CISCO officer taking $10 coffee money from maid

From ‘Ex-CISCO officer jailed a week for taking coffee money’, 17 May 2014, Today

A former Certis CISCO security officer who took S$10 in “coffee money” from a domestic helper was jailed for a week yesterday.

Kalaiarasan Muniandy, a 22-year-old Malaysian, was carrying out his duties on Jan 19 at Paya Lebar MRT Station when he spotted Ms Hasna, a domestic helper, drinking water at the station’s premises. Kalaiarasan then told her that she would be issued with a summons of S$300 for doing so and took down her particulars. When she told him that she would not be able to pay the fine as she had only S$10 with her, he asked her to place the money on his desk and told her to leave.

When the helper’s employer found out about the incident, she lodged a police report and the case was referred to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. For his act of corruption, Kalaiarasan could have been fined a maximum of S$100,000 and jailed five years.

The picture says carbonated water, btw. There are bubbles.

Even babies are not spared from this absurd ‘no drinking’ rule. In 2010, a news clip depicted an SMRT officer kindly asking a mother and her child to get out of the train to BOTTLE-FEED water. Not sure if this is video staged, but it also features an officer fining a schoolgirl for eating peanuts, and issuing a stern warning to an auntie for drinking water after taking her medication. It’s like the classic reality television series ‘COPS’, except on the MRT. WHY U NO GIVE CHANCE?

A woman was also fined for eating a sweet on the train. Her penalty? THIRTY DAMN DOLLARS. Why is the fine for drinking water 10 times that amount? Could it be that the consequence of consuming sugary snacks is merely the drawing of pests, while a puddle of plain water is a deathtrap? With our trains packed to the brim, how many passengers have actually slipped from dripped water and suffered skull fractures from it? You’re more likely to get bruised in a fist fight than keel over on a few drops of water, really. If safety is a concern, why not BAN passengers from entering the train if they’re soaking wet from the rain too, or wet umbrellas for God’s sake. Wait, you’re not supposed to even enter or remain on a train when it’s FULL.

So rules are rules, and SMRT would like to claim that they have been applying it across the board, whether you’re eating a KFC chicken wing or sipping from a water bottle for throat relief. But have they really? Some water sippers have been let off the hook with just a warning instead of the maxiumum $500 fine. Another blogger recounts an SMRT auntie telling her off for drinking mineral water (but presumably let off without a fine). Surely there should have been exceptions when we were experiencing the drought some months back? What if you’re an NSman on the way home after a vigorous day of training in the hot sun defending our nation, or a catatonic elderly person on the priority seat? If I had the money to spare I would go around MRT stations testing SMRT protocol to see how much they would fine me if I drunk plain water, Coke or chicken soup that my dying grandmother made especially for me. Or see how far I’d go if I fake a voice as hoarse as someone with trachea cancer.

‘Coffee money’ didn’t always imply bribery in the past. In the 1930′s it was used by the rich to describe little ‘tokens’ which they generously give out in addition to a servant’s salary. And 20 cents could probably buy you an actual cup of coffee then. Today even HOT WATER is more expensive than that. In the 60′s ‘coffee money’ was a smaller sum of ‘extortion’ or ‘protection’ money given to gangsters. It wasn’t until the seventies when the market rate of coffee money rose to $10, and referred to petty inducement of any figure of authority to waive a criminal charge or bend some regulations. This CISCO officer reportedly asked for $30, but settled for 10 as well. What of the maid then, shouldn’t she be charged for offering a bribe too? By the way, you could get jailed for giving Malaysian traffic police ‘kopi money’ to waive off a speeding ticket.

The record for the world’s cheapest  ‘coffee money’, was an astounding ONE DOLLAR in 1980 used to tempt a customs officer into clearing cargo for a shop assistant. What an insult, I can’t even get anything out of a vending machine with that kind of money these days. Well technically speaking, back then you could use that to buy a kopi-o and even get some change back. On the flipside, the largest amount of ‘coffee money’ recorded so far could be the $2000 accepted in 1969 by a BP oilman to obtain dealership for a petrol kiosk. That could get you at least 40 cups of kopi luwak.

Wonder what Kalairasan did with his $10 ‘coffee money’. Maybe a Grande Starbucks Frappucino with a side order of cheesecake. They serve free coffee in jail, I hope.

