ by what Anton Casey posted on Facebook. If you want SMRT to wake the Tuck up, you have to take it on a personal level beyond tepid ‘disappointment’, that you’re upset, furious, bloody disgusted and that such breakdowns are totally UNACCEPTABLE. It will even help you score brownie points for the next election, even if chances are nothing’s going to happen to the SMRT board anyway.

MRT fare hike and breakdowns are separate issues

From ‘Fare increase hard to justify’, 21 Jan 2014, Voices, Today

(Lawrence Seow): I cannot believe that the Public Transport Council has stated that train breakdowns and the fare hike are separate issues. How can the fare increase be justified without an improvement in service quality? These breakdowns are becoming a problem.

Moreover, the public transport operators are still making a tidy profit, and they are asking for more. In Japan, if these disruptions were to happen as often, the operators responsible would be ashamed to ask for any fare increase.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek called the timing most ‘unfortunate’ when the North South Line was disrupted yesterday, leaving 19,000 passengers stranded. This came 4 days after the PTC announced the 3.2% hike from April. He said SMRT applied for the increase due to the rising costs of maintaining a ‘SAFE AND RELIABLE’ transport system. The last round of hikes was in Aug 2011, when the 1% increase coincided with the opening of the complete Circle Line. We all remember what happened to that line some months later and I wonder where that $15 million additional revenue went to. If we take the PTC’s word for it, that breakdown and the 2011 fare increase had nothing to do with each other at all. It’s like paying 50 cents extra for chicken rice and finding out that you got more cucumber than meat. Except that you’ve got more to lose when you’re stuck in a train late for work than feeling cheated over an overpriced lunch.

Our train operators seem more focused on staying financially afloat than becoming more efficient at what they do. ‘Unfortunate timing’ or not, something needs to be done. Yet nothing much has changed since the last exercise; trains are still overcrowded, people don’t get to board even after 3 to 4 trains, and shit like this happens.

A fair hike. To the next station.

A fair hike. To the next station.

Walking the ‘high road’ was unheard of when we only had the red and green lines in the past. Imagine paying the extra charge when you could jolly well walk yourself from station to station for FREE. But since we can’t do anything about the PTC’s decision, perhaps we should call for operators to be transparent with how exactly they spend our money to tide over ‘operational costs’. Half of the revenue had better go into fixing those damn cables and signals, or if you can’t do anything about overcrowding at least improve the 3G connection in tunnels, rather than spending money on Free Wi Fi spots so that foreign workers can entertain themselves before passing out half naked in the station.  Or make sure your staff are alert to psychos entering carriages with freakin’ samurai swords instead of standing around nagging passengers to move inside. A bloody massacre in the MRT because of a safety lapse has NOTHING to do with fare increases, I’m sure.

The train system shouldn’t be addressed in isolation simply by pumping money into it. You need to figure out how to alleviate traffic flow as a whole, like encouraging alternative forms of commute (bicycling), overhauling our entire urban design or tweak immigration policies to curb this congestion epidemic. Otherwise, we commuters will continue to be slaves to a formula devised by people who’ve probably never taken a peak hour train ride in their life, and end up becoming what Anton Casey refers to in his FB as ‘poor people’.

Time to wake up, Transport Ministry. You can’t just impose fines for sloppy standards anymore because that’s still our money they’re surrendering to you. We can shake and rattle all we want, but in the end, heads must roll.

Ashley Madison banned in Singapore

From ‘MDA blocks access to Ashley Madison’, 8 Nov 2013, article by Mohd Azhar Aziz, Today

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) announced today (Nov 8) that it will not allow the Ashley Madison website to operate in Singapore and has blocked access to the site. In a press statement, the MDA said that the website was banned in Singapore as “it aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs”.

“It is against the public interest to allow Ashley Madison to promote its website in flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality,” MDA said.

