Khaw Boon Wan thinks main media has gone tabloid

From ‘Biased figures on MRT breakdown rate’, 29 July 2017, ST Forum

(Chan Yeow Chuan): I was taken aback by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s statement that the MRT is three times more reliable now than it was in 2015 (Khaw raises bar on MRT reliability; July 28).

However, after a more careful reading of the report, I realised that this conclusion was drawn from statistics that excluded delays caused by the new signalling system on the North-South Line.

Computing statistics this way is biased and unscientific.

I propose that delays caused by the testing of the new signalling system be factored in when calculating the mean kilometres between failures (MKBF).

If there has been a decrease in MKBF since 2015, this can be duly explained by the delays caused by the tests.

Calculating MKBF this way would give us a gauge as to how disruptive the tests of the new signalling system have been.

I support The Straits Times’ coverage of the recent breakdowns and delays of the MRT (Minister takes aim at press; July 28).

If these disruptions remain largely unreported or are glossed over by the newspaper, it could hurt its reputation and relevance as a news source.

Instead of expressing ‘grave concern‘ for the recent spate of breakdowns like his predecessor, Transport Minister Khaw opted for the deflective strategy of sympathising with SMRT workers and taking Trumpy potshots at the MSM.

“I don’t like the media reporting … Even our main media have turned tabloid. Yes, exciting and so on … frightening figures, headlines.”

“But I thought they were being unfair to the teams … working their guts out on this re-signalling project. They think it’s so easy, you know, like holding a pen and writing a few articles and get the signalling done. I wish it was so simple. If it was so simple, they don’t need us. We can ask the reporters to run the train system.”

This is the thanks you get for your not-so-subtle PAP propaganda, ST. All these decades helping to keep the PAP on its Iron Throne with your biased election reporting, and you get accused of distorting the facts. Which explains ST wasting no time publishing letters rebuking Khaw like the one above. At least Lui Tuck Yew knew better than to offend the PAP’s media mouthpiece.

In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Khaw himself claimed that MRT reliability , defined as mean km between failure (MKBF), had increased 3 times since 2015, and excluded delays due to re-signalling because these happen ‘once every 30 years’. I assume this 30 years was calculated based on the very first train ride back in 1987, but it’s a statistical fallacy intended to mislead laymen into thinking that we won’t get another issue like this until 2047. Did Khaw learn anything from Yaacob’s ‘once every 50 years’ figure for freak floods?

But perhaps one reason why commuters still think the figures don’t reflect reality is how they experience a typical breakdown. A failure is defined as ‘a delay lasting longer than 5 minutes’, which means a train stalling for 4 minutes 50 seconds will not be considered as a significant delay. To anyone who’s suffered peak hour crunching, this feels like fucking eternity. So technically a train can continue to clock serviceable miles even if it stalls for 2 minutes every 5 stations and SMRT can continue to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Media will always be media, and sensationalism with catchy headlines and glaring images is simply business as usual, part of the arms race vs the scourge of fake news and social media. While the quality of our MSM can certainly improve, what we really need, as lifelong commuters, is that the quality of SMRT management and their overseeing Ministers improve as well.

Speaking of ‘exciting’ headlines, always remember this, Khaw.

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Li Shengwu surprised that Government is so petty

From ‘Li Shengwu surprised that Facebook post on Singapore court system enough to trigger AGC response’, 17 July 2017, article in ST

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said on Monday (July 17) it is looking into a recent Facebook post put up by Mr Li Shengwu, the son of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In a private post, which was uploaded on Saturday, Mr Li, 32, shared a Wall Street Journal article on the recent Oxley Road dispute, titled “Singapore, a model of orderly rule, is jolted by a bitter family feud”.

He also commented on Singapore’s court system.

The AGC said in a brief statement on Monday morning that it is aware of Mr Li’s post and is looking into the matter.

In a Facebook post on Monday afternoon responding to AGC’s statement, Mr Li said he was “somewhat surprised” that his last post – which was shared on “friends only” privacy settings – was enough to trigger a response.

He added: “I’m surprised that the Singapore government is so petty. Would they also like to trawl my private Facebook feed for seditious vacation photos?”