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SMRT train in Bishan depot vandalised

From ‘Train at Bishan depot vandalised; police investigating’, 10 May 2014, article by Grace Chua, ST

A train at SMRT’s Bishan depot was vandalised, in the third such incident here in four years. Police said they received a call early on Monday morning at 6.17am, requesting assistance “at a premise along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1″. When the police arrived, a case of vandalism was reported, said a spokesman, who added that investigations are ongoing.

SMRT spokesman Alina Boey said on Saturday: “Vandalism was found on one of our trains at Bishan Depot on May 5. We have since made a police report and will assist the police in their investigations.”

…SMRT has previously been fined $200,000 and $50,000 for two separate security breaches at its depots.

In May 2010, two vandals cut through the fence of SMRT’s Changi depot and spray-painted graffiti on one side of a train. One of them, Swiss national Oliver Fricker, was given seven months’ jail and three strokes of the cane, while his accomplice, Briton Lloyd Dane Alexander, remains at large. In August 2011, a hole was cut in the fence at the Bishan Depot, and the words “Jet Setter’s” were spray-painted on one of the trains.

20141205_ln_mrt-01

Go home train you’re drunk

What the article omitted was that the fate of the previous Bishan depot vandals who painted ‘Jet Setter’s’ remains unknown to this day. I’m also surprised to read that Lloyd Dane Alexander is still on the Interpol manhunt list since 2010, and has been all but forgotten. Meanwhile we’ve apprehended, quite speedily I must say, 5 boys who vandalised a Toa Payoh rooftop , a solo vandal for desecrating the Cenotaph, and a woman ‘street artist’ responsible behind ‘My Grandfather Road’, all within days of their violation. The only explanation as to why our Police and Interpol combined still have trouble finding Lloyd, dead or alive, over these FOUR YEARS is that he may have, along with the ‘Jet Setters’,  jettisoned himself into outer space.

According to the Sunday Times (Vandals strike Bishan MRT depot, 11 May 2014), it appears that the vandals’ work wasn’t as pretty as that of ‘McKoy and Banos’, a ‘wordless scrawl 3m long and a metre high’.  There was also NO physical breach of the fence, so whoever gave SMRT the slip must have picked up a stealth skill or two from the Toa Payoh vandals. Why aren’t these people recruited as SAF spies and saboteurs already, elite soldiers adept at scaling fences and buildings more than 20 storeys high?

In case you’re wondering where the money from the previous $200,000 fine goes, it’s into the Public Transport Fund to help needy families with transport fares. Which means for this serious breach of security, SMRT is penalised by giving money to LTA, who in turn transfers it to people who need the MRT and its buses the most i.e the money ultimately GOES BACK to SMRT. In comparison, train disruptions in 2011 cost SMRT $2 MILLION. Today, our trains still get disrupted, and occasionally someone still breaks into a depot to vandalise it.

How is such a fine even effective in the long run? Shouldn’t putting some big bosses’ heads on the chopping board be a greater deterrent to operational negligence? Is Lui Tuck Yew going to express his ‘disappointment’ again that SMRT has allowed this to happen THREE times, despite SMRT taking additional security measures by employing Certis Cisco to conduct round-the-clock surveillance? In 2010-2011, the remedial actions were under the charge of Saw Phaik Hwa, who has since resigned and joined Auric Pacific in 2012, the same company  responsible for Delifrance and Sunshine bread. So far no one has died from either.

It’s worth noting that the Toa Payoh vandalism took place on May 7, TWO DAYS AFTER the Bishan depot incident (May 5), and the culprits of the former were caught (10 May) just as the news of the MRT vandalism broke. Which means SMRT took a few days to report this to the Police, just like how they took 2 days to report Fricker and Lloyd’s intrusion. Is it any wonder that the vandals are still at large given the lead time gained from SMRT keeping quiet, probably scurrying about with their own ‘internal investigations’ , more worried about their reputation than catching the people responsible? Wait, WHAT reputation.

I’m predicting a $500K fine this time, and maybe SMRT might just withdraw their intention to extend Free Early Bird Train Rides till 2015. In the end, it’s not SMRT, LTA or the Minister of Transport, nor even the vandals themselves (if they never get caught) who suffer, but us the commuters.