Life is short. And so is Ashley Madison’s ill-fated attempt, as creator Noel Biderman explained, to ‘migrate infidelity to a platform wherein two like-minded (Singaporean) adults can explore what it is they are seeking in a discreet manner’.  One Today writer described such a move by the MDA as a ‘paper tiger’, only to raise the forbidden fruit status of AM, though there are various tricks to bypass the censors altogether, Go Away MDA being one of them.

Pressure from Minister Chan Chun Sing aside, the 27,000 strong petition community known as ‘Block Ashley Madison‘ on Facebook yesterday fired a bellowing tirade at MDA for allowing AM to tag ‘sg’ in their domain address and ignoring the threat of weak-minded Singaporeans succumbing to the moral cesspit that is adultery. The page owner, ‘Mr Tan‘, also issued a stern warning to AM that they’ll ‘not have the last laugh’, would get what’s coming to them ’10 times harder’, and that the ‘light will always overcome the darkness’, with all the evangelical fire-and-brimstone passion of a grandmaster exorcist coercing Satan out of His human vessel. Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone, I say. Or in this case, a boulder.

Well, now that the site is blocked for good, mission accomplished BAM! You all can rest easy knowing that your spouses are safe by your side, divorce rates won’t skyrocket, that our children can focus on their PSLE with a loving stable family behind them all the way, while the rest of us continue to watch Desperate Housewives reruns on cable, reliving torrid fantasies of Eva Longoria screwing her gardener in the kitchen while her hubby is at work. Without AM’s corrupting influence, we shall no longer have the urge to take our foul thoughts a step further, log in to find the perfect willing partner to come over wearing nothing except mud-streaked overalls and getting frisky right next to the sink. Hallejulah!

I believe BAM supporters are not THAT naive and generally acknowledge that infidelity will continue to happen anyway, with or without AM. A chance meeting with an old flame, a colleague in the office, a business partner, your own student, sometimes right under the nose of our Almighty lord God. The last thing they need is something to facilitate such taboo relationships further, especially one ‘aggressively marketed’ like the Facebook for Flings with a brand name that sounds like one of the Olsen Twins or a spinoff Victoria’s Secrets catalogue. Alas, like the 100 sites ‘symbolically’ banned by the MDA, AM too has become the ‘whipping girl’ among the many platforms available for people to fool around at the swipe and a click. Like adultfriendfinder.sg, for example, where you can choose to have a ‘discreet relationship’, which isn’t exactly mystery pen pals in this day and age. Is there going to be a BAFF petition now?

Not sure if this is a case of MDA caving in to high-horse orthodoxy, or they sought guidance from moral philosophers and religious leaders before dropping the axe on AM. They’re forgetting about other debauched sites though. On the same day that AM announced its launch here, 5 Singaporeans were caught in a sting op offering to pay ‘Sweetie’, a computer generated TEN YEAR OLD GIRL, to perform very naughty things. We’re so caught up with something that’s technically not ILLEGAL that we forget about portals that encourage men to defile girls young enough to be their daughters, some granddaughters even.

Temptation to commit sins of the flesh are everywhere, whether it’s an adultery app, online casinos, a sleazy spa or a 7 Eleven selling booze and cigarettes right around the corner. It’s like restricting sex shops or R21 movies from heartlanders, or a nanny stowing away a child’s favourite toy because he’s playing with it too much. Nobody’s doing anything about our gay spas either, which harbour death traps that kill you while you’re trying to strangle yourself for erotic kicks. MDA’s ‘light touch’ regulation is really an excuse for ‘we can’t do anything about it’. Yet when something like AM stands out and should be made an example of, they pound on it like Thor’s hammer on a protruding nail.

Bye, Ashley Madison. You could have been the flirty girl next door, but the neighbours are welcoming you with burning stakes, pitchforks and crucifixes instead of wine and roses. Now that you good folks have done Singaporeans all a proud and just service that we should be eternally grateful for – expelling this wicked temptress from our doorsteps – you can all take a much-deserved break from the complaining and go back to knitting sweaters and hunting eggnog recipes for Christmas, thank you very much.

