Cyclists paying road tax

From ‘Cyclists should pay road tax like other road users’, 23 Jan 2017, ST Forum

(Felix Heng Teck Seng): Currently, cyclists have special treatment on the road (“Pay to gain respect on the road? I’m in“; Jan 15).

They do not need to wear helmets, pass the Highway Code, or pay registration and road tax.

Yet, they want the same respect as other road users.

Not only is there a need to get cyclists to register and pay to use the road, but also, more importantly, they should be made to learn the Highway Code and pass tests before they are allowed on the road.

It is time to deal with this hot potato issue before more cyclists get killed.

In 1892, a certain Old Izaac shared the same concern about errant bicycles which cause ‘no small amount of nuisance’ and proposed that a tax be imposed on riders, just like how folk then paid to ride on horse carts. 125 years later, bicycles remain as fashionable as ever and people still call for these to be registered and cyclists to be taxed.

Problem is, we impose all kinds of regulations and levies on motorists and drivers still fuck shit up. Unless the revenue from bicycle taxes goes into building decent bicycle lanes, taxation will only serve as an empty, tedious bureaucratic exercise, but do this and you’ll have motorists howling louder than filthy rich golfers losing their turf to railway stations. Pedestrians will also complain because sharing bike lanes at traffic junctions means they can’t cut across to the other side of the road like a boss without suffering an altercation with a cyclist with a sense of entitlement because they pay goddamn road tax.

Errant cyclists will still remain as errant cyclists, Highway Code or not. But charge them tax and the worst of the lot will behave even more like their grandfather owns the road And let’s face it, Singapore is too hot and crowded to be a ‘walking city’. Everywhere you turn you’re bound to cross paths with joggers, cyclists, babies in strollers, hoverboarders, and people still playing Pokemon Go like it’s still 2016. Regulation is just an excuse of doing one’s job while avoiding the harder task of coming up with an actual solution. If you’re going to penalise everyone for any form of public locomotion for everyone’s safety, people are just going to stay at home, do their online shopping, get fat and die.

Pedestrians should have a code of ethics

From ‘Establish a pedestrian’s code of ethics’ 20 Jan 2017, Voices, Today

(Tay Yong Hong): Cyclists and personal mobility device users will soon be regulated by laws on the proper usage of roads and paths. I believe that pedestrians should not be spared (“Jail, fines to combat reckless use of personal mobility devices”; Jan 11).

Sometimes I feel ashamed of how some of us walk on footpaths and park connectors with disregard for our own safety and that of others. Before the new laws take effect, we should establish a pedestrian’s code of ethics. 

Pedestrians should always keep left on the path and should use only the footpath if there is a separate cycle path. Parents should hold their children when using a shared path.

Pedestrians should not use headphones to listen to music and should not read and text on their mobile phone. When a shared path is narrow, they should walk in a single row so as not to obstruct others.

With such rules in place, it would be fairer to users of all modes of transport.

6 years ago, another writer proposed that pedestrians should all walk on the RIGHT. More recently, someone conjectured that commuters should stick to the LEFT of escalators instead of climbing them. Today, we brush against pedestrians glued to their handphones. In the past, we condemn them for wearing Walkmans in the streets.

Swimmers protest that people are not making their laps in only one direction. Runners request for standardisation on how jogging tracks are used, clockwise or counter-clockwise. Maybe we should put a speed limit on joggers too, or have signs to ban the use of selfie sticks as maids tend to do as they traipse along Orchard Road on Sundays. Before you know it we’d all be marching along to the beat of a metronome.

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Thankfully, the only rule that you can break if you’re a walker is if you cross the road illegally. If the authorities decide to issue guidelines on ethical walking, then you can’t take a relaxing stroll without worrying if you’ve overstepped your boundaries, or be judged as a nuisance if you’re roaming around holding hands with a loved one. You can’t even bend down to smell a flower without being finger-wagged at for disrupting pedestrian flow.

Have we underestimated the Singaporean capacity for common sense and due consideration to warrant a safety manual for how to walk in public? Or has everyone on the streets gone so berserk, whether it’s rogue e-bikers,  Mercedes drivers in the wrong direction or goddamn buses careening into pavements and void decks, that we need to saddle our pedestrians with more regulation?

Time to put on your walking shoes and jive before cool strutting becomes unlawful.