Postscript: Police are working on the premise that this might be an inside job as there are no traces of trespass, taking fingerprints of SMRT employees working the night shift on May 5. The latest ST article (Police take fingerprints of SMRT employees, 13 May 2014, ST) also used Melbourne as reference (35 cases of train vandalism a MONTH), emphasising that vandalism is a scourge that affects major cities and suggesting that we’re already doing a good job keeping it to 3 in at least 3 YEARS.

Some writers have suggested cracking down on spray paint cans, banning sale to minors and registering buyers, analogous to our reaction towards chewing gum. Well, why stop there, why not control crayons, colour pencils and paintbrushes too? And even if we deprive the majority of creative tools, there are other ways to deface public property, like throwing excrement for example.

 

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.

 

 

Singapore is misery city with a massive compassion deficit

From ‘Massive compassion deficit in Singapore?’, 16 March 2014, article by Maryam Mokhtar, Sunday Times

FREELANCE writer and self-described food lover Charlotte Ashton jumped at the chance to relocate from London to Singapore last year, she says in the biography section of her website. The Oxford University graduate and former BBC reporter and her husband were happy here until one day, in her 10th week of pregnancy, she felt nauseous while taking the train to work and ended up crouching for 15 minutes because no one offered her a seat.

“For the first time, Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable – completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down,” she wrote. Recounting the incident in a BBC Viewpoint piece, she concluded that Singapore suffers from a “massive compassion deficit”.

One Singaporean friend told her it was because “we measure everything in dollar bills – personal identity, self-respect, happiness, your sense of worth”.

In the original BBC article, Charlotte Ashton was singing praises about our country’s cheap, delicious noodles and pineapple juice. She also described Starhub’s ‘Happiness everywhere’ campaign as ‘full of smiling Singaporeans dancing to PLINKY PLONKY music’, an ad with no ‘deficit’ of goosebumps or cheesiness whatsoever.

Then things changed abruptly for the worse following the train incident. Disappointed by how she felt let down by her Singaporean hosts, she quoted some guy called ‘Marcus’ who blamed our apathy on money and that we’re ‘programmed to think only of ourselves’. This obsession with money is too simplistic a root cause of our ‘compassion deficit’, and the only way to prove Marcus’ theory right is for us to reward altruistic behaviour, like winning a week’s worth of free train rides if you’re the first one to surrender your seat, though no one would conduct such an experiment without being branded for cheapening basic human courtesy as we know it. Marcus is desperately trying to flee to Canada as we speak, and I can’t imagine how that would be accomplished smoothly if one didn’t at some point think deeply about the money involved, you know, like the rest of us miserly penny pinchers.

Someone should tell Ashton what happened to us that drove Singa the Lion to quit his courtesy job altogether. Was it because we don’t give a shit about anything anymore, whether it’s a pregnant woman puking her guts out, or a butt-naked man lying in the middle of the carriage? To be fair, I’ve seen more people giving up seats than what public complaints of isolated incidents suggest. Was her baby bump obvious at 10 weeks? That it’s possible that people did not REALISE that she was pregnant? In any case, Ashton needed HELP regardless, and nobody responded. If it were that bad, why didn’t she just ASK for a seat? Or were the people sitting nearby too caught up in an important Whatsapp business conference chat, or too busy faking sleep to be disturbed? You’re very unlikely to get rejected if you’re pregnant and ask someone, especially from the priority seat, to get off their Ugly Singaporean ass pronto. In a nice polite way, of course.

Some attribute this coldness to us being a ‘reserved’ lot, that we refuse to budge when a stranger is in clear distress because it’s in our nature to mind our own business, an argument shot down by victims of the ‘bystander effect’ who retort that this ‘shyness’ is an excuse for ‘selfish and cowardly’ behaviour. I’m also not sure if there’s a correlation between being miserable and being a callous, unfeeling twat. The greatest feats of altruism, after all, are often displayed during the darkest periods of humanity. We were all miserable during last year’s haze, for example, but there were still kind souls who went around distributing N95 masks to the needy. If we were all suffering from a ‘massive’ compassion deficit, we wouldn’t queue like civil beings for those things, and would be looting Chinese medical halls for ‘cooling teas’ if we had the chance. Incidentally, the most ‘positive’ country based on a survey cited by Ashton was Panama. I’d be impressed if the country also holds the record for fastest return of a lost wallet.