In the offending post, Li Shengwu, a Harvard academic, shared his thoughts on media censorship, as a side note to a linked article summarising he Oxley ‘political crisis’.

Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system. This constrains what the international media can usually report.

We all also keep in mind, of course, that Shengwu is PM Lee’s nephew, and PM Lee has declared in public that he would not take legal action against another member of the Lee family as it would besmirch LKY’s name. But that wouldn’t stop the AGC from calling this being in ‘contempt of court’.

Or would it?

This could well be a post-Oxley Catch-22. AGC has taken to task people like cartoonist Leslie Chew and rogue political activist Han Hui Hui.  We should expect them to demand that the offender issue a statement of apology, or least remove the post from the face of the earth. But this is – dun-dun-dunnn – PM Lee’s own flesh and blood.

Incidentally, one possible reason why international media tends to be cautious about commentaries on Singapore’s elite is they may get ‘sued until their pants drop’. Which is what both Shengwu’s uncle and – guess who – late grandfather LKY did when they were accused of running a dynasty by the Herald Tribune. Now that alleged dynasty has been dramatically torn apart.

Shengwu is a grown man and doesn’t need daddy to tell him what not to post on Facebook, even if it’s in ‘private’ setting. He’s also been described as ‘Oxford’s finest debater‘, having won Best Speaker at a World Debating Championship. It’s interesting to see how being a world-renown master debater can get you out of a tangle with the all-powerful AGC. I wonder how ‘seditious’ those vacation photos could be, though. Did he pose with kangaroos in Oz with ‘sensitive captions’?

Maybe Dad and Aunt Lee Wei Ling are drafting their Facebook notes as we speak. It’s Game of Thrones week, but save some popcorn for this one.

UPDATE: Lee Wei Ling just described this ‘petty’ incident as a case of ‘Big Brother’ syndrome and suggested that there’s a FB police monitoring the Lee siblings’ posts, even infiltrating privacy settings. It’s more likely attributed to the very nature of social media itself, rather than a Government hack charming his way into Shengwu’s circle of friends.

No doubt her big brother is watching this intently. Like a pesky cockroach that refuses to die.

 

 

 

Singapore behaving like a small state

From ‘Minister Shanmugam backs Bilahari’s brilliant response to Kishore’s article on small states’, 2 July 2017, article in CNA

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has weighed in on differences about foreign policy ideas between Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Kishore Mahbubani.

In a Facebook post on Sunday (Jul 2), Mr Shanmugam, who used to be Minister for Foreign Affairs, said he found Professor Mahbubani’s piece on foreign policy “questionable, intellectually” and commended Mr Kausikan for a “brilliant response”.

…In his Facebook post commenting on the article, Mr Kausikan took issue with the first lesson mentioned by Professor Mahbubani in his article: “Small states must always behave like small states”.

The Ambassador-at-Large described the statement as “muddled, mendacious and indeed dangerous”.

In Kishore’s original article, he quoted the great Thucydides to back up his ‘eternal rule of geopolitics’ that small states should know their place, specifically – ‘..the strong do what they can, while the weak suffer what they must’. The context for this was the ‘Melian dialogue’, which is basically a powerful nation (Athenians) threatening to annex the island state of Melos (a colony of Sparta). 

Melos resisted initially after attempts to appeal to Athens’ higher sense of morality but were eventually destroyed. But what’s curious about this is not Darwinian logic passing for political truth, but that the passage by Thucydides was ultimately a ‘dramatisation’ of the negotiations between the mismatched states and may not have happened in reality. For anyone else not familiar with Greek wars, using Sparta may not be the best example to justify capitulation as pragmatism and prudence if you’re a little red dot. Because This is fucking Sparta that’s why.

Of course, one can also quote from another ancient text to counter the political law of the jungle. It’s called David and Goliath. It’s even the name of a Malcolm Gladwell bestseller. Times have changed since; we don’t throw spears at each other. We don’t pillage and rape other peoples’ women. We don’t lay siege with catapults and battering rams. These days, for one small country to bring a bigger one to its knees you don’t need a physical army. You just need one really brilliant hacker, or a megalomaniac on a small deserted island with a doomsday machine.