 

Singaporeans drowning in self-help books

From ‘Can Singaporeans read’, 14 Jan 2017, article by Kishore Mahbubani, ST

Many Singaporeans, especially some of our businessmen, were surprised and troubled by this obvious downturn in China-Singapore relations. Some were completely surprised by these events. They did not see them coming. Yet, some of these challenges in China-Singapore relations could have been predicted. Indeed, they were predicted. I, too, have made such predictions.

…In short, the warning to prepare psychologically for a rough road in US-China relations was given almost two years ago. Why was it not heeded? Perhaps not enough people knew or read about that prediction of mine. Another simple answer is that Singaporeans don’t read enough. And when they do read, their reading is narrowly focused.

One clue to what Singaporeans read is provided by The Sunday Times’ bestseller list. The list of non-fiction books should be seen as a national wall of shame. Instead of looking at the world and trying to understand how it is changing, Singaporeans indulge in self-help books.

…Week after week, Singaporeans drown themselves in self-help books. The underlying assumption of many Singaporeans seems to be that if I take care of my individual self, I will be fine. This assumption is a massive act of folly. We don’t live in a large, secure country. We live in a small, highly exposed, indeed, the most globalised country in the world.

Our destiny is more likely to be rocked by events happening outside of Singapore. Hence, if we don’t read books written about our external environment, we are committing national suicide.

The title of this essay should really be: ‘Can Singaporeans please read my book ‘Can Singapore Survive’? Because apparently, through the magic of non-fiction books, you can make a difference to Sino-Singapore relations. The esteemed Prof has harsh words for the state of our literacy and knowledge of current affairs. Basically, his piece can be summed up as: Singapore is FUCKED, so stop reading shit like this –

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Time to take out the broom for CNY spring cleaning, because such statements are sweeping.

I’m not a fan of self-help books, but where is the evidence that Singaporeans do not read about WORLD ISSUES. Has Mahbubani checked with the NLB on the borrowing rate by Singaporeans? Has he done observational field studies on the MRT or the bus? Granted, according to a 2015 survey on e-books, NLB reported that ‘the majority of English e-books borrowed are works of fiction such as thriller, science-fiction and romance novels. Non-fiction titles on self-improvement are also popular among adult readers’. This says as much of our current-affairs reading habits as ‘bestseller’ lists tell about people walking into bookstores. Even if it’s true, that we’re suckers for motivational schtick, maybe we should examine why Singaporeans  need to feel inspired and want to level up all the time, instead of decrying this habit as a terrible, soul-crushing shame.

His key source of reference is the Sunday Times BESTSELLER LIST. Firstly, we’re not even sure if his claim is accurate. According to the latest list on Jan 8 2017, the top bestseller is about the memoirs of a dying surgeon, there’s a biography about the Tesla visionary, and just a handful of books that teach you how to make shitloads of money or think like a champion.

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Also, we can’t tell from bestseller lists if these people are grunts merely supporting the author by throwing money at them, or just collecting titles on the bookshelf to impress guests at a party. Just having a book cover with a successful person’s face on it will give others the impression that you’re a driven, ambitious optimist, serving as a talisman boosting your self-confidence and hopefully, success. Nevermind that the only thing in the book you actually read was the blurb and accolades by other famous people about how the book will change your life.

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘7 Habits’ or a Stephenie Meyers kind of reader, reading in general benefits EVERYBODY, as pasttime or for serious study. Yet, you can be a scholar of Chinese military history and still do absolutely fuck-all about the situation right now. Or you can be some guy who complains about Singaporeans not reading enough and then indulge in publicity for your own work on the side.

Instead of fear-mongering and putting the blame on our political cluelessness, perhaps it would be more useful to educate Singaporeans with bite-size nuggets of history and geopolitics in a way that would titillate and intrigue them rather than literally throwing a collection of great speeches by LKY at us and saying ‘Nah, READ dammit!’. We live in an age of instant gratification and wasp-sized attention spans. The days of blowing dust off old tomes and being dazzled by the musty smell of paper are long over. If I want to know everything there is to know about Jack Ma, I’ll watch a documentary on Youtube, not buy an Omnibus of his Life story.

Yes, China is a monster, US is in shambles, and Singapore, the little red dot that people still think resides in the very same China monster, is a splinter of driftwood in a tumultous sea. Maybe there should be a self-help book on this, like ‘Negotiating with Big Bullies for Small Farts’.