A consultant psychologist once claimed in 2000 that Singaporeans are mostly ‘intrinsically kind’, that most of us DO want to help, but are either afraid of ending up being redundant, seen as trying to ‘act like a hero’, or making things worse. The more skeptical don’t want to let the Good Samaritan get the better of us, in case the ‘victim’ is really a con artist preying on the naive altruism of others, who ends up swindling money from you for doing what you thought was the ‘right thing’. But that’s as rare as finding a gracious Singaporean at a buffet with a 60 minute time limit. A case of spirit willing but flesh weak, perhaps?

Some group psychology studies have shown that this isn’t a malady of Singaporeans alone; the more people around a victim, the less likely someone will step forward to assist. The fact that using ‘eye power’ and waiting for someone else to take action is a universal trait, however, shouldn’t excuse us from exercising compassion when it’s so close to us that we could touch it. Ashton mentioned that the train was ‘packed’, and it’s baffling that you could have a pregnant woman ‘crouching’ next to you and you ignore her totally. That wouldn’t be a mere ‘deficit’ in graces or anything to do with being caught up in the ‘ratrace’, it would be a mental disorder, where the part of the brain that’s responsible for empathy has completely degenerated, possibly from playing too much handphone games like Flappy Bird. In fact, some psychiatry circles have coined the term EDD, or ‘empathy deficit disorder’, though that could apply to anyone from the engrossed teen thumbing his phone to death to a psycho killer charging at random people with a chainsaw.

Let’s hope Ashton’s case is a one-off affair, and may she continue to enjoy the affordable tropical delights that our little city has to offer, a tasty consolation I might add, even if we do suffer from a pathological lack of social graces, a disease that no one, not the Government, not the Church, not Singa the Lion or Dim Sum Dollies can do anything about. Synchronised dancing on an escalator, especially, isn’t going to help one bit. In fact, from the kindness campaign video below, it’s obviously a bloody waste of time.

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.

Entering or remaining in the MRT when it is full

From ‘Puzzled by MRT rules’, 28 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Adam Tan): BEFORE reviewing the penalties for flouting MRT rules, the authorities and train operators should do more to educate the public on the regulations (“Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review”; last Saturday).

For instance, not many know that it is an offence to pass items between the paid and unpaid areas without going through the fare gates. I often see people doing just that. It makes no sense for someone to enter the paid area for just a few seconds to pass an item to another person. If security is an issue, items passed into paid areas can be screened by the security staff.

Then, there is the offence of “entering or remaining in a train when it is full”, which carries a maximum penalty of $500.

How does one define a “full” train? If the train is full and no one gets off, is that an offence? And if someone manages to squeeze in, will he also be fined? Don’t the operators want their trains to be running at full capacity? Indeed, it is timely for a review of MRT rules.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.57.52 PM

‘Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review’, 25 Jan 2014, ST

Last August, a student was fined $400 for unauthorised use of a station socket to charge her mobile phone. She was guilty of ‘improper use of electrical equipment upon the railway premises’, which carries a maximum fine of up to $5000. In 1988, SMRT imposed a ban on DURIANS and a penalty of $500 if you decide to sneak some onto the train. This is in accordance to rule 7 which states:

7.(1)  No person shall bring into or upon any part of the railway premises —

(a) any luggage, article or thing which —
(i) exceeds the dimensions or weight restrictions specified on notices posted by the Authority or its licensee in the railway premises;
(ii) cannot be carried or otherwise accommodated on the railway without risk of damage to railway property; or
(iii) causes a nuisance or inconvenience to other persons using the railway premises.
We are also probably the only metro system in the world that has a sign barring a specific FRUIT. A true icon of Singapore indeed.

Singaporeans getting prickly over MRT rules

Interestingly enough, durians were deemed a nuisance a year before another notorious item was recognised as a threat to MRT systems: Chewing gum, which you now can’t ‘consume’ or even ‘attempt’ to consume. I have to confess I’ve gotten away with this a few times, but thank God no one has ever confronted me to inspect my mouth for evidence to charge me with.