Or maybe just one Lee Kuan Yew. Here’s another passage from Kishore’s article, which suggests that our current leadership can no longer stand toe to toe with the powers that be.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew never acted as a leader of a small state. He would comment openly and liberally on great powers, including America and Russia, China and India. However, he had earned the right to do so because the great powers treated him with great respect as a global statesman. We are now in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era. Sadly, we will probably never again have another globally respected statesman like Mr Lee. As a result, we should change our behaviour significantly.

Owwwch. Once a barking terrier in a big arena, now a puppy cowering in the corner with its tail between its legs. Or in Bilahari’s exact words – a tame poodle.

What’s a small state to do? According to Kishore, the key is ‘exercising discretion’. Every small state is small in its own way, big in others, and I would like him to cite an example of the WIMPY KID of small states, the one that sneaks out of the back door when the house burns to the ground. The state that exemplifies the saying ‘discretion is the better part of valour’.

Maybe the real takeaway from his piece is that Singapore should not overstep its boundaries and refrain from interfering with bigger shit beyond us. He used the South China Sea as an example, but at the same time advocated that statelings like ours should adopt a ‘Machiaveillian’ approach in order to survive, a philosophy straight out of the LKY/Goh Keng Swee/Rajaratnam school of thought. You could say ‘Machiaveillian’ is how LKY treated his political rivals, pushed through his population policies, or how he wanted the Oxley Road house handled after his death (But that’s for a certain Parliamentary debate to mull over). A small Machiavelli is pretty much how I would describe Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones.

The Terrex incident is still fresh in our minds, with China being the perennial big brother trying to bully little Singapore out of the last piece of candy. Bilahari and Shanmugam preferred to view the commentary not as a reality check, but one that downplays Singapore’s prowess in the international stage, where we’re traditionally seen as ‘no pushovers’ despite our size. We do what we think is right despite global pressure or mockery. We didn’t give in to the US when Michael Fay was caned for vandalism. We didn’t give a fuck when we banned the import of chewing gum. We also hate the word ‘Syonan’ because WE ARE SINGAPORE, dammit!

An article which hints at selectively kowtowing to greater powers being the best policy may be construed as a slap in the face of the Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew built, a small nation with big-ass balls, but with the side effect of becoming a nation still struggling to move on from the former elder statesman’s influence, to the point that quarrels over his private knick-knacks have become a matter of intense national interest.

Kishore closed the ‘small states’ discussion with an analogy from the animal kingdom.

In the jungle, no small animal would stand in front of a charging elephant, no matter who has the right of way, so long as the elephant is not charging over the small animal’s home territory.

Well, not if we’re a mouse though.

 

 

Milk is milk, except for breast milk which is best

From ‘Milk is milk, however fancy the marketing’, 13 May 17, article in CNA

Authorities announced earlier this week that formula milk manufacturers will not be able to use nutrition and health claims, as well as images that make drinking formula milk look attractive, once changes to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) regulations take effect. AVA will also also streamline its import regulations in order to facilitate the entry of more suppliers and brands of formula milk, and the changes are expected to be finalised by end-2017.

Mrs Teo who heads the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in the PMO, shared her personal experience with her children on Facebook, saying she concluded that “milk is milk, however fancy the marketing”.

“Actually, breast milk is best and both the Health Promotion Board and World Health Organisation encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least 12 months,” she said. “However, for parents who need to supplement with formula, all brands sold in Singapore, regardless of price, provide enough nutrition for babies to grow healthily.

…She added: “As long as AVA approves its import, the milk is good enough. I had no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale. The kids didn’t always like adjusting but did so anyway. That’s what I found great about kids – they adjust given time and encouragement.”

Milk is Milk. Diapers are diapers. A pram is a pram. Childcare is childcare. Education is education. If the Ministry of Making Babies is serious about encouraging us to have more babies, then they should put a stop to runaway advertising across the board for all baby-related products and services. Yet parents being parents continue to splurge on their little ones, from giving premium quality milk powder to Porsche-grade prams all the way to putting them in an elite school or tuition centre if they could afford it.