Cats banned from HDB flats

From HDB letter to resident circulating online, 8 Jan 2017

All felines are banned from HDB flats but not various pedigrees of cat-sized toy dogs. HDB’s rationale for the ban has been the same for the last 4 DECADES. In 1978, HDB issued a statement ‘categorically’ banning cats from flats because they tend to stray ‘by nature’ and cause a nuisance to residents. Cat experts would subsequently protest that most cats are perfectly fine being confined within 4 walls and the ‘pussy gone wild’ excuse is a gross misconception. In that letter, roaming cats were also blamed for inciting fear in certain people and can ‘damage public property’ with their CLAWS. Yes, provided people hang their curtains OUTSIDE their flats.

Dogs, on the other hand, whilst enjoying this privilege, do not have the tendency of invading homes or leaving pawprints on your car, though occasionally, unlike the most ferocious of kitties, may BITE A CHUNK OFF YOUR FACE. 

Of course it doesn’t take just a cat to ‘disturb good neighbourliness’ by shitting indiscriminately, shedding fur or cauterwauling in the middle of the night. By the same token, not only should we ban shedding, barking dogs (though HDB has a solution of ‘debarking‘ noisy ones), but we should evict humans who smoke and burn incense in corridors, blast music in the wee hours of the morning, or take a piss in the lift. 

Surely HDB should be aware of the Love Cats pilot project in Chong Pang, a program endorsed by our cat-loving Law Minister himself, and let everyone know if the results have altered their perception of cats in any way. Even if they’re still pussyfooting around the regulations, it’s hardly useful to demand that an owner ‘remove’ the cat without offering any humane suggestions, considering that stray cats have been victims of horrific barbarism of late. Is HDB going to knock of the doors of every ‘old cat lady’ there is and round up all their cats? Wouldn’t the ban encourage more people to feed strays indiscriminately? Are the cat abusers out there rubbing their hands in masturbatory glee?

The approach to household pet management should be consistent across the board, whether it’s a dog, cat, goldfish or chinchilla: Enforcing responsible ownership. A blanket ban on cats based on their ‘nature’ has no scientific basis and reeks of an innate bias from watching too many campy spy movies with cat-stroking megavillians.

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Perhaps our Law Minister or other ‘angels in power‘ can do something about this.

Old criminals being spared from caning

From ‘Review age limit for caning sentences’, 6 Jan 2017, Today Voices

(Liew Lai Khiun): I refer to the report “Ex-teacher, 66, jailed for molesting girl, 7”; Jan 4). It is always saddening to read about child victims of molestation, especially by teachers.

What angers me is that by dint of the culprit’s age, he was spared the caning punishment and given an extra six weeks of jail in lieu.

Besides serving as a deterrence, the purpose of judicial caning in Singapore has evolved since its codification in 1871 into an additional punishment to underscore the enormity of the crimes committed, particularly those involving bodily harm.

The age limit of 50 years for caning was set at a time when life expectancy was lower, probably around 60 years. With advancements in health, however, people are now living longer, healthier and into their 80s.

Unfortunately for many, wisdom does not come with age. As with most developed societies, Singapore does see violent crimes committed by those we consider as “elderly”.

To serve justice, the authorities should review the age limit for caning, for a more discretionary model based on the individual’s general health. Being old is no excuse for being spared the rod.

While the writer seems to be pushing for sexagenarian perverts to be brutally spanked as well, he does not mention if there should be a MINIMUM age for getting the rotan treatment. In the early 20th century, petty thieves as young as 14 were giving a walloping, even for cases as trivial as stealing a BICYCLE BELL.  Of course there are no available statistics on youths or middle-aged people getting seriously injured from the punishment, though you have to wonder how much of our healthcare cost goes into tending to people at the receiving end of this barbaric practice. You may have a broken leg but are stuck in the emergency waiting room because they wheeled in a convicted molester with a whipped arse on the verge of a massive haemorrhage.

As it stands, the maximum number of strokes for a ‘youth’ is 10, while adults get 24. There is clearly no scientific basis for these numbers, though there has been one case of a robber who received TWICE the maximum number of strokes and lived to try to sue the Government for it. That case was settled ‘out of court‘. Other convicts have also complained of getting bonus strokes beyond what they were initially sentenced. Those on death row also need not be caned, though you may argue if rotanning them to death could be a preferred option to the hangman, the latter seeming relatively quick and painless compared to say, 48 damn strokes of the cane.

Other than the old getting off lightly, we might as well question why females are spared entirely, and how the authorities deal with transgender offenders. Is it because hitting women is not the ‘gentlemanly’ thing to do? The rotan descended from the old British legal system, ironically from the same country where women used to be burned at the stake for practising ‘witchcraft’. Today, the rotan remains the symbol of the Janus-faced paradox that is the Singaporean identity, cosmopolitan and forward-looking on one hand, and a stickler to inhumane capital punishment on the other.