What constitutes a ‘nuisance’ or ‘inconvenience’ is relative. I’m impartial to durians, but there are worse smells on the train, like the body odour of a sweaty kid after PE. Nobody’s going to yank him and his stinky towel out of the train and fine him for causing olfactory distress to passengers. Some people think big prams are a nuisance, but no one would ever fine parents for boarding trains with them. As for the no passing of stuff across gantries rule for security reasons, it only makes sense if EVERYONE is screened. If I wanted to blow up a train today, I could hide bombs in a pram with a baby inside and get through the fare gates without a hitch, with or without accomplices sneaking explosives to me over the barriers. The SMRT staff wouldn’t even check if I had a real baby inside at all.

Then there’s the awkward rule of ‘entering or remaining in a train when it is full’. According to Regulation 12:

No entry into train when it is full

12.  Without prejudice to regulation 11, where any authorised person determines that a train is full, no person shall enter or remain in the train if directed not to do so by him.

Though it’s reasonable to bar people from squeezing into a packed train, does this rule also mean that this ‘authorised person’ has the right to force people ‘remaining’ in a too crowded train to get out of it? As for ‘full’ trains, previous SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has even denied that the trains were ever crowded at all, saying that ‘people can board the train, it is whether they choose to’. If rule 12 is actively enforced, it’s not that we don’t ‘choose’ to squeeze in, it’s that we don’t want to be fined $500 doing it in case this ‘authorised person’ decides that the train is ‘full’, wherever, or whoever, he or she is. In fact, it’s more rational to fine people from ‘entering or remaining’ on a crowded PLATFORM instead. Just look at this disaster waiting to happen. Look at it.

If you think that entering or remaining rule is silly, in 1991 SMRT banned SITTING on parapets along both sides of the escalator landing of City Hall MRT station (Sitting on MRT parapets banned, 2 April 1991), which they scrapped a few months later. Thankfully they did not heed the pleas of a certain Today writer, who in 2009 demanded that ‘hugging and kissing‘ be banned too. Seems like to some people, public displays of affection are more toxic than the foul stench of durians.

Postscript: SMRT replied on the first day of CNY (MRT rules must be read in context, 31 Jan 2014, ST Forum), with the intent of making us feel bad that they had to work on the response over Reunion Dinner.

(Helen Lim, Director, Media Relations):…The provisions of the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations should be read in context to understand their intent. For example, the regulation on “no entry into a train when it is full” provides for an authorised person to direct passengers not to board a train if he determines that it is not safe for it to carry more people, and penalises non-compliance.

In this context, the regulation empowers the staff of public transport operators to regulate passenger activities, and ensure that the MRT continues to operate in a safe and efficient manner for the commuting public. This is used only when the situation warrants it, and no commuter has been fined for entering a crowded train.

So much for ‘entering’, where’s the part on ‘remaining’ on a train when it’s full? Note that the penalty reads ‘entering OR remaining’, not ‘entering AND remaining’. SMRT never gave an example of when a ‘situation warrants it’. Maybe if the passenger was wearing something like this?

Similarly, the regulation stating that items should not be passed between the paid and unpaid areas is intended to prevent the MRT from being used for trade or business purposes.

As the primary purpose of the MRT is that of a people mover, it is important to minimise the use of the system for the delivery of goods, which would impede commuter movement and add to crowding.

OK so it’s not for security reasons, and I’m glad SMRT remembers that it’s supposed to move people, though sometimes we’ve had to move ourselves after detraining during a breakdown. Next time if you want to return something to a friend on the way to work, it’s best doing it before 730 am at City Hall station so you won’t get charged for stepping in and out of the ‘unpaid’ zone.  Otherwise it’s a $2000 fine for ‘impeding commuter movement’, or just being a decent friend who returns stuff to people.

Keep Calm and Willian Wan

From ‘Anton Case case: Where has all our empathy gone?’ 24 Jan 2014, article by William Wan, ST

…Justice should be meted out, but in a civilised society, one need not gloat at the fallen. To maintain a largely civil society, punishment should not be celebrated. That one would revel in another’s punishment, whether deserved or not, reveals a nature which lacks empathy, a very important property of graciousness.

Empathy for your fellow human being, no matter how bad that person, is a large part of what makes us humans. To be fair, while a large portion of the community felt good about the “punishment” for Anton Casey, many also called for forgiveness since he has apologised. So the feeling of gloating when someone gets his come-uppance isn’t exactly unanimous.