A quality infant formula, as the ads go, would be your child’s ‘best start’ in life. In the 70’s, milk powder was enriched with nothing more than vitamins A and D and given unappetising names like ‘Cowhead’.  Today you have an whole armamentarium of fortified goodness targeting baby organs such as the brain, eyes and intestines, with fancy brand names such as Gain IQ (the IQ stands for Intestinal Quality), Dugro (formerly Dumex) and MaMil Gold (as in Ma’s Milk?). In TV ads, kids fed on premium formulae are dressed as little Sherlock Holmes solving practical problems to save the day. It remains to be seen if these enhanced abilities extend to solving Maths problems for PSLE.

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It’s not surprising that Josephine Teo would have no qualms about going for the cheapest milk powder on the market. After all, it’s this ‘bare-minimum’ attitude that led her to conclude that couples only need a small space to have sex. And hence small pockets to buy formula milk too.

But maybe there is a deeper social problem that explains our dependency on milk formula and why companies are capitalising on it – the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public. If mothers didn’t feel a need to hide their suckling infants from prying camera phones like a recent case on the MRT, then perhaps companies wouldn’t be making shitloads of money selling milk powder, and we needn’t be hearing platitudes such as ‘milk is milk’ from MPs.

OK chope! making fun of Najib Razak

From ‘Mediacorp Channel 5 apologises for offensive segment on Ok Chope’, 5 April 2017, article in CNA

Mediacorp Channel 5 has apologised for a comedy segment that contained comments on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that some viewers found offensive.

After the segment on comedy show OK Chope! was aired on Mar 29, the channel received feedback from viewers that it was offensive, it said in a statement on Wednesday (Apr 5)

In response to media queries, Mediacorp’s chief customer officer Debra Soon said: “Channel 5 and the production team behind OK Chope! wish to sincerely apologise to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for a segment on last week’s episode.

“OK Chope!, a weekly live show, features comedians providing humorous takes on news and current affairs. Last week’s episode included references to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak which were in poor taste and offensive. We have thus pulled it from repeat telecast with immediate effect. We apologise unreservedly for this mistake.”

When Malaysia banned the comedy classic Zoolander over a storyline that involved the assassination of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Singapore followed suit in order to be ‘sensitive’ to our neighbours. We would have no issue with the countless movies that depict villains trying to kill the POTUS, for example, probably because we don’t share the same brotherly love with the US as we do with our immediate neighbours. I doubt we would flinch if someone made a movie about killing the mayor of Batam.

The OK chope jibes against Najib were rather harmless, even juvenile. Unlike allusions to corruption that got another local comedian Fakkah Fuzz some heat from Malaysian authorities. Curiously, both Najip (with a p) and Fuzz apologised for roasting the Malaysian PM, though both would have no qualms slamming comedy fodder like Trump for the sake of a few laughs (and dollars).

Which puts the state of local satire in awkward jeopardy; that you’re more afraid of insulting another country’s politician than your own. Of all the discontent going in the country, it’s strange that Najib symphatisers should focus on a Singaporean rip-off of Who’s Line is It Anyway, rather than sending the Thought Police to scour their own forums and comedy clubs for anything that suggests foul disobedience against a man treated like a god-king.

Singaporeans and Malaysians tease and joke about each other all the time. We mock their accents, they slam our kiasu-ism. We’re like two buddies in the shower room slapping each other on the butt-cheeks with wet towels, but always in good humour without any malice. It’s unfortunate that one tiny slap from a little known show from the Little Red Dot could cause so much butthurt over the Causeway.

Perhaps Najib and his lackeys could learn a thing or two from our self-professed ‘flame-proof’ PM Lee. 

 

PM Lee against yes-men who say ‘three bags full,sir’

From ‘Leaders must be able to take criticism and acknowledge mistakes’, 26 Feb 2017, article in Today

The most important philosophy that a leader must have is “not to take yourself or your philosophy too seriously”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when asked to share his leadership mantra at a closed-door dialogue with about 100 technology innovators and disrupters from around the world.

Speaking at the event held on Friday (Feb 24) by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital India, Mr Lee also stressed the need for a leader of a nation to be close to the ground and not surround himself with yes-men. In addition, he must be able to accept differing views and criticism, as well as acknowledge his mistakes and change decisions when merited, Mr Lee said.