We already give our pioneer generation priority queues among other perks, let’s apply the same compassionate principle when they’re in prison, shall we?

Terrorism is like a spring

From ‘Terrorism is like a spring – stretch it to make it lose its strength’, Today Voices, 31 Jan 2016

(Ng Chee Keon): The spate of attacks in Germany, Turkey and Jordan suggests that it is tough to prevent such terrorist acts, notwithstanding the plots foiled in Indonesia and Australia (“World needs a better plan to confront threat of terrorism”; Dec 22).

Terrorism is like a strong spring; compress it with military force and the recoil will be just as hard, with more retaliatory attacks. Overbear it with military successes in Mosul and Raqqa, and the attacks spread from the Middle East to Europe, South-east Asia and other countries.

Another way to handle such a spring would be to stretch it. The world could start by attempting to appreciate and address the terrorists’ sources of hatred and any grievance suffered, real or perceived, as part of the deradicalisation process.

The next step could be to identify common ground and explore possible win-win solutions to the problem. I am sure that, barring any groupthink or wish to be seen as politically correct, many terrorism experts would know of other ways to elongate this spring slowly so that it loses strength over time

And I hope the scourge of terrorism may thus abate steadily.

In 2002, then DPM Lee Hsien Loong compared the JI threat to a stubborn cancer that refuses to go away. The analogy to a condition once stigmatised as the ‘Big C’ has stuck ever since. Terrorist groups are called ‘cells’. When legions expand, they’re described as ‘metastasising‘.

Like cancer, the war on terror demands a multi-faceted solution, and not just rely on precision killing or sweeping obliteration. The problem with this metaphor is that cancer can actually be defeated and most healthy people don’t need to be reminded of getting it in the first place. On the other hand, this anxiety over the scourge of terrorism will live on with us for posterity as long as warped religious doctrine, guns and large vehicles continue to exist.

Yes there are things we use to describe the war against terror like the ‘Crusades’, a disease, an epidemic, and then we have the writer above with the bizarre insight to peel away the layers of bloody violence surrounding the idea of terrorism and compare it to something innocuous that goes ‘boing-boing’. If terrorism had a name, it would be King Coil. With a crown made of flaming blades. Dealing with terrorism may be the ‘new normal’, but there is such a thing as over-normalising something that makes young children bomb-strap and blow themselves up with other innocent human beings.

Regardless, analogies are useless even if people understand them. Calling terrorism a deadly, insidious plague, a sprawling weed in your backyard or a satanic bouncy mattress won’t make it go away. If there’s anything that needs to SPRING into action it’s getting everyone to play a part in slowly excising this growing cancer at its root.

Walking on escalators should not be allowed

From ‘Don’t overburden escalators by walking on them’, 21 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Gan Kok Tiong): Escalators in MRT stations should not be functioning like staircases.

The main issue is that those doing so are overburdening the escalators.

Also, commuters who are right-handed will then be able to hold on to the railings on the right without having to move to the left to make way for those wishing to “walk” on the escalators.

Disallowing people from walking on the escalators will lead to normal usage of the machines, which would help in reducing the frequency of breakdowns.

Perhaps a professor of physics could answer the age-old question of what’s the best way to move people along an escalator. But in the absence of actual escalator studies, we’ll just have to settle for the wisdom of SMRT spokespeople. In 2001, SMRT in fact DISCOURAGED people from keeping to the left, as this would leave the right side underutilised and reducing rider capacity. Walking up an escalator was also deemed a safety hazard, especially when you’re on fast moving rides, though the worst thing anyone could do while on an escalator, whether they’re on the left, right, standing or walking, is to wear goddamn CROCS.

SMRT has changed their tune since. Today MRT signs remind you to keep to the left and allow others to pass. Keeping to one side of an escalator, analogous to responsible driving, remains a hallmark of a civilised society. We unwittingly teach our kids to do it and we growl at aunties for hogging the right lane when we’re in a rush. Unless there’s a drastic shift in commuter behaviour no one would want to stick out on the right side and face the wrath of a marauding escalator-walker. What SMRT needs is a lab, model escalators, and willing subjects to test the hypothesis that walking up and down an escalator on one side will eventually destroy it. But I guess they have other things to worry about, like managing mysterious signal faults for example.

Or, if you want to avoid having to deal with the ethics of escalator riding, have time and energy to spare, and not doing anything for the rest of the day beyond sitting on your arse in front of the office computer – take the stairs.