It is, however, significant enough for us to ask ourselves if we are losing touch with our empathetic nature. It is indeed hard to reach for empathy and understanding, especially when one gets swept up in the emotions that such offensive conduct invariably brings out in us. Yet we must do so, to resist the tide of least resistance that would sweep us into concurring or even celebrating the condemnation of others who offend people like us.

Keep Calm and William Wan. As general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movment, Mr Nice Guy William Wan feels that it is his job and duty to tell haters that we’re overreacting and taking this Anton Casey bashing a tad too far. Perhaps it’s an exaggearation to say that we’re ‘celebrating’ his ‘punishment’ when what most of us are doing is merely gloating silently at some twat’s misfortune, someone who happened to be white, drives a Porsche, and has a Ms Singapore Universe for a wife. To most people, this is a perfectly normal response. Mass disapproval in all its forms is a mechanism that has evolved as a penalty for anyone who flouts the unwritten rules of basic human decency. Anton was a consummate tosser, and needed to be put in his place. Issuing death threats, however, makes you as much as a ‘wanker’ as he is.

Personally I didn’t bang my screen or hurl my mouse across the room like an angry keyboard warrior when I saw what Casey wrote on FB. In fact, I’m wondering what if the inverse happened and I walked into a posh golf club and posted ‘Daddy who are all these rich filthy bastards?’ and ‘Normal service can resume. Once I wash the stench of atas consumerism off me’. I did not pump my fist in sweet victory when he was forced to make a public apology. I may have chuckled at a few memes and lame puns here and there, but I wouldn’t make a police report or throw eggs on his front porch and all over his ‘baby’ Porsche. I also wouldn’t go to the extent of saying ‘Hang in there, buddy’. That’s like giving someone comforting last rites before an execution. I can, however, IMAGINE what it must be like to be him right now. That is empathy. Absolving him of sin, calling for a group hug and singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ is another matter altogether.

We enjoy seeing powerful, obnoxious characters fall from grace; it feeds our lust for poetic justice, and as social animals, this ‘herd mentality’ isn’t a vile contagion to be exorcised with a sermon about attaining Mother Teresa levels of compassion.  It is simply human nature in all its ugly, irrational glory. It’s the same herd mentality that makes us vote a certain ruling party into power, sing the National Anthem during the NDP, or mutter gibberish in church. To feel good about bad behaviour being penalised is itself a manifestation of empathy; we empathise with the common man who has to put up with arrogant swine. If we didn’t care about the well-being of total strangers, we wouldn’t go out of our way to put  serial murderers behind bars for life and thank God for it.

He did escape to Perth eventually, citing ‘threats to his family’ (Briton and family leave for Perth amid threats, 25 Jan 2014, ST). Perhaps he could meet Amy Cheong there and talk about the ‘greatest mistake of his life’ over a spot of tea. Anton also offered to volunteer his time in ‘community projects’ in repentance. He could start by reaching out to the MRT-riding ‘poor’ that he so flippantly mocked (My house is in need of spring cleaning). Or help knit arm warmers for the sick and elderly. He’s got plenty of time for that now that he’s FIRED from CrossInvest Asia.

If William Wan walks the talk, he’d go up and give the bloke a magnanimous hug and a ‘I feel you, bro’. ‘Fight fire with water’ he would say. Except that in this case, he’s trying to extinguish a forest fire with a shower hose. Wan means well and who knows, the world might be a better place if we weren’t so eager to dish out this ‘social media justice’ over some silly, insensitive gaffe. After all, anyone of us could be as careless and unfortunate as Anton Casey was, like the proverbial saying about casting the first stone goes. There is, perhaps, a fine line between online vigilantism and cyber-bullying. In both cases, the instigator always feels that the other ‘deserves’ it. Hating on Anton is fashionable while forgiving him is naive. If you haven’t heard of him by now, you’re living under a rock. Which approach gives a better social payoff is a no-brainer.

Instead of just chastising our hostility as the workings of a crazed mob, let’s think about the positive aspects of this whole saga instead, despite it turning one man into cannon fodder.

1) Singaporeans are willing to rally together when push comes to shove, though some more zealously than others. Given the right reasons, this could be a force to reckoned with.