“You have to see the world, you have to talk to people, ordinary people. You have to have a sense of what it looks like not from the point of view of the policymaker, but from the point of view of those who are at the receiving end of your policies,” he said, based on the transcript released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday.

Mr Lee added: “I try not to surround myself with ‘yes, sir’ men. That is important because if all you have are people who say ‘three bags full sir’, then soon you start to believe them and that is disastrous.”

One can imagine all the ‘yes-men’ in the audience guffawing politely at PM Lee’s nursery rhyme joke, just like how he entertained a totally different group with a swipe at China with his pork soup joke. Suffice to say, it’s hard to pick out a BLACK sheep among today’s PAP, and considering that his listeners are ‘innovators and disrupters’, I doubt he could easily pull the WOOL over their eyes. Or anyone else familiar with the regime’s intolerance for dissension for that matter.

This is the same leader who once described his skin to be so thick that it’s ‘flame-proof’, though some of his harshest critics got severely scorched in return. Yes, when one’s integrity and honour are at stake, there’s no way you can ‘not take yourself seriously’. People like Roy Ngerng and even his own sister Lee Wei Ling come to mind. One lost his job while the other stopped writing articles for ST completely because of their besmirching.

So it’s a bit rich that one thinks criticism is a good thing, while having a penchant of sueing not just individuals, but entire publications for defamation before even engaging in productive, lively debate. Yes, we welcome naysayers, but if you don’t watch it I’ll still set my legal hounds on your ass.  As for admitting mistakes, you’ll need to go back 2 GEs ago, when PM Lee made a rally apology for fiascos such as the Mas Selamat escape and Orchard Road flooding. Those were, of course, pre-70% days.

Maybe Lee was in his not-so-serious ‘balloon helmet’ element here, imagining that he was a shepherd of our yes-flock, giving an inspirational TED talk.

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Singapore should treat Donald Trump with respect

From ‘Treat China and Trump with respect in 2017’, 11 feb 17, article by Kishore Mahbubani, ST

…So, let me conclude with another controversial point. We should also treat Mr Trump with respect.

Why? Because we live in a small state. We are price-takers, not price-makers. We have no choice on who becomes the US president. Only the Americans can choose their president. When they do so, we have to accept and respect their choice, even if the chosen candidate has criticised Singapore. Small states must develop a thick skin. Even a relatively large state like Canada has decided that it must be pragmatic. A recent New York Times report noted that even though Mr Trump’s “personal style and policies are widely disliked by Canadians”, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, despite his personal beliefs, “swiftly turned the machinery of Canada’s government towards finding a way to get along with Mr Trump”.

We should emulate Canada: Ignore rhetoric and focus on interests. There are many good reasons for working cooperatively with China. There are equally good reasons for working cooperatively with the US. We should maintain good relations with both.

Prof Kishore addressing DJT as ‘MISTER TRUMP’ is telling. Respecting the decision of the US electorate and respecting the MAN himself are two completely different things. As a tiny red dot, there’s a thin line between respecting DJT vs appearing submissive and kowtowing to a world power. He also says Singapore should develop a ‘thick skin’, which implies ignoring whatever Trump thinks of our country. Even if he believes that we’re a province in CHINA. PERIOD. ALTERNATIVE FACT.

No sir, the job of respecting shitty presidents is not the job of Singaporeans, but of Singaporean politicians who need to find the right balance between admiration and grovelling to keep our sampan afloat. For the ordinary Singaporean, DJT will remain as a source of endless satire and mockery, known more for his Apprentice TV series, multiple wives and lewd ‘pussy’ catchphrases than the leader of the Free World that he’s supposed to be. We don’t have to deal with him, tolerate, appreciate or much less ‘respect’ him.

DJT is a personification of what Singaporean leadership should NEVER become – TWEETING IN CAPS for one, firing Attorneys willy nilly, shooting down companies for not supporting his daughter’s fashion line, forming a cabal of administrators that resemble the Sinister Six. In local parlance, DJT is the political equivalent of what we call a ‘negative demo’.

Save your respect for your elders, our Olympic sportsmen, the single-mother prostitute who has to earn a living to support her child’s education, even Emperor Palpatine, but a billionaire ascending the throne to become the most powerful man in the world using nothing but the rhetoric of fear and hate – I’ll pass, thank you very much.