Passenger boarding SMRT bus 190 only after 13 tries

From ‘Video of commuters who boarded SMRT after 13 tries goes viral’, 19 Oct 2013, article by Lee Jian Xuan, ST

A video filmed by a frustrated passenger who claimed she was unable to board SMRT bus service 190 after 13 tries has gone viral online. The edited eight-minute footage has drawn more than 16,000 views in four days. Most of the buses were packed, while some did not stop. The video showed commuters trying to board via the back entrance as the front was too crowded.

YouTube user Galaxnite, who uploaded the video, said that she and other passengers had tried to board at Thong Teck Building near Scotts Road, on the evening of Oct 4. She told The Straits Times that she takes bus service 190 regularly to get from her home in Choa Chu Kang to her workplace in town.

“The incident tired me out physically and mentally,” said the commuter, who identified herself as a 29-year-old graphic designer.

…SMRT said on its Facebook page last night that it had been alerted to the overcrowding on bus service 190. The transport operator noted that its buses were crowded, especially on Friday evenings, and said that it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

Last year, SMRT were penalised for allowing bus 925 to exceed the ceiling capacity of 95% during peak hours. Like 190, it also served Choa Chu Kang residents. The excuse given by SMRT then was that they had faced a shortage of drivers during the December period. The fine? $100. Just for comparison, SMRT declared in a recent report that fare revenue rose by 2% to $213.15 million for Q1 this year. Which brings me to question the effectiveness of punitive fines since SMRT directly profits from trains and buses being packed to the brim and can afford the occasional pittance because commuters have NO other choice. Someone needs to highlight that overcrowded transport isn’t as trivial as the fines make it out to be. In the video, the bus nearly drives off with someone’s arm caught between the backdoors. The articulated bus design is supposed to cater to the disabled, and not disable people.

Loading of buses falls under the category of ‘Operating Performance Standards‘ according to the Public Transport Council (PTC) website. I’m not sure how one determines if a bus is 95% full, but it’s unlikely to be the case for some of the 13 buses since some passengers in the back refused to budge. A bus could be HALF full and you would still be unable to board because of these people, the bus driver not doing his job, or on rare occasion if there’s a bloody python in the back of the vehicle.

PTC and SMRT could blame their customers, the driver or the Singapore Kindness Movement for the dead space, but such responses wouldn’t be so outright ridiculous if LTA hadn’t run a survey recently that tells the world how delightfully gracious passengers we are. For example, 96% of us say we would move in for others to board. The key word here, of course, is ‘SAY’, like how the authorities SAY they will monitor the situation CLOSELY, only for fares to rise again despite our complaints of poor service. More money for the swear-jar budget then. A more meaningful survey should have investigators stationed at busy bus stops and OBSERVING, not polling people just to get the answer they are SUPPOSED to give anyway.

lta_poster_3_21-08-2013

Under the PTC’s category of Safety, one finds ‘Accident rate’ (less than 0.75 per 100,000 bus km per month), and it’s puzzling why a bus exceeding 95% of its capacity i.e overloaded isn’t also classified as a safety hazard here. Why is ‘loading’ a separate ‘deliverable’ from ‘safety’, and if a bus that exceeds its specifications for safe carriage compromises passenger lives, how do we explain the measly $100 fine? If bus 190 didn’t exceed the 95%, arrived at the right intervals, but didn’t do enough to pack the sardines in, would SMRT even be punished in this case?

Kudos to Galaxnite for sacrificing 2 hours of her time to capture a disappointing snapshot of the state of public transport and commuter behaviour today. Whatever the intentions of her filming consecutive buses, you can’t deny its impact. I probably would have given up after missing the fourth bus, but I’d also have to weigh the tricky odds of not being able to catch a cab (all pre-booked!), taking the MRT (only for it to suffer a train delay due to a track fault!) or switching to bicycle (get knocked down by heavy vehicle!). Considering all the above, a good bet to getting home in one piece and before daybreak would be to trek 14.2 km for 3 hours from Scotts Road to Choa Chu Kang via Bukit Timah Road. If you’re a brisk walker you could probably reach home by the time the 15th bus comes around.

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