2) It serves as a deterrent against antisocial behaviour and no stone goes unturned no matter how rich and influential you are.

3) We are proud to defend our MRT as a carrier of the common man, even if it does stink when it comes to breakdowns at times.

4) That the Anton story has gone global serves as a lesson against expat chauvinism everywhere.

5) If Anton does become a changed man after this ordeal, commits himself to lifelong penance through prayer and abstinence and becomes a champion of the destitute, we’d view social media more than just a platform to brag about babies, but one with the power to change lives. Arguably for the better.

6) Singaporeans know better than to extend Anton’s bastardry to ALL expats.

7) Despite Anton on the verge of becoming more hated than Mas Selamat, there are still angels and Bodhisattvas like William Wan to exercise magnanimity and console us if we one day ever find ourselves in Anton’s (Louis Vutton?) shoes.

8) Don’t ever think of migrating to Perth.

I believe Wan isn’t the only person advocating empathy for Anton as a cure to humanity’s ills. Maybe the Dalai Lama has heard of him by now. Others are taking the more practical approach of ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘just let it go already’, without being swept away by this bashing frenzy or playing Jesus. Alas, now that he’s lost his job, calls to chill are probably too little,  too late. I guess the question on William Wan’s mind now would be: ‘Are you people happy now?’

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.

Iamclarena calling Indians smelly

From ‘Police investigating ‘iamclarena’ for making racist remarks on Twitter’, 11 Jan 2014, article by Lim Yan Liang

The police are investigating a Twitter user for making racist remarks on the social networking portal. The woman, who goes by the handle ‘iamclarena’, had recently posted a series of racist remarks against Indians with her Twitter account.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the police confirmed on Friday night that a report had been lodged against the woman for making racially aggravating remarks on social media. The woman, who also goes by the handle ‘Clarena Clanen TzeYi’ on Facebook, is the second person this week to be investigated for posting racist remarks on the Internet.

In 2012, Law Minister K Shanmugam, of all people, received an email from a resident complaining about his Indian neighbours and their ‘Indian sweaty smell and unwashed bodies.’ He found the insult ‘disturbing’ and I assume he didn’t call the police immediately to investigate the matter, nor even call the racist in for a ‘chat’. If ‘Iamclarena’ had sent a direct message to the same minister’s FB page instead of blasting on Twitter, I wonder if he’d do anything about it. I wonder if he even knows what ‘CB’ means.

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In 2005, a Today writer’s daughter was told by her KINDERGARTEN classmates that ‘all Indians are smelly’. When his 3 year old son boarded the school bus, some boys would ‘cover their noses’.  Maybe the kid really had a severe case of BO, but no scientist would want to conduct a study to see if some races emit more unpleasant odours than others, so we’ll never know. There are smelly people of any race, of course, but the Twitterverse is full of people who insist on telling us who the smelliest are. Are we going to investigate them all?

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Google’s also doesn’t filter its popular query drop-down list, as you can see below.

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But it’s not just Indian body smells that are the butt of racist jokes, even the aroma of their curry annoys the living hell out of some people, with some attributing what they eat to how they smell. Their hairiness is also a running joke in Russell Peters’ (himself of Indian descent) gigs, while local DJs refrain from mimicking their accent. Some would label you a racist even if you believe in ‘positive’ stereotypes, like Indians are good at computer stuff, running, or hockey. Where then, do we draw the line?

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The accusation of smelliness isn’t confined to the Indian race. PRCs are also mocked for ‘not bathing’ and ‘stinking up the MRT cabin’, but somehow being labelled malodorous is a greater insult for some races than others. You don’t call someone a ‘stinking Jew’, for example. The police are unlikely to track you down if you say PRCs are dirty and smelly, or generalising the Malays as ‘lazy’. But bring up something as emotive as Indian body odour and you’re asking to be probed. Likewise, the terms ‘drunk Indian’ and ‘drunk Caucasian’ also stir different emotions given the context of recent events. Well at least we know Indians ‘don’t rob banks’.

Iamclarena might end up doing jailhouse Macarena for her foul-mouthed tweets, if only for the sheer stupidity of her actions, though I would suggest the police follow up on Shanmugam’s racist, sarong-hating resident as well. Someone mad enough to complain about Indians to an INDIAN LAW minister sounds like a more serious threat to national security to me.

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